World Rapid and Blitz 2018 in St. Petersburg

by André Schulz
12/5/2018 – FIDE has finally announced the venue and regulations for the 2018 World Rapid and Blitz Chess Championships. The dates are the same, but the venue, as was widely expected, has changed. It will take place from December 25th (arrival) to 31st (departure) in St. Petersburg, Russia. Magnus Carlsen will play, but it remains to be seen how much of the world elite will join him on short notice. | Pictured: The Old Saint Petersburg Stock Exchange, Rostral Columns from across the frozen Neva river | Stanislav Kondratiev (

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Magnus Carlsen will play

When the 2017 World Rapid and Blitz tournament was announced for Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, just weeks before its scheduled start date, it came as some surprise. Although chess is booming in Iran and in the Emirates on the Gulf, Saudi Arabia had not appeared on the chess map to date. In fact, chess has played little to no role in the strictly religious monarchy. It was a controversial choice due to its proximity to the active military conflict in Yemen and became more so when Israeli players were denied visas and Qatar's players were issued visas too late for them to attend. Some players boycotted the tournament, including Hikaru Nakamura, the number four player in the world in both rapid and blitz at the time.

The prize fund (and corresponding FIDE taxes) for the tournament was first class, and the organisation was just as good. Signalling the trend towards liberalising the country, the organisers announced in advance that women playing in the events would not have to wear the abaya otherwise required in public places in Saudi Arabia. Nevertheless, defending champion Anna Muzychuk cited the treatment of woman in the Saudi Arabian society as a principal reason for declining to defend her title.

When Saudi Arabia was again the leading candidate to host the event this year, Magnus Carlsen said he would not play in a tournament that is not open to all qualified players. In retrospect, the visa issue looks mild compared to the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October at the consulate of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul. The country and its leaders currently face a massive credibility problem and it's not surprising that the new FIDE leadership quickly searched for an alternative.

On November 30th, FIDE announced that the Championships would be moved to Russia as had been rumored for several weeks since the FIDE Presidential Board meeting in London at the start of the Carlsen vs Caruana World Championship match.

Yesterday, St. Petersburg was confirmed as the city of choice:

Carlsen announced his participation on his blog for Arctic Securities:

I was thrilled to hear that the Rapid & Blitz World Championship will take place this year as well, between Christmas and New Year, and I’m looking forward to travelling to St. Petersburg to fight for those titles.

However, in view of the ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia over Eastern Ukraine, not all chess players will wish to participate in St. Petersburg, even if they are technically welcome. Tensions have escalated and received greater international attention in the past ten days since the Russian coast guard seized several Ukrainian ships and captured 23 sailors.

Ukrainian Grandmaster Pavel Eljanov has already stated he will not attend. Ruslan Ponomariov also informed ChessBase that he is not considering a trip to Russia unless/until the conflict ends.

The Russian Chess Federation reports comments from FIDE President Dvorkovich and RCF President Filatov:

FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich: "I would like to thank our partners for supporting us in a tense moment and helping us organize the World Rapid and Blitz Championships with a decent prize fund within a very short time in one of the most beautiful cities of the world." 

RCF President Andrey Filatov: "It is a great honor for us that FIDE has entrusted holding such popular and prestigious competitions as the World Rapid and Blitz Championships among men and women to us. In spite of being limited in time for the preparation, we will do our best to organize this event in our country on the highest level possible as always. We will be happy to see everyone, and let the strongest win!"

The "let the strongest win" phrase from the RCF President echoes the FIDE press release published over the weekend:

While we are still finalizing the details in order to publish the official regulations next week, we found it essential to update our players, thus allowing them to plan their schedule accordingly. 

FIDE is looking forward to stage an exceptional event, and let the strongest win! 

FIDE event logoThe regulations were published Tuesday on the FIDE website:

The rapid tournament will be a 15-round Swiss system with a time control of 15 minutes plus 10 seconds increment per move starting from the first move. The blitz tournament will consist of 21 rounds, also using Swiss pairings and a time control of 3 minutes plus 2 seconds increment per move starting from the first move.

The prize fund for both open tournaments is USD $350,000 with first place receiving $60,000. For the women-only tournaments, the prize funds are $150,000 each with $40,000 for first place.

Players rated at least 2500 (at least 2200 for the women's championships) in any of the FIDE rating lists (Standard, Rapid or Blitz) from January 1st to December 1st 2018 are eligible to participate as are the reigning National Champions representing their National Federation regardless of their title or rating, and up to ten additional organiser nominees. 

Update December 6

FIDE has announced that the Russian Chess Federation is "partnering" with the Saudi Chess Federation after all:

Translation from German and additional reporting by Macauley Peterson

André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.


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