Start of the "Grand Swiss"

by André Schulz
10/9/2019 – The annual Isle of Man Open has become a top tournament in recent years and has now been "promoted" by FIDE into the "Grand Swiss", a tournament that is now one of the qualification routes for the 2020 Candidates Tournament. The elite field is led by World Champion Magnus Carlsen. Today is the opening ceremony, while Round 1 starts Thursday.

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The Candidates is 11 games away

The Isle of Man Open this year is officially re-named FIDE Grand Swiss. Whether the tournament title is also understood outside the well-informed chess tournament scene, is rather uncertain: why "Grand Swiss", when it is played on an island at "Grand Bretagne", may ask some sports journalist, oblivious to the history of the format of chess tournaments. Of course "Swiss" means the Swiss pairing system. And yet, rather unusually for a Swiss it is also correct to omit the term "Open" in the tournament name, because the tournament is no longer open to all but has become quite selective.

Incidentally, apart from its geographical proximity, the Isle of Man has a rather loose relationship with Great Britain. The island belongs to the English queen personally, not to Great Britain and certainly not to the EU. If she wanted, the English crown could probably sell the island anytime. Maybe a suggestion for Donald Trump, who we hear would like to buy some land in Europe. It can't hurt to ask, right? Since the Isle of Man is completely autonomous, many special rules are possible, especially with regard to taxes. Companies, and even private individuals, who do not like to pay high taxes, can take up residence here.

Once the annual Isle of Man motorcycle race was the ultimate sporting event; now it's the chess tournament. With the "Grand Swiss" FIDE has created a new and quite direct way to qualify for the Candidates Tournament. After a little more than two weeks and eleven games you could have made it...if you had a rating of more than 2600 or so. The World Cup and the Grand Prix are marathons by comparison. On the flip side, since the path is so "easy", the competition is fierce — almost all world-class players have registered. The list of those with an Elo rating of more than 2700 goes down to number 21.

There would be funny consolation that a second place finish might be enough if, and only if, World Champion Magnus Carlsen wins. Yes, the World Champion plays on the Isle of Man, but he can't play a World Championship match with himself, so he's not going to be participating in the Candidates Tournament. But he would be content with the lion's share of the prize money; the total price fund is a whopping USD $432,500, and the winner takes $70,000. Prize money extends down to 30th place plus a few extra awards for women.

If Carlsen and Caruana take the first two places, you can even qualify as third best, since Caruana is already destined for his third Candidates next year.

Players starting rank

1 GM
Magnus Norway 2876 Rating Qualifier 1
2 GM
Fabiano United States 2812 Rating Qualifier 2
3 GM
Wesley United States 2767 Rating Qualifier 11
4 GM
Viswanathan India 2765 Rating Qualifier 7
5 GM
Yangyi China 2763 Rating Qualifier 13
6 GM
Sergey Russia 2760 Rating Qualifier 15
7 GM
Alexander Russia 2759 Rating Qualifier 8
8 GM
Levon Armenia 2758 Rating Qualifier 12
9 GM
Radoslaw Poland 2748 Rating Qualifier 24
10 GM
Vladislav Russia 2746 Rating Qualifier 30
11 GM
Pentala India 2746 Rating Qualifier 22
12 GM
Hikaru United States 2745 Rating Qualifier 14
13 GM
Nikita Russia 2732 Rating Qualifier 27
14 GM
Peter Russia 2729 Rating Qualifier 17
15 GM
Hao China 2726 Rating Qualifier 29
16 GM
Xiangzhi China 2721 Rating Qualifier 28
17 GM
Santosh Gujrathi India 2718 Rating Qualifier 34
18 GM
Maxim Russia 2716 Rating Qualifier 44
19 GM
Quang Liem Vietnam 2708 Rating Qualifier 32
20 GM
Jeffery United States 2708 Rating Qualifier 77
21 GM
Sam United States 2705 Rating Qualifier 26

...119 players

A total of 119 players are in the starting list and had to qualify for participation, with 100 spots awarded on the basis of Elo.

John Saunders has penned an in-depth preview, in which he asks, "who's going to win"?

...Carlsen. Next question. Well, OK, he’s at least the hot favourite, particularly over a gruelling 11 rounds but of course you cannot discount Fabiano Caruana who is a class act and due some success in 2019 after a lean year by his standards. Besides those two, I look at the other names, distinguished as they are, and don’t quite see anyone going toe to toe with them in the hurly-burly of a Swiss-paired event. The extra two rounds compared with the usual Isle of Man Masters’ schedule could make quite a difference. One recalls Alexander Grischuk’s comment last year that the tournament came to an end just as it seemed to start, with his game in the ninth and last round against MVL (which he won) being the tournament’s only pairing amongst the top ten rated participants. With eleven rounds to play, that surely can’t happen this time, but high finishers will need to maximise their scores in earlier rounds against players in the 2600-2700 bracket, which will require something more incisive than the cagey strategy often employed in closed events.


Officially, the tournament starts today, October 9th with an opening ceremony. On Thursday (October 10th) the first round will be played.

Wednesday, the 16th is the single rest day, and the last round takes place on Monday, the 21st .

All rounds start at 14:00 UTC (16:00 CEST), except the last round which starts at 12.30 UTC (14:30 CEST).

Translation from German: Macauley Peterson


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


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