Strong competition: the Bundesliga

by Johannes Fischer
10/20/2014 – Anand, Aronian, Svidler, Adams, Bacrot, Shirov, Naiditsch and Kasimdzhanov - no, not the line-up of an international tournament but the top eight boards of the OSG Baden Baden, since nine years winner of the Bundesliga. This year the OSG is favorite to win the tenth time in a row. But after the first Bundesliga weekend another team took the lead.

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The Bundesliga, Germany's first league, is one of the strongest team competions in the world. 16 teams play on eight boards in a round-robin tournament, the Elo-average of the first eight boards of the strongest team is 2740, eight teams have an elo-average of more than 2600 on the first eight boards, and even the eight best players of the nominally weakest team of this season, the SSC Rostock, reach an elo-average of 2402.

The season began October 18th, 2014 and will end on April 12th, 2015, the team with the most points will be German Team Champion, the last four are relegated to the second league. On the one hand the Bundesliga is an expression of Germany's unique and rich club-life, on the other hand it is international. Very international.

As there is no limit to the number of non-Germans who are allowed to play in a team - theoretically, any team can nominate eight or more players from China, Russia, India or any other country of the world to fight for the title of German champion - and because the event is so prestigious the world's best players and World Champions such as Boris Spassky, Mihail Tal, Vladimir Kramnik, Vishy Anand have played and play in the Bundesliga. Moreover, players are not restricted to one European or international team. In fact, several professionals do not only start in the Bundesliga, but also play in France, England, Belgium, Greece, Austria and even more countries.

While one might argue that the many non-German players rob German talent of the chance to play in the Bundesliga, they also give the talents an opportunity to test and improve their skills against international top players. No wonder, many of them became International Masters and Grandmasters in the Bundesliga.

All this does not come cheap. Christian Zickelbein, founding president of Schachbundesliga e.V., the organisation responsible for marketing and organisation of the Bundesliga, estimated the total costs for all clubs in the season 2011 to amount to 1.000.000 Euros (see The clubs provide some part of the money, but the biggest part is provided by sponsors and patrons.

In the past this somewhat shaky financial foundation again and again has had an impact on sporting aspects. Thus, a number of teams who had the right to play in the Bundesliga were unwilling to risk this financial adventure. Or officially relegated teams suddenly could play another season because higher placed teams had to withdraw from the league because of financial troubles.

In fact, after the first two rounds the strongest, and financially strongest teams, form the upper part of the table, while the financially less fortunate fight against relegation. But after two rounds it is not the favorite OSB Baden-Baden who leads the field but the SV Werder Bremen. And Bremen's top scorer was not a professional coming from far away, but Matthias Blübaum, one of the strongest German juniors.

Matthias Blübaum (Foto: SV Werder Bremen)

In the first round, Bremen scored a convincing 5.5-2.5 win against Hamburg, and Blübaum proved his technical skills in an endgame bishop vs. knight.


In the second round Bremen even went one better and won 6.5-1.5 against SSC Rostock, and in this match Blübaum showed tactical and technical skills.


Another notable and entertaining game was played by the young Hungarian Richard Rapport who once again proved how effective unusual openings can be.


Richard Rapport at Wijk aan Zee 2014

One team that might endanger the tenth consecutive win of the OSG Baden-Baden is the SK Schwäbisch-Hall. While the team has a very German name, its line-up with Gelfand, Jakovenko, Wojtaszek, Li Chao, Laznicka, Inarkiev, Gharamian and Avrukh on the first eight boards is again very international.

Schwäbisch-Hall is the number two seed, and in the first round they had to play the third seed, SV Mülheim Nord. The match ended in a 4-4 draw and the Chinese GM Li Chao scored an important and convincing win against GM Konstantin Landa.


Li Chao at the Reykjanik Open 2014 (Foto: Alina L'Ami)

Standings after two rounds

 1. SV Werder Bremen           2  4  12 
 2. SG Trier                   2  4  10½ 
 3. SK Turm Emsdetten          2  4  10 
 4. OSG Baden Baden            2  4  10 
 5. SV Mülheim Nord            2  3  10½ 
 6. SV Hockenheim              2  3   9½ 
 7. SK Schwäbisch Hall         2  3   9 
 8. USV Dresden                2  2   9 
 9. SG Solingen                2  2   8 
10. SC Eppingen                2  2   7 
11. Sportfreunde Katernberg    2  1   6½ 
12. Schachfreunde Berlin       2  0   6 
13. SC Hansa Dortmund          2  0   5½ 
14. Hamburger SK               2  0   5½ 
15. SSC Rostock 07             2  0   4½ 
16. FC Bayern München          2  0   4½ 



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Johannes Fischer was born in 1963 in Hamburg and studied English and German literature in Frankfurt. He now lives as a writer and translator in Nürnberg. He is a FIDE-Master and regularly writes for KARL, a German chess magazine focusing on the links between culture and chess. On his own blog he regularly publishes notes on "Film, Literature and Chess".


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