The Best In Iceland

by Arne Kaehler
1/24/2022 – In 2020, we started a series called "The Best In", and interviewed some of the strongest male and female players of Aruba, The Bahamas, Brazil, Trinidad & Tobago, Armenia and Austria. The popular series will continue as a YouTube version with a 1-to-1 Zoom interview, including an analysis of the player's favourite game. We start the new chapter with the coldest country so far - Iceland. And in 2021, Hjörvar Steinn Grétarsson has had his best chess year so far. He speaks with us about the chess situation in Iceland, his motivation for the next years, and an interesting, mad story with another "ginger" chess fellow - Simon Williams.

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The Best In Iceland

with Hjorvar Steinn Gretarsson

Chess in Iceland

Iceland's population of about 370000 is rather small, compared to it's size of over 100,000 km2. This means that the country has about the same population density as Australia, or Namibia. | Iceland Photos: Pixabay

The waterfall Seljalandsfoss

Rural Icelandic landscape

Aurora Boralis

Around a third of the total population of Iceland can be found in the capital city, Reykjavík.

It's surprising that Iceland has quite a few titleholders in its ranks, including ten active grandmasters. This is certainly due to the history of the cold island, with the World Championship match between Fischer and Spassky. But the former FIDE President Fridrik Ólafsson also contributed greatly to the current chess culture. 

In the capital, at the Selfossi fishery, you can visit the Bobby Fischer Centre to see, among other things, the original signed scoresheets of the players, and get a taste of the magic of the 70s.

Since 1964, the popular Reykjavik Open has been won by players such as Mikhail Tal, Wang Hao, Levon Aronian, Fabiano Caruana, Wesley So and Anish Giri.

Fun Facts:

  • Levon Aronian won in 2004 and played for Germany
  • Fabiano Caruana won in 2012, then still for Italy
  • and Wesley So a year later, for the Philippines

Interview with Hjorvar Gretarsson

  • 0:42 - How to pronounce your name correctly?
  • 1:09 - Why are there so many good chess players in Iceland, and are you related to them?
  • 2:40 - Do you remember when you learned to play chess?
  • 3:59 - What was the greatest chess boom effect for Iceland? Bobby Fischer? Championship 1972?
  • 6:30 - Is chess your profession, or do you have another job?
  • 8:21 - You are very social. How did the coronavirus affect your mood and chess life?
  • 10:04 - Which title win, was the most important for you?
  • 12:03 - According to the Mega Database, your favourite openings seem to be the Queen's Gambit and the classical Sicilian. Is this correct?
  • 14:04 - What was your very first chess success?
  • 15:31 - You became a GM in 2013. Any game you remember particularly well?
  • 17:46 - You reached a 2600 rating, the GM title, and won the Icelandic championship. Any motivation to accomplish something more in chess?
  • 19:47 - How can we imagine the current chess scene in Iceland?
  • 22:00 - Did you play more online chess during the lockdown?
  • 24:02 - You played in plenty of Olympiads. Which one was your favourite?
  • 25:02 - Any hobbies or passions besides chess? And what can you even do in Iceland?
  • 26:30 - I watched a YT Video of Simon Williams, who called you "Ginger Karpov". What is that about? And he also mentioned you in a very interesting bar and drinking story?
  • 31:35 - What strengthened your chess skill the most?
  • 33:03 - Do you have any role models?
  • 34:45 - What is your favourite chess book?
  • 36:05 - Any favourite chess movie/series?
  • 37:25 - Analysis of one of Hjoervar Gretasson's favourite games played

Below are the two games, mentioned in the interview:



Arne Kaehler, a creative mind who is passionate about board games in general, was born in Hamburg and learned to play chess at a young age. By teaching chess to youth teams and creating chess-related videos on YouTube, Arne was able to expand this passion and has even created an online course for anyone who wants to learn how to play chess. Arne writes for the English and German news sites, but focuses mainly on content for the ChessBase media channels.


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