Wonderful: The "Asterufer" match in Hamburg

by Johannes Fischer
6/2/2018 – The city of Hamburg, Germany, is shaped by two rivers: the Elbe that runs from East to West and connects Hamburg to the sea, and the more idyllic Alster that runs from North to South through the city. In 1957 schoolteachers in Hamburg had the idea to let schools lying to the right of the Alster play chess against schools to the left of the Alster. In 1958 the first "Alsterufer" match took place. 60 years later it is one of the world's biggest chess tournaments - and a fantastic chess spectacle. | Fotos: Stefan Malzkorn

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Funny, loud, colourful, entertaining

In 1958, 193 students took part in the very first "Alsterufer" match. Sixty years later 3,888 children and juniors from 143 schools in Hamburg came to the Barclay Card Arena to celebrate chess.

Each team consists of eight players and each school can nominate as many teams as it likes. The strength of the participants varies wildly. A lot of the players are still very young and absolute beginners but Hamburg's best juniors — players who sometimes are already International Masters or even Grandmasters — also regularly take part in the event.

To level the field, the organizers estimate the playing strength of the various teams before the start of the tournament and try to pair teams of roughly equal strength against each other. The teams with the best result — usually 8-0 — of the winning "Alsterufer" (this year teams from the right bank of the Alster) take part in a lottery, and the winner of this lottery gets to keep the challenge cup for one year.

"Rechtes gegen Linkes Alsterufer"

On the all-time ranking list the "Linke Alsterufer" (the left bank of the Alster) leads by 36-21 but in the year of the 60th jubilee the "Rechte Alsterufer" (the right bank of the Alster) triumphed by a final result of 1,031½ : 912½, thus shortening the gap in the overall result to 26,628½ : 26,985½.

The challenge cup for the winner went to the Goethe-Gymnasium from Lurup, the Käthe-Kollwitz-Gymnasium from Halberstadt won the prize for the best guest team.

The cup is coveted, and every team wants to win it, but the "Alsterufer" Festival is, first of all, a chess spectacle. It is also one of the biggest chess tournaments in the world — and maybe the loudest, most funny and most entertaining too.


The battle can begin

The "Alsterufer" match is more than chess. Zoe Wees opened the event with her song "Unstoppable".

Let's try something more positional!

Thies Rabe, high-ranking politician and secretary of schools in Hamburg (left) made the first moves: 1.c2-c4, the English Opening as the senator proudly told the crowd afterwards. Carsten Höltkemeyer (right) from the main sponsor Barclaycard moderated.

The team of the Goethe-Gymnasiums from Lurup with the winner's cup

The band "Til" took care that the chess tournament finished in style

Let's play again — the "Alsterufer" match in Hamburg makes chess come alive


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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