Eight world-class chess players will meet on the Baltic Sea from Friday (February 9th, 2024). The game is played in a new mode in which the figures are initially drawn. This is a dream come true for superstar Magnus Carlsen, and top German talent Vincent Keymer is also at the start.
Magnus Carlsen doesn’t seem unmotivated. Quite the opposite: the usually grumpy Norwegian just gushes when he reports on the advantages of the Schach960 variant, which is played in a world-class tournament on Weissenhäuser Strand on the Baltic Sea.
Unpredictable starting lineup
The games are unpredictable because the starting lineup of the figures is drawn beforehand. Otherwise, the openings in chess in particular are often boring because they have already been played and studied millions of times. But a starting formation where the rook can start in the middle but the king can start on the outside of the field? “Totally exciting for the spectators and a new challenge for us players,” says Carlsen. “This tournament is a dream come true for me.”
There is no sign of Magnus Carlsen these days, who voluntarily gave up his world championship title a few years ago and no longer wants to play for the chess crown in classical chess because he “can no longer motivate himself to do so.” Carlsen was allowed to have a say in the players and format for the “Freestyle Chess GOAT Challenge”. The result is a tournament that has probably never existed before.
Carlsen meets world champion Ding Liren
Eight players are there, Carlsen meets, among others, the world champion Ding Liren, established top players like Caruana and Aronian, but also a four-member guild of young talents who are getting closer and closer to the established top dogs: the Uzbek Abdussatorov, the Indian Gukesh, the French Firouzja – and the top German talent Vincent Keymer.
World chess champion Ding Liren
The game is initially played in rapid chess mode, later using the classic time limit. The starting formations are drawn ten minutes before the start of the game, so the players then have little time to prepare for starting formations that are sometimes completely unknown. “It’s definitely an exciting style, especially for players who have been there for 20 years,” says Keymer. After just a few moves, blatant mistakes would often occur, something that hardly exists in classic chess with the well-known opening variations. Keymer says he can easily imagine playing blitz, rapid chess or Schach960 at a world championship at some point, not just using the classic time limit, but also blitz, rapid chess or Schach960.
Schach960 has been played for a long time, but rarely at really big tournaments. It is also known as Fischer-Random. Jan Henric Buettner, who organizes the tournament on the Baltic Sea, thinks everything is too complicated, especially for people outside the chess bubble. “Nobody outside the chess world can do anything with these names,” says Buettner. But he wants to make chess for a new audience, with more spectacle surrounding the actual sport. That’s why Buettner came up with the name “Freestyle Chess” and patented it straight away. If everything goes as planned, there will be further editions of the tournament; Buettner is envisioning similar tournaments in India and the USA.
The German Top Talent Vincent Keymer
Carlsen’s enormous power
The rest of the tournament name is a tribute to the “GOAT”, the Greatest of All Time. This refers to Carlsen, for many the best chess player of all time. He is challenged and has to be beaten. Buettner openly admits that Carlsen was allowed to select and invite the players for the tournament himself – further evidence of the enormous power of Carlsen, who, even without a world champion title, is still number 1 in the chess world and the clear figurehead of the sport.
Carlsen has been at loggerheads with the World Chess Federation FIDE for years. The Norwegian would like a faster, different mode for the World Cup, where games are played for weeks with a long reflection time.
The players’ pulse is measured
On the Baltic Sea there is now the mix of short and long reflection periods he wants. A lot of things are also different than usual. All players wear watches during games to measure their pulse. Will this jump to 180 in the event of a mistake, called a “blunder” in chess?
The games are drawn by the beauty queen from Angola, who Buettner also had flown in. According to his own information, he invested more than one million euros in the tournament.
There is also a “confession box”, a small, isolated booth in which the players can make contact with the spectators on the screens during the games – to let them share their own thoughts, point out their own mistakes or a mistake made by the opponent . A promising idea that was already present at tournaments many years ago, but inexplicably was never taken up again.
The aim is to reach 20 million people
Tournament director Buettner finds it “sad” how chess tournaments have been presented to the public so far. Now he, who as an entrepreneur made millions of dollars by selling AOL Europe, wants to do better himself. Buettner hopes his tournament will reach 20 million people. If that succeeds, he can imagine investing in further tournaments and German chess. Maybe there will be a new sponsor on the Baltic Sea for top talent Keymer, who has been looking for support for a long time. Buettner would like to talk to him.
He is not the first patron to organize his own tournament. Now he has to prove that he can achieve what he set out to do with a world-class field of players: “It should be the best tournament of all time!”