Off to the World Cup

I’m sitting at the Pearson Airport, with some time to kill before flying to Russia. Second time to Khanty-Mansiysk in less than a year, this time for the World Cup.

I will be playing against GM Riazantsev, ranked 50th in the world, in the first round. I don’t know when I will be coming back. Hopefully not too soon. It’s somewhat ridiculous that chess players (including myself) hope to qualify for the World Cup, to go to Khanty-Mansiysk, and half the players will be gone within a week. But such is life.

From a spectator’s point of view, the World Cup is great. People getting knocked out every round, there is always action. It’s the playoffs, with round robin tournaments being the regular season. More is on the line.

For the players, the first round can resemble a boxing match. We know the enemy and we prepare for him for an extended period of time. Prepared for every jab, we are preparing our own hooks.

This is an exclusive tournament. I will report back when I am home. Time for work. Game one is on Sunday.

2011 World Cup

The World Cup will start at the end of this month. The event is a 128 player knock-out that will once again take place in Khanty-Mansiysk. The city held the 2005, 2007 and 2009 World Cups, as well as the 2010 Olympiad. You can dig up my reports on the Olympiad from September and October 2010.

Khanty-Mansiysk is in Western Siberia. It’s easy to be skeptical. However, there are advantages to having events in “remote locations”. It’s a big event for the locals. Everybody knows about it, and the city does everything to accommodate it. This might have been more true with the Olympiad, where we had police officers directing traffic and NEVER making our buses wait on a left turn, but I expect good treatment once again. It’s a big event for the community, as their Wikipedia page shows.

Are there better places to go than Khanty Mansiysk? Well, I’ll ignore my own rhetorical question. It takes a very long time get there. There is also a 10 hour time difference with Toronto.

You can check out the tournament website here. There will be three Canadians taking part in the World Cup. Only one is certain of when he will leave, and that is IA Hal Bond. Hal will be one of the arbiters at the event.

The players do not have much stability. Elimination is the name of the game. 128 players. Matches include two serious time control games. A tie leads to rapid games. Another tie leads to blitz games. A final tie leads to Armageddon.

Simple math states that 50% of players are gone after the first round (maximum of 3 days), 75% gone after two rounds (6 days). I bought a one way ticket. I’ll figure out how to get back when the time comes.

Canadian IM Eric Hansen is paired against Super-GM Gashimov from Azerbaijan, rated 2760. I will be playing against GM Riazantsev from Russia, rated 2688. You can see the full first round pairings here. The pairings have already been changed once. No surprises are expected at this point.

The event is a lottery in a way, but also a very good way to test the nerves of the players. There are a lot of “approximately equal” players the the top. Take the 2009 World Cup as an example. GM Gelfand came out victorious. Not a fluke. At the 2011 Canadidates Matches, Boris beat GMs Mamedyarov, Kamsky and Grischuk to become the next challenger in the World Championship Match.

The tournament is one of a kind. We all prepare, play hard, and hope for the best.

The Decision

The decision was not last-minute. It was an easy one for me to make. The decision was made in April after winning the Pan-American Championships in Mexico. I knew it would only be a year of professional chess. The World Cup is a perfect final stop.
I have met a lot of professional chess players over the years and have always tried to absorb as much information as possible. This year did not throw any curve balls. It was just as advertised and the way I saw it before.
It would have been a shame to not have any results that stand out during this year. My results in Mexico and Cuba are certainly something to be proud of.
An important thing was the “last tournament”. Qualifying to the World Cup was big because it seems like the best way to end the year: with a big international event.
So why leave the world of chess? A much harder questions would be: “why stay in it?” Before this year, it was clear to me that I did not want to be a professional chess player. This year was, in part, about not having regrets and getting my chess fix. A big part of my early life was spent playing chess and it just made sense to do it full time for a year before starting a career elsewhere.
The world of chess is not a thriving one for the chess professionals. The situation in certainly not getting any better. The top 20 in the world make a good living, with the top five making a very good living. It pays to be a chess professional in India, China and Cuba due to government support. Eastern European countries also offer different opportunities. But this is Canada, where career opportunities are endless. It never made sense to be a professional chess player.
While young, the life style could be exciting. If there is a family to support, excitement turns into a desire to make ends meet and see the family more. There is no stability.
The more logical way to make a living in chess while living in North America is by giving lessons or starting a chess school. But that turns into a completely different ball game.
I will not be leaving chess completely. Not yet sure to what extent. The game has benefited me in many ways. At the age of 23, I have traveled the world and have been fortunate enough to experience things that only few get a chance to. Chess has taken me to 10 countries, outside of Canada, this last year alone. It is time to move on and think about the future.
I will change gears after the World Cup and pursue a career in investment banking. Until then, there is still work to be done…
Next is a post on the World Cup.