Why don’t world chess champions play in open tournaments?

We recently wrote about the big news around the Magnus Carlsen and Qatar Masters Open 2015. Yes, the World Chess Champion will be taking part in the event. It is not often you hear that a world chess champion is taking part in an open event. Why? Well there are a number of reasons contributing to this. So it is a major coup for the Qatar Masters Tournament to secure the participation of World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen, the dominant chess player over the past several years.

Magnus Carlsen 2015

Hectic diaries, playing schedules and commitments

Chances are World Champions like any other top chess players work out their diaries and playing schedules several months in advance. This would be the case because there is a great deal that goes into planning for a tournament. Players do not want to take part in too many or too few tournaments.  Taking part in tournaments also brings about obligations, for example with sponsors, and sometimes various promotional activities have to be carried out in addition to taking part in the tournament itself. All these things have to be considered in playing a tournament.

Tournaments are not prestigious enough 
Generally the top players will play in top events which include exclusive events. A player has to work very hard to get to the top of chess and it can be argued that the privilege of playing in top tournaments is certainly well deserved. Think about it in other sports. How many times do you hear a top tennis player like Novak Djokovic or Roger Federer play in any open? You don’t! These players are extremely selective about which event they take part in.
It is risky to play in open tournaments
Top Grandmasters have a great deal to lose by taking part in open tournaments because open tournaments are going to have a large range in terms of Elo ratings.
Magnus Carlsen risky

Looking to much weaker players will be very costly and an open tournament is one place where many upsets take place. It is much safer and expected for a top player to play mostly in tournaments where other opponents are at more or less the same level. In that instance the Elo rating is not hit too hard in terms of defeat. Much weaker players in terms of Elo ratings will fancy their chances against much tougher opponents. Because the higher ranked players will have a lot to prove when they meet much weaker players, this may lead to them taking more risk that they normally do and lead to decisive results one way or the other.

Computers have evened the playing field

Computers, powerful chess engines and technology have evened the field when it comes to preparation. Thus it is very easy for a much weaker player to even know certain lines or variations better than more experienced players. This is just how things are in chess.

Brutal playing schedule at open events

The schedule at an open chess event will most likely be brutal with no rest days unlike top invitational tournaments. Therefore if a player has a bad day there is very little time to recover. Playing at classical time controls with no rest days is brutal. There is very little time to prepare for an opponent. With such a large number of players there is much more work to do in terms of opening prep – just so many variables at play.

Some champions are just not active enough
Magnus Carlsen is certainly an exceptional World Chess Champion, not just in terms of playing strength and consistency but his participation in chess tournaments and the amount of promotional activity he has been involved in to get more chess in the media. No doubt this must require a delicate balancing act as he still has to work on his chess to keep improving as a player. He is the reigning Classical, Rapid and Blitz World Champion at the time of writing this article. This is a truly incredible feat (winning any of these championships is very taxing and difficult) and I cannot remember any other chess player who held all three titles simultaneously. Given that Magnus Carlsen was already open to the idea of taking part in an open, it might not come as a complete surprise that he is taking part in the Qatar Masters Open but that is still a big development which will bring a great deal of excitement to the game.
Could this be the beginning of a trend?
Will Magnus Carlsen start a trend for more top players to take part in more chess opens?  Who knows? But one thing for sure is that the Open Event will have to be something really special for a World Champion like Carlsen to squeeze into what must be a tight diary and playing schedule. He is an unusual player who takes risks and taking part in the Qatar Masters Open is one of them but chess will be the biggest beneficiary of this and we thank Magnus Carlsen and everyone else who has worked hard to get him to sign up for the tournament. These are exciting times for the game of chess.

Bruce Mubayiwa

I am the founder and editor of Africa Chess Net. I have been playing chess for over 25 years and love writing about the game. Our goal is simple, to get more people playing chess in Africa! The game of chess is not only absorbing but a great deal of fun.

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