December, 13 2023
Uzbekistan's chess renaissance: 2023 World Rapid and Blitz Championships officially opened in Samarkand
Set against the backdrop of the historical city where some of the world’s oldest chess pieces were discovered, the World Rapid and Blitz Chess Championships were opened in Samarkand in a grand ceremony.
Gathered in the architectural marvel of the Silk Road Samarkand hotel complex, the world’s chess elite geared up for the highly anticipated World Rapid and Blitz Chess Championships, which will take place from December 26th to December 30th in the historically rich city of Samarkand, Uzbekistan.
The opening ceremony, held today at the Conference hall of the hotel “Silk Road by Minyoun,” unveiled a spectacular convergence of art, culture, and history. The hour-long event commemorated the history of chess, the significance of the World Rapid and Blitz competitions, Uzbekistan’s rising prominence in the chess world, and the rich heritage of Samarkand.
The ceremony started with a video chronicling the recent history of the World Rapid and Blitz tournament and highlighting the key moments from previous events. The next part was all about the money: a group of performers dressed in black and white – resembling chess pieces – got up to the stage, carrying a chest which, as it turned out, had one million dollars in cash in it. It wasn’t clear if the money was real or face, but the high presence of security guards sparked questions from the audience.
In another part of the ceremony, attention was drawn to Uzbekistan’s ongoing Third Renaissance – representing a third wave of cultural, intellectual, and national reform the nation has embarked on. It was revealed that a part of that project involves chess and that the government is channelling resources into educational initiatives and state-of-the-art facilities. A testament to this commitment is the establishment of one of the world’s most expansive chess centers dedicated to learning. In the press conference earlier in the day, Magnus Carlsen underscored this by saying that when asked in Kazakhstan last year what the best way to develop chess is, he responded, “I just said, look at what Uzbekistan is doing”.
Mr. Adkham Ikramov, Minister of Youth Policy and Sports of the Republic of Uzbekistan, conveyed his excitement, stating, “Uzbekistan is very pleased to be hosting such an important event in Samarkand, an ancient but modern city. The interest in the media, both from the region and abroad, is huge, and we are thankful for that. Each day for the past four months, we worked hard on this event, and we hope the next six days will be fruitful and successful”.
Arkady Dvorkovich, President of the International Chess Federation (FIDE), expressed gratitude to Uzbekistan for hosting the event and emphasized FIDE’s objective to organize more global chess events, providing enthusiasts worldwide the chance to witness their heroes in action.
“Dear friends, in the next five days, new pages of chess history will be written. Many of the world’s finest players have come together to fight for the crowns in Rapid and Blitz chess. There will be excitement and tension, happy and sad moments, but above all – sportsmanship must prevail. To the players, the organizers and everyone involved in this event – I wish you the best of luck,” said Dvorkovich.
One of the main sponsors of the event is Kaspersky, the international cybersecurity company. In a statement released ahead of the event, Sandro Cisco, Head of Global Partnerships and Sponsorships at Kaspersky, said the following: “Just as chess grandmasters carefully plan their moves, cybersecurity experts employ carefully considered strategies to stay one step ahead of their cyber adversaries. At Kaspersky, we believe that understanding these parallels provides valuable insights into the complex world of cybersecurity. In keeping with the principles of strategic thinking, adaptability, and risk management, we extend our heartfelt greetings to all participating chess players, wishing them masterful moves, impregnable defences, and resolute determination. May the championship be a showcase of brilliance and unwavering skill!”
The drawing of lots
The final part of the ceremony was reserved for the traditional drawing of the lots to determine which pieces the top seed players would play with in the Rapid and the Blitz.
It transformed into a theatrical enactment where top seed Magnus Carlsen, Ju Wenjun and Lei Tingjie took part, which ended with them being dressed in traditional Uzbek robes in the colours of the pieces they will start the tournament with!
The drawing of lots determined the following:
Open – Magnus Carlsen, as the top seed, starts as White
Women’s – Ju Wenjun, as the top seed, starts as White
Open – Magnus Carlsen, as the top seed, starts as White
Women’s – Lei Tingjie, as the top seed, starts as Black
Written by Milan Dinic
Photos: Anastasia Korolkova
About the event
The tournament will witness an impressive lineup of renowned players, both current and former champions. In the Open section, the lineup includes the current World Rapid and Blitz Champion and world number one, Magnus Carlsen, former world champion challengers and top players Ian Nepomniachtchi and Fabiano Caruana, as well as Levon Aronian and others. In the Women’s section, the current world champion Ju Wenjun will compete, as well as former world champions – Alexandra Kosteniuk, Mariya Muzychuk, Tan Zhongyi, Antoaneta Stefanova and others.
With a total prize fund of one million US dollars at stake, with $700,000 for the Open and $300,000 for the Women’s tournaments, this championship represents a pinnacle in the chess world.
The first competition to take place is the World Rapid, played over three days between December 26th and December 28th. The event will be followed by a two-day World Blitz tournament on the December 29th and 30th.
With an impressive lineup of players and a large prize fund, the 2023 World Rapid and Blitz promises thrilling excitement and fierce competition amongst the top chess grandmasters from around the globe.