The International Chess Federation and Chess.com announce the Online Nations Cup, a team competition held May 5-10, 2020. Six teams are due to take part in this competition: Russia, USA, Europe, China, India, plus a team representing the “Rest of the World.”
This epoch-making battle draws some similarities with golf’s Ryder Cup, or with the 1970 “USSR vs. Rest of the World” chess match-up that made headlines in Bobby Fischer’s heyday. But the new “match of the century” will be more global, entirely online, and also gender-inclusive, since the team line-ups must include at least one female player.
Two retired legends, Garry Kasparov and Vladimir Kramnik, will be the captains for the European and Indian teams respectively. A former world championship rival of both of them, Vishwanathan Anand, will defend the first board of the Indian team.
The Online Nations Cup is a team championship showdown, where six teams of four players each will fight under a rapid play format, for a prize fund of USD 180.000. The event, co-organized by the International Chess Federation and the leading chess-playing platform Chess.com, is expected to feature nearly all the top players on the planet, representing China, India, Russia, the USA, Europe, and “Rest of the World”.
The first stage, a double round-robin with the six teams, will take place on May 5-9. The top two teams will then play in a Superfinal on Sunday, May 10, to determine the FIDE Chess.com Online Nations Cup champion. The games will be played in a rapid format, where each player begins the game with 25 minutes on their clock, plus 10 seconds of extra time added after each move.
The exact composition of the teams will be confirmed tomorrow (April 22). The preliminary entry list includes three generations of the best players: from 50-year-old Viswanathan Anand (multiple-time World Champion and still in the world’s top-20) to the newest chess phenomenon, the 16-year-old Iranian Alireza Firouzja. The regulations stipulate that in every match the line-up of the teams must include at least one female player, and the best women’s players in the world have already expressed their readiness to take part in the tournament.
In order to guarantee fair play in an entirely online event, during their games, players will be observed by FIDE-affiliated international arbiters via a video conference call. To ensure that the participants don’t receive any kind of external help from a computer, their webcam, computer screen and the room in which they are playing will be under supervision.
The tournament will be broadcast live across multiple outlets including FIDE’s and Chess.com’s own channels across Twitch, YouTube, Mixer, Twitter, and other international streaming platforms. With an estimated audience of several million worldwide, commentary by chess experts will be conducted in multiple languages, including English, Spanish, Russian, Mandarin, French, German, Portuguese, Italian, Turkish and Polish.
“This is a unique event that will combine competitive chess at the highest level, with a top-notch online spectacle”, says Arkady Dvorkovich, President of the International Chess Federation. “The reasons why an official tournament like this has to be conducted online are very unfortunate – but we are happy to see that chess is providing solace to millions of people who are under a home lockdown: they can play themselves, and they can also enjoy the thrill of a first-class sporting event”.
The move represents the latest initiative by FIDE to shift its activities to the online arena. Like every other sport, the International Chess Federation has seen its activities disrupted amid the coronavirus shutdown: one of its flagship events, the Candidates Tournament, had to be halted midway, while the Chess Olympiad, which was supposed to take place in Russia this summer, had to be postponed to 2021.
However, chess has an advantage over other sports: fully competitive chess can be played online, with no compromise on quality. And in fact, this sport is experiencing a boom when it comes to casual players: chess clubs online have witnessed a record number of games being played. An estimated 16 million games are being played online every day since the lockdown began – 9 million of them on Chess.com alone. “We are currently experiencing significant accelerated growth”, says Nick Barton, Director of Business Development for Chess.com. “While we wish the unfortunate circumstances surrounding this groundbreaking event were different, we are pleased to be working with FIDE in bringing a major championship to the online landscape for fans around the world.”
The FIDE Chess.com Online Nations Cup is the first in a series of competitive online events to be organized by FIDE in cooperation with various partners. The governing body of Chess has also launched a number of online workshops and lectures for its members and affiliates.