Sunway Sitges Chess Festival: The Show Must Go On


As one of the few strong open chess tournaments during the pandemic, the Sunway Sitges Chess Festival is underway in Sitges, Spain. While the participants enjoy playing chess as never before, the tournament hall showcases a wonderful variety of face masks.

Since April of this year, we know that Oskar Stober Blazquez, the owner of the Sunway Sitges hotel and the main organizer of the tournament, likes challenges. He successfully held the first-ever online tournament with a classical time control, the Sunway Sitges International Online Chess Open, when Spain and most of Europe were in its first strict lockdown.

The biggest challenge was the aspect of cheating. There were some cases, and these players were removed from the tournament.

Stober: “I tend to look at it from the perspective of a hotel manager. The satisfaction of the participants is of higher value than chess standards. This might not sound politically correct but if I look back, people were so grateful, so delighted. They had such a good time.”

Eight months later, holding the seventh edition of the festival is no less of a challenge. While it was never certain that the tournament could be held, Stober also never really planned to cancel it.

“If everything is canceled, we have a chance to do something no one is doing,” he said.

The playing hall with, naturally, fewer boards than usual. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Sunway Sitges.

After that first lockdown, Sitges had a reasonably normal summer with a 75 percent occupancy for Stober’s hotel—mostly Spaniards. The situation in Catalonia was more or less stable for four, five months and by the end of September, Stober decided to have another event.

“It was not ‘let’s do it,’ but ‘let’s not cancel it.'”

Then came the second wave in October, and it became more likely that the authorities would not allow the tournament to happen. However, while sports in general were restricted to professional players, international competitions were allowed.

Last year the tournament had about 450 participants. It was clear that it had to be scaled down.

“We expected 100 people at most and only from our area,” said Stober. “Then things started to go better again mid-November, and we reached 230, our limit.”

The timing of the event couldn’t be better because, while it is underway, the numbers of COVID-19 positives in Spain are going up again. At the moment there are some restrictions for restaurants, bars, and theaters and a limitation to travel during weekends, but it is expected that the government will increase the measures again.

The tournament couldn’t be held without several measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Because it is held in a hotel, many of the measures are part of general regulations, such as regular cleaning, distance, the closing of certain spaces, and regular checks by staff.

Oskar Stober chess
Oskar Stober helping with disinfecting the playing hall. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Sunway Sitges.

The most obvious difference with last year is that the chessboards are all placed at least 1.5 meters from each other. Players have to wear face masks and may walk to the outside terraces but are not allowed to walk in the playing hall to check on other boards. They have to remain seated as much as possible, cannot eat in the hall, and water is put on the tables three times per round.

At the start of the round, there are temperature checks. If one would be over 37.5 degrees Celsius, the player would be forfeited but that hasn’t happened yet. There’s a doctor available at all times, which was one of the precautions necessary to be able to hold the tournament. Foreigners from countries at risk needed to present a negative test.

Temperature check chess
A temperature check at the start of the round. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Sunway Sitges.

Apart from all this, there is regular cleaning of the playing hall as well as the analysis room.

“We wanted a tournament that is as close to normal as possible, so with an analysis room,” says Stober. “We have someone checking that no one goes into it that hasn’t played a game. When a table has been used, it is blocked until our cleaning staff has cleaned it, and then security at the entrance lets the next players in.”

Although the organization is tougher than ever, the tournament is going well.

Stober: “The participants are so keen on playing over-the-board chess again that they understand everything. If they have to wait for 10 minutes at the gate of the hotel, no complaints. If they lose a few minutes on their clock, no complaints. People are really happy and say the organization is good. I cannot judge that because I am part of it, but I am glad to hear it.” 

Disinfection gel Sunway Sitges chess
Disinfection gel is easily available. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Sunway Sitges. 

Five rounds have been played so far, which saw a few upsets. For instance, last year’s winner GM Anton Korobov lost to the Spanish GM Hipolito Asis, and GM Karen Grigoryan went down against GM Nino Batsiashvili, both in round four.

The game of the tournament, at least so far, is Batsiashvili’s clash with GM Maxime Lagarde. The French GM was quick to pick up GM Daniil Dubov’s gambit opening from the Russian Championship as the game in Sitges was played just a day later.

By the way, if you thought Dubov’s idea is new, you were wrong. For 12 moves, Lagarde and Batsiashvili followed a correspondence game from 1873!

7th Sunway Sitges | Round 5 Standings (Top 20)






















Rk. SNo Fed Title Name Rtg Pts. TB1 TB2 TB3
1 11 GM Plat, Vojtech 2552 4.5 13.5 15.5 13.50
2 2 GM Cheparinov, Ivan 2660 4.0 14.5 17.0 12.75
3 6 GM Santos Latasa, Jaime 2588 4.0 14.5 16.5 12.50
4 5 GM Moussard, Jules 2626 4.0 14.5 16.0 12.00
5 18 GM Checa, Nicolas 2527 4.0 14.0 16.0 12.00
6 9 GM Cornette, Matthieu 2558 4.0 14.0 15.5 11.75
7 7 GM Santos Ruiz, Miguel 2581 4.0 14.0 15.0 11.25
8 25 GM Asis Gargatagli, Hipolito 2470 4.0 13.5 16.0 12.50
9 29 GM Vasquez Schroeder, Rodrigo 2459 4.0 13.5 15.5 11.50
10 28 GM Stefanova, Antoaneta 2466 4.0 13.0 15.5 12.00
11 24 IM Niemann, Hans Moke 2478 4.0 13.0 15.5 11.50
12 12 GM Fier, Alexandr 2549 4.0 13.0 14.5 10.75
13 21 GM Narciso Dublan, Marc 2495 4.0 12.5 15.0 11.75
14 27 GM Batsiashvili, Nino 2466 4.0 12.5 14.5 11.75
15 26 IM Sochacki, Christophe 2469 4.0 12.0 14.0 11.25
16 15 GM Lopez Martinez, Josep Manuel 2542 4.0 11.0 13.0 11.00
17 30 IM Maurizzi, Marc Andria 2445 3.5 14.0 15.5 10.00
18 19 GM Bellahcene, Bilel 2510 3.5 14.0 15.5 9.00
19 1 GM Korobov, Anton 2693 3.5 13.5 16.0 10.00
20 31 IM Gines Esteo, Pedro Antonio 2437 3.5 13.5 15.0 9.00

(Full standings here.)

Oleg Romanishin simul chess
The tournament’s many side events are still happening as well. Here’s GM Oleg Romanishin giving a simul with tables on 1.5 meters… Photo: Lennart Ootes/Sunway Sitges.
Antoaneta Stefanova simul chess
…and here’s former women’s world champion GM Antoaneta Stefanova giving one outside. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Sunway Sitges.
Pepe Cuenca chess lecture
A lecture by GM Pepe Cuenca. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Sunway Sitges.
Sitges chess masterclass cocktails
The mid-day masterclasses are also there, such as the one for making cocktails… Photo: Lennart Ootes/Sunway Sitges.
Tortilla master class chess Sitges
…or Spanish tortilla. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Sunway Sitges.
chess analyzing face masks
Players analyzing after their game. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Sunway Sitges.
Aleksandr Fier chess face mask
Everything with a face mask! It makes Brazilian GM Aleksandr Fier look like Zorro. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Sunway Sitges.
Anton Korobov face mask
2019 winner GM Anton Korobov. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Sunway Sitges.
Ivan Cheparinov face mask
GM Ivan Cheparinov. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Sunway Sitges.
Maxime Lagarde chess face mask
GM Matthieu Cornette. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Sunway Sitges.
Sebastian Siebrecht face mask
GM Sebastian Siebrecht. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Sunway Sitges.
Oleg Romanishin face mask
GM Oleg Romanishin. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Sunway Sitges.
Hans Niemann chess face mask
IM Hans Niemann. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Sunway Sitges.
Nino Batsiashvili face mask
We’re moving on to the more creative face masks, and we might have a winner straight away: GM Nino Batsiashvili. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Sunway Sitges.
Lars Ootes face mask
The photographer’s brother, IM Lars Ootes. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Sunway Sitges.
Jennifer Yu face mask
WGM Jennifer Yu. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Sunway Sitges.
Klára Kovács face mask chess
Arbiter Klara Kovacs with a face mask made especially for the crew. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Sunway Sitges.
Logo catalan chess federation face mask
Some players wear one provided by the Catalan Chess Federation… Photo: Lennart Ootes/Sunway Sitges.
Barcelona face mask chess
…or one from their local football club, Barcelona. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Sunway Sitges.
Christmas face mask chess
A Christmas-themed face mask. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Sunway Sitges.
Space face mask chess
Some like space… Photo: Lennart Ootes/Sunway Sitges.
Unicorn face mask chess
…and some like unicorns (well, who doesn’t?). Photo: Lennart Ootes/Sunway Sitges.
Self-made face mask chess
Some seem to have self-made face masks… Photo: Lennart Ootes/Sunway Sitges.
Self-made face mask chess
…dressed to impress? Photo: Lennart Ootes/Sunway Sitges.
War face mask chess
This player means war. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Sunway Sitges.
Button face mask chess
Shouldn’t that button be closed? Photo: Lennart Ootes/Sunway Sitges.
Lightning face mask chess
A face mask suited for lightning. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Sunway Sitges.
teeth face mask chess
A bit of humor is welcome in these times! Photo: Lennart Ootes/Sunway Sitges.



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