Some people are perfectionists; they like to strive for perfection in whatever they set their mind to do and continue building their skills - often for their own pleasure.

Others have a specific goal when they set themselves on a particular course. It might be earning gobs of money or becoming world-famous. Usually, it's the desire for both riches and fame that drive the majority who fall in this category.

And then, there are those who are simply passionate about their pursuit with no specific end goal in mind. You might count athletes among these numbers. Their drive for performance is not clouded by the obsessiveness that haunts perfectionists. And they're certainly not training for hours each day, every day of the week because they hope to be famous.

For athletes, even attaining riches is questionable; for every Usain Bolt or Michael Jordan, there are thousands of hopefuls who will never make a product endorsement or participate in a major event that could get their name out to the viewing public.

Chess players fall into that category.

They play for the love of the game. They study past matches to improve their strategy and, every year, sometimes by invitation, they repair to a chess tournament to see how they stack up against other players. If they do well, they go on to play in more significant tournaments.

What are these invitation-only, high-profile tournaments about, then? Allow your Superprof to introduce them.

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A Nod to the Chess Olympiad

the Chess Olympiad is not a tournament, per se. There is no money to be won and, although players - or, more correctly, teams of players get eliminated and there is a prize awarded to the ultimate winning team, it is not in the same league as, say, the Tata Steel Chess Tournament.

We have to talk about the Olympiad because it gave rise to the International Chess Federation - FIDE, as it is better known.

Many spectators feature at Chess Olympiads
Chess Olympiad events draw huge crowds of players and spectators. Source: Wikipedia Credit: Andrejj

It all started in 1924, when concerned parties petitioned the International Olympic Committee to include chess in the games. Doing so posed a conundrum.

A fundamental aspect of the Olympic games is that professional athletes are barred from competition. However, in chess, there was no way to tell professional and amateur players apart. The idea to make chess an Olympic event was rejected. Undaunted, Olympic hopeful chess players held their first-ever chess Olympiad in Paris.

While athletes of all types competed for Olympic gold in and around the city, chess players hunkered down at The Peninsula Paris, then known as the Hotel Majestic. On the closing day of that first, unofficial chess Olympiad, enthusiastic members formed the Federation that has overseen all things chess ever since.

FIDE set the first official Chess Olympiad to take place in London, in 1927. On the heels of that success, the Chess Olympiad became an annual event until after the Second World War. Starting in 1950, the FIDE Chess Olympiad has been a biennial event with more than 170 nations participating.

Dortmund Sparkassen Chess Tournament

An invitation-only event, this elite chess tournament takes place during the summer, in Germany. That's invitation-only save for one slot, which is permanently reserved for the winner of the Aeroflot Open, held annually in Moscow.

That particularity aside, let's look at how this unlikely region in Germany came to host one of the most prestigious chess tournaments.

It's 1972, New Year's Day, to be specific. Everyone in this Ruhr Valley coal mining town is either shaking off the merriment of the night before or still deep in slumber. Not Eugen Schackmann, the head of the city's publicity office. He has a mind-blowing idea: let Dortmund be where the next World Championship chess event is held.

The city's reputation was... let's just say it was not good. There was football and coal mining, and there was beer. That's all everyone thought Dortmund was about. Including Dortmunders.

Schackmann wanted to change all of that. He wanted to bring the king of games to Dortmund, with all of the intellectual cachet it carries, to thumb the city's nose at every other municipality that had ever looked down on their burg's hardworking, coal-dusted roots.

He and his co-conspirator, Dieter Imhoff - the city's Chief Executive, no less! - ended up with egg on their faces. Reykjavik got to host the 1972 Fischer-Spassky match; the one that had lit a fire under Schackmann.

He had hoped that the US-Soviet military tension of those days would heighten the chess match's appeal, making his city the place where East and West faced off over a chessboard.

Despite missing out on that golden opportunity, it was hard to stop the momentum for raising the city's profile and, soon, everything was in place to host an international chess tournament the next year. And, as they say, the rest is history.

Over its 40+ year history, Dortmund has hosted some of the greatest chess players of all time. A very young Kasparov, five years before he claimed the World Championship title. Jan Smejkal, the Czech International Grandmaster. Ulf Andersson, the Swedish Grandmaster. Even Bobby Fischer visited but he didn't play in a championship match.

Today, the Dortmund Chess Meeting hosts several lower-level tournaments throughout the year as well as open tournaments anyone can enter.

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The Linares Chess Tournament

It's hard to say what motivated Spanish business mogul Luis Rentero to finance and organise the first Linares chess tournament. Maybe he was jealous of Dortmund's success or, to be generous, hoped to recreate its success to put his city on the map. What's not in dispute is that he was absolutely mad for the game; he even owned a chess-themed hotel.

Whatever his reasons, the first official Linares Chess Tournament took place in 1978.

The Linares Chess tournaments featuring Carlsen and Aronian
A very young Carlsen faces off against Aronian in Linares. Source: Wikipedia Credit: Javier Garcia Baudet

Maybe it was a lack of publicity or just poor planning - perhaps the chess circuit was already in full swing, but the event did not attract any big names. Undaunted, Mr Rentero launched his next tournament two years later; it too failed to attract any elite players. And so, things went on until 1987, when Linares hosted the Candidates' Final (see below).

That Final, at last, brought Linares Chess some recognition because it featured Anatoly Karpov and Andrei Sokolov. From 1988 until 1996, Linares hosted annual tournaments. After the Women's World Chess Championship was held there, Linares grew even more renowned. It resumed its annual tournament schedule.

Rentero had finally arrived where he wanted to be: the head of an elite chess event populated by invitation-only players. And then, he let his preferences get the better of him.

He liked long games. He so resented draws of any type but especially grandmaster draws that he would often penalise those players by not extending an invitation to play in next year's tournament.

And then, in 1998, the tournament's format changed from a single to a double round-robin - meaning the players had to play twice as many games and, starting in 2006, the first half of the tournament was held in Mexico while the other half picked up in Linares.

Was Rentero asking too much of the players?

In 2011, the tournament was cancelled for economic reasons; the same reason was given for next year's cancellation. The tournament has yet to resume. It's too bad; this elite chess tournament was known as one of the Wimbledons of chess.

The Candidates' Tournament

As FIDE's influence over the chess world grew, its governors concluded that they needed some way to qualify the players before the match that would decide that year's World Chess champion. Thus, the Candidates' Tournament - sometimes called the Candidate Matches was born.

Until 1993, the event was held every three years, after which FIDE set a biennial schedule. That's after a series of shakeups in the organisation, among them the famous rift, in the early 90s, that saw a rupture in the World Championship programme. Even after things were patched up, instability remained for a time but, these days, this tournament goes off without (much of) a hitch.

Although the number of invited players has varied over the years, since 2013, it is capped at 8 players who face off in a double round-robin tournament.

The winner then takes on the current World Champion at the ultimate chess tournament, held in the Netherlands.

Tables are crowded at the Wimbledon of Chess
The Tata Steel Chess Tournament in the Netherlands is the Wimbledon of chess. Source: Wikipedia Credit: Vysotsky

Wijk Aan Zee

This is the most prestigious chess tournament in the world.

It started out as the Hoogovens Tournament in 1938 and was thus-called until a merger between its main sponsor, Koninklijke Hoogovens and the British Steel company in 1999 called for a name change. For the next eight years, it was called the Conus Chess Tournament.

It then morphed into Tata Steel Europe, its current official name.

Since its establishment in 1938, this tournament has hosted such famous chess players as:

  • Anatoly Karpov
  • Jan Timman
  • Boris Spassky
  • Bent Larsen
  • Garry Kasparov
  • Vasily Ivanchuk and, of course,
  • Magnus Carlsen

Regular club players have a standing invitation even during the tournaments but the real draw is the Masters group. This event calls for 14 of the world's chess grandmasters to face off in a round-robin tournament; the crème de la crème of chess events.

At its height of popularity, Linares may have been thought of in Wimbledon terms but that Tata Steel series of matches IS the Wimbledon of chess. So great is its draw that, in 2001, nine of the world's top ten players took part.

Now, read about seven of the greatest chess matches ever played... in the Netherlands or elsewhere.

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Sophia

A vagabond traveler whose first love is the written word, I advocate for continuous learning, cycling, and the joy only a beloved pet can bring. There is plenty else I am passionate about, but those three should do it, for now.