Freestyle Chess plans 2025 global Tour for Carlsen and the world’s top players

<span><strong>3908:</strong> White mates in four moves (by Fritz Giegold, Stern 1957). Just a single line of play, with all Black’s replies forced.</span><span>Illustration: The Guardian</span>
3908: White mates in four moves (by Fritz Giegold, Stern 1957). Just a single line of play, with all Black’s replies forced.Illustration: The Guardian

After the success of last week’s Freestyle Chess event where the world No 1, Magnus Carlsen, defeated the world No 2, Fabiano Caruana, in the final, its billionaire organiser, Jan Buettner, who made his fortune from AOL Europe, has stepped up his interest further. Buettner adopted a hands-on personal approach to the all-star event and his enthusiasm and involvement shone in an interview he gave to Chessbase India immediately after the tournament.

Buettner’s plan is a Freestyle elite eight-GM invitation in India late in 2024, followed by a five-continent global Tour in 2025, and ­including a new four-player ­women’s ­tournament. Weissenhaus had a $200,000 prize fund, but even that may be just the start, as Buettner has stated that his ambition is for $1m for each of the continental knockouts.

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Weissenhaus was showcased in spectacular style. A confession booth during play, television ­closeups, heart rate monitoring, post-game interviews, sharp coloured individual jackets, expert running ­commentaries, plus a time limit designed to produce scrambles, all added to the glitz.

Freestyle has many fans, but it may remain a niche sideline unless the huge prize funds become ­reality, and possibly even then. At best, it could permanently boost the chess economy, just as the entry of Rex Sinquefield and St Louis has done since 2008. However, Freestyle’s major selling point, its absence of memorised openings, is a negative for the average player who relies on his book knowledge as a road map to reach a playable middle game and ending.

Larger numbers watched Wijk aan Zee, without Carlsen, than tuned in to Weissenhaus. How many of them became converts to Freestyle or were just temporarily curious about its imaginative format remains to be seen in 2025, if and when Buettner’s plans for a new multi-million dollar Tour get off the ground.

Michael Adams began this week’s Cambridge International Open coming off a run of six successive first prizes in important tournaments, including 54 games without defeat for the eight-time British champion, 52.

Such a record is a hard act to follow, and Adams had a setback in the very first round when he conceded a draw to the former junior international Rafe Martyn, then dropped further half points to fellow GMs in rounds four and five.

The favourite is not out of it, yet, though. After six of the nine rounds the Netherlands No 2 seed, GM Sergey Tiviakov, shared the lead on 5/6 with England’s No 4 seed, GM Daniel Fernandez, 28, and the rising English IM Jonah Willow, 21.

Adams, still unbeaten, is half a point behind the leaders in a group of four along with IM Shreyas Royal, 15, whose chances for his third and final GM norm have faded due to a defeat despite an earlier strong attacking win, and two others. The popular chess author GM Peter Wells, who is a further half point behind, won an elegant miniature.

Rounds seven and eight are on Friday (10.45am and 4.45pm GMT) and the ninth and final round is on Saturday (4.45pm). Most of the leaders are yet to meet, and the action can be watched live and free on lichess.

A current problem for all English opens, including Cambridge, is that too few experts rated 2000-2400 compete. Some are put off by high entry fees, others fear underrated juniors. The proportion of sub-2000 players who only want to compete in Majors and Minors is growing, while experts now often confine their play to 4NCL and county teams.

In contrast, congresses in France, Germany and especially Spain often have a single Open with hundreds of players, including, for nine-round events, enough GMs and IMs to make title norms realistic.

Related: Chess: Carlsen beats Caruana in freestyle final while Ding finishes last

The net effect is to make English chess much more insular than half a century ago when Lloyds Bank and Hastings were internationally strong while weekend Opens were fiercely competitive. A central problem for organisers is the high cost of accommodation, the 4NCL and Cambridge models, where most competitors both stay and play at the hotel venue, seem to work best.

Meanwhile, an important change to Fide ratings is imminent. The 1 March international list, containing around 200,000 names, will raise the floor for the lowest ratings from 1000 to 1400, There will be smaller proportionate boosts for all those rated below 2000, with 1900s rising to 1940.

The measures are needed to counter chronic long-term deflation caused, inter alia, by the many new low-rated juniors who improve rapidly and then abandon chess in their teens, thus effectively removing rating points from the system and eventually affecting established players.

If the remedies work, deflation should diminish over the next few years and international titles should become slightly easier to achieve.

3908: 1 Ra3! b4 2 Ra4! b3 3 Rh4! Kxh4 4 Nf3 mate.