Over the course of the ten-day tournament, a new champion was found and the focus was on the future of sport on an international level. This year, the classic game of chess has made some significant moves forward and this took centre stage during the last two weeks of January at the Caleta Hotel.
Firstly, the Gibraltar Masters’ top ranking was taken by fresh blood as the young Russian Grandmaster, Vladislav Artemiev, took on the Chinese Grandmaster Yu Yangyi and won in an impressive show of mastery. Vladislav made a strong first impression on the Rock in winning the £25,000 top prize on his debut entry to the Gibraltar Chess Festival.
Beyond gaining a new title holder, attendees of the festival were also able to consider which way the next few years in the chess were going as during the Q&A; those present were treated to a frank discussion by some of the chess world’s best and brightest. The panel was hosted by the tournament director and English Grandmaster, Stuart Conquest. Stuart was joined by the international master from Luxembourg, Fiona Steil Antoni; the French Grandmaster Maxime Vachier-Lagrave; a woman’s Grandmaster from Indonesia, Irine Kharisma Sukander; Alejandro Ramirez, a Grandmaster born in Costa Rica; and the English Grandmaster and FIDE Vice President, Nigel Short. The panel considered various matters affecting the chess world and what they envisioned the future would look like.
The main points of discussion were women in chess and the big strides that women have taken in the world of chess in recent years. Antoni noted that the main issue now is to encourage more female players and how that should be made a priority. One audience member noted, in discussion of the possibility of a female world champion, that it was all a matter of statistics and with the increase in the number of women competitively playing the sport, the future does look positive. The panel also discussed FIDE and the recent changes in the leadership of the organisation. Nigel Short expressed his concerns about the direction where the previous leadership was heading and how he and the current administration have overcome great challenges in the hope of making progress for the sake of the sport.
Interestingly, the panel discussed how different tournaments schedules have an effect on the quality of the chess being played and how the classic version of the game, and its sometimes controversial variants, can be played in such a way that the numerous tournaments around the globe all have a unique quality. One quality that Gibraltar is popular for is it being an open tournament, where players of different rankings and expertise can challenge one another, which occasionally leaves room for some interesting surprises.
With all the challenges and high-stake competition that this two-week festival contained, there was still room for fun as Gibraltar’s famous Battle of the Sexes returned for another year. This year, the women conquered the men with a valiant victory of 2 – 1 played on the oversized chess board. And who knows, with such a great display of chess mastery found on our shore last month and the chance of a female world chess champion becoming increasingly possible, maybe we could find her in the coming years at the Gibraltar Chess Festival.