It will be a gathering of grandmasters, that much is certain. And yet before the championship tournament of the Bundesliga, speculation broke out: Who is playing? Will we see World Championship Candidates? How about MVL? How about Fabiano Caruana? The clubs are keeping a low profile in order to make it difficult for the opponents to prepare. Only as late as possible should the competition see who they meet over the boards.
As the world’s strongest chess league, the German first division may be the most international of chess leagues as well. In times of travel restricitions, the league’s internationality makes the line-ups hard to predict. But there have been leaks. Fabiano Caruana (OSG Baden-Baden) is likely to play since the Baden-Baden Chess Center has mentioned a recent training session with his Coach and Baden-Baden teammate Rustam Kazimdzhanov in Germany. Meanwhile, French Grandmaster Romain Edouard (SV Werder Bremen) has mentioned on twitter that he is corona-free and ready to play.
The line-up of the Schachfreunde Deizisau is easier to predict than others. Their squad consists primarily of the best German chess masters, who as locals are least affected by travel restrictions. The Bundesliga website itself has leaked that youngster Vincent Keymer will continue his run on the 2600 Elo mark in Karlsruhe as part of the Deizisau team. Also, young grandmasters Matthias Blübaum and Alexander Donchenko will probably continue their duel for the top of the German rating list in Karlsruhe - both as part of the Deizisau team.
Deizisau team captain Sven Noppes with his connection to the Grenke group is a central part of the team that made the championship tournament possible. When the first wave of infections subsided after the lockdown in March and the question arose as to whether and how things would continue, Noppes had initially offered to host a season finale for all teams. “That turned out to be difficult. Some teams didn't want to take part,” reports Markus Schäfer, President of the Schachbundesliga.
After all, the Bundesliga chess organizers were inspired by the Basketball Bundesliga. In basketball, FC Bayern Munich, which is also represented in the Schachbundesliga, organized a championship tournament for the teams that wanted to play. In a series of online meetings, the Schachbundesliga team captains agreed to follow this model: everything set to zero, whoever wants to play takes part, and at stake is nothing less than the 2020 German championship.
The venue will be the "garden hall" of the Karlsruhe Exhibition Center, well ventilated and spacious. The organizer is the Baden-Baden Chess Center in cooperation with the German serial champions OSG Baden-Baden and the Grenke Group. Grenke ist best known as a sponsor of the Grenke Chess Classic and the associated Opens. Wolfgang Grenke also supports the Bundesliga teams OSG Baden-Baden and SF Deizisau.
The organization team around Chess Center Chairman Christian Bossert, Managing Director Hanna Marie Klek and Sven Noppes has come up with a comprehensive hygiene and safety concept. Noppes had traveled to the chess festival in Biel to inspect how chess was made possible there in times of Corona. The Plexiglas partition between the players, known from Biel, are now also being set up in Karlsruhe. In addition, there is a distance rule and a mask requirement away from the boards. Anyone entering the area must confirm in writing beforehand that they are free from symptoms of illness.
“Unfortunately, the original idea of a central Covid test could not be realized. That was a question of capacity,” explains Schäfer. It is now primarily up to the clubs to ensure the health of the players arriving. In the case of the aforementioned SF Deizisau, for example, this will require less effort than in Viernheim with numerous Eastern Europeans in the squad, lead by former World number two Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. Will he play? “I badly hope so,” say IM Christian Seel, first boad of underdog Aachener SV, the only team that consists of amateurs exclusively.
All clubs have agreed not to register new players. But it was possible to register players from lower teams for the championship round in order to be able to compensate for players who can’t make it to Karlsruhe. Some clubs have made use of this.
In Deizisau, for example, Czech grandmaster Stepan Zilka is new to the squad, an indication that he will play. Latvian grandmaster Zigurds Lanka is new to SC Viernheim. We will probably see him at the board too.