Nakamura casts doubt on whether GCT will take place

The world’s no. 1 ranked blitz player Hikaru Nakamura opens up about his Grand Chess Tour absence, casts doubt on whether the five events will take place at all in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and states his belief that the future of top level chess will be online. 

As chess24 reported last week, the 2021 Grand Chess Tour announced a 10-player field without two of the sport’s biggest stars, Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura. While Carlsen’s father said a busy schedule, including the Champions Chess Tour, Altibox Norway Chess and preparations for the next World Championship, was among their reasons for not playing, it was not immediately clear why Nakamura was not taking part this time.

On his streaming channel, the American 33-year-old spoke about chess24’s article and cited several reasons as to why he decided not to accept the invitation. Nakamura noted sponsorship agreements, his streaming activity and uncertainity due to COVID-19 as important reasons for not playing this year. 

He comments:

It has nothing to do with not wanting to play chess anymore. I love chess, and obviously I stream chess. The notion that I don’t want to play chess anymore, is laughable. I am very busy streaming, and I am very busy streaming these Magnus tournaments.

He disputed the suggestion in the chess24 article that he’d said he was intending to become less active in over-the-board events, but at the same time he does see the future of chess as being online.

I do believe the future of top level chess is online, I do not think it is over the board, and so I am very committed to that. Regardless of which site it’s on, I do very firmly believe that the future of chess is online, that it is eSports-oriented and it’s not going to be back to classical chess, it’s not going to be back to over-the-board chess, the way a lot of the old traditionalists believe that it should be. I think what has happened in the last year has been very, very beneficial for chess.

One important factor for the world no. 1 blitz player is the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour, in which Nakamura has commited to play the remaining events, with the final scheduled to take place in San Francisco from September 25 to October 3. 

Nakamura is currently 6th in the tour standings after taking part in the Skilling Open, where he was knocked out by Wesley So in the semifinal, and the Airthings Masters, where Levon Aronian beat him in the quarterfinals. The schedule of the tour is quite hectic, he says.

It’s already quite challenging to juggle that with my streaming career, with my sponsor agreements and so forth. I try to plan things very far in advance. It’s just not practical or realistic.

The players were also given limited time by the organisers to make a decision, he says.

The invitations were sent out on November 25, and players were required to essentially tell by December 1 whether they would play the event.They gave us very limited time and they said they would publish the list of players by December 10.

The players were only finally announced on January 13. 

Nakamura thinks the schedule of the Grand Chess Tour is “completely insane”, referring in particular to the short time between the Superbet Classic in Bucharest, Romania, which ends on June 15, and the Paris Rapid & Blitz, set to begin the day after.

With the return of over-the-board classical events such as Altibox Norway Chess and Tata Steel Chess, there is some hope that the chess world can return to normal soon. However, the virus situation remains dire and despite millions of doses of vaccines being rolled out all over the world, several countries around Europe have introduced new lockdowns after infections reaching new highs.

Nakamura is in serious doubt as to whether the five events can be held at all due to travel restrictions and says he would potentially be gambling and risk losing sponsor agreements.

It’s very bold of them to assume that these events will be held. I don’t think it’s realistic to expect the world to be back to normal by June. The only players who could play in Tata Steel were in Europe. For myself and Wesley So, the organisers could not even invite us to compete in the event. I am very skeptical that this will happen. It’s very silly.

While Carlsen seems unlikely to accept an invitation as a wildcard to the tour due to his busy schedule and World Championship match preparation, Nakamura says that it’s still an option for him if the events are held.

chess24 have been in contact with Grand Chess Tour asking for a response to Nakamura’s comments, but have yet to receive an answer.

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