Digital Divide

Shall we move our tournament online?

03 May 2020

Many chess events are getting canceled or postponed due to Covid-19. Is running it online a viable alternative? ChessTech has asked the organisers of two internationally known events who came to different conclusions.

Oskar Stöber Blazquez
(Sunway Sitges Open)

*Oskar Stöber Blazquez is managing the company that owns the Sunway Sitges resort hotel, 30 km southwest of Barcelona, where every December a big open tournament takes place. He is also an active club player.*
Oskar Stöber Blazquez is managing the company that owns the Sunway Sitges resort hotel, 30 km southwest of Barcelona, where every December a big open tournament takes place. He is also an active club player.

“Our hotel is closed during the pandemic, and so is my chess club. I saw that online there are thousands of blitz tournaments and wondered why nobody organised a tournament for those who prefer the classical time control, the same that we have in our annual open. We didn’t plan much and rushed out the announcement to start an online open within three days.

At such short notice we expected 200 registrations. We got 450. Among them more than 30 GMs and IMs, which we didn’t expect with just €6000 in prizes. We got delayed by two days because of a crashed server and troubles when matching the nicknames with the real names. 50 players understandably dropped out during the delay. Many others sent us encouraging messages.

Chess.com gave us tremendous support. After every round we received up to twenty emails from players who suspected their opponent to cheat. By the end we had suspended thirty players because the probability of them using an engine was higher than 99,5 percent according to the Chess.com algorithm. I expected that most of the suspended players would complain and try to talk their way out. Only three of thirty tried.

Have I underestimated the work that was involved? A bit. Would I do it again under the same circumstances? Sure, just prepare better. We received a lot of media interest. The Sunway Sitges Open is now a bit more known. Three out of four online participants had not been to our tournament before, but some of them may come in December. We raised about €4000 for the local hospital to take care of our Covid-19 patients. Organisers from Romania and Germany who run classical online opens in May contacted us. They will learn from our experience and do it better. And one day we will have cheating under control and will have rated games online.”

Carsten Hensel
(Sparkassen Chess Trophy Dortmund)

“For the first time since 1973 the Internationale Dortmunder Schachtage has to skip a year. Even a lot of hygiene and safety measures and restricting the number of participants and spectators would not have completely eliminated the risk of Covid-19 infections.

We will not run an online edition instead. The explanation is simple: It would just not be in line with the core of our traditional event. The Schachtage is a social encounter. It is an event that combines sporting, emotional and atmospheric aspects. An online tournament would not even come close. Fighting for rating points and title norms is not even possible online.

We are shifting the format of our headline event from an invitational group to a very strong open tournament. This is also reflected in the change of name from Sparkassen Chess Meeting to Sparkassen Chess Trophy. An online edition could easily confuse people. It would not help the event, not us and not our partners.

Having said that, running an online competition with several hundred players in different categories would also pose plenty of technical problems. We want to award serious money prizes. But how can we make sure that all the online players are who they claim to be and play fair when there is no supervision by arbiters in the same room?

We will not do something now just to join the crowd. We are rather working on our digital competence. There are a lot of exciting developments out there. Our new website shows that we are headed in this direction. In the third week of July in 2021 we will be ready to stage the new Sparkassen Chess Trophy.“