FIDE Candidates Tournament 2024 opens in Toronto

The historic FIDE Candidates Tournament 2024 kicked off in Toronto with the inaugural press conference and the Opening Ceremony at the welcoming 1 Hotel Toronto, a sustainable sanctuary in the heart of downtown.

George Sovatzis, the Director of Sales and Marketing, set the tone with a warm welcome address. “We take immense pride in being part of this competition as it makes its North American debut,” he said.

The press conference, moderated by Anna Burtasova, the event’s Press Officer, featured notable speakers:

  • Emil Sutovsky, CEO of the International Chess Federation (FIDE)
  • Vladimir Drkulec, President of the Chess Federation of Canada
  • Fabiano Caruana (USA), the top-rated contender in the FIDE Candidates Tournament
  • Vaishali R (India), one of the youngest participants in the FIDE Women’s Candidates Tournament

When asked about the decision to host the tournament in Toronto, Sutovsky explained, “North America has not seen world championship cycle competitions. However, we were well aware of the chess boom in Canada, with a lot of young players emerging. There are a lot of chess fans in the country. The Scheinberg family’s support for staging the event here, coupled with the backing of the Chess Federation of Canada, made it a logical choice. Judging by the feedback we are getting, by the interest from the fans and the media and by the government’s support, it was the right decision.”

Drkulec addressed a recent hiccup that had the community on edge: visa delays for the participants. “We embarked on an adventure to mobilize our entire chess community, ensuring timely visas for the players. I’ve never witnessed so many chess parents, former players, current players, and many others rallying together. We’ve managed to connect with over a dozen Members of Parliament and four Ministers, ultimately resolving the situation. It was amazing to get all this support.”

Caruana said he doesn’t feel the pressure from the fact that he’s the rating favourite of the event. “We know that every player here can potentially win the tournament if they bring their best game. The numbers say something about the past performances, but I think it will be a mistake to take any of the players lightly.”

The upcoming tournament marks a series of firsts. Not only is Canada hosting this prestigious event as it debuts in North America, the FIDE Candidates Tournament and the FIDE Women’s Candidates Tournament are being played under one roof for the very first time. Additionally, it’s a momentous occasion as siblings Vaishali R and Praggnanandhaa R compete side by side in this high-caliber event, which has never occurred before.

“We discuss our games all the time and help each other throughout various events,” confirmed Vaishali. “We also have our mother here with us; this family support is very important to us.”

The Opening Ceremony of the tournament set a delightful tone. Aris Marghetis, the Chief Arbiter, donned a different hat as he hosted the event alongside the charming Charlize Van Zyl. Drkulec took the stage first, expressing gratitude to FIDE and the Scheinberg Family, the main sponsor of the FIDE Candidates Tournament 2024, without whom this event would not have been possible. Adding a touch of humor, Kevin Vuong, Member of Parliament for Spadina-Fort York, shared a witty anecdote from his own days as a chess player 22 years ago.

 

Each player was then invited to the stage to receive a welcome bag filled with tournament merchandise. A special question awaited them, such as “Oppenheimer or Barbie?” added a personal touch to the proceedings. Alireza Firouzja enthusiastically exclaimed, “Barbie!” while Ian Nepomniachtchi playfully disagreed by declaring, “Definitely Oppenheimer!”

Sutovsky then took to stage and awarded the FIDE Medal of Merit to Isai Scheinberg. The significance of this award is marked by the fact that it had not been presented since 1994. In his acceptance speech, Isai shared that his support for chess was a tribute to his father, who had participated in two Chess Olympiads before pursuing a career in medicine.

Both tournaments will be set in motion on April 4 at 14:30 local time with the first round. Watch the event live on FIDE YouTube with star commentators GM Viswanathan Anand and GM Irina Krush.

Written by WGM Anna Burtasova

Photos: Michal Walusza

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