Music festivals not appealing to you? Burning Man not your bag? Why not try a chess festival instead?
It seems like nowadays there are more festivals being held than ever before. Whereas they used to be quaint little traditions in local communities, like a harvest festival, now music festivals and other big events are attracting thousands of people from all over, all crammed into a small space over a long weekend.
The festival environment is said to foster a unique culture and sense of community that can’t be found anywhere else, so if you’ve ever wanted to find out what that’s like, but haven’t been able to find a festival that caters to your interests, a chess festival could be the perfect thing. Yes, they even have festivals for chess lovers now! They take place all over the world and attract thousands of visitors from all over. Most include some sort of tournament between top players, and other chess themed events are held throughout the duration of the festival as well. What these activities are exactly depend on the individual chess festival.
So, if you want to have fun meeting new people who share your love for chess, keep an eye out for a chess festival coming to a city near you. To get you started, here is a list of some of the biggest and most popular annual chess festivals, as well as a description of what to expect from each one in terms of attendees and events.
The Top 5 Chess Festivals Around the World:
1. Biel International Chess Festival
The Biel International Chess Festival is held each year in, of course, Biel, Switzerland. It normally takes place over 11 days toward the end of July. The main attraction during the festival are the two tournaments it holds- the round robin Grand Master Tournament and the Swiss style Masters Open Tournament. The Biel International Chess Festival is one of the oldest annual chess festivals, having been held consistently since 1968. In the beginning, it was only the Masters Open Tournament that was held, but the first Grand Master Tournament was added on in 1977.
But just because those two tournaments are the main events doesn’t mean they’re the only ones! There is plenty going on to keep all of the hundreds of attendees entertained over the course of the 11-day festival. There are Youth tournaments, simultaneous exhibitions and tournaments, rapid chess, blitz chess, and, of course, a grand prize-giving ceremony once all of the results are in. You won’t lack for things to do while you’re at the Biel International Chess Festival, that’s for sure!
There is also plenty of fun to be had in the beautiful surrounding city of Biel. Lying right on the border between French speaking Switzerland and German speaking Switzerland, the entire town is bilingual, giving visitors ample opportunity to practice their foreign language skills. It is packed with all the natural beauty you would expect from Switzerland, nestled right at the base of the Jura mountain range, with access to beautiful Lake Biel, and the river Suze.
2. Sunway Sitges International Chess Festival
Sunway Sitges International Chess Festival is one of the best known chess festivals out there. It is held every year over the course of 10 days in December, but don’t worry about packing your winter clothes, because the festival takes place in a beautiful area near Barcelona, Spain. Not a bad way to spend the run up to Christmas – playing chess and soaking in the Mediterranean sunshine!
Another exciting thing about the Sunway Sitges International Chess Festival is that it features more than €25,000 in prizes to be given away over the course of the tournament. This not insubstantial sum attracts many top level players, including GM Dmitry Andreiken, GM Vassily Ivanchuk, GM Ernesto Inarkiev, and many others.
The festival will have many different activities going on in addition to the chess tournament, like showings of chess themed movies such as Life of a King and Searching for Bobby Fischer. There will also be simultaneous exhibitions by various different players, a Blitz tournament and Junior Blitz tournament to participate in, a masterclass by GM Ernesto Inarkiev, and more. If you want to step away from the chess table for a moment, there are also other activities you can do, like taking a cocktail making masterclass, going to a wine and beer tastings, getting your blood pumping with aquagym classes, taking a tapas workshop, watching a broadcast of the FIFA World Cup, and learning how to make sangria. And that’s just what’s offered within the festival itself! If you want to venture out and explore all that Barcelona has to offer, your choices are nearly limitless.
3. Global Chess Festival
The Global Chess Festival is a chess festival that is run by famous chess player Judit Polgar. She may have retired from professional play, but it’s obvious that chess is still a big part of her life, and through the Global Chess Festival, she hopes to share it with the world. The mission of the Global Chess Festival is to introduce the game of chess to 5 million new youth players by the year 2025, so that we can all see how chess connects us to one another.
The Global Chess Festival grew naturally out of the Polgar Chess Festival, which was first held in 2007. It is held each year in Budapest, Hungary and the schedule is jam packed with fun activities all day long. This event is a one day only festival, typically held sometime in October in various locations around the city of Budapest. The 2018 festival was hosted by the Hungarian National Gallery, which gave participants a unique opportunity to play chess while surrounded by some of the greatest works of art of all time.
The festival also features performances by dancers, singers, and all sorts of acts with a chess spin to them. Polgar herself also holds a simultaneous chess exhibit, which 100,000 viewers all over the world tuned into watch as it was livestreamed. Still, there’s nothing quite like being there, so if you can make it to Budapest in the fall, you’ll be in for a treat at the Global Chess Festival!
4. Las Vegas International Chess Festival
What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, it’s true – but we have a feeling you won’t be able to keep quiet about how much fun you had at the Las Vegas Chess Festival. This one happens in June typically, so you’ll have plenty of time to pack up your chess set and head out to Sunay Sitges if you’re so inclined.
The Las Vegas Chess Festival hosts a number of simultaneous tournaments that attract more than 700 chess players annually. Tournament categories include the National Open, US Women’s Open, International Youth Tournament, Youth Trophy Tournament, Walter Browne Memorial Blitz, Blitz Sectionals, Youth Blitz, and the Spirit of Chess GM Invitational.
As if all of that weren’t enough to keep you busy over the 5 day duration of the festival, there are also a number of side events going on at the same time as well, including GM simultaneous exhibitions, Grandmaster chess camp, free lectures, free analysis of your games by GMs, and even a chess festival poker tournament! Of course, attendees also have available to them all the delights that Las Vegas has to offer, which they can enjoy in their free time during the festival.
Make sure that you don’t gamble all of your money away though, because you’ll want a little bit left in case you spy a custom chess board or chess pieces that you want to buy from a vendor. They have a lot of unique chess sets at festivals that you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere else!
5. Gibraltar International Chess Festival
The Gibraltar Chess Festival is held in late January or early February each year at the Caleta Hotel in Gibraltar. It’s one of the longest chess festivals out there, running for 11 straight days. The main event held during this festival is the Masters Open, which is open to all chess players and was voted the best open chess event in the world by the Association of Chess Professionals for four years in a row!
The prize money up for grabs at the Gibraltar Chess Festival is substantial, which is likely why it consistently attracts such a high caliber of chess player. First place in the Open tournament comes with a prize of £25,000, but second place need not feel left out with a prize of £20,000. Third place is still made in the shade with £15,000 and fourth place will be taking home £10,000. Even coming in 15th earns you a prize of £1,000!
There are also separate prizes for the Women’s Open, though first place only earns you £15,000 there. Additional prizes are awarded for best relative rating achievement, best game, and in additional tournament categories like Juniors, Seniors, and Blitz. There are even prizes available for amateur players and challengers. All told, the total amount of prize money given out during the course of the Gibraltar Chess Festival comes just short of £200,000!
Which Chess Festival Will You Be Visiting?
These 5 chess festivals we’ve introduced you to are really only the tip of the iceberg. These may be the biggest, most well-known, and most prestigious, but there are plenty of smaller chess festivals that may be happening in a city near you. As you can see from this small sampling, chess festivals are being held all over the world, at all different times of year. If you really wanted to, we bet you could travel from country to country and attend a chess festival every week of the year, or at least most of them! If you’re a highly skilled player, you may even earn enough in prize money to offset the cost of your travel. Not a bad way to spend a year, and wouldn’t everyone like a free chess vacation?
Even if you don’t have the time or money to make a special trip out to a chess festival, you may consider adding the experience on to an upcoming vacation. If you were already planning a vacation to, say, Spain, it could be a good idea to schedule it in December. Not only will flights and accommodations likely be cheaper due to it being the off season, but you’ll be in town for the Sunway Sitges International Chess Festival!
If you prefer to be home for the holidays, you could always fold a trip to Budapest into your summer vacation plans. The Global Chess Festival is held there in July, and it’s only one day, so you would still have plenty of vacation time left over. If it’s held in another historic location like the Hungarian National Gallery, the rest of your travel companions could be adequately entertained while you participate in all the chess festival has to offer.
There are so many different chess festivals happening in so many different places across the globe that if you want to participate in one, you should certainly be able to find one at a time and place that works for you. If you have a flexible enough schedule, a chess festival would make a great focus for your next chess vacation. Happy planning!
- Chess Tourism: Discover a Whole New World of Chess with a Chess Vacation.
- Chess Culture Around the World: An Overview of the Different Ways Chess is Played Around the World.
For us it is the Tata Steel Chess festival in Wijk aan Zee, The Netherlands. Everybody plays in this beach place in the winter, from GM to hustler. From Judith to John. ?