Reports | May 23, 2009 20:43

2nd Grand Slam Masters Final again in Bilbao, but with just four players

Bilbao Masters FinalIn September the basque town of Bilbao will again be the location for the Grand Slam Masters Final. This was confirmed yesterday in a presentation for the media by the Spanish organizers. While most of the successful formula will be maintained, the second edition of the tournament will have just four participants. Press release.

  • The Grand Slam Chess Association (GSCA) is yet again to entrust the hosting of this event to Bilbao (Spain) due to the great success of the 2008 edition.
  • In this edition the Pearl Spring Chess Tournament of Nanjing, China, will also be incorporated into the GSCA.

The management in charge of the organisation of the GSCA Masters Final in Bilbao have given their first presentation today in Sofia of the tournament to be held in September of this year, in front of a large audience of international chess bodies as well as the specialised media.

Andoni Madariaga and Juan Carlos Fern?°ndez, Tournament Coordinator and Tournament Director respectively, have confirmed that the tournament will be held in the first fortnight of September on the same stage that hosted the 2008 Bilbao Masters Final. Therefore, the Bilbao Plaza Nueva (central square), in the heart of the city, will again host the great glass cube that made it possible last year for a tournament of such prestige to be played outdoors for the first time in the public domain.

The Masters Final 2009 will be played exclusively by the four winning players of the tournaments that, along with Bilbao, make up the Grand Slam Chess Association: Corus-Wijk aan Zee, Holland, Ciudad de Linares, Spain, Mtel Masters- Sofia, Bulgaria and the Pearl Spring Tournament of Nanjing, China- this year incorporated into the Grand Slam.

At present and in the eve of awaiting the discovery of the Sofia winner, V?©selin Top?°lov- winner in Nanjing, Sergu?©i Kariakin- winner in Holland and Alex?°nder Grischuk, for his victory in Linares, have already received their invitations to the Final in Bilbao. Top?°lov is the current world number one and was the outstanding winner of the first edition of the Grand Slam Masters Final last year, whilst Grischuk and Kariakin are two young stars that have exploded onto the scene this year; the first through winning, against all odds, in Linares, Spain and the young 19 year old Ukrainian for winning in Holland and presenting his candidacy to reach World Championships.

The programme details for this Masters Final are at present being finalised and will shortly be released. The organisers have confirmed that all those aspects that contributed to the excellent results achieved in 2008 are all to be expected again this year as well as the great turn-out that was witnessed both locally and internationally. A varied programme of extra events, the “expert’s spot” commentary and analysis area for all audiences to follow, big screens, live internet transmission, the great glass cube and media representatives from every continent are all also to be expected at the event. And, most importantly, the hosting of an elite chess event outside, amongst the greater public.

It is, therefore announced that the Grand Slam Chess Association have again placed their trust in the city of Bilbao after the great success of the 2008 edition. The highly positive feedback of the tournament showed that the event triumphed in all aspects. In a perfect chess ambience, it united six of the world‚Äôs back then top eight players, with V?©selin Top?°lov coming out on top as the glorious finals winner. Furthermore, it was the first tournament in the history of chess to reach category XXII. The great technological and organisational effort invested assured an extraordinary following of this event witnessing thousands of people live at the scene and mass audiences from all corners of the world via internet or the vast international press that was present there in Bilbao.

22nd May 2009, Sofia.

Apart from their crazy spelling of the players' names, naturally the Spanish organizers mostly surprised us with the downgrade from six to four players. The reason must be a financial one, and in times of economic malaise perhaps we should be grateful that there will be a second edition at all. Unfortunately no single detail about the format is revealed yet but a double round-robin with just six rounds seems most likely.

Update 16:52: After Veselin Topalov, Sergey Karjakin and Alexander Grischuk the fourth name became clear today: Alexei Shirov.

Below you'll find a show player with all our videos from Bilbao 2008. This is how last year's tournament looked like:

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Peter Doggers's picture
Author: Peter Doggers

Founder and editor-in-chief of, Peter is responsible for most of the chess news and tournament reports. Often visiting top events, he also provides photos and videos for the site. He's a 1.e4 player himself, likes Thai food and the Stones.


Jagdish Dube.'s picture

Dear Peters Doggers.
I have sent this news to the Forum of Chessdom.Hope Chess Vibes will be encouraged.

Thomas's picture

Of course (or: in my opinion) this news - downgrade from six to four players - makes the retroactive inclusion of Nanjing into the Grand Slam AFTER it was known that the winner was Topalov even more questionable. Before, pro-Bulgarian bloggers here and elsewhere could argue that Topalov would, in any case, get a wildcard due to his rating. Now there are no wildcards ... .

me's picture

You are talking bull. It was said from the beginning that 2008 Pearl Spring tournament winner will ber invited to the 2009 final masters in Bilbao. counts towards the 2008/2009 Grand Slam.

So cut the crap and keep those conspiracy theories for yourself.

Jens Kristiansen's picture

They do not say anything about it, but I suppose it will be a double-round. That means only six rounds. And thats too little for a serious tournament in my view. Sad to say.

chessfan's picture

"first fortnight" = fortnight= two weeks.

six rounds in two weeks!?

I don't think so. My guess is that every player will play 4 games against opponents.

Axl's picture

@me 21.17

So far as I know it was only announced during Corus that the winner of Pearl Springs (Topalov) would be included in the 2nd Bilbao GS final.

What official source can you reference that said otherwise?

Thomas's picture

The official source I have is the Grand Slam press release dated 4th February 2009 - reported here at Chessvibes 6th February (click on the "Grand Slam" tag above to find it back).
I think the heated (or: animated) discussion I referred to was mostly at Mig's Dailydirt site - but I cannot find it back.

Axl's picture

Yes, but that press release came AFTER the Corus announcement. There's nothing in the press release that says that the decision to include Topalov was made before or during the Pearl Springs tournament itself.

Presumably they had discussed it internally, but nothing was formally announced until well after the tournament.

At that time, I might add, it was generally assumed the format with the GS winners plus one ore two wild cards would be maintained.

Recall too, that the GS planned to include a 5th tournament in this (2008-2009) cycle, that would presumably occur in July. That now seems to be off the table.

Thomas's picture

Axl, in case you missed it ... my follow-up post was supporting what I wrote before, and contradicting "me". And while the news may have leaked out a few days, up to one or two weeks earlier (but not more than that!), what's more of an official source than a press release by the organizers?
Bottom line: During the Nanjing tournament, players and the wider public did NOT know, certainly not for sure, that it would be part of the Grand Slam. There may have been rumors, but rumors are nothing more than rumors. Not even referring to a still earlier stage when Nanjing invitations were sent out, and some players may have declined not knowing what was (potentially) at stake ... .

Lajos Arpad's picture

Nanjing was great victory for Topalov. I wonder who would be the 4th player if he didn't win at Nanjing. Would the 4th player be the same player who won at Nanjing?

Thomas's picture

Lajos, I am not completely sure if I understand your question ... maybe it can be rephrased as follows:
If someone else but Topalov (Aronian? Svidler?) had won Nanjing, would it already be part of the current Grand Slam?
And - follow-up question: If Topalov needed a wildcard to qualify for Bilbao, would they cut the tournament down to 4 players (i.e., no wildcards)?
I don't have the answers (maybe Danailov has them).

chessfan's picture


“We have decided by consensus Nanjing 2008 as the first tournament of the Grand Slam 2009 because this meant an additional incentive for the Chinese inclusion and because we prefer winners of tournaments to players with a special invitation in order to participate in Bilbao. Therefore, Nanjing 2009 will be the first tournament of the Grand Slam 2010,” said the representatives of the Grand Slam.
By common agreement, all the tournaments of the Grand Slam will apply the Sofia Rule from the 2010 edition onwards, and other regulations will be considered in order to fight against this practice.

Bilbao, February 4th, 2009

Thomas's picture

Chessfan, I already referred to this press release - and can only repeat that the date is the critical issue. In no way I question that Nanjing can (and should) be part of the Grand Slam, but such a decision should be made, and communicated to players and general public, BEFORE the tournament.

So I see no problems whatsoever for the winner of Nanjing 2009 qualifying for Bilbao 2010.

chessfan's picture


Why such a decision should be made, and communicated to players and general public? Doesn't it is private circle of tournaments. On the other hand - in Dortmund participate winner of Aeroflot open. This question disscused with players and general public?

And don't mentioned a fact that Nanjing tournament contract for 5 years period and Grand Slam have reasons to made quickly a desicion to support new organizers.

Thomas's picture

Chessfan, I can follow your (implicit) distinction between "private" events vs. official FIDE events. However, the Grand Slam association made several claims, about as follows: They are doing a better job than FIDE and have more transparent procedures - accordingly, winning Bilbao is worth as much as or even more than being FIDE world champion. How does this fit with changing rules during an ongoing cycle? FIDE did the same and received due and justified criticism.
On the other hand, the Grand Slam isn't THAT transparent from the start: To be part of the club, you have to be invited to one of the qualifying tournaments - and invitations are based on, well, subjective decisions. Again, fine for a private event - but not comparable to the FIDE Grand Prix (at least the initial concept) where invitations are based, mostly, on objective criteria (plus a few organizer wildcards).
The comparison with the Aeroflot qualifier for Dortmund is odd and at the same time revealing: All Aeroflot participants knew before the tournament that they could qualify for Dortmund . And as Aeroflot is an open tournament, "anyone" has such a chance - hence it adds new/unfamiliar names to the ever constant (or slowly changing) list of players in supertournaments.
For Nanjing, none of the players (with the possible exception of Topalov having inside information from Danailov) knew that the tournament was, or could be(come) a qualifier for Bilbao.

"made quickly a desicion to support new organizers"
IMO they didn't make the decision quickly enough - if it involves such a hurry (impossible to wait one more year) they could and should have decided before the Nanjing tournament.

chessfan's picture

Grand Slam including Nanjing. Participants in Nanjing 2008 figths for win. just simple is that. Players as soon as possible after Corus 2009(press realize, 04 february 2009) and before Linares and Sofia have a clue that organizers: "prefer winners of tournaments to players with a special invitation in order to participate in Bilbao."
On the other hand - FIDE change his own rules that affects future events . Must win GRAND PRIX SERIES and in addition candidates tournament! FIDE is world chess federation and his desicions affect interests of much more chessplayers.
Tournaments in Grand Slam is strictly invitantional events.
This is my point a view.

Lajos Arpad's picture

IMO we should recognize, that:

1.) As Thomas already said everybody knows that the winner of the Aeroflot tournament automatically qualifies to Dortmund. This is known before Aeroflot. The players in Nanjing all wanted to win the event, but they might have taken more risks if they knew about the qualification to Bilbao.

2.) Nanjing is a justified choice as long as we don't know the winner. After Nanjing, where Topalov won, I'm sure the chances of including the Dortmund winner, for example were reduced.

chessfan's picture

"The players in Nanjing all wanted to win the event, but they might have taken more risks if they knew about the qualification to Bilbao." Quote

This couldn't be relevant in my opinion.
Other case - performance of Anand in Bilbao 2008. His play there was very cautious. (Soon after tournament he must meet Kramnik in world championship match 2008.)
On the other hand current world champion have knew what is stakes in Bilbao(money prize,elo and prestige) and more he win one of Grand Slam tournaments - Morelia-Linares 2008!

Maybe(it is my opinion too) Grand Slam want invite totally motivated participants in Final masters 2009.

chessfan's picture

In case with Dortmund tournament - they declined invitation of Grand Slam association. Danailov said this in few interviews.

Thomas's picture

Concerning Nanjing: What about the players that were invited, but declined?

Concerning Anand: It seems that he made a conscious decision, considering the world championship more prestigious than winning Bilbao - and even worth some temporary loss of ELO and a smaller share of the prize money. His "very cautious" play may have been motivated by hiding his opening preparation for the match against Kramnik. Of course Danailov recurrently stated that winning Bilbao is at least as important as being world champion - to be fair, he said so even before Topalov won the Grand Slam final.
Anand at Morelia-Linares, that's another story: It was a prestigious event long before it became part of the Grand Slam - winning this tournament is an achievement by itself, and the Bilbao invitation (with guaranteed extra prize money, even if you finish last) is the icing on the cake.

Concerning Dortmund, I copy acirce's post at Dailydirt (

"As for Dortmund, Carsten Hensel touched on the subject in this interview from 2007:

"What about the Grand Slam idea proposed by Silvio Danailov? Why is Dortmund not participating?

In its current form I don’t believe in it at all. Apart from the fact that it should be in the hands of FIDE and Global Chess, it seems to be an attempt by certain people to gain influence in the chess world. Dortmund is not participating because it doesn’t want to lose its independence." [end of quote]

So Danailov tells the truth ,:) . And personally I consider it good news that one established supertournament prefers to stay out of the sphere of Danailov's influence. Among other things, Sofia rules have weaknesses besides advantages .... .

chessfan's picture

Anand at Morelia-Linares, that’s another story: It was a prestigious event long before it became part of the Grand Slam - winning this tournament is an achievement by itself, and the Bilbao invitation (with guaranteed extra prize money, even if you finish last) is the icing on the cake[end of quote]

I partically agree because new tournament like Bilbao have own value. And for that reason i suppose that system of play is changing.But of course Anand has right thinking whatever he want. In interview that give it not long time ago Anand stated that he don't play in glass cube again.
Interesting fact that results of recently poll made by ACP considered that idea of glass cube is accepting positively from most of participants in poll.

chessfan's picture

Concerning Nanjing: What about the players that were invited, but declined?[end of quote]

If I remember properly Carlsen decline invitation because of his participation in Grand Prix. Later he announced that withdraws from GP series. Anand declined invitation too but i don't think that this desicion was made because of status of Nanjing. Anand don't play in Corus too.
Aronian, Ivanchuk and curent russian champion Svidler participated in tournament.
Radjabov, Jakovenko, Grischuk, Leko and Wang Yue(Top 11 Players in October list) participated in Elista GP. Bu(?2 in China according to top 100 october list) play in Nanjing. Movsesian was 13th in top 100 october list.
Adams was in list of participation for Elista but also withdraw.

Thomas's picture

"Interesting fact that results of recently poll made by ACP considered that idea of glass cube is accepting positively from most of participants in poll."

Yes, 12 participants out of 21 like the idea ... and I wonder how many of them (if any) have played in a glass cube before and really know what it's like.

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