Reports | August 08, 2009 1:18

Breaking: Topalov says no to Bilbao, Aronian replaces

Bilbao Masters FinalVeselin Topalov won't play in the 2nd edition of the Grand Slam Masters Final, which will take place September 6-12 in Bilbao, Spain. The reduced budget and prize fund don't meet the expectations of the world's number one, according to a press release sent by the Spanish organizers. As the runner-up of the Nanjing Grand Slam, Levon Aronian replaces Topalov.



The II Grand Slam Final Chess Masters 2009 will be held in Bilbao from September 6th to September 12th 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 is played exclusively by the four winning players of the tournaments that, along with Bilbao, make up the Grand Slam Chess Association and are among the best tournaments in the world: 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.

The four chess players who will compete in the Bilbao Final are Sergey Karjakin- winner of Wijk ann Zee –Holland-, Alexander Grischuk, winner of “Ciudad de Linares”, Spain, Alexei Shirov winner in Sofia and Levon Aronian second-place winner of Nanjing, since as Veselin Topalov, winner of Nanjing, has refused the invitation to play the Final. For the Organizing Committee, along with Institutions, Sponsors and Partners, the international economic situation has been a determining factor to decide that, in this Final, the budget and prizes must be tightened up in order to be sensitive to the social effects derived from the crisis. This approach doesn’t meet the expectations of Veselin Topalov, who also has valued the hardness of the Final Masters. The World Championship that he will play is just around the corner and these factors have led him to refuse the invitation of the Grand Slam.

The organisers have confirmed that all those aspects which 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.

The Masters Final supports interesting and novel rules in order to guarantee a battle and spectacle in each game. The so called named “Sofia’s Rule” which states that draw-offers will only be allowed by the Arbiter, will be applied in this double round-robin tournament. The scoring system will be once again similar to football scoring system: Players will get 3 points for winning a game, 1 point for drawing and 0 points for losing. This scoring system was first applied in an elite chess tournament during the last Bilbao Final Masters 2008, and is known as “Bilbao’s Rule”.

Alexei Shirov -Spanish nationality and born in Riga, Letonia, in 1972-. He is noted for his attacking style and he has pointed out that aggressiveness is an essential feature of his playing mode. He has been called “the last Romantic chess player”, or the “Leonardo da Vinci” of chess thanks to his creative approach along with the risks he takes while playing. In 2000, Teheran, he reached the final of the FIDE World Chess Championship, losing to Viswanathan Anand. In 2007 he played in the Chess World Cup 2007, but he lost the final to Gata Kamsky.

International Chess Grandmaster Alexander Grischuk was born in 1983 in Russia. Along with being a very talented young player, Grischuk is also known as one of the best blitz chess players taking him on to win the 2006 World Blitz Championship in Israel.

Sergey Karjakin, born in Ukraine, January 12, 1990, holds the record for the youngest grandmaster in history, achieving the title at the age of twelve years and seven months. In 2004, at 14, he played in Bilbao the Man vs Machine World Team Championship. Karjakin, and was the only human to win against a computer. In 2007 he played the Blindfold World Chess Cup again in Bilbao. He is a very talented player who guarantees a splendorous future for himself, not only for his great command of tactics but also for his gift for strategy since the beginning of his career, a rare quality among children. It is for this reason that the pools for future World Champion always include Karjakin.

Levon Aronian, born in Yerevan, Armenia, 1982. He is the only player of this Final who took part last year in the first edition of the Final Masters. He is a great chess luminary: he is only 26 years old but has already won the World Cup and the Linares and Wijk aan Zee (twice) tournaments. That naturalness, his universal style and belonging to a country where chess is the national passion, as well as a balanced nervous system configure the 26 year-old Armenian Levon Aronian as a very solid value. Prone to the high risk in his games, both organisers and followers are fond of Aronian.

Bilbao, August 7th, 2009

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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.


chessfan's picture

And Anand refused to play in Nanjing
But why his desicion not required criticizm ? Double standarts and no more.

Marcos Sander's picture

Well,i fully agree with Topálov.If they low the prize he should not come,As the 1º in the list and ex-world champion he deserves better.The fans should understand that.There will be other oportunites to Veselin play.Is a great player and i support his decision(even that he doesn't need that of course).The field is good anyway.Maybe another time...

Mauricio Valdes's picture

It´s a shame Topalov´s refusal to play on Bilbao.
First, we chess fans, were thrilled when we learned that Topalov and Anand were going to face each other in Nanjing. Then, just weeks later, both the contenders for the next World Championship Match announced they were steping out.
It´s a real surprise that Topalov won´t play on Bilbao, since his manager, Danailov, has a lot to do with the creation of this tournament and the so called "Grand Slam Series".
Could it be that Topalov is avoiding tournaments in order to prepare for his match against Anand?

Arne Moll's picture

What's it with Topalov? I sometimes get the impression he doesn't want to be liked by the chess audience. Each time you think he's finally getting his act together, he does something like this. Very strange (and a real pity).

jussu's picture

Well, I guess it is Topalov's business; I don't see a reason to take it bad when a grandmaster decides to skip a tournament.

politicalmusic's picture

Makes sense to me. Anand isn't playing, and he won't either... he has more important things to focus on at this point i.e. the World Championship. I doubt if the other players would play if they were in his position either.

Peter Doggers's picture

Not sure what to think about this Wch argument. I'd presume that the match wouldn't take place before Linares, which would leave enough time to prepare!?

Thomas's picture

Of course it is Topalov's business, but I agree with Mauricio and Arne. If Bilbao interferes with his match preparation, OK - but then he should give this as primary or only reason. In that case, it is only strange that he held Anand's poor result in Bilbao 2008 (much closer in time to the Anand-Kramnik match) against him.
But the main reason appears to be the "insufficient" prize fund - which burns down to "everyone but me may suffer from the financial crisis" - shame on Topalov.

acirce's picture

Why isn't this a legitimate reason? Since when is it a duty for a professional to play in any given tournament regardless of prize fund and other conditions? Don't pretty much every top player regularly take this into consideration?

Castro's picture

It's ok for me if one of the best chess players in the world doesn't play this fake-chess tournament, though that is not his reason.
Anyway I understand his (two) reasons, and I'm glad he doesn't play.
BTW, and once again!:
The so called named “Sofia’s Rule” doesn't allow ANY KIND of draw-offers at any time! That rule, other than anti-chess, is simply badly writen.
Nothing about draw is even "allowed" by the Arbiter. He just confirms (or not) draw CLAIMS, in those cases writen. I'm curious to see if one of the cases is again "perpetual chess" Lol :-)

Castro's picture

And BTW,
«The so called named “Sofia’s Rule” » is an expresion copy-pasted from that kitsh "press release" :-)

Vincent Dovillers's picture

Topa had everything to lose playing there as there is no top 10 but it's still a lack of "panache"! He's number 1 for a few months and already afraid to lose this position.
He won't get fans this way

guitarspider's picture

I dislike this decision by Topalov. Given that even last place will earn loads of money in Bilbao this makes him look very greedy. Can you imagine someone like Ivanchuk decline the opportunity to play a tournament like this, just because he doesn't get enough money? I could accept the preparation argument, even though it is a bit shady, but this?

me's picture

This is begining of the end for Grand Slam.

Rest in peace.

Frits Fritschy's picture

As a freelancer, I always try to stay firm when a customer tells me "there is sadly not enough budget to meet my demands". You know you step on a downhill path when you give in.
Future organisers will think twice now to reduce their prize money when they want to have Topalov. He has something to sell and wants the right price for it.
What would have been the financial position of chess professionals if Fischer had been weak-hearted in 1972?
But, as a fan, I also am disappointed I won't see him play now.

Sergio's picture

The preparation argument sounds fair to me, but that of the money sounds greedy.

I mean, he probably make more money playing this tournament then most people of his country earn in a year.

Thomas's picture

What if FIDE decides to have the Anand-Topalov match on neutral ground, even if Bulgarian organizers propose a higher prize fund? In my opinion such a decision would still make sense. Would people also understand if Topalov then declined to play "because the money doesn't meet his expectations"?

The Bilbao prize fund seems acceptable for Aronian, Shirov, Grischuk and Karjakin - so it can't be that bad!? Corus organizers had hinted that three players (Anand, Kramnik and Topalov) are much more expensive than anyone else from the top10. Fair enough if they get what they (or their managers) ask for, but still maybe a bit out of proportion.

V's picture

I guess all three players (Shirov, Grischuk, Karjakin) must be very dissappointed that Aronian is going to play here :))) , as far as he is going to beat them all (overall record 2-0, 4-2, 4-1 respectively).

Coco Loco's picture

It's all about the expected (financial) value of a decision, in the long term. Topa, or more likely Danailov, "calculated" that not playing in Bilbao would be more advantageous, and that's that. The idea of it being advantageous for a pro chessplayer to play "for the fans" is just wrong. Sure, hopefully things will change (like in poker, golf, etc.) - maybe when all top 100 players make more than the average reader of this blog...

Marcos Sander's picture

Greedy?Ohhh!For Gods sake!He's the best!Retire?Never!A player that always play for a win deserves more respect!All of you forgot that he wouldn't play chess forever and also won't earn the same money forever.He wiil earn much less after 40 or more and Topálov is getting there...It's just like soccer the players wants the better contract.So If is better to prepare to the WC instead play for the prize in Bilbao he should do it!

Frits Fritschy's picture

Coco Loco,
You're dead right. Of course a world class player likes to play for the fans, but they'll have to pay up.
On the other hand, using the argument "I have to prepare for the WC match" would have really put me down. I can understand greed, I can't understand cowardice.

leigh's picture

Both Topalov and Anand withdrew from the scheduled tournments. Although a lot of chess fans want to see their playing, they don't care what the fans think about. They caculate how much money they can get in the future. It's shame.

ed's picture

As someone said this is the end of the Grand Slam. It was killed by its own creator, Silvio Danailov!

acirce's picture

I don't know about "greedy" and I don't get the point of such arguments. I don't think there is anything wrong about making money and making strategic decisions on that basis. More money is better than less money. If he doesn't think it's worth it then that's that isn't it? Of course there are plenty of other things to be said - it's absurd that a few players in the very top make ridiculous amounts of money while most strong players are nowhere near that. But I don't think any of that makes Topalov's decision morally questionable. Moreover, nobody has any sort of obligation to play for the sake of "the fans". (What fans exactly, btw? Personally I'd rather see Topalov retire!)

pete's picture

I am sure Topalov is least concerned about what people would think out of that. He is a great player and no doubt he loves the game but lets not forget that is a business as well and he is a professional .... professional, that means he makes his living from chess and must always take the correct decisions. And yes, money are important. The person who mentioned Paul Morphy should not forget how he passed away ... poor. Just like many great chess players in the passed. I bet people were thinking the same about Bobby Fischer every time he asked organizers for more money.

Ebomuche Cardinal I's picture

Gone where the days when geniuses played chess not out of greed, but for love of the game. Topalov backing out of the game probably as a strategy for the Wch is common among chess players but pulling out of a tournament due to insufficient funds... That reason's inadequate!? take. Every chess player should learn from Paul Morphy#

leigh's picture

acirce and marcos sander:
I see two words from your posts: Greedy and Selfish
You guys typed so many words, just try to tell people: you like money, and don't care for anyone else. Right?
It's shame!

acirce's picture

Nonsense, leigh.

I don't think it's wrong to make money, but only as long as it's not done by harming or exploiting others.

Where did you get "don't care for anyone else" from? That's just rubbish.

gg's picture

Does anyone really care if Topalov plays in Bilbao or not? It's a tiny four player event, weaker than many other this year, and the whole Grand Slam project seems to be on the way to fall apart like FIDE's magnificent GP plans did i many ways. Anand declined Nanjing, Kramnik declines Linares, it's their business and little to be upset about. I'd rather see Aronian playing there anyway.

me's picture

"Corus organizers had hinted that three players (Anand, Kramnik and Topalov) are much more expensive than anyone else from the top10."

Perhaps because they have something that others don't? They are three (out of four) active players that are/were considered World Champions.

Arne Moll's picture

I don't know. It's just strange when professional chess players, who can make money because the audience likes to see them play, decide not to play because they claim they can't make enough money. It seems to me they're letting down the very same audience that makes it possible for them to earn money with chess in the first place. It's just not very logical in that respect, but then, I guess the world is not logically arranged ;-)

jussu's picture

"Gone where the days when geniuses played chess not out of greed, but for love of the game."

To be precise, these days ended May 18, 1853, when Lionel Kieseritzky died in poverty. To be more truthful, even he was a professional, just clumsy at the money-finding art, so "the days" must be even farther behind.

chessfan's picture

I want just added that:

Fighter rating list 2000-2008 (Players rated 2700 or higher)





acirce's picture

A few other notables:

4.Cheparinov :)






I think the whole concept is quite silly, but if you're interested in that kind of stuff.. however I'm not sure what the relation to this thread is.

chessfan's picture

I think the whole concept is quite silly, but if you’re interested in that kind of stuff.. however I’m not sure what the relation to this thread is.

I don't think that concept is silly.

however I’m not sure what the relation to this thread is.

Relation is collateral. Because in this thread a few disscutants writing about Topalov that he "letting down the very same audience".

chessfan's picture

And i doesn't understand why many of critics to prefer don't mentioned the fact of Topalov's participation in Nanjing soon after Bilbao.

But maybe that too not related to this thread. :)

Thomas's picture

It _is_ related to this thread (tagged Grand Slam) that Nanjing starts soon after Bilbao. Indeed, as I just wrote on Dailydirt, it is revealing that these two tournaments are almost back-to-back with each other. To me it implies that the Grand Slam is a loose association of individual events, rather than a coherent entity where organizers actually talk to each other.
And BTW, for Nanjing also strange things seemed to happen behind the scenes: Topalov's picture appearing, then disappearing, then reappearing on the tournament webpage. Last-minute financial issues? Or rather that he didn't want to play Anand, and (re)confirmed his participation once Anand had dropped out?

Thomas's picture

While money is presently discussed in the Staunton Memorial thread, the following (from - my translation from German) is relevant for this one:
"It hasn't yet been mentioned how much the [Bilbao] prize fund was reduced ("eingedampft"). After last year's impressive 400,000s Euro for six players and ten rounds, this year's four players will share merely 110,000 Euros (20,000 guaranteed for all of them, plus 15,000/10,000/5,000 for first, second and third place)."

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