2025’s Richest Chess Tour Unveiled, Fueled by Freestyle Format’s Worldwide Popularity

Freestyle Chess, which made a stunning debut last month, has firmed up its ambitions to expand into five continents next year and enlist the top 25 elite grandmasters in a new club for competing players. The variant, also known as Fischer Random and Chess 960, has the rear rank pieces on both sides on random squares, with Black’s pieces placed equally opposite their White counterparts.

Jan Buettner, a German promoter who built his wealth from AOL Europe, has created the Freestyle Chess Grand Slam Tour. The prize pool for each of the five events is expected to progressively increase to $1 million. Buettner co-leads Freestyle alongside world number one Magnus Carlsen.

For contrast, the current over-the-board Grand Chess Tour, which begins in St. Louis and ends with the Sinquefield Cup, has a total prize pool of $1.5 million, whereas the Champions Tour, which consists of four online tournaments followed by an over-the-board final, has $1.7 million.

Top grandmasters are enthusiastic, and it’s no surprise. Freestyle provides a richly rewarded reprieve from the many hours of drudgery spent before a traditional game in meticulously planning openings with the assistance of a Stockfish computer, with the real danger that the mutual research will fade out into a drawn ending. It is completely different at the level of the average player, or even the average master, where you can surprise your opponent with a well-planned opening bomb, but even this is no guarantee of eventual success.

Buettner’s stated goal of “making it as commercially successful as iconic sports events like the ATP for tennis, PGA for golf, and Formula 1 for motorsport” must be justified if Freestyle is to acquire traction. The next Slam in India in November, with a $500k prize pool, is expected to be a success, with Indian chess enthusiasts eager to see their adolescent idols face Carlsen. February 2025, back in northern Germany with $750k, should also go well, but later events, when the Tour enters new area in South America and South Africa with the full $1 million, may confront logistical challenges.

If all goes according to plan, the world chess economy will receive a big boost. The benchmark for an elite grandmaster, currently at 2700, will increase up to 2725 to match the new pot of gold.

Matthew Wadsworth, a 23-year-old Cambridge economics graduate, tied for second place with 7/9 in the 400-player Reykjavik Open on Thursday, eventually finishing sixth on tiebreak. Bogdan-Daniel Deac, the top seeded Romanian, won the first prize with 7.5/9.

In the ninth and last round, Wadsworth defeated the fourth seed, GM Jules Moussard of France, in a 41-move Italian game. Wadsworth had only lost once.

Wadsworth’s rating performance fell just short of achieving his second GM standard, but he will have another chance on Saturday, in one of two significant tournaments that begin this weekend and offer opportunities for England’s rising talent to win international trophies. Both events are supported by the Department of Culture, Media, and Sport’s £500,000 elite chess grant, which was announced last year.

The 4NCL Spring GM Round Robin is a 10-player event, including IMs Marcus Harvey, 28, Wadsworth, 23, and Shreyas Royal, 15, all vying for the GM standard of 6.5/9. Play begins at 3 p.m. on Saturday, with nine rounds in five days.

The ninth Menchik Memorial honors the first female world champion, killed by a V1 rocket in 1944. The 10-player event begins on Friday (round one 10 a.m., round two 3 p.m.) and runs until Tuesday, with women’s title norms at stake.

Bodhana Sivanandan, nine, will compete after another excellent performance in Reykjavik, where she scored 5.5/9 with a TPR of 2069, losing only to a GM and an IM (see the puzzle below). Both next week’s activities will be streamed live on Lichess.

In the £400,000 American Cup, which had both open and women’s sections, Levon Aronian defeated Wesley So in the open final, while Alice Lee, 14, defeated the holder, Irina Krush, in the women’s final. Fabiano Caruana, the world number two, fell to Aronian and So, raising questions about his form before of the Candidates in Toronto next month.

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