The 2016 Bilbao Chess Masters Tournament has just gotten underway. Reigning World Champion Magnus Carlsen and his new challenger Sergey Karjakin are among the six participants in the tournament being played on a double Round-Robin basis. That means Carlsen and Karjakin will play at least two games against each other before they meet again for the keenly awaited World Championship in New York in November 2016. Besides Carlsen and Karjakin, Bilbao Masters will also feature defending champion Wesley So of USA, his compatriot Hikaru Nakamura, Dutch Grand Master Anish Giri and the 17-year old Chinese chess prodigy Wei Yi. India’s Vishy Anand is not one of the six participants this year. Anand is a part of the Grand Chess Tour and last played in June 2016 in the rapids and blitz events at Leuven in Belgium, the second leg after Paris. He had come to Bilbao last year but will be missed this time. Since the current format of Bilbao Masters has six players, there will be a total of 10 rounds spread between July 13 and July 23, 2016.
For global chess fraternity, the most awaited two matches at Bilbao will be those between Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin. These two are scheduled to play in the 12-game World Championship competition in New York City in November this year. Chess fans had expected that Carlsen and Karjakin would play in the Altibox Norway Chess in April 2016 but since the Russian dropped out at the last moment, there was some disappointment. In the aftermath, the media criticized Karjakin for chickening out on the fear of losing to Carlsen ahead of the World Championship. But with Karjakin coming to Bilbao, excitement is once again in the air. The games between the challenger and the champion will allow them to push each other for the psychological advantage before New York’s big event.
The tournament is being staged at the spectacular theater called Teatro Campos Eliseos. The event opened officially on July 12 with an opening ceremony and matches began on the 13th. July 18th will be a day of rest. Rules are nearly similar to other FIDE events. Players will be allowed 90 minutes for the first 40 moves and then 60 minutes to finish the game, with 10 extra seconds per move from move number 41. Sofia Rule has been introduced in which players will not be allowed to agree to a draw without an arbiter’s permission. Both players must request the arbiter, who will make his decision only after consulting with a technical assistant. Every win will count for 3 points, drawn games have 1 point each and losers get 0 points. The winner of the tournament will be the one, who has scored the highest number of points at the conclusion of all rounds. If two players tie for the top spot, they will need to play a blitz match immediately after the last round ends. They will play two such games in 4 minutes each with an add-on 3 seconds for each move. If they are still tied, they go for the Armageddon in which White will have 5 minutes and Black 4. If the match is drawn, Black will be declared as winner.
25-year old Magnus Carlsen is the favorite to win at Bilbao based on his current good form. But it is hazardous to make predictions before-hand. Carlsen could be given a tough time by defending champion Wesley So and Hikaru Nakamura, who is the oldest player at age 28. Interest will also be focused on Chinese teenager Wei Yi, who has made amazing strides in the last one year.