Chess Transcends Borders at FIDE World Corporate Chess Championships

Downtown Manhattan is one of the world’s most traversed spots. With several financial centers on Wall Street as well as dozens of world-famous attractions, the land between the two rivers has attracted tourists and businesspersons from all around the world. The FIDE World Corporate Chess Championship, held June 15 through 17, merged these two worlds fantastically, and did so much more in the process.

A gathering of businesspersons and chess players from all around the world, this tournament bridged the divides of different countries, languages, and professions in a shared language of chess. Some players flew in from faraway places including China and Kazakhstan, and many others fit right into New York’s polyglot symphony as they all embarked on a joint three-day adventure in our beloved eight-by-eight world.

Just to arrive, the teams have already been through countless hurdles. What started as over 300 teams from 24 countries participating in a series of online knockout matches boiled down to just 12 teams, including the eight finalists and four wildcards. The selected wildcard teams were Google, Goldman Sachs, Black Rock, and the host and sponsor Freedom Holding Corporation. And in a true reflection of New York, the other final teams consisted of multiple banking firms, a sports racket firm, an oil-producing company, and two chess platforms battling it out for the title of the smartest company.


Playing hall
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An inside look into the playing hall (Photo courtesy Davis Zong Jr.)


Even with such busy day jobs, these companies, even the non-chess related ones, still managed to assemble some of the strongest teams. SIG’s lineup of former U.S. Champion GM Sam Shankland, former U12 World Youth Champion Nan Zhao, three-time New York champion FM Ethan Li, and Ella Papapnek (one of the top 100 ranked women in the country), is certainly nothing to scoff at, and the squad would ultimately finish third after advancing to the semifinals.

Upon entrance, players and spectators were greeted by the stunning venue of the Cunard building, a marvel of Neo-Renaissance architecture next to the “Charging Bull” statue. Though the ambience felt like a business networking event, the neatly arranged chessboards on high tables, surrounding a giant chessboard in the middle reminded us that just like business, chess can be a great medium for socializing.

For the first event of the day, people of all ages and origins lined up in an exhibition game against none other than GM Hikaru Nakamura, the second-highest rated player in the world. Moves were made, autographs were taken, and with big smiles all around, the event kicked off with a bang. Some of my favorite moments must have been the exciting and sometimes humorous announcements made before each round, such as live score reports of Euro Cup soccer matches!


Zong Hikaru
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Nakamura (R) with the author in an exhibition game (courtesy FIDE)


Especially a highlight was the panel before round three. Nakamura joined Freedom Corporation CEO Timur Turlov and FIDE CEO Emil Sutovsky to create a very unique trio, and the energetic discussion that ensued between them shows the unifying power of chess. To all those out there curious, chess and business actually have more in common than you might think! When asked about concepts of risk assessment that apply to the real world, Nakamura remarked: “In chess, you are making decisions non-stop, and the ability to think ahead and make decisions over the board is definitely something you can apply to business.”

As the games were gradually unfolding in the playing area, we were greeted by several renowned chess celebrities. First off, there was GM Nona Gaprindashvilli, fresh off her visit to the Saint Louis Chess Club. She was the youngest of the six children in her family and the only girl, but that didn’t stop her from becoming the first ever woman to achieve the grandmaster title. Participants of the event were treated to a night of blitz and fun with Gaprindashvilli at the Marshall Chess Club. FM Jennifer Yu — the two-time U.S. Women’s Chess Champion who is also a full time student at Harvard — also made an appearance. There was also FM Alisa Melekhina, a top U.S. woman chess player who is now a partner at a top law firm. And speaking of strong female players, a special mention goes to Black Rock’s team, the only team whose top two boards were led by women: IM Rusudan Goletiani on board one and Alice Dong (who was once profiled in the New York Times) on board two!


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The championship team, Chessify (Photo Courtesy FIDE/Rafal Oleksiewicz)


To heighten the fun atmosphere of the tournament, Freedom Corp generously gave out 30 free VIP tickets to Chess in the Schools (CIS), a program dedicated to fostering the intellectual and social development of low-income youth through chess education. Seeing students whom I taught at online CIS summer camps, as well as many CIS alums and the director himself, Shaun Smith, instills confidence in the future of chess and establishes New York as a growing chess powerhouse of the world.

Another cool perk about the World Corporate Championships was its mixture of casualness and seriousness. On one hand, spectators are allowed to take photos on their phones and talk quietly outside the airwalls, but on the other hand, players are screened before every game, and DGT boards broadcast every move live for viewers all around the world. The diverse array of cameras was almost enough to make a TV show out of this tournament! Some mounted tripods captured focused, prolonged shots of players deep in concentration. Fishing pole shaped long cameras allowed for super up-close filming, making the viewer feel as if they were right there next to the chess player. And of course, there were the sky-high cameras, filming it all from the bird's eye perspective above. At the end of the last game of each round, a triumphant blast of upbeat music would play from the speakers, indicating that avid observers can finally let out their thoughts about that crazy double-sided endgame they had been watching.

At the end of the first day, we were given a lovely farewell treat: a live game of the day analysis by Nakamura. Many of us have seen him do it on YouTube, drawing arrows faster than our brains can process, but it was even cooler to see him talk about variations live. See the summary of his annotated game of the day below:



After ten rapid games over two days, ChessMood and Chessify finished as the top teams in their respective divisions; Chessify scoring 32 out of 40 possible points and ChessMood scoring a dominating 37/40. Perhaps playing chess as part of your job helps you do well at chess tournaments (Editor’s note: results may vary)! Right behind ChessMood and Chessify were SIG and UBS Group AG, who qualified with “plus” scores of 24 and 22½, respectively. The final four teams were invited back on Monday for the semi-finals and finals.

We continued to see big names in the audience on the third day, as well. Streamer WFM Anna Cramling comes from a family with a strong chess tradition; her mother GM Pia Cramling was the fifth-ever woman to become a grandmaster, and her father GM Juan Manuel Bellón López is a five-time Spanish champion. Also drawing a huge crowd was IM Levy Rozman, widely known online as GothamChess. Already a strong chess player over the board, his entertaining reactions and livestreams have made his channel among the favorites for both aspiring chess stars and casual enthusiasts alike.


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Levy Rozman was one of several noticeable guests in attendance (Photo courtesy FIDE/FIDE Rafał Oleksiewicz)


An hour before the first round of the semifinals, the audience fell silent, waiting in suspense at the scheduled major announcement. Hushed whispers grew into cheerful bursts of celebration as the giant projector announced the arrival of the 2024 FIDE World Rapid and Blitz Championships to New York. The grand reveal promises even more days of fun to all chess fans, with grandmasters and beginners alike excited at the prospect of seeing the world’s best players duke it out right here in New York.

The playoffs saw two rounds of semifinals to determine the participants in the finals, followed by two rounds of finals to determine the champion. See below the critical game between the top boards of Chessify and ChessMood, respectively: GM Zaven Andriasian and GM Hovhannes Gabuzyan. Keeping the second player’s king stranded in the center, Andriasian’s attack crashed through and despite tough defense from Gabuzyan, the Armenian Grandmaster managed to restrain Black’s dangerous passed pawns and emerge victorious against his countryman, clinching the match point with a team win of 2½ – 1½.



As I watched the Broadway-style musical show that the event had arranged before the closing ceremony, alongside some of the world’s most elite chess players and businesspersons, I gazed at the dome-shaped walls and caught sight of the FIDE motto “Gens una sumus.” A literal translation of the Latin motto is “We are one family,” and it was fittingly projected next to a map of the world, conveying a clear message: the bond of chess unites us all, even across languages and distances. I enjoy being part of this familial community, and with more events like these, there are great signs that it will continue to grow every day.