Every year the Global Chess Festival is synonymous with togetherness, bringing people together to enjoy a whole day of art, science, education and sport events all under the wider umbrella of chess. But how can such a thrilling personal experience be substituted when travel is restricted and physical distance from others must be maintained? For the first time ever, the annual celebration of chess and all its values was presented in a fully online format - proving that Chess Connects Us even when many of us might feel more secluded than ever. With over 40 programs covering historic talks, competitions and educational masterclasses and enjoyed by chess enthusiasts around the world, the Global Chess Festival made the most of the opportunities presented this year and brought fans together in a way that the event hadn’t been able to before.
This year’s Global Chess Festival - which took place on 10 October - followed a different format to usual. Where previous years had guests and chess fans wandering the halls of Budapest’s National Gallery to interact with a wide range of programs, for 2020 it was necessary to move the event to an entirely digital space. “We did not want to host just another live stream or Zoom event,” says Judit Polgar, mastermind behind the Global Chess Festival, “we strived for more. We wanted an online universe of chess where the global community can connect within a virtual space. I believe that chess is capable of pioneering new ways to connect even when travel and personal events are restricted.”
One highlight of the festival was a historic talk between Garry Kasparov, former World Champion and Judit Polgar, the greatest female chess player of all time. Though the pair first met three decades ago and have been long-time rivals, the friendly conversation covered a range of topics, from Kasparov’s career and the duo’s shared history to the current World Champion Magnus Carlsen and the rise of chess engines. “I was quite suspicious about our future chances of playing machines after my second match with Deep Blue,” says Kasparov on the topic of chess computers. “I still have my hopes, but we could see in the first five years that the rise of chess engines was unstoppable.”
The Judit Polgar Chess Foundation also presented the returning Goodwill Ambassadors of Chess awards, which were handed out to notable figures that have emboldened the values of chess in their fields. These winners were:
Watch the Goodwill Ambassadors of Chess awards ceremony:
There was still some time on the chessboard, too, with a number of international and youth tournaments and exhibition matches taking place throughout the day. While Judit Polgar and Sofia Polgar both played simultaneous games online from around the world, it was the competitions that chess fans were especially keen to see: the Chess Challenge, the Chess Palace Cup, and the World Continental Online Youth Cup. The latter was organised by the Judit Polgar Chess Foundation together with the European Chess Union and ended with the Asian team winning the tournament.
And as ever, the arts remained an ever-important focus for the festival, with a number of chess-themed endeavours becoming a major part of the event. Participants had a chance to watch Chess Brains, a documentary that studies five of the world's masterminds, and ‘Rise Above’, the behind-the-scenes film made for John Leguizamo’s feature, Critical Thinking (2020), about the how chess has to power to equalise us, regardless of social status. There was also an opportunity to watch the The Polgar Variant documentary, which tells the tale of the trio of chess champions.
Event sponsor Morgan Stanley once again took part in the festivities, too. The company has long understood the values of chess and the benefits that can be earned within the workplace. To strengthen this value the Head of Morgan Stanley Budapest, Norbert Fogarasi, hosted his own talk on this exact topic.
While it may not be clear how the Global Chess Festival will be impacted by the worldwide pandemic in 2021, there’s no doubt that the move to an online space has been very successful and provided Judit Polgar and her team with a lot of lessons to learn from. “This year has created very unusual challenges,” says Judit. “To my great regret, I was not able to personally meet with the thousands of visitors of the Global Chess Festival, however we discovered new opportunities in the online space by using the common language of chess. We had the chance to connect to our community from across the entire world by creating an online universe where it was possible to take part in competitions, interactive classes, quizzes and virtual art exhibitions to mention but a few of the nearly 50 activities.