First of all, this is due to the global situation, it has to be written about the circumstances of this last international sporting event, which also means: about the reporting. ZEIT has been reporting on chess world championships for decades, and the one that is currently being held in Yekaterinburg in the Urals Candidates tournament is the preliminary stage for the World Cup 2020; this is where Magnus Carlsen’s next challenger is determined. We have always reported up close, often the distance between chessboard and notepad was only a few meters. The ambience, the atmosphere, everything was there and became the subject, right down to the rain jackets in London in November 2018, when the World Cup duelists hurried from the hotel to the competition site on foot.
This is different this time. Hotel and flights were booked – everything canceled at the last minute. Aeroflot no longer flies to Germany, foreign journalists no longer come to Russia. The only non-Russian chess reporter who made it up to Ekaterinburg The Spaniard Leontxo García from El Pais. He was tested for the virus, negative, and then put in quarantine. He has been stuck in a hotel room for ten days, a few kilometers from what is unreachable for him.
All non-Russian rapporteurs are dependent on mediation. It happens primarily through the daily video stream, which is broadcast on chess24.com and other internet platforms, commented on by various grand master teams in several languages. There are also photos from the tournament hotel as well as contacts to the organizers and other participants. You can phone, skype, whatsapp.
A lot is different at the tournament itself than usual; above all, there is no audience at the location. In the Hyatt Regency Hotel, located in the center on the half-frozen river, there is a game room that could accommodate 300 or even 400 spectators, but the hall is empty. There are four gaming tables on the stage at which the eight candidates take a seat. As usual, you can shake hands before and after the game, but you don’t have to this time – an exception that was created by the World Chess Organization specifically for this occasion. Two bottles of disinfectant are next to the chess clock, so that sterility can be achieved at any time. Breathing masks, suitable in black and white, are ready; So far they have not been worn on a board.
Candidate rooms are said to be luxurious; the view over the river and the city was terrific. The windows cannot be opened, which is why two of the grand masters are accommodated elsewhere at their request. The Russian Alexander Grischuk is a smoker and comes on foot, the Chinese Ding Liren is brought up in the car. The others take the elevator to the game room.
When they are not playing, they prepare for the next round with their seconds in person or in the network. It is not unusual in this respect, they always do it that way. The difference is that they are now even less outdoors than usual, not to mention those who like to go for walks, jog or go to the cinema to disperse on a day off. In the metropolis itself is from virus little to notice. At first it was said that there were no infected people; now it is said that there are up to ten. So far, Ekaterinburg seems to be a safe place.
Candidates can dine in the hotel restaurant, there is a separate area. Hardly anyone does it. The food, “always with mushrooms”, as the grandmaster Peter Swidler, who is present as the second of the young Russian Kirill Alexejenko, mocks, is brought to your room.