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Candidates in the Kühlhaus

T. Alexander Lystad (@arex) Chess

A rocky start for the organizers

As you may already know, the 2018 Candidates Tournament is being held in Berlin, Germany. What you may not know, is that it’s being held in a building called "The Kühlhaus", which means “The Cooling House”. This makes sense, considering that the building served as a warehouse from 1901 into the 1950s.

Since the 1990s, The Kühlhaus has served as an event location, impressing visitors with its pre-war industrial architecture, offering a unique atmosphere. Very kühl, indeed.

The Kühlhaus during the Opening Ceremony. The link between IQ and chess is dubious, at best.

One of the first things you notice about the Kühlhaus, is that it is quite a vertical space. In total, there are six floors in use for this event.

Round 1 is about to begin

The ground floor is used for registering spectators and press. On the first floor, we have the playing hall. Press and “gold” ticket holders are allowed access to this room, but most spectators are relegated to other floors. The games are happening out of sight of each other, which is slightly unusual, but it has not stopped the super GMs from walking around, looking at the other games.

Spectators on the second and third floors, looking down at the players

In an open vertical space, spectators can watch the players from above. All spectators have access to the second floor, while the third floor was reserved for those with more expensive "silver" tickets. Talking to spectators, opinions seems mixed. Some people want to see the players at eye level, while others are enjoying the bird’s eye view.

Spectators on the second and third floors are walking around with their phones, taking pictures from above, and some have even been seen working on laptops. While recognizing the integrity of these top players, it would definitely be possible to exploit the situation to give a player outside assistance.

Chess playing area, including a monitor showing the current tournament games

On the fourth floor, there is live German commentary by GMs such as Niclas Huschenbeth and Ilja Zaragatski. There is a chess playing area for spectators with around eight boards that are continuously in use. In addition to playing against each other, some spectators also use the boards for doing their own analysis of the current tournament games. During round 1, GM Artur Yusupov could be seen schooling some kids at one of the boards.

The fifth floor has a VIP section with comfortable seating, an open bar, and the live official English commentary by GMs Judit Polgar and Yannick Pelletier, and IM Lawrence Trent. There is a semi-private room for FIDE and sponsors, and the press also has a separate working area here. If you’re not working for a press organization though, a ticket to the “gold” sections of the venue will set you back €107, except for the first and last day of the tournament, where ticket prices are doubled. With these ticket prices, it’s surprising that the only traces of food in the entire building, are some bar nuts and a vending machine with candy bars.

VIP area on the fifth floor

If you want to talk to other spectators though, the fourth floor is where most of the action is. It also houses the press conference area. So what did the players think of the venue after the first round? While the venue and playing conditions were not a big topic in the Aronian-Ding and Caruana-So press conferences, the other four players did not hide their dissatisfaction.

Round 1 press conference with GMs Vladimir Kramnik and Alexander Grischuk

First out was Grischuk who described the playing conditions as “terrible” while underlining that he did not mean it as an excuse for losing his game. Kramnik seemed to support Grischuk’s assessment, confirming that the playing area was too noisy and additionally that the toilet was broken! However, Kramnik did concede that the organizer has a difficult balancing act between attracting spectators, by giving them access to the players, but also accommodating the players’ need for quiet and fair playing conditions.

Round 1 press conference with GMs Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Sergey Karjakin

In the last press conference of round 1, Karjakin echoed Grischuk’s assessment, saying that he was unhappy with “everything”; “the organization, the photography, and the noise”. We can speculate that Karjakin was referring to the extended period of 25+ minutes after the round had started, in which the press was still taking photos of the players in the playing hall. According to some press on-site, the organizers did not prevent the press from continuing to take photos beyond their allotted time, annoying at least one of the players.

Finally, Mamedyarov told the press about an incident he described as “a big mistake”. During round 1, he noticed a monitor inside the playing hall that showed the official commentary by GM Judit Polgár. He immediately informed the arbiter who resolved the issue. Mamedyarov stated that he did not receive any useful information from looking at the monitor, but expressed shock that he very well could have.

Obviously there were many issues that needed to be addressed. What could the organizers do to improve the situation?

For round 2, a few more “silence” and “no phone” signs were put up. The tournament staff were slightly more vigilant managing the press and the crowd, reminding people to be quiet. No major changes was noticeable.

Round 2: GMs Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Levon Aronian and Fabiano Caruana

As round 3 was being played on a Monday, the venue saw significantly fewer spectators compared to the two previous days. In the press conference, Kramnik confirmed as much, noting that the playing conditions were “okay” now.

In the Grischuk-Karjakin press conference, Grischuk was confronted with his description of the playing conditions during round 1 as “terrible”, and was asked whether they had improved. Grischuk answered dryly; “Yes, we have water”. Karjakin then quickly interjected with a quizzical look on his face; “But it’s not normal water, it’s soapy water”.

Round 3 press conference with GMs Alexander Grischuk and Sergey Karjakin

Putting the water situation to the side, with fewer complaints from the players and some truly amazing chess in round 3, hopefully it is the players and their games that will receive most of the attention for the rest of the tournament.

Today was a rest day, but if you are hungry for more chess content, check our round reports: