International Chess Federation
Sunday, 25 Dec 2022 19:20
“Welcome to Kazakhstan”: World Rapid & Blitz Championships officially opened in Almaty

The World Rapid and Blitz Championships were officially opened in Almaty on 25th December. In a 90-minute long ceremony, the hosts put on a spectacle which celebrated chess and promoted the culture and distinctiveness of Kazakhstan.

The Baluan Sholak Sports Palace was packed with spectators – teenagers from chess schools, local and government officials, special guests and chess lovers from all over who came to celebrate the opening of the World Rapid and Blitz Championships, which have returned to Kazakhstan after a decade.

It seems that the hard work and effort put into planning an opening ceremony for a huge chess event is often underappreciated. Such undertakings involve hundreds of people – from project managers, stage designers, speech writers, coordinators, choreographers, and performers down to technicians, cameramen and volunteers. In Almaty, the Kazakhstan Chess Federation staged a seamless 90-minute ceremony which featured singers, dancers, two choirs and a local pop group.

Everything was in light blue and golden yellow – the colours of the national flag of Kazakhstan. It was obvious that the organisers – the Kazakhstan Chess Federation – were keen on promoting their country, with the ceremony featuring two videos celebrating Kazakhstan’s culture, history and society. One video included a scene where the nation’s top chess players speak with President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev

With the vocal and choreographic composition “Welcome to Kazakhstan” featuring a mixture of words in Kazakh and English, the ceremony was a seamless balance between celebrating the national and the international. Following the performance of the national anthem by the State Choir of Kazakhstan – which included men in suits and ladies in light blue evening gowns – a children’s choir took the stage performing the famous world hit single from 1985, “We are the world”. Everything on stage was about sending the message of peace and love from Kazakhstan.

The musical part of the ceremony was followed by three brief speeches. 

The Minister of Culture and Sports, Dauren Abayev, read out a letter from the Head of State, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev (who was born in Almaty) in which he expressed gratitude to FIDE for awarding Kazakhstan with the World Rapid and Blitz Championships.

In his letter, President Tokayev highlighted the recent achievements of Kazakhstan’s chess players and noted: “Their success inspires the younger generation to engage in sports.”

“We will continue this investment in chess in cooperation with FIDE”, president Toyakev’s letter read, underscoring that this is an integral part of the country’s “strategic goal of strengthening human potential”.

A similar tone was echoed in the message of the Akim (mayor) of Almaty, Erbolat Dosaev, who also highlighted the gratitude of the local authorities for being able to host such a huge global chess event.

FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich expressed gratitude to Kazakhstan on behalf of the international chess community: “Thank you for receiving us here this year. One year after your promised - you delivered on your promise. We’re very grateful.”

Dvorkovich also thanked Freedom Finance for their huge support for the event.

“In the next few days, we will celebrate chess. We all love our game, we all love chess. We’re excited about this event. It’s not just a sport, not just a game. Players from all around the world are participating here, and we’re expecting a great time. The great players will show their best, and the audience will enjoy”, said Dovrkovich.

Afterwards, FIDE President was given a chapan (or shapan), a long loose robe which is a traditional dress of Kazakhstan, worn both by men and women. A similar dress was also given to Magnus Carlsen later on.

The final part of the ceremony was the drawing of lots. The top-rated players in each category - Kateryna Lagno (Women Blitz), Alexandra Kosteniuk (Women Rapid), Hikaru Nakamura (Open Blitz) and Magnus Carlsen (Open Rapid) - emerged on stage, which was welcomed by massive applause from the audience. In the presence of the Chief Arbiter Amir Erfan Hashemi from Iran and the heads of the Kazakhstan Chess Federation, all four players drew a chess piece from a red basket presented on a platter by a woman wearing a traditional Kazakh dress. The drawing of lots was as follows:

Kateryna Lagno (Blitz) – White

Alexandra Kosteniuk (Rapid) – Black

Hikaru Nakamura (Blitz) – Black

Magnus Carlsen (Rapid) - Black

The ceremony was concluded with a performance by a local pop group “Alpha”.

Round 1 of the World Rapid Chess Championships starts on Monday, 26th December, at 3 PM local time.

The organisation of the event and support

The World Rapid and Blitz championships are held by the Kazakhstan Chess Federation together with the International Chess Federation and with the support of the Ministry of Culture and Sports, as well as the Akimat of the city of Almaty. 

The event is made possible thanks to the agreement with Freedom Finance, which becomes a General Sponsor of the event. Freedom Broker is an investment company and a stockbroker. Provides access to NYSE, NASDAQ, LSE, HKEX and other largest stock exchanges on the planet.

Text: Milan Dinic

Photo: David Llada

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