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Bughouse and ping pong fever

February 21, 2023

To play at the top of the world in chess, you have to be fit – physically. Therefore, it doesn't take a table tennis tournament in the supporting program to see the super grandmasters exercising in Düsseldorf. Nodirbek Abdusattorov even uses the fitness room several times a day. He trains in the morning, and likewise in the evening. Vincent Keymer, who is actually a cyclist, has also completed a kilometer or two on the hotel treadmill.

Before the table tennis workshop and competition were on the agenda of the chess-free Monday, the grandmasters and officials had to familiarize themselves with local customs. After all, it was not just any Monday, but Rose Monday: More than 8,000 carnival revellers paraded through the city on a 2.5-kilometer route, accompanied by the sound of 30 brass bands. More than half a million people celebrated carnival along the route.

Levon Aronian at the Düsseldorf Carnival
Appropriate to the occasion: Levon Aronian at the Düsseldorf Carnival. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

For the 20-strong carnival delegation of the WR Chess Masters, box seats were reserved on the grandstands in front of the city hall at the invitation of the Lord Mayor. Visually, Levon Aronian (who else?) stood out from the group of chess players. With a veritable clown nose, he had given his look a touch befitting the occasion.

The table tennis training session, led by Andreas Preuß from table tennis Bundesliga team Borussia Düsseldorf, was even more popular among the players than the carnival outing. For spectators, it produced images never before seen of a world-class chess tournament:

While Boris Gelfand, ambitious table tennis amateur, was eager to play, another (former) super-grandmaster was missing: Yasser Seirawan had emphasized his hitting power in the livestream, but nevertheless sat out. A scratchy throat prompted the livestream host to use the rest day for rest in order to be fit for upcoming broadcasts.

The four youngsters had the most fun with the celluloid ball. Gukesh, Praggnanandhaa, Vincent Keymer and Nodirbek Abdusattorov were still hitting balls around each other's ears when Andreas Preuß had long since left. For Preuß, preparation now begins for the Champions League final, which his team reached somewhat surprisingly last weekend.

In the Hyatt Regency, the chessboard will once again be the center of attention in the coming days - but not just the classic games played on it. Fueled by host Wadim Rosenstein, Bughouse fever is going around. On the fringes of the super tournament, thoughts are said to be already underway as to how Bughouse can be made a regular part of the chess tournament circuit.

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