Affluent Islanders

This year’s Isle of Man tournament, held from 20 to 28 October, was announced as the strongest open tournament in history. That seems true; the history of open tournaments in which top stars of the chess world participate does not go very far back and the list of participants here was most impressive.

In a photo of the tournament hall during the fourth round, you could see the former world champions Anand and Kramnik at a long table, as well as Boris Gelfand, who was Anand’s challenger in 2012, Anish Giri and Levon Aronian. So many top players at one table were previously only seen during the final dinner of a super-tournament.

To attract so many stars there has to be a lot of money for prizes and especially for appearance fees. The tournament has been funded for many years by the Scheinberg family, father Isai and son Mark. It used to be known as the PokerStars tournament. After the Steinbergs sold the poker website in 2014 – according to one report for almost $5 billion – they now support the tournament in a private capacity.

Last year Mark was named the wealthiest resident of the Isle of Man. This was truly a high distinction, because this small island in the Irish Sea is not the habitat of simple farmers and fishermen, but a tax haven that can boast five billionaires among its residents.

For many years now, father Isai has been facing charges from the U.S. Justice Department because of financial dealings that are too complicated for me to understand, let alone to explain. Isle of Man has an autonomous status and Isai Scheinberg won’t be extradited. It is said that he cherishes his privacy, but is sometimes spotted by the islanders when he walks his dog.

Not many participants at the Isle of Man tournament would have worried about the legality of the financial dealings of their benefactors. Follow the money is not only the name of a collective of investigative reporters, but also a motto of most chess professionals and, I would say, most people in general.

It’s always interesting to see how the superstars do against the great unwashed that are not among, let’s say the top 50 on the world ranking list. Are they really so great? Yes, they are, but that doesn’t mean that common people have no chance against them.

In the first round, Anand was lost against his 13 year-old compatriot Raunak Sadhwan. He managed to save himself and later even win the game, but Vladimir Kramnik had to concede two draws against much lower rated players in the first two rounds. And this went on. All in all, we saw only one game between the giants (I mean with a rating of at least 2750), Vachier-Lagrave vs. Grischuk in the last round. As a collective, the superstars had not spiraled to the top, where they would meet each other.

The tournament was won by the Polish Radek Wojtaszek, who earned £38,000 sterling. His wife Alina Kashlinskaya won the £7,000 prize for the best woman player and also scored a GM norm.

I am not sure if it is a curse or a blessing of advanced age that whatever fresh thing happens, I am usually reminded of something in a distant past that was more or less the same.


This is Alina Kashlinskaya-Samuel Sevian, from the last round, after Black’s 15th move. Kashlinskaya sacrificed with 16.Nd5 and went on to win.

We oldies are immediately reminded of a game by Ossip Bernstein against Miguel Najdorf in Montevideo in 1954.


Ossip Bernstein-Miguel Najdorf, after Black’s 20th move.

Same opening, same theme. The then 72-year old Bernstein played 21.Nd5 and won a very beautiful game.

There was another married couple playing in the Isle of Man tournament, the Dutch star Anish Giri and his Georgian wife Sopiko Guramishvili. She is a popular live commentator at important events. She has made many instructive chess videos and, apart from being wife, mother and chess instructor, she is also quite a formidable player, as can be seen from the main game in the viewer, her victory over the young Norwegian grandmaster Johan-Sebastian Christiansen.

Click here to see Christiansen-Guramishvili, Isle of Man 2018