Why The College, Holborn, is the perfect 2018 World Chess Championship venue

By Leon Watson / On / In Chess news, Magnus Carlsen, World Chess Championship

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By now you may already have seen my tweet, and the subsequent official announcement today of a venue for the upcoming 2018 World Chess Championship.

That venue, where Magnus Carlsen will defend his crown against US challenger Fabiano Caruana, is The College, a spectacular 10,000 sq ft marbled Victorian hall in Holborn.

Holborn, get it right

If you don’t know Holborn (pronounced by us Londoners as “Ho-burn” – don’t let me hear you say “Holl-bourne”!) it is slap bang in the city’s historic financial district.

The College, Holborn, venue for the World Chess Championship
The College, Holborn, venue for the World Chess Championship

And it is the perfect venue for the game’s flagship event. Here’s why – and it has something to do with bombs…

Firstly, the site is just a stone’s throw from the current beating heart of chess in London – the rather less salubrious Citadines Hotel in High Holborn.

The Citadines is the home of the London Chess League, one of the world’s oldest chess leagues, which has been in existence in the capital since 1886.

World Chess are organising the Magnus Carlsen Vs Fabiano Caruana match
World Chess are organising the Magnus Carlsen Vs Fabiano Caruana match

Every Wednesday more than 100 players from around London battle it out over the board – and that won’t stop just because there’s a World Chess Championship taking place down the road.

A thirst for knowledge…

The College itself is no stranger to big events. Formerly the home of Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design (see Pulp’s indie anthem “Common People”), it appears to be used regularly for hosting fashion shows. That fits nicely with the organiser World Chess’s drive to present the game as arty and highbrow.

But that is not all.

The inside of the marbled Victorian halls in London's Holborn
The inside of the marbled Victorian halls in London’s Holborn

According to The Guardian, one of the most important moments in the the history of humanity and warfare happened in this street, on September 12, 1933.

The Hungarian physicist Leo Szilard was standing waiting for a light to change at the point where Southampton Row becomes Russell Square.

It’s ‘da bomb

That morning, the papers had reported a British Association speech by Ernest Rutherford, concerning the splitting of atomic nuclei.

The 33-year-old Szilard, a friend and colleague of Einstein’s – they had patented an unusable but ingenious new kind of magnet-powered fridge – had been thinking deeply on the subject.

Magnus Carlsen will defend his crown against US challenger Fabiano Caruana in November
Magnus Carlsen will defend his crown against US challenger Fabiano Caruana in November

When the green signal came and Slizard moved, something about that moment of stepping off the curb put an idea into his head. What would happen if neutrons were smashed into the nuclei of atoms in a way that released two neutrons from the second atom?

You would get two neutrons for the price of one, and if those two neutrons did the same, then you’d have four, and then four for eight, and so on, and very quickly “it might be possible to set up a nuclear chain reaction, liberate energy on an industrial scale, and construct atomic bombs”.

And all this came to Szilard in one blinding revelation, as he crossed Southampton Row, the street where the atom bomb was born.

A brainwave

This, of course, is very apt: If a brainwave that results in the most deadly weapon in human history isn’t an inspiration for a chess player searching for bombs to throw over the board, I don’t know what is.

The much-anticipated Carlsen Vs Caruana match will be held in London from the 9th to 28th November.

Speaking about the launch, CEO of World Chess Ilya Merenzon said: We know there are millions of chess fans in the UK – this is their chance to witness a battle of the world’s greatest minds.

“There will also be an influx of Norwegians heading to London to support Magnus. You’ll be hearing a lot of Norwegian accents in Covent Garden in November!

“The fact that an American is playing, for the first time in almost 50 years, will certainly make it a must-watch clash in the US!”

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