by Ian Rogers
Around a decade ago the Reykjavik Open moved to the impressive Reykjavik Town Hall, with views of icy waters shared by large numbers of ducks and swans.
In those days Iceland was the rich uncle of Europe and the fine playing conditions for the biennial Open were not surprising.
Returning many years later, after the depredations of the financial crisis, it is necessary to report that the playing hall for the Reykjavik Open is no longer great – it is awesome.
Welcome to Harpa – Iceland’s answer to the Sydney Opera House.
Both structures dominate their harbour foreshore, with Harpa, from a distance, offering a snakeskin jewellery box design as opposed to the Sydney Opera House’s broken egg shells.
Once inside Harpa, the players, especially those on the top boards, are afforded glorious views through elaborately designed glass panels. Anish Giri and his rivals can gaze out at the sea and watch a slowly changing array of boats, from navy vessels to whale-watching cruises. It has to be admitted that Harpa lacks any view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, but snow-capped volcanic peaks compensate.
At night the outer glass panels of Harpa become part of a light and colour show, a spectacular reminder as the players walk back to their hotels after a hard day’s chess that their playing venue never sleeps.
To think that such a remarkable building was completed while the country was close to bankrupt only adds to the awesomeness.
There are certainly some downsides in the Reykjavik Open sharing space with Iceland’s best concert hall; rehearsals for the Icelandic Music Awards ensured an unwanted back-beat for much of round three. Ivan Sokolov, the Grandmaster victim of round three’s biggest upset, may disagree but in my opinion the inspiration factor in playing at Harpa easily outweighs any temporary auditory annoyances.
There are no doubt plenty of reasons for the record field at the 2013 Reykjavik Open but glowing reports after the move to Harpa in 2012 must be a plus factor.
On Friday the organisers are putting on a seven hour tour to see some of Iceland’s most famous sights around the countryside. They should also consider putting on a ten minute tour from the ground floor playing hall to the top floor of Harpa; the view, filtered through Harpa-glass, is also a must-see in Iceland.