At the European Club Cup, the best players in the world have been hired by the top teams to bring home the championship.

The European Club Cup is an odd tournament in some ways. It brings together the top clubs in Europe – champions and top teams from their respective national leagues. While many or, in some cases, most of the players on the 50 clubs include local players from their nations, the top clubs are dominated by imports – hired guns paid for by deep-pocketed sponsors intent on winning the European championship.

The top team in this year’s championship, which is also the defending champion, is SOCAR from Azerbaijan. SOCAR, which is the acronym for the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic, includes four players from Azerbaijan – Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Teimour Radjabov, Rauf Mamedov, and Eltaj Safarli — but that says more about the strength and depth of the country as a chess power. The top four players for SOCAR are all imports – Veselin Topalov of Bulgaria, No. 3 in the world; Anish Giri of the Netherlands, No. 5; Fabiano Caruana of the United States, No. 6; and Michael Adams of Britain, No. 17.

The No. 2-ranked team, Siberia, is Russian and it would seem that, with all of Russia’s native talent, there would be no need to have imported players. But, while two of its top three players are Russian — Vladimir Kramnik, No. 9, and Alexander Grischuk, No. 10 – four of its top six are non-Russians : Levon Aronian of Armenia, No. 7 ; Li Chao b of China, No. 15; Wang Yue, also of China, No. 29 ; and Anton Korobov of Ukraine, No. 47.

The No. 3-ranked Alkaloid team from the host country of Macedonia, repeats the same pattern. Only two of its players are from Macedonia. The other six include three Russians (Evgeny Tomashevsky, No. 14; Dmitry Jakovenko, No. 16; and Dmitry Andreikin, No. 31), two Ukrainians (Vassily Ivanchuk, No. 27; and Yury Kryvoruchko, No. 36) and a Chinese player (Yu Yangyi, No. No. 30).

There is so much imported talent that 25 of the top 30 players in the world are participating. The most notable absentees are the World Champion, Magnus Carlsen; Viswanathan Anand of India, No.4; Ding Liren of China, No. 8; and Wesley So of the United States, No. 12.

The first all-national team is SHSM Legacy Square, which is ranked No. 8. It is entirely Russian.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with the top clubs hiring so many top grandmasters. It is, after all, a club championship, not a national team championship. And it is good for chess, and certainly for professional chess players, that there are sponsors willing to pay to put together strong teams. 

But it also means that the champions of the Club Cup can only realistically be one of the wealthiest teams. It shows that the key ingredient for success in the European Club Cup is — money.