General Nov 5, 2015 | 11:54 AMby Colin McGourty

Aronian gets wild card for Moscow Candidates

The Candidates Tournament to decide Magnus Carlsen’s next challenger will take place in Moscow from 10-30 March 2016, but the organisers, who include the Tashir Group that sponsored the 2014 Petrosian Memorial, have nominated Armenian no. 1 Levon Aronian. That means Russian no. 1 Vladimir Kramnik will almost certainly miss out on the tournament barring an incredible rating collapse for Anish Giri in the upcoming European Team Championship.

Levon Aronian's World Championship hopes are alive again after he received the wildcard nomination for the 2016 Candidates Tournament | photo: Baku World Cup website

When Jan Gustafsson asked Peter Svidler if he knew anything about the Candidates Tournament during commentary on the recent Bilbao Masters, Svidler noted that he couldn’t reveal any details, but did tell a curious story. At the Closing Ceremony of the 2015 Baku World Cup a high-ranking FIDE official had told him about the Candidates… and then minutes later FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov took to the stage and said something completely different. Ilyumzhinov noted the event might, like the planned 2016 World Championship match, be held in the USA, but it seems another plan was in motion.

The FIDE website today reported on a meeting between the FIDE President and the President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan yesterday in Yerevan:

The FIDE President informed Mr. Sargsian that the event would be held in Moscow the next year as it has been planned. The organizers will be FIDE and AGON with the support of Russian Chess Federation.

The surprise is that although the event is being held in Russia the nominee is an Armenian, Levon Aronian. That means that the Candidates Tournament will almost certainly feature the following eight players:

  1. Veselin Topalov, Bulgaria: Ratings qualifier, world no. 2, 2803
  2. Viswanathan Anand, India: 2014 World Championship Challenger, no. 3, 2803
  3. Hikaru Nakamura, USA: FIDE Grand Prix runner-up, no. 5, 2793
  4. Fabiano Caruana, USA: FIDE Grand Prix winner, no. 6, 2787
  5. Levon Aronian, Armenia: Organiser nominee, no. 7, 2781
  6. *Anish Giri, Netherlands: Ratings qualifier, no. 9, 2778
  7. Sergey Karjakin, Russia: World Cup winner, no. 11, 2766
  8. Peter Svidler, Russia: World Cup runner-up, no. 17, 2745

* Giri would need to play and lose almost every game in the upcoming European Team Championship to concede his rating place to Kramnik 

The fact that Levon Aronian is the nominee while the tournament is being held in Russia and partly organised by the Russian Chess Federation is a curiosity, but far from unprecedented. The 2011 Candidates Matches were held in Kazan, Russia but sponsored by Azerbaijan, with Shakhriyar Mamedyarov the nominee. Then again in London 2013 the sponsors were from Azerbaijan, with Teimour Radjabov given the wildcard spot.

Levon Aronian tried to make the best of his time in Baku, but later admitted it had been hard for him | photo: Extra Time / Baku World Cup press centre

In both cases the problem was that Levon Aronian had qualified but was unwilling to play in Azerbaijan. This time around, ironically, Levon Aronian’s automatic qualification chances rested on the 2015 World Cup… which was held in Baku, Azerbaijan. He partly put his early exit down to the stress of playing in a country at conflict with his own, telling Evgeny Surov for Chess-News:

Frankly it was very tough. I’ve never been in such conditions. To understand how to play and handle myself and at the same time to remain calm is something I didn’t manage, in purely emotional terms.

The 2016 World Championship door shuts for Vladimir Kramnik, pictured here during the 2014 Tashir Chess Tournament | photo: B. Dolmatovsky, Tashir Chess

The sponsors of the Candidates Tournament are the Tashir Group, a Russian-Armenian real-estate company headed by Armenian-born billionaire Samvel Karapetyan. Tashir should be familiar to chess fans for the Tashir Chess Tournament or Petrosian Memorial that was held in Moscow in November last year. Alexander Grischuk finished first ahead of Vladimir Kramnik, with Levon Aronian sharing third place with Boris Gelfand (replay all the games here).

The one big name to miss out is of course Vladimir Kramnik, who climbed back to world no. 4 after his impressive European Club Club performance and would have been guaranteed the Russian nomination if Russia was organising the event alone. Perhaps the fact that two Russians made it through to the tournament from the World Cup reduced the Russian Chess Federation’s motivation to sponsor a third.

In any case, with five of the top seven players on the current FIDE rating list the Candidates Tournament promises to be fiercely competitive, with the likes of Hikaru Nakamura, Fabiano Caruana and Anish Giri getting their first shot at the title. Although the prize fund for the 14-round double round-robin will be at least €420,000, the main prize is of course a World Championship match against Magnus Carlsen for the winner. That event is slated to take place in late 2016 in the USA.

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