The chess world will have to wait until 2021 to find out who will challenge Magnus Carlsen in the next World Championship match. Today FIDE announced that the Candidates Tournament is postponed until the spring of 2021.
The news was announced by FIDE during the final round of Altibox Norway Chess.
The main reason for rescheduling the event is, of course, the concern related to the well-being of the players in the midst of the second wave of the pandemic. FIDE was ready to provide special travel arrangements and hospitality, including dedicated charter flights, and a high-class hotel being converted into an isolated environment. We have discussed all the details with each one of the players, and we'd like to thank them for their honest opinions, which helped us to weigh all pros and cons.
The Candidates Tournament was halted on March 26 when only 7 out of 14 rounds had been completed when new travel restrictions issued by the Russian authorities led to a fear that players and officials would not be able to return to their home countries.
In September, FIDE announced that the 8th round of the event would be resumed in Yekaterinburg on November 1st.
With the global pandemic reaching new heights and the amount of cases reaching record levels in several countries, that proved to be too optimistic, and it became increasingly clear that the event could not take place as planned.
FIDE has been working on alternative venues, such as Georgia, but even that proved impossible.
The postponement also means that the next World Championship match can not take place in March/April, as was originally planned. Instead, the event will take place in November/December 2021, FIDE says.
With the World Championship match being scheduled for November-December 2021, we have some margin to adjust the reschedule of the Candidates Tournament. Holding the event in the spring of 2021 increases significantly the possibility of staging this very important event in a safe environment, minimizing the stress on the participants.
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Ian Nepomniachtchi share the lead with 4.5 points after 7 rounds, with Fabiano Caruana, Anish Giri, Wang Hao and Alexander Grischuk a point behind.
Anish Giri tells chess24 it was an expected decision:
It seems very understandable. The restrictions are rising and it is becoming very likely that some participants may not make it, due to the mentioned issues (national authorities, flights etc).
Asked about having the second leg one year after the first one, Giri says:
It's of course weird, but everything these days is weird. So I think it's okay.
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave said:
I would have been happy if we could have resumed the tournament safely this fall but with the situation being what it is, I understand the postponement as my wish is that all players can make it to the second part of the Candidates in the best possible conditions. And I will make sure to be ready for the second half.
MVL agrees it's not ideal having the second leg a year after it started.
It’s not ideal, but it’s hard for everyone to make informed decisions at the moment. Contrary to other sports it would be a real shame if one of the players couldn’t make it to the venue
Wang Hao said he hopes FIDE will stick to their promise, telling chess24:
I think that it's more reasonable during such a situation in the world. And by next spring, it’s possible that we will get some vaccines then. The vaccines will be very helpful.
Asked if he is willing to return to Yekaterinburg to play the remaining seven rounds, he said:
Yes, but only if there are vaccines. Otherwise it will be very possible to get infected in Russia. And the problem of flights will not get solved easily, probably just no flights for a long time.
FIDE reveals they failed to receive clearance from one country with two players, which could only be China. Chinese authorities have been unable to provide permission for Ding Liren and Wang Hao to leave the country in the midst of the pandemic.
Wang Hao says they wouldn't be able to leave China even if they wanted:
I think that it doesn’t depend on our opinions. In fact, almost no non-Olympic athletes got approval for overseas tournaments after the outbreak of the pandemic in Europe and America.
FIDE's announcement came after facing a crisis as Wang Hao threatened to drop out of the remaining seven games. The 31-year-old expressed serious concerns with playing in Russia and also expressed his anger with FIDE president Arkady Dvorkovich's responses in e-mails.
You just do not want to play in the Candidates anymore? Or I misunderstood?
Shall we take it as if you just wish to play next door to your apartment or you think about reasonable and feasible solutions as well?
Wang Hao told chess24 he was “disappointed and angry with the attitude of FIDE and the rudeness of the president”, but they continued discussions.
"For me right now the main thing is not even the result, the main thing is just that it happens!" said world no. 2 Fabiano Caruana after Round 1 of Norway Chess. When the announcement of the Candidates being postponed was made during the final round he could give Fiona Steil-Antoni more detail of the negotiations.
That was also a bit of an annoyance that during the tournament we were constantly kind of dealing with the Candidates, wondering if it would happen or not. The general feeling was that it wouldn’t happen even before it became clear that there was just no way that it could happen on November 1st or even later in November. It started getting pushed back a bit first to November 5th, November 15th and then at that point it was kind of clear that things would just not work out this year. I hope that in springtime things will be easier with the situation around the world, that we can actually travel, not in complete peace, I think the virus will still be around by springtime, but hopefully it will be a bit better than now.
Did he think postponing was the correct decision?
I think at the moment, yes. Things are getting worse around the world and it’s a risk to the players’ health, to everyone else who would be involved in the tournament, the organisers and the press and everyone else, arbiters, everyone who would be involved, so yes, it’s just not a very good time and I don’t think we should be compromising the safety of people to play chess.
During the final round of Norway Chess, 14th World Chess Champion Vladimir Kramnik commented:
Well, frankly it was expected. The pandemic situation is getting worse everywhere in Russia and Europe. I have to admit that I expected that.
It's unfortunate, but hopefully by spring it will be more or less under control everywhere. And you can start to play chess without thinking about all measures. I guess it's a logical situation.
In my opinion, it was not the best solution to start the tournament. I expressed this point of view. There was a very big chance that the tournament would not be finished. I understand it's a disappintment, they want to finish the tournament and fight for the World Championship.
Some other "solutions" have been proposed to the long-running problems with the Candidates Tournament. Levon Aronian, who beat Magnus Carlsen in the last round of Norway Chess, commented:
I was telling to the guys, to Fabi and everybody, I was saying, this is ridiculous! Instead I should just play a match with Magnus and it will solve all the problems!
And MrDodgy's suggestion for a venue for the event still stands!
The Candidates was not the only major event that FIDE was forced to postpone. Yesterday FIDE announced that the World Rapid & Blitz Championship, a prestigious event that has been held over Christmas every year since 2016, is postponed until next year.
Unfortunately, under the present circumstances, such an international gathering of people would have not been possible. Holding the World Rapid and Blitz Championship during Christmas, as it was initially planned, is not feasible. The pandemic situation poses health and logistic challenges that can not be easily solved for an event of these characteristics.
In view of the situation, FIDE has decided to postpone the 2020 edition of the World Rapid and Blitz Championship. We will do our best to make it happen in spring 2021.
The same fate has befallen private events as well, with the 2020 London Chess Classic and 2021 Gibraltar Chess Festivals also cancelled.
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