General Mar 27, 2020 | 7:43 AMby Colin McGourty

Carlsen, Dvorkovich & Kramnik on ending the Candidates

Instead of Round 8 of the Candidates we got the bombshell news that the tournament was being stopped, with the players, their teams and others involved scrambling to get flights home. Rather than commentary on Caruana-MVL there was a post-mortem on the decision to start and end the tournament, with Arkady Dvorkovich joining to explain FIDE’s actions, while Magnus Carlsen shared some strong views on the suggestion by Vladimir Kramnik that Teimour Radjabov should get the wild card to the 2022 Candidates.

Magnus had just woken up to the news

Jan Gustafsson and Lawrence Trent were again joined by David Howell, with Tania Sachdev making a guest appearance along with a certain Magnus Carlsen, but this 6-hour video is no normal Candidates Tournament commentary session:

The news had broken early in the morning that the tournament was over, for now, so that instead our team was looking back, discussing the decisions and later playing some Banter Blitz. For the discussions there were some major guests, including former Head of the Russian Chess Federation Ilya Levitov and the current President of the World Chess Federation (FIDE) Arkady Dvorkovich. Arkady explained the decision:


Arkady Dvorkovich: Thank you for this opportunity. A few hours ago we learned that the Russian government took a decision to stop all international flights from Russia, including chartered flights, starting tomorrow, and that decision comes without any end date, so we don’t know when flights will start operating again. For me it meant that we had a huge risk that after the tournament will be completed we could have players stuck in Russia for weeks, and I thought that in combination with all kinds of pressures the players are experiencing this is a huge one and I cannot take this risk on my shoulders – players staying away from home, from families, for such a long period of time. So I immediately, after just a few seconds of thinking, took the decision that we stop the tournament and start the operation to get players, officials from other countries and journalists back home. And that’s what we’re doing right now.


Jan Gustafsson: Can you tell us about the players’ travel plans. Do you know if everybody is already on the way to the airport?

Arkady: Some of the players are already on their way from Yekaterinburg to Moscow actually, to take flights from Moscow to other countries. A few players and other people involved are still in Yekaterinburg and we are organising another flight, so that’s in progress.

Lawrence Trent: The next logical question is, “What’s happening with the tournament?”

Arkady: The tournament is postponed and according to the regulations – we discussed these regulations at the technical meeting before the tournament – in this kind of situation all results that we have until now are counted, so we keep the results up to Round 7, so we have exactly half of the tournament completed. The second half will be played when the situation will normalise. Hopefully it will not be later than September, to have sufficient time for the [winner] to prepare for the World Championship match. If it can be earlier it will be even better. I think we will have it in the same location but if our key partner Simaland will be flexible we can also do it somewhere else, but the baseline scenario is to have it in Yekaterinburg.

The standings, for the next few months at least

Jan: How have things been for you? These must have been crazy times. Are you just having meetings behind the scenes non-stop discussing what to do?

Arkady: Yes, exactly. We’ve been discussing both whether to start the tournament from the very beginning, and every day we have been discussing whether the situation is still ok to continue the tournament. We were in daily contact with the players, doctors, with experts, with the Russian government, with the regional authorities and we were taking our decisions based on the combination of all those factors.

Jan: Just to clarify, as people have been asking this - none of the players have got sick or tested positive? It’s because of the flight situation and not because of any illness?

Arkady: None of the players have tested positive, if you’re talking about the coronavirus. There are always minor coughs or colds that people experience throughout life, but there was nothing serious with any of the players or other participants. I personally had advice each day about each player’s temperature and other conditions. I didn’t think I’m allowed to get this personal data, but anyway I had to do it to take decisions.

Jan: That’s very understandable in these times. There have been many questions about what happens with Radjabov now. Has FIDE been in touch with Radjabov, who obviously withdrew from the tournament a week ago? Are you in communication?

Arkady: I was the one who had discussions with Teimour before the tournament at the time he took his decision, and I was trying to persuade him not to take this decision at that time, but he was very clear in his intentions. He said that unfortunately and very regretfully if we decide to keep the tournament he’s not in a position to participate due to the risks involved. That was his evaluation of risk. I disagreed with his evaluation of risk but he was of his opinion anyway. I am disappointed that he couldn’t take part in the tournament. We will be in contact during the next few days or weeks – we’re in a good relationship anyway and hopefully he will return safely to our chess world and take part in tournaments.


The tournament has been controversial from the start. If not for the coronavirus 14th World Champion Vladimir Kramnik would have been with Jan and Lawrence in Hamburg to commentate on all the action so far on chess24, but he pulled out at the last moment, commenting:

I personally find the decision to keep going with the tournament wrong in many senses: image wise, legally (there was an official ban today in Russia for all international sport events), and most important, humanly (simply the wrong time to make the most important chess event of the year as if nothing is happening, not even mentioning certain, even if very small, risk for the participants).

Unsurprisingly, Vladimir’s views hadn’t changed when he appeared on our Russian broadcast to discuss the event ending. 

He commented:

In such a situation I even lost interest in the tournament. And with every round I lost it more and more. You could feel the discrepancy between this celebration and what was going on in the world. To be honest, I hardly even watched the games online and only ran through them after the rounds…

The quality of the games? Tolerable. But you could feel the general atmosphere. I perfectly understand Sasha Grischuk. I, for example, wouldn’t be able to play in such conditions. The problem isn’t even in the risk of getting infected – at the end of the day these are young, healthy people, but after all they read and watch what’s going on around them. For example, Sasha has children. Everyone has parents who are in the group at risk and is worried about them. It’s unclear how you can play normally in such conditions.

Vladimir also addressed an unavoidable question – what of Teimour Radjabov, whose reasons for not agreeing to play in the event seemed to have been vindicated:

Kramnik: It seems to me that the decision with Radjabov is quite obvious – he has to get a wild card for the next Candidates Tournament.

Evgeny Bareev: But in the next tournament he’ll be two years older.

Kramnik: I understand, but that strikes me as the only more or less reasonable solution. To persuade him. And what else? Otherwise it’s total zugzwang.

Bareev: So everything now depends, essentially, on his good will?

Kramnik: Yes.

Bareev: And now I’ll take up the case of Ding Liren. You want to force me to play the second half, but I don’t want to play it! Sorry, but you sent me to the outskirts of Moscow for two weeks and I rotted there. All my two years of preparation went down the drain. And you want to force me to play a tournament which is of absolutely no interest to me any longer because I’ve lost any practical chances? I refuse to play!

The formulation by Kramnik proved to be accurate, as in an appearance on Chess.com Teimour Radjabov was scathing of the decisions taken - “the whole world is laughing at us” - and repeatedly mentioned lawyers. He particularly highlighted the argument made on 16th March that the tournament wasn’t bound by a ban on sporting events with international participants in Russia since it had officially opened on the 15th, though no pawn was pushed in anger until the 17th. “Should I comment on that?” he asked sarcastically.

Radjabov said the doubts he expressed about playing the Candidates after winning the World Cup were just a little joke, while in fact he's highly motivated and had been training with Chuchelov, Karjakin and Dominguez. He now wants to rejoin, alongside MVL, the player he knocked out of the World Cup semifinal | photo: Kirill Merkuryev, official website

What does he want?

I think FIDE should take some action to include me back into the tournament – I think it’s a fair decision.

His proposal would be to restart the event from the beginning as a 9-player tournament including Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, though FIDE has already announced it plans to continue the tournament from Round 8 with the same players.

Teimour also responded to comments from Magnus Carlsen, which brings us to the World Champion’s appearance on the chess24 show. Here are some highlights:

On the decision to stop the tournament

I guess if there was a time to postpone it, it was now, for obvious reasons, and as Arkady mentioned, if this is the last time you can get the players out in the foreseeable future then obviously that’s when you should stop it.

On the chances of a World Championship match still happening in December

First of all, obviously it’s a shame for the players, for the fans and everything, but regardless of what happens I’m not a victim. If I get to play a match then yes, that would be fine, it would be interesting this year, and if I get to sit on the title for a bit more I’m not going to complain! For me it’s ok. Obviously I hope for the match to happen this year, I hope for the Candidates to be resumed as soon as it’s possible, wherever that is going to be. I think they’ll work hard on finding a solution there, and I think, maybe this is just my take at the moment, and I’m sure not everybody will agree, but to me I feel like having completed 7 rounds has some merit – at least we tried, which I think in these days should not be discounted as nothing! I feel as though obviously this situation is chaotic and all those people who called for the tournament to be postponed from the start are going to say, “I told you so” at this point, but I do feel as though they tried what they could and now it’s just not possible so they have to get the players out safely.

On strength of character and Nepomniachtchi

They really wanted this to happen and with that in mind they did what they could and obviously not all the players are going to be happy with the way it happened, but I think this is just a situation in which you get to show your strength of character. Unfortunately we couldn’t see it through to the end, this time, which I think would have been massively interesting. I feel a bit sorry for Ian Nepomniachtchi. Obviously if the tournament had been stopped a round before then he would have been in a much better situation than he is now, although he’s still doing pretty well. I’m sad that it’s not going to continue, but at the same time I’m really happy that we’ve been able to see 7 rounds of great chess. I can’t wait for it to resume.

Carlsen on Kramnik (and Lawrence’s) suggestion to give Radjabov a 2022 wild card

This is just my opinion. I think if he had wanted to play the tournament he would have played it.

Lawrence: You think he didn’t want to play it, not related to the crisis?

I think it’s partly but not fully. That is just my opinion. I think he was very happy to win the World Cup but he didn’t particularly fancy playing the Candidates, which I can understand. It’s an ordeal, and he had a rough time the last time [in the 2013 London Candidates Radjabov lost 7 games and finished last, 2 points behind the next player]. Obviously the corona situation gave his already I would think pre-existing opinion that he didn’t particularly want to play a lot of substance, that now he had a legitimate reason not to play. I’m not saying that his reason was not legitimate, I’m just saying that all the other guys did play and I’m sure they had concerns as well. That is just my take.

You can see that with Maxime, for instance. He stepped in on short notice and he’s not been one of the guys who’s complained at all about the situation. He’s just happy to be there, he wants to play and all of that stuff about it being a difficult situation and so on – yeah, of course it’s a difficult situation, of course it’s not the best atmosphere for a chess tournament, but you chose to be there, and so if you choose to be there then you play, you do your job and you have to trust the authorities there to make the decisions – FIDE, the Russian government and so on. As long as they feel that it’s safe to hold the tournament then you’re holding it.

Obviously the situation we have now is not ideal, but I think giving Radjabov the wild card for 2022 – that I would find just ridiculous. You could make the case that he should actually play in this one now that it’s been postponed and the situation is different. I don’t feel that way, I don’t know the law, I don’t know what is supposed to happen there, but to me it doesn’t feel justified that he should play even if it resumes, but I would understand it. But 2022… no!

Magnus added shortly afterwards:

I don’t have anything against Radjabov whatsoever. I just need to clarify that. That’s not what this is about at all. I just feel that, as I said, if he’d wanted to play he’d have been there.

The discussion continued on Twitter!

If the tournament does continue with the same players from Round 8, what can we expect? Back to Magnus:

On whether the break will help leader MVL

I think it’s going to break his flow and it also means that he’s going to have two months to wait to play Fabi and Ding in consecutive black games, which I’m not really sure is an advantage even though you get to prepare. Is he going to check the Najdorf and the Gruenfeld for two months, or five months, or whatever it’s going to be? Is that really going to affect his life in a good way? But on the other hand, at least he will know that he’s going to lead the Candidates for a few months, which regardless of what happens is quite an achievement.

A long time for MVL to prepare to play the two pre-tournament favourites with Black

On MVL’s play

I would say that he was clearly well-prepared as White and with Black he was suffering in almost every game but he was defending well, so that’s the best of what we’ve seen from Maxime for a long time, I think.

On suffering

Lawrence: Are you the President of the French School of Suffering?

Laurent Fressinet: I saw this comment from Magnus, which is quite right for Maxime, but I don’t like to suffer, I prefer to lose immediately! If my position is bad I will try something active, get refuted and then lose.

Magnus: The Kramnik School of Suffering!

Magnus noted that Caruana also “has a real chance now”, with four Whites to go, especially if he could beat MVL in the next round:

“Imagine Giri winning as well against Nepomniachtchi – then we’ll have at least four leaders!” Magnus noted, but it could be a very long time before we get to see those games, if indeed we ever do!

What can we do before then? Here’s Magnus again:

Two words: play chess! It’s the cure-all. Two more words - Go Premium!

The code CANDIDATES2020 should still work for 40% off chess24 Premium for a little longer, but let’s end with Carlsen’s final words:

It’s been fun, I’ve got to say. It was obviously shorter than we wanted, but it’s certainly enriched my days at home immensely, so thank you guys very much!

Let’s hope everyone makes it home safely. It’s looking promising:

See also:


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