General May 16, 2019 | 4:41 PMby Colin McGourty

FIDE Grand Prix to kick off in Moscow

The new-look FIDE Grand Prix starts in the Botvinnik Central Chess Club in Moscow on Friday, with 16 players facing off in the first knockout tournament. Giri-Dubov, Radjabov-Nakamura, Duda-So, Karjakin-Grischuk, Nepomniachtchi-Aronian, Wei Yi-Jakovenko, Vitiugov-Svidler and Wojtaszek-Mamedyarov are the match-ups as the players begin the battle for two spots in the 2020 Candidates Tournament. Excitement is guaranteed, with the same two classical games then tiebreaks format as the World Cup.

The opening press conference was only in Russian and featured FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich, World Chess CEO Ilya Merenzon, representatives of sponsors PhosAgro & Kaspersky Lab, & Russian no. 1 Ian Nepomniachtchi | photo: World Chess 

If you want to play a 14-game World Championship match against Magnus Carlsen next year you first need to win the Candidates Tournament next spring. To get there, the easy way is to be Fabiano Caruana (1 place)! If you can’t manage that, there are four more chances:

  1. Get to the final of the 128-player World Cup taking place in September in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia (2 places)
  2. Win the 100+ player Grand Swiss taking place on the Isle of Man in October (1 place)
  3. Have the highest average rating of any player other than Magnus and Fabiano in 2019 (1 place)
  4. Get the organiser’s wild card (1 place)

And that leaves two more places, which will be fought over in the 2019 FIDE Grand Prix series that is starting in Moscow on Friday 17th May. 

Design has always been by far the best part of any events run by Agon/World Chess, and the designs for the Grand Prix series are striking | photo: World Chess 

Here are the details:

Who’s playing, and who isn't?

Half of the Top 10 will be action in Moscow, with world no. 4 Anish Giri heading the 16-player field:

20 players were invited based on their average rating for 2018, with five declining that invitation:

  1. Magnus Carlsen - of course in no need of competing in the cycle to play himself
  2. Fabiano Caruana - already qualified for the Candidates
  3. Ding Liren - the current leader of the ratings qualification race. The Chinese no. 1 felt his schedule would be too overloaded if he played in both the Grand Prix and the Grand Chess Tour
  4. Vishy Anand – the former World Champion, now 49, may well have felt the same, plus of course he has little left to prove in chess
  5. Vladimir Kramnik – the former World Champion retired from classical chess earlier this year

Apart from those players, there are six more players competing in the series but not playing in Moscow: Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Yu Yangyi, Veselin Topalov, David Navara, Harikrishna and one player yet to be decided, who will play only in Tel Aviv.

We now have the pairings:

Where are they playing?

The venue - Moscow's Central Chess Club | photo: Vladimir Boiko, Russian Chess Federation

The first event is taking place in the Botvinnik Central Chess Club (or Chessplayer’s House) in Moscow from 17-29 May, with just one formal rest day, before the final on 26th May.

  • Moscow's Central Chess Club

It will be followed by three more Grand Prix events:

  • Jurmala, Latvia | 11-25 July 2019
  • Hamburg, Germany | 4-18 November 2019
  • Tel Aviv, Israel | 10-24 December 2019

Each player competes in three of the four tournaments. You can find more details of the incredibly packed chess schedule for this year in our 2019 Chess Calendar.

What’s the format?

The easiest description of each 16-player event is as a mini World Cup, since the format is exactly the same apart from not having a longer match for the final. Each match consists of:

  • Two classical games (90 min/40 moves + 30 mins + a 30/second increment) over the first two days

Then only if the players are still tied they’ll play tiebreaks on the following day:

  • Two 25+10 rapid games, then if still tied
  • Two 10+10 rapid games
  • Two 5+3 blitz games, and finally
  • An Armageddon game, where White has 5 minutes to Black’s 4, but a draw sees Black win the match. A 2-second per move increment is added only from move 61

What’s at stake?

There’s prize money, of course, with €130,000 euros and a top prize of €24,000 for each individual Grand Prix. There’s also €280,000 and a €50,000 top prize for the series overall, with the standings determined by Grand Prix points. Those are allocated as follows:

  • Winner: 8 points
  • Runner-up: 5 points
  • Semi-final loser: 3 points
  • Quarter-final loser: 1 point
  • Round 1 loser: 0 points

There’s a twist, though. Any player who wins a match without needing tiebreaks gains an extra point! It’ll be interesting to see if that discourages players from taking matches quickly to tiebreaks, as many often prefer to do in knockout events. Something similar will be tried in Norway Chess next month, where players will get more points for winning a classical game rather than needing to win Armageddon after a draw. The difference, though, is that any gamble which loses in a knockout means instant elimination (and no points), so it's doubtful players will really change their strategy - except perhaps in the final Grand Prix if they're chasing one of the two Candidates qualification spots and simply winning isn't enough!

Who’s going to win?

Well, this one is almost impossible to answer. The top seed is Anish Giri, who recently told Jan Gustafsson:

Somehow I’m looking forward to it much more than when they announced it. Now I’m really looking forward to Moscow, because it sounds fun to play some knockout event, and it’s a smaller one than the World Cup. I’m looking forward to it, but I don’t see why I would have particularly high chances, but just like everyone else, I’m really going to give it a shot and it’s very motivating of course this year to have so many things to prepare for and to play.

Apart from simply listing the ratings favourites we can point to players with successful experience in knockouts, since Levon Aronian (twice!), Peter Svidler (almost twice!) and Sergey Karjakin have all won the incredibly tough to win World Cup. Famously solid players such as Wesley So and Teimour Radjabov have the potential to shine in knockout events, while we’ll get to see two of the most promising young players on the cusp of the elite, 19-year-old Wei Yi and 21-year-old Jan-Krzysztof Duda.

Wei Yi, Nakamura and So are among the players needing to reacclimatise to Moscow after Abidjan! | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour 

The lowest rated player in the field, 23-year-old Russian Daniil Dubov, is playing after receiving a wild card, but the World Rapid Champion certainly shouldn’t be written off – in the 2017 World Cup in Tbilisi he made it through to a Round 4 match with Levon Aronian after knocking out Fridman, Karjakin and Artemiev along the way. 

Ian Nepomniachtchi will be looking to justify his position as the Russian no. 1, though he admitted at the press conference that he'd been against the knockout system as he felt it increased the potential for random results | photo: World Chess 

In statistical terms, you should probably bet on Russia, since more than one third of the players are from Russia, though the matches Karjakin-Grischuk and Svidler-Vitiugov will cut that number before the quarterfinals. 

Eteri Kublashvili is the FIDE Press Officer for the tournament | photo: World Chess 

Where can you watch?

Although the details are not yet finalised, we hope to broadcast all the moves live here on chess24 from 14:00 CEST on Friday 17 May onwards, with commentary in multiple languages. The official website will also of course have coverage of all the action.   

See also:

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