Interviews Oct 19, 2020 | 1:53 PMby Colin McGourty

Grischuk ready to play in a "garage, basement, zoo or station"

Alexander Grischuk says he's willing to play the Candidates Tournament "in a garage, basement, zoo or train station" but doubts whether the event can be completed at all, pointing out that the World Chess Federation FIDE is trying to satisfy the conflicting wishes of eight participants. The current best-case scenario is that the second half of the event, intended to decide Magnus Carlsen’s next World Championship Challenger, will take place in Spring 2021, a full year after it began.

Ian Nepomniachtchi and Alexander Grischuk touch elbows rather than shake hands during the Candidates in March - Sasha is willing to play anywhere, but not, for instance, if it requires wearing a mask | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

The Candidates Tournament in Yekaterinburg, Russia was halted after 7 rounds by FIDE on March 26th 2020, after the closing of Russian airspace due to the coronavirus threatened to prevent the players and officials returning home. In June, FIDE Director General Emil Sutovsky suggested the event could resume in September/October, before in September a date of 1st November was given, with Tbilisi, Georgia a backup location if Yekaterinburg was impossible. To no-one’s great surprise, however, on Friday it was announced that the tournament had been postponed again, this time to “Spring 2021”.      

One of the participants, Russia’s Alexander Grischuk, gave the initial response to RIA News:

FIDE’s decision on the Yekaterinburg Candidates Tournament doesn’t depend on me, but in general it’s the decision I expected. Will the tournament be completed? I don’t know.

He’s now elaborated on his views:

It seems to me that the fundamental problem is that the FIDE leadership is trying to satisfy all the participants of the event, and that’s simply not possible, not even theoretically. I’ll give one example. Many of the players are really worried about the coronavirus, the conditions for guaranteeing their health and safety, and some medical questions. But my position, for example, is completely different. I’m ready to play, so to speak, in a garage, basement, zoo or train station. I don’t need any kind of medical insurance, luxury hotels and comfortable conditions for holding the event.    

That doesn’t matter to me at all, and I’m also calm about the situation with the coronavirus, but I won’t play in a mask and gloves, or if I need to sit in quarantine for two weeks before the start of the event. Or to play in a so-called “bubble”, when during the tournament you’re not allowed to leave the territory of the hotel or some other premises. And how, in such a situation, can you satisfy both me and the other players? If we have exactly the opposite “demands”?

The hardest player to satisfy appears to be Wang Hao, who responded to the question of whether he would be willing to play in spring, “Yes, but only if there are vaccines”. Whether effective vaccines will be available to the players by then is anything but clear.

Grischuk, like Caruana, Giri and Wang Hao, finds himself trailing MVL and Nepo by a point with 7 rounds to go

There’s also the question of the venue. If the tournament had begun on 1st November it seems clear it would have been held outside of Russian, most likely in Georgia, while now the organisers in Yekaterinburg once again expect to be the hosts. 12th World Chess Champion Anatoly Karpov, who attended the original opening ceremony, told TASS:

Yekaterinburg hasn’t, of course, abandoned its intentions or given up its right to host the tournament in 2021. But now the problem with the coronavirus has arisen again, and more in Europe. The situation isn’t great in Russia, but we’re dealing with it, but look at France – it’s all red, and that’s not to even mention America.  

Plus there’s the problem with logistics. Not everything has opened up in Europe, and there’s no freedom of movement.

All in all, the fate of the tournament remains shrouded in mystery, and in hindsight it's hard to disagree with another view expressed by Grischuk:

The only strong opinion I have is the following: it is MUCH better not to start the tournament at all than to start and then interrupt it.

See also:


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