Defending Champion Magnus Carlsen heads the list of ten players invited to play in the million dollar Grand Chess Tour in 2018, though we’ll have to wait and see if he accepts in a World Championship year. The full list includes the first nine players on the live rating list, plus Alexander Grischuk, with last year’s players Ian Nepomniachtchi, Sergey Karjakin and recent entry into the Top 10 Anish Giri all missing out. A twist in this year’s series is that there won’t be wild cards unless someone declines their invitation – so it looks like no Garry Kasparov this time round!
The 2018 Grand Chess Tour used multiple means to select who to invite: the top 3 in the 2017 Grand Chess Tour, the top 3 by average FIDE rating for 2017 (of those not in the GCT top 3), the top 3 by the Universal Rating System, and one wild card, Vishy Anand – for decent ratings, the World Rapid Championship title and simply for being Vishy Anand, one of the great champions! The ratings below are FIDE ratings for January 2018, though of course Wijk aan Zee has shaken those up:
Many things will stay the same in 2018, with the same three rapid and blitz events in Leuven, Paris and St. Louis accompanied by the classical Sinquefield Cup. The prize funds are also the same, with $150,000 for each speed chess event and $300,000 for the classical tournament.
As you can see, there’s a minor change in the order of events, with Leuven this year taking place before Paris and the rapid and blitz taking place before rather than after the classical event in Saint Louis:
A significant difference, though, is that all ten players invited are expected to play in all four of these events, and if no-one declines their invitation there will be no wild cards this year. That means we won’t, for instance, get the likes of David Navara, Le Quang Liem, Leinier Dominguez and a certain Garry Kasparov playing in St. Louis.
The biggest change in 2018 has already been announced – the four qualifying events will determine a final four who play in the Grand Chess Tour final in London during the London Chess Classic. That knockout tournament featuring classical, rapid and blitz chess will also have a $300,000 prize fund, and will take place at some point between the 10th and 21st December (the dates are yet to be finalised).
The points system to determine the qualifiers for London is similar to in previous years except for two differences. Players involved in a tiebreak for an individual event will share points, so e.g. the playoff winner and loser would both get 11 points for a rapid tournament, rather than the winner getting 12 and the loser 10 as before. The other change is weighting the classical Sinquefield Cup to be more important than the rapid events, with an outright winner scoring 20 points rather than 13 in the other tournaments.
The players on the cusp of invitation to the tour include Ding Liren and Peter Svidler, numbers 9 and 10 on the January 2018 rating list, and Anish Giri, who has just returned to the world top 10 after his performance in Wijk aan Zee and will now have missed both the 2017 and 2018 series. Sergey Karjakin has paid the price for a lacklustre year, though no-one doubts that at his best he belongs in the top company. On the other hand, it’s hard to argue against any of those invited, with Alexander Grischuk a very reasonable choice for a tour that is now dominated by rapid and blitz chess.
The big unknown is whether all the invited players will accept their invitations. Last year Vladimir Kramnik declined, citing the tough schedule. This year there’s less flexibility, since all players must be ready to play in all five events, while Kramnik will have to decide before he knows if he’ll qualify to play a match against Magnus. Carlsen himself is also a doubt, after he declined to play in the 2016 tour before his match against Sergey Karjakin. There’s no overlap with the match, but if Magnus plays in the tour and qualifies for the final he won’t be able to go on any long holiday after the match is over (unless he wins or loses fast)!
You can see how the 2018 chess year is shaping up in our 2018 Chess Calendar.