Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Alexander Grischuk have qualified for the 2018 Candidates Tournament after their rivals failed in their missions at the Palma de Mallorca Grand Prix. Both Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Teimour Radjabov could ultimately have qualified with last-round wins, but Maxime went down in flames to Dmitry Jakovenko while Teimour inexplicably offered a draw in a playable position against Richard Rapport. Mamedyarov and Grischuk therefore join Aronian, Caruana, So, Kramnik, Ding Liren and Karjakin as contenders to be Magnus Carlsen’s next challenger.
We now know that the Candidates Tournament that takes place in Berlin from 10-28 March next year will feature the following eight players:
The winner of that 14-round double round-robin tournament
will play Magnus Carlsen in a 12-game World Championship match set to take
place in London in November 2018.
The reason for the delay in announcing the long-rumoured
venue is revealed in the minutes
of last month’s FIDE Congress:
Mr Makropoulos noted that the final announcement for the venue of the World Championship Match 2018 will be confirmed by FIDE only after sufficient funding has been secured.
The players most obviously missing from the Candidates Tournament line-up are Vishy Anand, Hikaru Nakamura and, of course, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. The French no. 1 was within an Armageddon game against Levon Aronian of qualifying via the World Cup, finished 4th behind Caruana, So and Kramnik by rating (only two qualified that way), and then finally saw his hopes ended on the last day of the 2017 FIDE Grand Prix. It had already been announced in the run-up to the event that Vladimir Kramnik would be the wild card nominee, so Maxime knows his next chance to play a World Championship match will be 2020. Some felt the early wild card decision was unfortunate, though one of the reasons for the announcement was probably precisely to avoid coming under pressure to nominate someone else after the Grand Prix was over:
As it was the decision was already a fait accompli.
Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Alexander Grischuk led the Grand Prix series going into the final tournament, but could only look on helplessly as they’d already played their three events and knew that both Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Teimour Radjabov had a chance to overtake them. It was particularly nerve-racking for 2nd-placed Grischuk, who would be out of the Candidates if either player made it. When it had all ended happily, though, he summed up his feelings, telling RSport:
I was lucky that neither Vachier-Lagrave nor Radjabov won today. Before the tournament I rated my chances as less than 50%, though close to that. And I only knew that I’d qualified for the Candidates Tournament today when Radjabov offered a draw. It’s very pleasant that it wasn’t for nothing that I played in those three Grand Prix tournaments, but I don’t feel any euphoria from the success I’ve achieved.
Today I watched all the games, but the round disappointed me – I’d have liked to see some intrigue to the very end, but one rival gave away everything and resigned, while the other offered a draw where it was still possible to play on. It all turned out quite strangely.
You can review all the games from the last stage of the FIDE Grand Prix in Palma de Mallorca using the selector below:
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave started the tournament brightly with a win over Boris Gelfand, but then went on to draw his next seven games. That meant he needed a win in the last and for other games to go his way (they did).
He had the white pieces, but his opponent was the difficult-to-beat Russian Dmitry Jakovenko and, though the Italian Opening seemed to go well, when queens were swapped off the drawing margin grew. All it took was one slip for the dream to evaporate:
Maxime had planned 29.Bc5 and then 30.Nd2, but then changed his mind and went for 29.Nd2?! first, overlooking that after 29…Nc3! Black could take the a-pawn as White was no longer in time to weave a mating net around the black king. That, essentially, was that, and with a draw equivalent to a loss, MVL flung his pieces at his opponent’s king but only succeeded in getting mercilessly crushed.
Teimour Radjabov, meanwhile, spiced up the tournament with five decisive games. He beat Paco Vallejo in Round 2 then lost to Nakamura in Round 4 and Tomashevsky in Round 6, when he already counted himself out:
It wasn’t over, though, since he then beat Li Chao and Gelfand in consecutive rounds to go into the final round knowing that a win would see him join his compatriot Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in the Candidates Tournament regardless of what happened in the other games. It would have been a remarkable turnaround for Teimour, who never seemed to have fully recovered from entering the 2013 London Candidates as a wild card rated 2793 and going on to lose seven games and win just one.
White against Richard Rapport was a promising pairing for a must-win game, but it all ended not with a bang but a whimper when 36.Kf3 was accompanied by a draw offer:
It was a deeply puzzling moment, since White has every reason to try and squeeze out a win. The game would probably still end in a draw, but the slightest chance of victory meant the only reasonable course of action was to play on. The puzzle has yet to be solved, with Teimour said to have left the playing hall quickly after the final move.
It seems the result of the tournament wasn’t clear from the official website for a while after it ended (the Grand Prix points there still haven’t been updated two days later)…
…and in general the coverage was again a disappointment. Costs were cut by having no commentator at the venue, the few users who paid for live video were antagonised by a free stream on Facebook, the game transmission lacked basic functionality and until a day or two before the event even such minor details as the schedule weren’t given.
The more fundamental issue was with the format, where the plan to increase the number of players so as to monetise the event by selling wild card places was not only a betrayal of sporting values but a clear failure. Players just outside the elite, such as Radek Wojtaszek, for whom the event should have been ideal, missed out since his federation was unable to pay the required fee. Of the 10 organiser nominees only Radjabov made much impact on the series, while it soon became clear that the Swiss format encouraged draws – those who won early then played each other and were generally happy to draw and stay towards the top.
Going into the last event 16 of the 18 players had nothing much to play for, with the prizes below the level that would attract such players if not for the carrot of possible Candidates qualification (the winners won roughly half what they'd have got for losing one of the recent Champions Showdown matches in St. Louis). That must in part have been the reason why over 70% of the games were drawn, though there were also some bright moments. Round 4 had six decisive games, double the number of any other round, and there were some gems. Ding Liren unleashed a wonderful attack on Ernesto Inarkiev and Levon Aronian put Anish Giri to the sword in beautiful fashion. 27.d6! is as sweet as last move’s come:
That was the second and last win of the event for Levon Aronian but, after surviving a tough last round against Nakamura, it proved to be enough for him to take first place alongside Dmitry Jakovenko.
Levon had finally succeeded in the one event where he’d had a miserable time in an otherwise tremendous year:
Levon and co. will be back in action this Friday when the London Chess Classic, the final event of the 2017 Grand Chess Tour, starts at the Google Headquarters in London:
In fact we’ll also get to see Levon, Magnus Carlsen and a certain Garry Kasparov at the exhibition Pro-Biz Cup on Thursday!
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