General Mar 9, 2016 | 12:39 AMby Colin McGourty

Moscow gears up for the Candidates

In just two days from now, on Friday 11th March, the 2016 Candidates Tournament begins. Young stars like Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura and Anish Giri will get their first chance to reach a World Championship match, though Anand, Topalov, Svidler, Aronian and Karjakin will be hell-bent on stopping them. chess24 editor Colin McGourty is already in Moscow, and in this photo report took a look at the venue and the players’ hotel on a gloomy Sunday morning.

Some people just can't wait for the Candidates Tournament to start...

If you’re going to travel to Moscow, it’s perhaps best not to do it after spending a two-week holiday in a sweltering Brazil, then a week back in the chess24 office in a “chilly” (=17 degrees Celsius) Gibraltar before taking an overnight Aeroflot flight from Malaga to Moscow. Still, the Aeroflot magazine did include some chess!

"Photographer Vadim Trunov from Voronezh had to award a prize fund for his chess tournament in nuts in order to attract squirrels from the nearby forest" 

A misty and snowy Sheremetyevo Airport

On arrival the pilot announced, “the local time is 07:30 and the weather is good… +1 degree. Welcome to Moscow!”

For a city of around 12 million people, it seems pretty easy to get around. A 30-minute train journey takes you straight to Byelorussky Railway Station, which is already just a couple of metro stops from the venue, or a half-hour walk down Tverskaya Street, reputedly the most expensive shopping street in Moscow and Russia.

You might not expect an 8-lane highway in the very heart of a city, but Moscow is full of surprises, with a combination of the old and new that you very soon get used to:

Mayakovsky (once Triumphal) Square, with a statue to the poet Mayakovsky, the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall, and some pretty cool Soviet-era-style swings... 

The entrance to Pushkinskaya Metro station

What would Yury Dolgoruky (Yury the long-armed), reputed to be the founder of Moscow, have made of it all?

Old palaces and modern office blocks

When getting closer to the venue there was reason to feel some of the players would feel at home. This restaurant is simply called “Armenia”:

And then, with the venue now visible, there’s already some support for Caruana! (check out the shop on the left)

The venue itself is not quite Times Square or even Piccadilly Circus, but the Central Telegraph building is absolutely unmissable, with a big video display and a rotating globe embedded in the structure that was completed in 1929 (check out a 1928 photo of the installation of the globe).

The building is multi-purpose, with shops, restaurants and the city’s most central post office. The players might also choose to drown their sorrows in the Mumiy Troll Music Bar in the basement.

We’re looking for chess, though, and it didn’t take too much investigation to find some sign of the upcoming tournament, with five posters in the windows just above street level. 

Agon, FIDE’s latest partner to hold the rights to World Championship events, explain of the “psychedelic” logo:

The new logo for the tournament features the work of Maxim Spivakov, a Moscow-based artist, and was designed by the Russian studio Textandpictures to create a strong visual image for the tournament. The logo shows the evolving link between the idea of chess and human nature, and vice-versa.

They arguably make a bigger impression from the other side of the street.

There was no obvious entrance, though, especially on a grey Sunday morning… perhaps this man was trying to find his way in?

Instead we have architectural drawings of the planned venue published on the World Chess website. The emphasis with the areas for players, spectators, VIPs and media - in a renovated space used by hi-tech companies – is once again firmly on design:

The VIP lounge sponsored by the vodka producers Beluga, which could make for an interesting place from which to watch the games...

Let’s get back outside in Moscow, though! If you look further down Tverskaya Street from the venue you can see red buildings in the distance which mark... you've guessed it, Red Square, the very heart of the city. 

You can also just about see the players’ hotel, but before we get there you come across the Ritz-Carlton, where Tal Memorial participants have been housed in the past.

The entrance to the Ritz-Carlton could easily be mistaken for a super-car exhibition

Back in 2010 Ilya Odessky penned my favourite description of a chess opening ceremony from there, and one I translated for Chess in Translation:

What can I tell you: of course, it’s a Wonderland. Of course, it’s a parallel world. In general Moscow is already a parallel world for the rest of Russia, but the Ritz-Carlton in particular is a cube within a cube, a ball within a ball. With little risk of being mistaken I’d suggest that an enormous number of people have lived their whole life in the capital and not only have they never once been in the hotel, but they’ve never had even the slightest chance of ending up there. 

And if you end up there – well. You close your eyes, stretch out your fingertips, feel your way up the staircase, and there, blinded, try to conduct yourself as naturally as possible. Order a cocktail, sip it, listen to a moderately funny anecdote, smile with the corners of your mouth, and tell your own.

I remember from a Classic: Professor Preobrazhensky wouldn’t back down, refusing to submit to the demands of the house committee; they’d come with the decision to “fill up the house”, but the professor shouts that in that case he’d have to dissect rabbits in the bathroom. So he hadn’t been in the Ritz-Carlton either! Offer him the chance to dissect rabbits precisely in the bathroom of this hotel and, at the very least, he’d think about it, and perhaps agree.

But why talk about rabbits. You want to live in such a bathroom for a while. Your correspondent stepped into the restroom on the second floor – and it’s not just that he forgot why he came, but he was simply ashamed of his own needs. Everything around was marble, and gold, and extraordinary. From somewhere near the ceiling birds began to sing, while the scent of meadow grass wafted from below. In such surroundings a simple necessary matter was out of the question. It would be like being pushed into the grand hall of a museum and then asked severely: well then? Didn’t you want to pull down your trousers?

It seems little has changed today, but the players have no reason to complain, since if you continue down the street, and go through a subway (trying to cross Moscow streets at ground level is strictly for the suicidal!), you emerge to see the huge Four Seasons Hotel. The cheapest rooms on offer will set you back over $500 a night.

The hotel's facade is a replica of the Moskva Hotel, which was demolished in 2004

The closest big red building is the State Historical Museum, which has the fairly impressive address, “1 Red Square”. Needless to say, there’s not far for the players to walk to see many of the most famous buildings and sites in Russia:

Queuing to get into Lenin's Mausoleum 

Red Square wasn't looking quite at its best...

...but Saint Basil's cathedral was defying the early morning gloom with its outlandish shapes and colours - Ivan the Terrible notoriously didn't want to see it repeated anywhere else...

The players will have other things to think about, though, with the most important chess tournament of many of their lives coming up. At stake is a match with Magnus Carlsen, and both the money and potential glory that entails. You won’t want to miss our coverage here on chess24, which will feature Jan Gustafsson, Anna Rudolf, Pepe Cuenca, Loek van Wely and Robin van Kampen - in English alone.   

Moscow is your city if you're a fan not only of chess but of monumental architecture

That’s not quite the only chess action in Moscow just now, though. On the same day I made the 30-minute metro trip to a Moscow suburb and the Aeroflot Open, which is reaching its conclusion in the Cosmos Hotel. Built for the Summer Olympic Games of 1980, it's the biggest hotel in Russia with 1,777 rooms, and so surreal that the huge statue to Charles de Gaulle in front of it inspires only a shrug of the shoulders.

Inside you have enough shops, restaurants and entertainment venues for a small town – and also the famous Aeroflot Open chess tournament, played in a spacious and futuristic playing hall.

Top seed Boris Gelfand, playing his first open tournament since 1993 (!), has been fighting hard, while young stars like Wei Yi, Vladislav Artemiev and David Anton have had a very rough ride in a tournament with no weak players. 

Boris Gelfand needed every last ounce of energy to grind down Boris Grachev in a queen ending that lasted 119 moves - Grachev then went on to draw in a mere 79 moves the next day 

Reigning European Championship Evgeniy Najer leads by half a point on 6/8 going into the final round, but Gelfand and seven more players are ready if he stumbles. Replay the games and watch the action live here on chess24!

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