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General Dec 20, 2021 | 9:42 PMby Colin McGourty

Nakamura and Dubov get Grand Prix wildcards

Hikaru Nakamura and Daniil Dubov have been given wild cards to the 24-player FIDE Grand Prix series. The three tournaments in Berlin and Belgrade from February to April 2022 will decide the final two places in the next Candidates Tournament. Nakamura, who would currently be the 10th seed, was ineligible to qualify by rating after failing to play a classical game in two years, but was given a lifeline by the FIDE President. The organisers picked Magnus Carlsen second Dubov, who was just outside the rating qualifiers.

Hikaru Nakamura and Daniil Dubov faced off in last year's Lindores Abbey Rapid Challenge final, with Daniil the surprise winner after Hikaru had knocked out Magnus in the semi-finals

The FIDE Candidates Tournament planned for mid-2022 has the potential to be even more important than usual. The 8-player event decides the next World Chess Championship qualifier, but if Magnus Carlsen really did decide not to play a 6th match for the title, then the top two players in the Candidates would play the match, assuming the match regulations stay as they were this time round. 

Currently qualified are: Ian Nepomniachtchi (2021 runner-up), Teimour Radjabov (wild card after deciding not to play in 2020), Jan-Krzysztof Duda and Sergey Karjakin (World Cup), and Alireza Firouzja and Fabiano Caruana (Grand Swiss). 

The final two places in the tournament will be determined by the FIDE Grand Prix, which is open to 24 players. Each of the players will compete in two of three 16-player tournaments taking place from February to April 2022. Originally they were all supposed to be played in the same city, Berlin, Germany, but some behind-the-scenes chess politics led to one of the events being held in Belgrade, Serbia.

  • Berlin: February 4 - 16, 2022
  • Belgrade: February 29 - March 13, 2022
  • Berlin: March 21 - April 3, 2022

Each tournament starts with the players split into four groups of four players, who play each other twice. Then the winners of the groups go forward to semi-finals and ultimately a final, with points awarded based on where players finish. There’s also a €150,000 prize fund for each event (more details here). 

The competition is guaranteed to be tough, with world no. 3 Ding Liren heading the fight for two Candidates spots. Ding would have been ineligible to qualify by rating since he hadn’t played 9 games in 2021, or taken part in the FIDE World Cup, but a recent 4-game match against Lu Shanglei fixed that issue. 

In the end there were 11 rating qualifiers, 5 World Cup quarterfinalists, 6 players from the Grand Swiss and 2 wildcards.

#NameFEDRatingWorld rankQualified via
1Ding Liren27993Rating
2Levon Aronian27726Rating
3Anish Giri27727Rating
4Wesley So27728Rating
5Shakhriyar Mamedyarov27679Rating
6Alexander Grischuk276410Rating
7Richard Rapport276311Rating
8Maxime Vachier-Lagrave276112Grand Swiss
9Leinier Dominguez275215Rating
10Hikaru Nakamura2736(19* — inactive)Presidential nominee
11Nikita Vitiugov273119Rating
12Wei Yi272921Rating
13Vidit Gujrathi272722World Cup
14Dmitry Andreikin272423Rating
15Daniil Dubov272024Organiser nominee
16Yu Yangyi271327Grand Swiss
17Sam Shankland270829World Cup
18Alexei Shirov270431Grand Swiss
19Vladimir Fedoseev270432World Cup
20Alexander Predke268252Grand Swiss
21Grigoriy Oparin268155Grand Swiss
22Vincent Keymer266474Grand Swiss
23Amin Tabatabaei2643108World Cup
24Etienne Bacrot2642111World Cup

The criteria were clear, except when it came to the wildcards. Two were named, one by FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich, and one by the organisers World Chess (formerly Agon). 

Hikaru Nakamura: Presidential nominee

It was hard to imagine at the time that Hikaru Nakamura's loss to Veselin Topalov in Round 1 of the Hamburg Grand Prix in November 2019 would feature his last classical games in over two years  | photo: Valeria Gordienko, official website

Hikaru Nakamura’s chances of playing in the 2022 Candidates Tournament looked to have gone when he pulled out of a planned appearance in the Grand Swiss in Riga. 

Not only did that mean he couldn’t qualify via the Grand Swiss, it also left him not having played the required 9 games to be able to qualify by rating for the Grand Prix. In fact he hadn’t played a rated classical game in over two years, so dropped off the official FIDE rating list that shows only active players.

Arkady Dvorkovich explained his pick of Hikaru Nakamura.

Travel restrictions affecting [the] US player, and his activity as one of the most popular streamers in the world, prevented him from taking part in key events. Nevertheless, he remains very active in online tournaments, where he consistently shows he is in top shape and among the best in the world. Very strong and experienced, and popular among the fans, I believe he deserves a chance to fight. The chess community will be delighted to see him sitting at the chess board again.

That somewhat glosses over the fact that Hikaru could have played the Sinquefield Cup or the US Chess Championship in Saint Louis without leaving the US, but Hikaru had put all his eggs in the Grand Swiss basket. Nevertheless, it’s hard to disagree that Hikaru will be an asset to the Grand Prix — he also has some history, having qualified for the 2016 Candidates via the Grand Prix, alongside Fabiano Caruana.

Daniil Dubov: Organisers’ nominee

Daniil Dubov at Magnus Carlsen's pre-match training camp in Spain

At a time when the fear was that Daniil Dubov’s position on Team Magnus might restrict his chances to play for the Russian team, his position in the limelight has actually helped him to bag the last remaining wildcard.  

World Chess gave a list of bullet points for picking the 25-year-old Russian:

  • Dubov is one of the top players and is at the top of the rating list among those who did not qualify for the Series;
  • Fans and chess players alike appreciate Daniil in the top events, such as Grand Prix, for his inventive play and clear fighting spirit;
  • After working with Magnus Carlsen’s team, Dubov usually appears at the top of his game. Following his last session with the World Champion, Dubov won the World Rapid Championship, and we hope the trend continues;
  • Despite not yet reaching the top-10, Dubov is one of those players who receives substantial media coverage, which is in line with World Chess’ mission to bring more attention to the sport and the FIDE Grand Prix Series. 

As with Hikaru, it’s hard to argue with Dubov’s pick, though in an ideal world 17-year-old Vincent Keymer might be joined by some other young players. 19-year-old Andrey Esipenko, for instance, just missed out by rating, the World Cup (taking Magnus Carlsen to blitz in a match that would have given him a spot) and in the Grand Swiss.

In any case, the competition is set to be ferocious, with all the players in the last chance saloon if they want to have a chance to become World Champion in 2023. 

Meanwhile we don’t need to wait long to see Nakamura and Dubov in action, with both players signed up to play in the World Rapid and Blitz Championships in Warsaw, starting December 26th. Nakamura is currently seeded 2nd (behind Carlsen) for both the Rapid and Blitz, with 2018 World Rapid Champion Dubov 13th (rapid) and 14th seed (blitz). 

Sergey Karjakin qualified to the Candidates Tournament by reaching the final of the FIDE World Cup, but his wife Galiya has now hit out at FIDE and World Chess over the decision not to give a wild card to Andrey Esipenko.

Her post can be translated:

About the Grand Prix. 
I can’t stay silent. 

When it’s about qualification to the World Championship — and they make that qualification into a clown-show — it’s not sport. That’s my opinion. 

There were a lot of arguments when Magnus Carlsen, by participating in the World Cup, influenced the line-up of the Candidates Tournament, knocking out one of the world’s strongest players, Andrey Esipenko.

There’s no logic in that. Don’t even look for it!
The World Champion shouldn’t play in a tournament which is a qualifier to him, or in that case he should lose his right to participate in the match, as happens if you qualified to the Candidates via the World Cup but want to play in the Grand Prix as well. Playing in the Grand Prix, you simply lose your spot which you won in the World Cup. And you start playing from scratch. 

And what now?! The organisers have given a personal invitation to the guy they “cooperate” with, Daniil Dubov. 
Personally I’ve got no issues with Daniil. 
The questions are exclusively to the organisers. 

Cooperation shouldn’t influence the line-up of tournaments — that’s not professional sport. 
If it keeps going like this will we soon see GeeGun in a World Championship match? He’ll shave off his eyebrows during a game?!

And there’s also one more “invitation”. It went to a chess player, who hasn’t played classical chess in two years. 
It’s like a hockey player who didn’t go out on the ice in two years, but played hockey on-line all that time, and still he’s invited to play in the country’s real team. Can you imagine such a situation in Russia or Canada? Of course not!
Why is that possible in chess??

Why don’t the organisers give that invitation to someone who’s young?! To someone who’s already shown his strength and beaten Magnus?

My personal opinion is that not inviting Andrey Esipenko is a huge mistake by the organisers! And Andrey, by his achievements, will go on to prove that to the whole world! And he doesn’t need hype for people to speak about him since everyone is already speaking about him!

What do you think about the wild cards and World Championship qualification system in general?

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