General Oct 21, 2014 | 11:10 AMby Colin McGourty

Tashkent Grand Prix – new blood

Some familiar faces at the Opening Ceremony of the Tashkent Grand Prix | photo: Yulia Monakova, FIDE

At least there’s no need to explain what a Grand Prix is! Just a week after Fabiano Caruana and Boris Gelfand shared first place in Baku the next tournament is starting in Tashkent. Eight of the players also featured in Azerbaijan, but Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Anish Giri, Baadur Jobava and Dmitry Jakovenko are starting their 2014/15 Grand Prix campaigns. What have they been up to, and can they challenge Caruana and Gelfand for the qualification places for the 2016 Candidates Tournament?

It's an opening ceremony - there must be dancing! | photo: Anastasiya Karlovich, FIDE

The Tashkent Grand Prix will be the focus of the chess world from the 21st October to the 2nd November, with games starting at 14:00 local time each day (11:00 Paris, 10:00 London, 05:00 New York). The Round 1 pairings are:

Giri, Anish2768Gelfand, Boris2748
Mamedyarov, Shakhriyar2764Andreikin, Dmitry2722
Nakamura, Hikaru2764Jobava, Baadur2717
Caruana, Fabiano2844Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime2757
Kasimdzhanov, Rustam2706Jakovenko, Dmitry2747
Radjabov, Teimour2726Karjakin, Sergey2767

Follow all the action on our live broadcast!

Tashkent-born Rustam Kasimdzhanov was on hand for the opening ceremony | photo: Anastasiya Karlovich, FIDE

So let’s take a look at the changes. All players compete in three of the four Grand Prix stages, with Peter Svidler, Alexander Grischuk, Leinier Dominguez and Evgeny Tomashevsky sitting out this event. Their replacements are:

1. Anish Giri, age 20, Netherlands, rated 2768, world no. 7

Anish Giri after making the trip from Holland to Uzbekistan | photo: Anastasiya Karlovich, FIDE

The Russian-born Dutchman is still young enough to have played in the recent World Junior Championship in Pune, but since he’s already world no. 7 he has no need for such trifles! Giri warmed up for Tashkent by defeating Alexei Shirov by a 4.5:1.5 margin in their six-game match at the Univé Tournament in Hoogeveen. That resounding scoreline accurately reflected the gulf in opening preparation between the players, though Giri was under no illusions that he’d find things tougher in Tashkent.

Spanish no. 1 Paco Vallejo turned interviewer on our live show:

Paco: Congratulations, you played a very solid match, almost without trouble. What’s your next tournament?

Anish: Tomorrow I’m flying to Tashkent, actually. The Grand Prix. So I’ve got a busy schedule.

Paco: Good luck there. You’ll have a tough time, I guess. Your opponents will be at least more difficult to predict, because Alexei’s fault in this match was that he was very predictable in the openings.

Anish: Also not deeply enough prepared.

Paco: These other guys. The Fabianos, Karjakin, they study all the time.

Anish: Yes, I’ve had experience enough of feeling how well they’re prepared and how tough guys they are so I’m not going to underestimate them – that’s for sure. 

Another subplot in Tashkent will be the battle of the coaches. Anish Giri has recently switched coaches from Vladimir Chuchelov to another Vladimir – Tukmakov. 

Vladimir Tukmakov and Anish Giri ready for action in Tashkent | photo: Anastasiya Karlovich, FIDE

Former Dutch no. 1 Loek van Wely felt that would work in Giri’s favour and revealed the split hadn’t been entirely amicable, again on our live show:

Loek: He started to play more aggressively, which I thought he should have been doing for many years. Only recently he started to improve. Maybe it has something to do with changing his coach. Who knows, because before he had the so-called self-proclaimed best coach in the world and now he has this guy, Vladimir Tukmakov, and somehow it seems they have a good chemistry.

Jan Gustafsson: Speaking of Chuchelov, he was working with a lot of the guys – the Dutch national team, Van Kampen, Anish Giri. Is he out of the Dutch chess scene? Just working with Caruana and Radjabov now? Or are there still ties with him and the Dutch Chess Federation?

Loek: Well, if it depends on me, no. I’m not the federation, but basically I think it’s kind of normal that after so many years of collaboration the chemistry is finished and his contract got terminated. That’s all. However, the guy took it very personally and very much took offense to that, but I think he should be more grateful that we basically made his career. But ok, everyone has his own opinion.

Jan: So it looks like you’re not completely out of rivals yet?

Loek: Chuchelov is definitely one of my favourite rivals. If I can get a piece of him I wouldn’t mind.

As mentioned, Vladimir Chuchelov is the coach of two of the players in the Grand Prix series, Fabiano Caruana and Teimour Radjabov. 

Vladimir Chuchelov again looks likely to divide his time between Teimour Radjabov and Fabiano Caruana | photo: Anastasiya Karlovich, FIDE

In a recent interview for he revealed why Caruana took part despite his excellent chances of qualifying for the Candidates Tournament based on ratings alone:

The thing is that Fabiano’s decision to take part in the FIDE Grand Prix was taken before his great success in Saint Louis, and at that moment the rating situation wasn’t so clear. Despite Levon Aronian losing second place in the ratings he’s a very strong chess player and at any moment he could regain his lost place. Therefore it wasn’t so clear-cut, and putting all hopes in the World Cup would be too optimistic, as chance is too big a factor in that event. The Grand Prix is an extra opportunity that we decided to take advantage of. Besides, the tournaments are strong and good for maintaining form throughout the year.

So far things are going according to plan, with Caruana in the joint lead in the Grand Prix series - but can Chuchelov's old student upset the apple cart?

2. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, age 24, France, rated 2757, world no. 13

The French no. 1 has something to celebrate in Tashkent:

Otherwise it’s been a rocky ride for Maxime since he broke into the Top 10 in the run-up to the Sinquefield Cup (see our exclusive interview). Although he beat Aronian in that event he went on to lose three games (admittedly it’s not clear if two losses to Caruana there count!), lost to Peter Leko in the European Club Cup and then spoiled a fine 4/4 start in the PokerStars Isle of Man tournament by losing to David Howell in the penultimate round to finish in only 7th place.

The Grand Prix is where it matters, though, so perhaps it’s time for the double-barrelled star to shine.

3. Dmitry Jakovenko, age 31, Russia, rated 2747, world no. 17

Dmitry Jakovenko takes over Evgeny Tomashevsky’s role as super-tournament starved Russian in Tashkent. Former European Champion Jakovenko is currently world no. 15 on the live ratings, but has played little since he finished second at the Karpov Tournament in Poikovsky in May. He was disappointed to be included in the Russian Olympiad team only to then be replaced by Ian Nepomniachtchi – though perhaps he enjoyed some schadenfreude while watching the Russian team's struggles from his couch. It goes without saying the Grand Prix series is a big opportunity for Dmitry.

The playing hall doesn't look set up for hordes of chess fans... | photo: Anastasiya Karlovich, FIDE 

4. Baadur Jobava, age 30, Georgia, rated 2717, world no. 32

Although no-one likes to see late changes of venues it’s hard to regret Tehran being replaced by Tbilisi, since it means the Georgian no. 1 Baadur Jobava is now going to bring his brand of original attacking chess to three of the Grand Prix tournaments. Like Giri, he also warmed up by winning a match 4.5:1.5 in the Dutch town of Hoogeveen, although his victory over Jan Timman was perhaps not quite so convincing.

Afterwards he joined the live show with Jan Gustafsson and Paco Vallejo and talked about some of his games. We can’t say they asked Jobava his thoughts about the approaching trip to Tashkent, but it was certainly fun!

Jan: You seem to always play very well in Holland. You did very well in Wijk aan Zee, now you did very well in Hoogeveen. Is there something in the air that inspires you?

Baadur: Yeah, you’re right. I understand what you mean, but I’m not doing that.

Jan: I didn’t even know what I meant!

So after introducing the new cast of characters all that remains is to see how the new kids get on in Tashkent.

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