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Interviews Mar 30, 2020 | 10:47 AMby Colin McGourty

What to do now with Radjabov?

The suspension of the 2020 Candidates Tournament is the nightmare the World Chess Federation (FIDE) must have feared from the moment they rejected Teimour Radjabov’s proposal to postpone the tournament and replaced him with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. The question now arises of whether the Azerbaijan player should somehow be included back in the tournament, get special privileges for future events or other compensation. We’d already heard from Carlsen, Kramnik and Dvorkovich and here add the views of fellow players MVL, Alekseenko and Giri as well as the Azerbaijan team, Karjakin and more.

Teimour Radjabov after defeating Ding Liren in the World Cup final and qualifying for the Candidates | photo: Kirill Merkuryev, official website

Teimour Radjabov was a surprise qualifier for the 2020 Candidates Tournament after winning the 2019 World Cup, but less than two weeks before the event was set to begin in Yekaterinburg, Russia he appealed to FIDE to postpone it. He had concerns about catching the virus, complained that Chinese player Wang Hao wouldn’t be quarantined after travelling from Japan, questioned what would happen if one of the players or other people present caught the virus or simply a common cold, and felt the atmosphere would be one in which it was impossible to focus on such an important chess event. When his request was denied and he withdrew FIDE replaced him with the first reserve, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.

Despite the global situation deteriorating constantly, the tournament went ahead and was only finally stopped when something Radjabov admitted he hadn’t foreseen – the closure of Russian airspace – meant that foreign players and others involved were risking being stranded in Russia for weeks or months after the event.

The tournament standings after 7 rounds look as follows, with Radjabov’s replacement MVL heading the table:

But now that the tournament will be impossible to continue for months, at least, everything is open to debate. Here we round up some of the opinions that have been expressed so far, beginning with the views collected in our recap of the day the event was stopped:

Teimour Radjabov

I think FIDE should take some action to include me back into the tournament – I think it’s a fair decision.

FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich

The tournament is postponed and according to the regulations – we discussed these regulations at the technical meeting before the tournament – in this kind of situation all results that we have until now are counted, so we keep the results up to Round 7, so we have exactly half of the tournament completed. The second half will be played when the situation will normalise. Hopefully it will not be later than September, to have sufficient time for the [winner] to prepare for the World Championship match.

14th World Champion Vladimir Kramnik

It seems to me that the decision with Radjabov is quite obvious – he has to get a wild card for the next Candidates Tournament.

Current World Champion Magnus Carlsen

Obviously the situation we have now is not ideal, but I think giving Radjabov the wild card for 2022 – that I would find just ridiculous. You could make the case that he should actually play in this one now that it’s been postponed and the situation is different. I don’t feel that way, I don’t know the law, I don’t know what is supposed to happen there, but to me it doesn’t feel justified that he should play even if it resumes, but I would understand it. But 2022… no!

Dutch no. 1 and Candidates participant Anish Giri gave a long interview to the Russian Match TV, that included:

Teimour believes that his rights have been violated. If he’s included and someone else is excluded then that will violate the rights of someone else. If everyone plays then the question arises: how many points do you give Teimour? If you give him a lot then that violates the rights of other players, if you give him few, then his rights. If the tournament starts afresh then that’s unfair to the leaders and helps those who find themselves at the bottom of the tournament standings. One way or another, someone has to be harmed.

In another interview with the Dutch Volkskrant newspaper he commented:

I felt less safe on the flight back to Amsterdam. Although I was wearing a mask, I was on a full plane. It was bizarre that so many people did not care about the strict precautions against the coronavirus. I was less at risk behind the chessboard than during the return journey. That's why I never considered withdrawing as Radjabov did.

And of course Anish was active on social media, though he admitted his “solutions” (and those of some other grandmasters there) shouldn’t be taken too seriously!

Russian former World Championship Challenger Sergey Karjakin, who Radjabov had worked with together with Leinier Dominguez and Vladimir Chuchelov to prepare for the event, wrote on Twitter:

The Azerbaijan Chess Team wrote an open letter to FIDE and the chess world:

It sets out the situation already explained in the introduction above, before concluding:

We consider that by starting and stopping the tournament in such conditions FIDE broke the normal chain of sporting qualification, stretching out the tournament in pieces over an indeterminate time and ignoring concerns over the players’ health, and should bear responsibility before the participants of the Candidates Tournament and the whole chess world for taking such inadequate measures. Moreover, we ask and demand that the FIDE leadership return to the Candidates cycle our Azerbaijan teammate Grandmaster Teimour Radjabov, who has undeservedly suffered as a result of all this, which was possible to avoid by moving such a significant tournament to a more auspicious time.

Yours respectfully,

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov
Arkadiy Naiditsch
Rauf Mamedov
Nijat Abasov
Gadir Guseinov

During the event Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, who had been willing to travel to Germany for the Chess Bundesliga before it was cancelled, had noted that he would have played in Yekaterinburg (he’s quoted by Azerisport):  

Participation in the Candidates Tournament is the dream of every chess player. In any case, it’s definitely mine. In the last Candidates I finished second and set myself the goal of improving on that result. It’s a pity that I didn’t have the chance to play in it again. What would I have done? I’d have travelled, of course. A man who’s ready to travel to Germany would travel to Russia as well. If the Candidates Tournament, from which Tima withdrew, is suspended, that will be the right decision. If it’s completed, then Azerbaijan chess will be the loser. I’m very upset about that, but I’ll be even more upset if such a well-organised tournament is stopped. The whole world is following it. I wish the eight players in the tournament, my friends, good health. May the strongest win. I believe that myself and more of our players will still have a chance to play in it. Danger is everywhere, but success is not.

More of the Candidates participants expressed their views:

French no. 1 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in the Times of India

I think it's just too late. I understand his situation and I understand his frustration. It’s very unfortunate for him, but we can’t restart a cycle now.

Russian Grandmaster Kirill Alekseenko, who also revelealed his seconds were Peter Svidler, Daniil Yuffa and Andrey Esipenko, commented in Sport Weekend:

One of the options is that Radjabov is given a wild card for the Candidates Tournament that should take place in 2022. Overall that’s logical. You can’t include him now in place of Maxime Vachier-Lagrave for the second half! The Frenchman is leading along with Nepomniachtchi, while half of the tournament has been played.

What do you think should happen now? Let us know in the comments below

See also:

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