Despite all the panic, the best chess players in the world compete in Russia for the World Cup. They want to find a winner by early April. It could be the last big sporting event for a while.
By Marion Bergermann
At least according to official figures, the corona virus has not yet hit so strongly in Russia. Eight chess professionals have been competing there since Tuesday to challenge the world champion Magnus Carlsen in the title fight. The international chess association FIDE had stuck to the date. So the tournament takes place in Yekaterinburg in the southwest of the country with precautionary measures. Even if the temperature of the players is measured twice a day and the game room in the five-star hotel is separated from the spectators, some of the chess grandmasters are also careful.
In the game on matchday one, former world champion Anatoly Karpov wanted to shake hands with the two players after making the opening move. The Dutchman Anish Giri returned the handshake, the Russian Ian Nepomniachtchi acknowledged the gesture with a slight shake of the head and did not shake his hand.
The eight participants will play against each other twice in 14 rounds in the coming weeks. A win gives one point, a draw gives both players 0.5 points each. In the event of a tie at the end, the direct comparison decides, then the number of games won. A tiebreaker in rapid chess is the last possible way of determining the winner.
The tournament is scheduled to run until April 3, the winner of which will compete against Carlsen at the end of the year. The 29-year-old has become very well known beyond the chess scene due to his many successes. The Norwegian has been at the top of the world rankings since 2011, and last year he also became world champion in rapid chess. But Yekaterinburg is not just about the right to compete against the star of the scene. With 500,000 euros in prize money, there is more than ever to be won in a candidate tournament.
The Italian-American Fabio Caruana has so far been the favorite in the Russian metropolis. At the last World Cup he lost to Magnus Carlsen late in the quick chess tie-break with 0: 3. At the beginning of this year he even won against the Norwegian: At the super tournament in Wijk aan Zee in the Netherlands, Caruana won by two points over the reigning world champion. Ding Liren also had a promising start. The Chinese traveled to Russia in early March and, as a precaution, spent 14 days in quarantine in Moscow. On Tuesday, however, he lost with the advantage of the white figures against his compatriot Wang Hao.
There are three candidates for the host Russia. Experienced Alexander Grischtschuk and Kirill Alexejenko will compete alongside Nepomnjaschtschi. The 22-year-old Alexeyenko can be there with a wildcard that the Russian Chess Federation was able to award as organizer. The winner of the FIDE World Cup 2019, Teymur Radjabov, however, resigned from his right to start in Yekaterinburg at the beginning of March due to concerns about the corona virus. The 33-year-old from Azerbaijan did not agree to the security measures against the corona virus, according to the chess portal »Chessbase.com«. He had proposed to reschedule the tournament. The world association refused and Radjabov wrote on his Instagram profile that decision-makers around the world were making the right decisions to fight the virus. And added angrily: “Chess should be an example of logic and intelligence. I became a victim of a situation, but there must always be one who suffers before everyone understands what’s going on. «
Instead of Radjabov, 29-year-old Maxime Vachier-Lagrave from France is now there, who brought the second loss to Chinese Ding Liren on Wednesday.
It is still unclear whether the World Cup preliminary decision will really take place by April 3. The competition that is currently running in Germany, on the other hand, cannot be confused by contagion. The first German internet chess championship, which has been running since the beginning of March, takes place online. »Of course it’s a coincidence in terms of timing. But many clubs and regional associations now offer tournaments on the Internet, «said the President of the German Chess Federation, Ullrich Krause.