What a mess!
The big news in the chess world is the decision to pause the FIDE Candidates Tournament held in Yekaterinburg, Russia after the first half. The winner of the Candidates Tournament will challenge World Champion Magnus Carlsen in the next title match.
Logo for the 2020 FIDE Candidates Tournament
Starting the event was questionable in the first place. While I would have postponed the tournament, I can see the reasoning for going through with it. In my view, it wasn’t just about throwing off the timing of the World Championship Match.
FIDE didn’t want to disrupt the zonals and continental championships for the 2022 cycle. Understandable, but short-sighted.
Around the beginning of March, FIDE apparently issued Teimour Radjabov an ultimatum about playing in the Candidates Tournament or not. When he declined, they inserted first alternate Maxime Vachier-Lagrave into the tournament.
Once Radjabov was out and MVL was in, FIDE was already stuck. They had to start the tournament even though things looked increasingly grim as the March 15 start date approached.
What were they going to do by, say, March 13? Postpone the event, try to send everyone home, and replace MVL with Radjabov again? I’m sure, privately, FIDE already knew before the tournament started that they had messed up. Hindsight really is 20/20.
FIDE took a decision that they would only allow outside forces to stop the event. It was a very risky course and I didn’t agree with it, but now the question is: what to do with half the tournament completed and Radjabov looking for answers?
What should be done about the Candidates Tournament now?
Radjabov can’t be added to the event now. He should be an automatic entry for the 2022 Candidates Tournament, along with the loser of the 2020/2021 World Championship Match, removing one of rating qualification slots. This isn’t fair to Radjabov, but I’m not sure what else to suggest besides additional financial compensation, which would also be appropriate.
The rest of the field should stay as is. Ian Nepomniachtchi and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave can be happy with developments, but just about everyone else will feel that their tournament would have started much better in a more normal environment.
A small rant…
There was so much criticism of Kirill Alekseenko being chosen for the wildcard ahead of Vachier-Lagrave. Well, one of the reasons organizers bid for such events is the ability to name a wildcard. FIDE did the right thing by restricting the criteria so only a small number of players could be named the wildcard, but the organizers chose from that pool of players.
Of course the Russian organizers wanted a Russian player in the tournament! This is not outrageous, corrupt, or anything else. Organizers from any other country with the chance to pick one of their countrymen would also have done the same. MVL had many chances to qualify directly and failed.
It seems there is not enough interest ($$$) from patrons or governments in Western countries to host top-level chess events. The big exception of course is Rex Sinquefield in Saint Louis.
We should be happy there are entities with resources to hold these events and support the players. One wildcard out of eight players seems like a necessary trade to me, in this day and age, for a 500,000 euro prize fund. A lot of fans just don’t like it when higher-rated players aren’t chosen.