Reality Intervenes (Candidates Postponed)

by admin on March 26, 2020

This morning FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich announced that he was suspending the 2020 Candidates Tournament, which had just reached the halfway mark. As most or all of my readers probably know already, this was the tournament to select a challenger to Magnus Carlsen for the world title. It’s been going on for the last two weeks in Yekaterinburg, Russia, in spite of the worldwide cancellation of sports events and in spite of calls to postpone it from such people as Vladimir Kramnik (former world champion) and Teimour Radjabov (who withdrew from the tournament as a protest against its being held during a pandemic).

What caused the suspension? Well, quite simply, Russia is closing its airspace to flights from other countries, starting tomorrow. That means that all five foreign players (Caruana, Vachier-Lagrave, Giri, Wang, and Ding) and all the foreign media representatives needed to get out of the country today, or else face the prospect of being trapped in Siberia for an indefinite period of time. From FIDE’s point of view, the host nation (Russia) was unable to fulfill its contractual obligations to guarantee the players’ safety, and that gave them the power to cancel the event.

I do think that questions will be asked, and this may be the end of the line for FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich. Were FIDE’s hands really tied, so that they had no authority over their own event? Why was the event was held at all, when virtually every other sporting event in the world was being cancelled? If it was a Russian government decision to proceed, who made this decision and why? Granted that the epidemic was perhaps two weeks slower in coming to Russia than to Western Europe, still it was inevitable. History has shown us time and time again that epidemics do not respect national boundaries.

I saw a lot of discussion online about whether Radjabov should be compensated in some way, because his protest was vindicated in the end. It’s hard to see any way that he could be included in the tournament; he would have to play make-up games with the other eight players. It would also be grossly unfair to the other eight players to wipe out the results and start over, and in any event, FIDE has said that won’t happen. The results of the first 7 rounds are official, and the second half of the tournament will be played at some future time.

The one thing that does make some sense to me is financial compensation; perhaps Radjabov could be awarded one-ninth of the prize fund. That would be a tremendous humanitarian gesture by FIDE, so of course it won’t happen. (Unless and until FIDE gets a president who isn’t a former Russian Deputy Prime Minister.)

Finally, speaking personally, I enjoyed following the Candidates Tournament and writing about it for you. I liked being able to pay attention to something that wasn’t the coronavirus; it felt like a small victory. Emil Sutovsky, FIDE’s director general, said it was good publicity for chess. I am not so sure about that; if there was any surge in public interest, it was to ask, “What are they thinking?” and “Will something awful happen?”

Even though I enjoyed the event, I recognize that it was probably irresponsible to hold it, and it could only happen because Russia has an autocratic government that is accountable to no one. I am very relieved that it is over and that none of the players (as far as we know) got the coronavirus. And I look forward to watching the second half of the tournament, at some unknown date in the future when it can be held safely!

Addendum (2:00 pm): Roman Parparov, one of my regular readers, suggested that I translate Alexander Grischuk’s comments to TASS, the Russian news agency. I don’t want to infringe on the author’s copyright, so I will only translate the direct quotes from Grischuk, not the rest of the article.

“I think that the decision is belated, but correct. Frankly, I think that it was long ago necessary to suspend the tournament. It’s not because of the virus or the danger of getting sick, but simply because this tournament is a feast in a time of plague.”

“I’ve hung out with some of the guys during the course of the tournament, and there was no panic. Although a few did hide in their rooms when there weren’t any games going on.”

[It’s not completely clear to me whether “some of the guys” refers to the other players in the tournament or other friends of Grischuk. I love the “feast in a time of plague” quote, it strikes me as very Russian. — Dana]

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Roman Parparov March 26, 2020 at 12:20 pm

A bit of nitpicking – Yekaterinburg is in the Ural Mountains, which isn’t Siberia yet. 🙂

As for the whole process, it was yet another attempt to show the world Russia can do what anyone can’t. The attempt failed miserably, just like the attempt to continue with the Russian Hockey League KHL failed just a few days ago (after at first it was declared to continue in spite of NHL and other leagues suspending or ending their season), cancelling everything altogether.

There are comments on the chesspro forums in the style “Well, the 1939 Olympiad finished despite a war having started.”

The best commentary on this unfortunate sequence of events came from Grischuk:
It’s in Russian, but maybe you’ll even bother to translate it well for the other visitors of your site.


Mike Splane March 26, 2020 at 12:41 pm

I like the idea of compensating Radiabov by giving him a guaranteed seat in the next Candidates in addition to a reasonable amount of financial compensation.


Larry L SMITH March 27, 2020 at 9:35 am

I agree: Radjabov deserves something, and this suggestion makes sense. Also, Tejmour should be allowed to wear a t-shirt reading “I Told You So” during the next Candidates tournament.

The “feast in a time of plague” comment also struck me as very Russian. What would be an English/American equivalent? “Fiddling while Rome burns” doesn’t quite cut it, I don’t think.

I also liked Nigel Short’s tweet, which was “I thought we had seen the end of adjournments in #chess, but we have regrettably had to reintroduce them for the Candidates.”


Roman Parparov March 27, 2020 at 10:50 am

Pushkin based his story on John Wilson’s play “The City of Plague”, maybe the equivalent can be found there?..


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