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What happens now?

The FIDE Candidates Tournament began on March 16th, in Yekaterinburg, Russia, with eight of the top players of the world to play a double round-robin to decide who would challenge the reigning world champion, Magnus Carlsen, in December for the title. The 14-round event took place in the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Yekaterinburg, Russia -- play was originally scheduled 17 March to April 3 this year with a prize fund of €500,000.

Candidates Tournament halted

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave defeated erstwhile tournament leader Ian Nepomniachtchi in the 7th round of the Candidates Tournament and tied with him for the lead.

Nepomniachtchi leads the Candidates

FIDE Candidates Tournament Yekaterinburg, Russia March 15–April 5, 2020 Current Standings (round 6 of 14) 1 Ian Nepomniachtchi RUS 2774, 4.5/6 2 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave FRA 2767, 3.5/6 3–6 Fabiano Caruana...

The Candidates Tournament

The Candidates Tournament finally started and, thanks to the coronavirus outbreak, it is the only major sporting event taking place right now.

Philidor refuted?

This is a continuation of IM Robert Ris’ analysis where he tries to prove that the Philidor Defense has been refuted. We reproduce it here with the special permission of Chessbase.com, which has also very generously agreed to make the video available to our readers. The main article is here.

Philidor refuted?

To recap, in the Philidor Defense after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 Black’s woes can be traced to his insistence on maintaining the strongpoint on e5. Why not just give it up and play solid? What’s wrong with 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Be7, the Antoshin Variation? GM Larry Kaufman in “Kaufman’s New Repertoire for Black and White,” remarks that this line is a pretty reasonable choice for Black in a must-win situation, because although White is better, both sides have play, and the chances of a draw are fairly low. He then revealed that he selected this defense for Black repeatedly and successfully for the computer program Rybka in a match where it gave draw and White odds in every game to GM Joel Benjamin.

Beating the Philidor

I am sure most of our readers have seen the famous 1858 Morphy versus Duke of Brunswick game played at an opera house in Paris. It has been called the most famous game in chess history.

Games from Aeroflot

The Aeroflot Open was a huge gathering of very strong players and naturally a lot of beautiful chess was played. Here is my favorite game from the event.

New beast from Baku

The Aeroflot Open is an annual open chess tournament played in Moscow and sponsored by the airline Aeroflot. It was established in 2002 and quickly grew to be the among the strongest open tournaments in the world. First prize for the “A” tournament is €18,000 (about P1 million). The winner is usually invited to the Dortmund superGM chess tournament to be held in Germany later in the year, but for the current edition the organizers announced that this tradition (begun in 2003) has been discontinued.

Firouzja in his biggest win

The 16-year-old Alireza Firouzja scored his biggest win to date by taking the category 19 (Average Rating: 2707) Prague Masters after tying for 1st with four others and beating Vidit 2:0 in a blitz playoff.

A disaster for Vidit

Indian GM Vidit Santosh Gujrathi (born Oct. 24, 1994) is currently the second highest-rated player from India behind, of course, Viswanathan Anand. He has won a lot of regional and youth tournaments, but his first strong closed tournament win was at the Biel International Chess Festival. This was a category 16 (Average ELO of 2641) 8-man tournament against Abdusattorov, Shankland, Leko, Georgiadis, Cori, Bogner and Maghsoodloo.

Cairns Cup

I don’t usually write about women’s chess events but decided to make an exception of the Cairns Cup (by the way, “Cairns” is the maiden name of Dr. Jeanne Sinquefield, wife of Rex Sinquefield. the founder/owner of the Saint Louis Chess Center). Many years from now this event will be remembered for two things.

Games from Gibraltar

Winner of the “Best Game Prize” and £1,000 (about P66,000) was GM Anna Muzychuk, the older of the Muzychuk sisters of Ukraine. Born Feb. 28, 1990, she is the fourth woman, after Judit Polgar, Humpy Koneru and Hou Yifan, to cross the 2600 ELO rating mark. Until recently she had always been higher rated than her sister, and that says a lot, for Mariya Muzychuk was the 2015 World Women’s Chess Champion.

Games from Gibraltar

The Azeri GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov was the top seed of the tournament but withdrew before start of play on round 8 due to illness.

Gibraltar Masters

Have you ever heard of David Paravyan? He was born March 8, 1998 in Russia and earned his grandmaster title in 2017. Before Gibraltar he had not won anything big. The biggest accomplishment so far is his 10th place finish with 7/11 (won four, drew six, lost one) in the FIDE Grand Swiss Tournament last year. That was a really strong tournament because it gave the winner an automatic slot to the March 2020 Candidates Tournament, and his performance rating there is 2774.

Epilogue to Tata Steel Masters

No doubt the big winner in the Tata Steel Masters was Fabiano Caruana, but another GM who put in a good performance was the 20-year old Jorden Van Foreest, who was the lowest player by rating but started the tournament with 2 wins in the first 3 rounds, kept nipping at the heels of the tournament leaders for most of the tournament and finished with +1, tied for 4th place ahead of the other Dutchman Anish Giri.

Caruana wins Tata Steel

The new FIDE rating list has been released and the Tata Steel Masters, being the only strong tournament rated in January, played a big role in the new rankings (the Gibraltar Chess Festival was also concluded in January but the results were submitted too late to be included in this list):

Caruana wins Tata Steel Masters

The chess tournament in Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands is traditionally the first Super GM (Grandmaster) event of the year. The main sponsor of the chess festival, which started in 1938, remains the steel factory in Ijmuiden, which is now part of the Tata Group, one of India’s oldest and largest business empires with subsidiaries involved in steel, power, chemicals, communications, beverages, motor vehicles, hotels, and many more.

Goryachkina and the Jobava Attack

This was the final game of the world championship match (not counting tie-breaks) of Ju Wenjun and Aleksandra Goryachkina. Ju was a point ahead and Goryachkina had to win at all costs. What is she to do?

Ju Wenjun is still champ

The 2020 FIDE Women’s World Chess Championship was a 12-game match between Chinese reigning champion Ju Wenjun and Russian challenger Aleksandra Goryachkina, who won the 2019 FIDE Women’s Candidates Tournament. The first six games was played in Ju Wenjun’s hometown of Shanghai, China and the remaining games in Vladivostok, Russia. The prize fund: 500,000 euros, split 60:40, or 55:45 in case of a playoff.

Tata Steel halfway

GM Alireza Firouzja (born June 18, 2003) is an Iranian chess prodigy. Aside from winning the Iranian Chess Championship at 12 years of age (the youngest ever to do so) he is the second-youngest player (after China’s Wei Yi and just a bit younger than Wesley So) ever to reach a rating of 2700, accomplishing this aged 16 years and 1 month.

New star for 2020

GM Evgeny Shtembuliak was an unfamiliar name to most of us until October last year when the won the World Junior (Under-20) Championship. He started off as the seventh seed with a rating of 2577 behind favorite Tabatabaei of Iran (2642), Murali Karthikeyan (IND 2617), Chithambaram Aravindh (IND 2609), Dmitrij Kollars (GER 2587), Carlos Daniel Albornoz Cabrera (CUB 2581) and Shant Sargsyan (ARM 2580). Then he jumped into the lead right from the start with 3/3 and kept it all the way to the end.

Girl power

The Women’s World Chess Championship is currently ongoing between the defending champion Ju Wenjun of China versus Russian challenger Aleksandra Goryachkina, who won the 2019 FIDE Women’s Candidates Tournament. The first six games were held in Shanghai, China and they are currently moving over to Vladivostok, Russia, for the second half.

Best game for 2019

2019 has ended and a lot of people are coming up with their “Best of 2019” lists. Best player, best game, best combination, best endgame, etcetera, etcetera.

Magnus is Blitz Champion

Five years ago Carlsen won both the Rapid and Blitz Chess Championships in the same year -- this was in 2014 Dubai. Since he was also Classical World Champion at that time he became a “Triple Crown” winner. Garry Kasparov compared the feat to “winning tennis slams on clay, grass and hard court.” Well, he has done it again! Two days after winning the Rapid he tied with Hikaru Nakamura for the Blitz title and won the playoff. He is now the reigning World Champion in classical, Rapid and Blitz.

Carlsen is Rapid Champion

In the January 2010 FIDE Rating List Magnus Carlsen, still only a teenager (born Nov. 30, 1990) opened the decade by becoming the highest rated player in the world with 2810 ELO rating points, overtaking Veselin Topalov on 2805. This also made Magnus the youngest no. 1 rated player in chess history. It was another three years before Magnus became world champion but even back in 2010 it was expected that Magnus would have a rather long tenure at no. 1.

Candidates lineup

The FIDE Grand Prix concluded last Dec. 23 with the victory of GM Ian Nepomniachtchi in the Jerusalem leg and after that the participant list in the March 2020 Yekaterinburg Candidates Tournament was finalized.

Big win for Nepom

A quick recap of the rules. This is a Grand Prix event, a KO tournament with 16 players at the start. At each round of the tournament players compete a best-of-2 game KO match under classical time controls (90 minutes for the 1st 40 moves, then an additional 30 minutes play-to-finish with 30 seconds added to your clock after every move starting move 1).

Jerusalem Grand Prix

The fourth leg of the FIDE Grand Prix is being played in Jerusalem, Israel. The Grand Prix events are all KO tournaments with 16 players at the start. At each round of the tournament, players compete a best-of-two game KO match under classical time controls (90 minutes for the first 40 moves, then an additional 30 minutes play-to-finish with 30 seconds added to your clock after every move starting move 1).

Ding Liren is Grand Chess Tour champion

The 2019 Grand Chess Tour (GCT), a series of seven tournaments, two classical (Croatia And Sinquefield Cup in Saint Louis, Missouri) and five Rapid/Blitz (Ivory Coast, Paris, Saint Louis, Bucharest and Tata Steel in Kolkata) culminated with the top four players by cumulative score fighting it out in London. At this point I should emphasize that, unlike the FIDE Grand Prix (which winds up in Jerusalem next week), the Grand Chess Tour is not part of the world championship qualifying cycle. On the other hand, this private enterprise, run by the dynamic IM Malcolm Pein of the London Chess Center, offers lucrative cash prizes, more than enough incentive for any player.

Budapest Gambit

Do you notice lately that all the openings are starting to look the same? On the kingside it is either the Berlin (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6) the Petroff (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6) or the Giuoco Piano (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5). On the queenside we usually get the Queen’s Gambit Declined (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3), the Catalan (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3 d5 4.Bg2) or various forms of the London System (1.d4 and 2.Bf4) or Torre-Trompowsky (1.d4 and 2.Bg5).

MVL on a mission

The “Frenchman with Two Names” Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (MVL) is on a mission -- he wants to be the next world champion. He thinks he can beat Magnus Carlsen.

Tata Steel Rapid and Blitz

The 2019 Grand Chess Tour is a series of tournaments (two classical and five rapid/blitz events) where each participant is given GCT (Grand Chess Tour) points depending on how they finish in the individual events. The top 4 players will then go to the London Finals with its very big prizes.

Tata Steel Rapid and Blitz

The Tata Steel Rapid and Chess Tournament (Kolkata, India) was the penultimate event of the 2019 Grand Chess Tour. The reigning world chess champion Magnus Carlsen dominated this event from start to finish, scoring 2.5/3 a day in the first three days (the Rapid portion) and then 6.5/9 followed by 5.5/9 in the final two days (Blitz portion). His 27 out of 36 pts is also the best performance ever in these Rapid/Blitz events.

Hamburg FIDE Grand Prix (2)

Hamburg FIDE Grand Prix is part of the world championship cycle. Here is how it goes.

FIDE Hamburg Grand Prix

The FIDE Hamburg Grand Prix took place in the Kehrwieder Theater in Hamburg, Germany from Nov. 5--17 this year. The 16-player knockout is the third of four legs of the 22-player Grand Prix series that will determine two places in the 2020 Candidates Tournament.

Superbet Rapid & Blitz

In Bucharest Wesley started very poorly. As you know earlier this month Wesley was crowned the 1st World Champion in Fischer Random chess, a variation of chess where you shuffle the pieces on the first rank before start of play. The point of this exercise of course is to remove the whole body of chess opening theory from the competition. On the one hand it can now be claimed that Wesley is the best pure chess player in the world, on the other hand Wesley would need an adjustment period before going back to classical chess, and it showed in this tournament.

European team championship

Here in Batumi it was interesting to see the changes taking place within the various team rosters. We start with almost no change in the English squad (the 47-year-old Michael Adams has been representing England since 1989, 38-years old Luke McShane played for England in the 2002 Bled Olympiad, interned at Goldman Sachs in 2006 and retired from chess in 2007 to become a trader. He is just recently coming back to chess) to France’s 12-year-old Marc Maurizzi.

Dubov’s exhibition

Flashback to the 1963--1964 USA Championship. Bobby Fischer won all of his games (11 out of 11, many of them in brilliant fashion) to win the title. The 2nd placer was Larry Evans, a full 3.5 points behind at 7.5/11

Wesley So is World Champion

Wesley So is the first official World Fischer Random Chess Champion of the world -- and he did this in the most impressive way possible, by defeating Magnus Carlsen, world champion in classical and blitz chess, also former world champion in rapid. In other words Carlsen is or was world champion in all time controls in chess and this Fischer Random version is the only form that eludes him. As Magnus puts it: “Whenever there are titles to be had, I wanna have them. That’s my general mindset (smiles).”

Next generation

Jeffery Xiong is one of the new heroes of American chess. In September 2015, at the age of 14, he was awarded the title of International Grandmaster by the World Chess Federation (FIDE). He followed this up by winning the US Junior Championship the following year. In September, Xiong played in the FIDE World Cup. Although he was seeded no. 31st he made it to the quarter-finals (final 8) by upsetting Anish Giri and Jan-Krzysztof Duda.

The Barry Attack

Have you ever heard of the Barry Attack? White plays 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.Bf4 Bg7 5.e3 0–0 6.Be2 and then attempts to assault the Black king with Ne5 followed by h2-h4-h5.

FIDE Grand Swiss 2019

The former Deputy Prime Minister of Russia in Dmitry Medvedev’s cabinet from 2012-2018, Arkady Dvorkovich, is a chess enthusiast. He must have inherited this from his father, Vladimir, who was an international chess arbiter. When Dvorkovich was elected president of FIDE in October 2018 he instituted several changes, and one of these was the tie-up with the Isle of Man organizers to establish the FIDE Grand Swiss. Starting this year the winner of the Isle of Man Open was to be seeded into the Candidates tournament, the event which will determine the challenger to the world championship.

Wang Hao wins Grand Swiss

Wow! That was one strong tournament. There were two GMs rated above 2800 (Carlsen & Caruana) and 19 more who were rated above 2700, including no. 3 seed Wesley So (2767).

Catching up

The FIDE Grand Swiss tournament is currently ongoing. The annual Isle of Man Open has been elevated in status by FIDE. After a huge infusion of prize money it is now called the “Grand Swiss,” and FIDE’s contribution is that there is a bonus -- whoever wins here gets a qualification spot in the 2020 Candidates’ Tournament.