The Top 10 Chess News Stories Of 2017
And the winners are...| Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

The Top 10 Chess News Stories Of 2017

MikeKlein
FM MikeKlein
Dec 22, 2017, 12:00 AM |
42 | Fun & Trivia

Whew. Let's all sit down and breathe for a minute. It's been an exciting, and tumultuous year.

2017.

How did it go so fast?

For both Chess.com directors of content, Peter Doggers and this writer, it flew by largely from the window seat, as both of us have logged more than 100,000 airline miles and ingested quite a few bags of peanuts. Pro-tip: Doggers likes to keep his plastic cup the entire flight to cut down on waste.

As chronicled in 385+ news reports on Chess.com (and that's just the ones in English!), the chess community endured (or, judging by the comments, loved) several scandals, conspiracy theories, and cheaters. But we've also seen some historic chess tournaments, memorable players, and pleasing tactics along the way.

Ashley Carlsen

Time for us to all have some self-reflection of this warped year. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Innovations? Sure, we had those. An event in St. Louis let the players pick their own opponents, while a spinning raffle barrel randomized the pairings in Isle of Man.

Within a span of a few days, we had perhaps the upset of the year between two generations of chess players, then in the same building a 12-year-old heralded in the next generation of talent.

Some things never changed of course. FIDE is still mired in internal conflict, super-GM Baadur Jobava is still irrepressibly creative, and GM Ben Finegold still loves to gab.

Sadly we lost a few more legends of the game, with two American GMs, Arthur Bisguier and William Lombardy, among the most noteworthy.

So while any "top 10" list is subjective, we expect you'll comment on what we got right, what we got wrong, and simply, what we forgot about completely.

Here's a few honorable mentions that deserved much attention this year, but couldn't quite break into the top 10: GM Wesley So bleeding after hitting the clock so hard, his very long unbeaten streakNodirbek Abdusattorov becoming the second-youngest GM in history, GM Magnus Carlsen appearing on the "The Simpsons," and winning the Grand Chess Tour again, GM Hikaru Nakamura winning his third straight titles in Gibraltar and Zurich, GM Hou Yifan scoring a historic win in Biel, the Women's World Championship being held in Iran, and GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave coming so close on three separate disciplines but missing out on the next Candidates' Tournament.

*After this story was written and before publication, the "suggestive" world championship logo was announced, which surely would have made the list, and which shows that this interesting year is not yet over!

Finally, the list:

10. Underdog Wins U.S. Women's Championship Shortly After Loss Of Mother

WGM Sabina Foisor, ranked in the middle of the pack as the sixth seed, began the event in April with two losses in her opening four games. It had been many years since a women with two zeros had won a U.S. women's championship, but Foisor charged back with five wins and two draws coming home. Her 8.0/11 won by a full point for her first American title. The win came less than three months after the loss of her mother, IM Cristina Foisor.

Sabina Foisor

Minutes after winning the title, WGM Sabina Foisor is embraced by her fiancee GM Elshan Moradiabadi. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

9. FIDE's Struggles

In recent years, FIDE hasn't been a paragon of unity or transparency, but this year its soap opera of leadership struggles seemed to never end. So, the number-nine slot goes to its entire calendar of tumultuous events. In March, the executive director claimed that FIDE president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, already stripped of much of his power in 2016, had resigned. Then a standoff occurred, followed by Ilyumzhinov attempting to deflect the power struggle with a supposed $30 million investment

Chess.com was the only independent press a few weeks later in Athens, Greece, where FIDE deputy president Georgios Makropoulos ostensibly became the new official representative of FIDE. But then of course it only took about a week for the weakened Ilyumzhinov to announce he'd run for president in 2018 after all. This October, a majority of the FIDE executive board then asked him not to.

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FIDE president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov at the extraordinary FIDE presidential board meeting in April. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

8. Controversial Ending To Canadian Championship

This crazy ending to a chess game had all kinds of implications. Depending on your viewpoint (and there were many -- the 486 comments were likely a record for 2017) it also had tons of guilt to assign.

If you didn't see it, we had an IM trying to use an upside-down rook as a queen, his GM opponent palming the queen that was needed, and a trio of arbiters that failed to supply extra queens either before the game or when it became likely in-game that a second one would be needed.

Take another look at the rapid playoff game that would decide not only the Canadian national champion, but also the man who would qualify for the World Cup:

A flurry of online explanations and recriminations followed, with tough-luck loser IM Nikolay Noritsyn's appeal ultimately denied. Winner and either accidental or intentional prestidigitator GM Bator Sambuev would go on to lose in the first round of the World Cup to GM Wei Yi

7. Inaugural PRO Chess League Crowns First Champions

In a thrilling final, GM Magnus Carlsen's personal 4-0 day wasn't enough for the Norway Gnomes to overtake the winning St. Louis Arch Bishops. The chess capital of America also became home to the first champions of the Professional Online Rapid (PRO) Chess League.

St. Louis won 9-7 thanks in large part to GM Varuzhan Akobian's big-time performance in the finals and GM Wesley So's nearly-unbeatable play in the regular season. Previously, the two semifinals both needed extra games after 8-8 ties, showing the parity of the league. The league returns for its second season in early 2018.

St. Louis Arch Bishops

PRO Chess League champions, the St. Louis Arch Bishops assemble en masse on the rooftop of the Chase Park Plaza. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

6. "Love Wins"

Of the current world's top 10, there's a pretty equal split between married and single. But this was a year to mix business and pleasure, so to speak.

First, GM Magnus Carlsen brought his girlfriend to the Isle of Man International instead of his normal entourage, then won clear first during what he often referred to as his vacation. 

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In his first "couples retreat" chess tournament, Carlsen played several offbeat openings and seemed genuinely relaxed en route to victory. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Just one day before the Norwegian wrapped up his title, GM Levon Aronian wrapped up his bachelorhood by marrying longtime girlfriend WIM Arianne Caoili. The wedding came just after wins at the St. Louis Rapid and Blitz, and his World Cup title, which was followed by being co-winner of the FIDE Grand Prix in Mallorca, Spain.

That's three straight tournament wins, and he had still never lost a game as a married man until the final round of the London Classic. Of course, he was beaten by Carlsen, who has also been struck by Cupid.

Aronian

GM Levon Aronian married WIM Arianne Caoili in Armenia, where they live. Photo: Levon Aronian's Facebook page.

5. Recurring Frustration Of The World Champion

Sure, it seems like we're backtracking with this choice, but the fact remains that GM Magnus Carlsen didn't always have a "smooth" year. In fact, that very word raised his ire on one memorable occasion.

He won many events this year and played particularly well in faster time controls of the Grand Chess Tour (which he won) and Chess.com's Speed Chess Championship (which he is currently through to the finals), but on at least two instances, his frustration was visceral, and it wasn't always because he played poorly.

First, at the Paris GCT event, which he won, the champion took exception to the wording of interviewer GM Maurice Ashley

Recall Carlsen: "You're talking about, I mean, that the game wasn't smooth...Again, what do you want me to do? Do you want me to get a huge advantage from the opening and then to push it all the way...Is that the only way you can win a smooth game? Is that your point?"

Then the next month in his home country, he came within game of losing the top spot on the rating list, which he's held since July 2011 (it didn't happen).

The year ended with a win in the overall GCT, but only after playing three harrowing rounds by his standards, all while under the weather. After blundering a piece and losing to GM Ian Nepomniachtchi, he had another incident with Ashley. Just before the camera began rolling, Ashley reported that while trying adjust Carlsen's collar, the champ "hit" his hand away.

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GM Magnus Carlsen drops his head after hanging a piece to GM Ian Nepomniachtchi in the London Classic. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

4. Hou Yifan's Odd Pairings

At the risk of fanning the dwindling flames of conspiracy theorists, the odd pairings of top-rated woman GM Hou Yifan bookended the year. First, in Gibraltar in February, she tossed out a chance for a top female prize by throwing the final game in five moves.

Her reason? Hou didn't like that she'd been paired with seven women out of the first nine games (the thrown final game was to a male GM).

Despite the absence of any motive (tournament organizers give good conditions to many females and offer generous prizes to them), she didn't clearly explain why she thought something was amiss. Although statistically unlikely, many pundits plugged in all of the tournament results into their own pairings programs and found no inconsistencies with how the event was paired. The event was even dissected further in a magazine dedicated to chess arbiters; it also found nothing amiss.

Later in the year at another open tournament in Isle of Man, it (nearly) happened again! Hou began the event by playing four consecutive women before the law of averages finally kicked in. Arbiters in Isle of Man confirmed that she did not complain or object at that event.

Hou Yifan

GM Hou Yifan's 1. f3 is not likely to catch on at any level. Those dark squares are just a *little* too weak. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

3. Precipitous Rise Of AlpaZero

Out of nowhere (OK, out of Google's London headquarters), a new computer chess king was crowned. Kind of.

After only a few hours of "learning" chess, Google's AlphaZero blistered Stockfish with 28 wins and no losses in 100 games, but the program itself remains shrouded in secrecy and the match conditions have caused several prominent people to question the dominance.

What is more agreed upon is that the implications for this "machine learning" go well beyond chess. Here's a funny and enlightening video produced by Chess.com with the thoughts of eight of the players from the London Chess Classic:

2. Wardrobe Issues Negatively Affect Two Top Players

Canada just couldn't catch a break this year, as one of that country's most prominent players left the World Cup early after an incident with the main organizer. GM Anton Kovalyov didn't appreciate being called a "gypsy" by chief organizer Zurab Azmaiparashvili and decided to depart the event at once.

"Shorts-gate" thus kicked off with every detail analyzed. What were the regulations? Why was Kovalyov allowed to play in shorts in the opening rounds? Did he have a reasonable chance to go to the store after the game? What harm was done with him playing in shorts? Did Azmaiparashvili raise his voice? Could the altercation reasonably disturb the equanimity of a chess player minutes before a game?

Players responded, and ultimately the FIDE ethics commission decided not to hear the case. Kovalyov didn't want to fly to Turkey for the meeting, didn't care for his prize money, and indeed doesn't seem to care to play in FIDE events anymore.

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GM Anton Kovalyov leaves the World Cup as GM Zurab Azmaiparashvili watches. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

That wasn't the only lack of fabric causing consternation among titled players this year. While Kovalyov was missing a few inches around his ankles, IM Dorsa Derakhshani was "missing" some fabric around her head.

The Iranian Chess Federation essentially barred her from the federation for not wearing a hijab, which she explained to Chess.com and to this reporter in a subsequent radio segment. Unlike Kovalyov, her situation was easier to remedy: she didn't care for play for Iran anymore anyway, and late this summer she enrolled at Saint Louis University and switched her federation to the U.S.

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IM Dorsa Derakshani, in Gibraltar, where the controversy began. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

1. Return Of Garry Kasparov To Competitive Chess

After a 12-year hiatus from rated chess, the legendary GM Garry Kasparov came out of retirement in August to play in the St. Louis Rapid and Blitz. No one quite knew what to expect from the 54-year-old former world champion, with wildly varying guesses on his final placement.

Day one saw three draws in rapid chess, which was solid enough. He dropped a game on day two, but what really hurt was the middle day, when he was stung with a shock loss against GM David Navara from a earlier winning position.

Kasparov then found some form in the final two days, scoring an even 9.0/18 in the blitz. He said this was a "one and done" situation, and if that indeed holds true, then fittingly his final game as Black, a win, came in his beloved Najdorf.

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Whether his play has gone up or down, it seems Garry Kasparov's expressiveness has only increased with age -- this is all from one game. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

The news team of Chess.com thanks you, the readers, for a thoughtful year of comments, suggestions, appreciation, and oh yes, corrections! Not that our members need any prompting, but you can please let us know in the comments what you agree or disagree with!

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