Top players face struggle to seal places for chance to face Magnus Carlsen

Top players face struggle to seal places for chance to face Magnus Carlsen

Jul 23, 2017, 10:28 AM |

There are eight places available for candidates to become the official challenger to the world champion, Magnus Carlsen, and competition is intense

These are desperate times for several elite grandmasters, the select group in the world top 20 who hope to crown their careers with a place among the eight candidates fighting to become Magnus Carlsen’s official challenger in a multi-million dollar match.


So far only Sergey Karjakin, who lost to Carlsen in the 2016 title contest in New York, is assured of a candidates spot. Two GMs will qualify from the 128-player World Cup at Tbilisi, Georgia, in September, two from the Fide Grand Prix after its fourth and final leg at Palma de Mallorca in November, two from the 2017 monthly rankings and one as a wild card nominated by the candidates organiser.

It may still seem all to play for but the realistic field has shrunk drastically. Wesley So and Fabiano Caruana of the US are favourites to qualify on rating, especially as their only serious rival, Russia’s former champion Vlad Kramnik, blundered a piece and lost to a lowly rated opponent in the opening round at Dortmund this week.


With Sharjah, Moscow and Geneva of the four Grand Prix legs complete, only five contenders will have a mathematical chance at Palma. The Azeri Shak Mamedyarov and Russia’s Alex Grischuk are ahead but have already played three events so now can only watch. One or both can be passed by Teimour Radjabov, who won Geneva, Ding Liren who won Moscow, and France’s Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. “Can only watch” is not entirely true, though. In an interview at the end of Geneva Grischuk broadly hinted that he will be ready to give a helping hand with preparation to opponents of his rivals.


September’s knockout World Cup has huge prizes but its format of two-game mini-matches gives it the reputation of a lottery. It is probably the last chance saloon for the eminent trio of Levon Aronian, the brilliant winner of Karlsruhe and Stavanger earlier this year but who lacked energy for the Grand Prix; Anish Giri, the Dutch No1 who often verbally baits the world champion; and Hikaru Nakamura, the one-minute bullet specialist and long-time Carlsen rival.


The joker in the pack is Wei Yi. The Chinese prodigy was hailed as a wonder when he reached the top 30 at 16 but he then dropped back for a while. Now, at 18, he is on a new surge. His first prize in the strong Danzhou tournament this week put him right up to a rating of over 2750 and nº 14 in the world. Most significantly he is the youngest player in the world top 30 by a full five years.

Wei Yi’s rate of progress is such that he will be expected to reach the biennial candidates in 2020. The interesting question, though, is whether he can emulate Bobby Fischer and Carlsen who were candidates in their teens. There are just two routes left for Wei Yi. He could reach the World Cup final, or China could make a statement of intent by bidding to host the candidates so as to give Wei Yi the wildcard. This would be a bold and rare strategy by Beijing officials, who have hosted very few Fide events, especially since the teenager’s chances of winning the candidates, rather than just doing well, would be slim.


Mamedyarov beat a Russian opponent in an important game at Geneva by an unusual rope-a-dope approach. His quiet opening encouraged Black to use his queen actively, and when the Azeri’s 19 Nc3! appeared just a routine retreat, Black castled on autopilot only to find his queen immediately trapped.


Shak Mamedyarov v Ernesto Inarkiev

1 d4 Nf6 2 Nf3 d5 3 c4 e6 4 Bg5 Bb4+ 5 Nbd2 dxc4 6 e3 b5 7 a4 c6 8 Be2 Nbd7 9 O-O Qb6 10 Qc2 Bb7 11 b3 c3 12 Nb1 c5 13 Nxc3 cxd4 14 Nxb5 Rc8 15 Qb2 a6 16 a5 Qc5 17 exd4 Qf5? 18 Bd2 Be7 19 Nc3! O-O?? 20 Nh4 1-0



Source: The Guardian