An insider's view on the Fide Grand Prix

An insider's view on the Fide Grand Prix

GM gmjlh

The Fide Grand Prix of 2017 has come to an end, with Grischuk and Mamedyarov earning well-deserved spots in the Candidates tournament. I was lucky to get a spot in the series, and compete against the very best in the world. These are my thoughts on the Grand Prix.

If you asked me to sum up the Grand Prix in one word, I’d say “draws”. Plural. There really were a lot of them. In total, 324 games were played – 228 were drawn. That’s over 70 per cent. A draw is certainly a legitimate result in chess. It’s the logical result with perfect play. But there’s a difference between fighting draws and draws agreed when there’s still plenty of chess left on the board. 47 games were drawn in 20 moves or less.

I was excited when the new Grand Prix format was announced. More diversity in the player fields and fewer rounds felt like an improvement over the old 14-player all-play-all groups. But with hindsight, we need to look further for a new Grand Prix system: I believe one of the causes of the many draws was the system itself. Since it’s a swiss, people who are doing well will play other people who are doing well. But with the whole field being so evenly matched, a plus two or plus three score will often be enough to win the whole thing. So, when you’re sitting on the top boards, it’s easy to focus on preservation: A draw is a good result for both players. This is somewhat different than the former all-play-all groups, as in those the leaders may play tail-enders – possibly prompting ambition to keep, or increase, a tournament lead.

I don’t have the answer for what the best system is, but I think abolishing the draw offer is a good start. It might not affect the total number of draws, but it will help make sure that equal positions are played out.

I’ve collected some positions from the series, where I would have loved to see the continuation, if not for the draw offer. In many of these examples, one side has an advantage, and should have tried his luck for more. To begin, I’ll show my own sin.