Radjabov Withdraws From Candidates, Vachier-Lagrave To Play Instead
Radjabov (left) and Vachier-Lagrave. Photos: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Radjabov Withdraws From Candidates, Vachier-Lagrave To Play Instead

PeterDoggers
PeterDoggers
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249 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is playing the FIDE Candidates Tournament after all, as GM Teimour Radjabov has withdrawn from the tournament. The news was posted on the FIDE website early Friday morning.

In a statement to Chess.com, Vachier-Lagrave's manager Laurent Verat said:

"Of course, Maxime is very happy to— at last—play this Candidates Tournament that he missed so narrowly on previous occasions. I know he would have preferred to qualify in the 'normal' way but that’s the way it is. And he certainly takes it now in the same way as he had already taken the fact to miss the Candidates. Since Gibraltar, he played one Bundesliga game but only took a few days vacation abroad.

"I didn’t speak with him about Radjabov’s decision to withdraw, but the fact is that he must focus on his chess preparation, while there are still plenty of issues pending. Travel, visa, coronavirus, the team, everything has to be settled as quickly as possible since the overall situation is quite tricky. What I can tell you is that he should arrive early in Yekaterinburg…."

Radjabov had qualified for the Candidates by winning the 2019 FIDE World Cup. Originally FIDE had mentioned in its press release that Radjabov had cited "personal reasons" for his withdrawal. However, on Instagram the Azerbaijani grandmaster denied this:

"Dear compatriots, chess fans, the entire chess community, colleagues and friends. It is not correct, I have no personal reasons to withdraw from the tournament. I will come up very soon with the statement and with letters that were sent to FIDE and their answers."

Soon after, Radjabov's statement first appeared on AzeriSport.com. Here it is translated into English:

"From March 15 to April 5, 2020, I was supposed to participate in the Candidates Tournament in Yekaterinburg, Russia. As you know, there is currently a growing epidemic of the coronavirus worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced the highest scale for an epidemic: red. Many tournaments and other significant events in the world have been canceled or postponed to a later date, based on the latest situation.

"The International Chess Federation has taken a number of precautionary measures, but not all. It was stated that the Chinese players, their coaches and accompanying persons will be quarantined for 14 days in Russia. One of the Chinese chess players [GM Ding Liren - PD], the coaches and the delegation have indeed been quarantined. However, the other participant from China [GM Wang Hao - PD] will not be quarantined and will arrive shortly before the start from a country [Japan - PD] where the coronavirus epidemic is growing every day.

"Also, there is no explanation from FIDE how the tournament will proceed if a participant or coach or accompanying person, a journalist, an interviewer, or an arbiter has signs of a cold or influenza, or, God forbid, if a coronavirus will be diagnosed. Will participants will be quarantined, and how much time and steps are needed to analyze and determine the exact presence or absence of the virus?

"The Candidates Tournament is a chess marathon, consisting of 14 rounds over 22 days. How the tournament will develop during this global epidemic, what measures will be taken in case of detection of the virus and what measures will be taken in relation to a sick participant, no one has explained to me. Due to the complexity of all these points, I turned to FIDE [and] asked to postpone the tournament to a later date. This was denied. In connection with the above, I considered that such conditions can greatly affect the necessary level of concentration and mood required for the best possible play in such an important tournament as the Candidates, and a possible danger to the health of the players. As a result, I was replaced by another participant."

Teimour Radjabov
Teimour Radjabov. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

FIDE Director General Emil Sutovsky then gave an explanation from FIDE's point of view and nuanced the choice of the words "personal reasons" in a comment to Championat.com. [The translation below has been rewritten and corrected from an earlier version, in which the word "not" had inadvertently been dropped from the text. That suggested that FIDE accused Radjabov of exaggerating, which is not the case—on the contrary.]

"Over the past couple of days, were have been in touch with Teimour. He is concerned about the spread of the coronavirus. We have taken a number of measures regarding the situation: we are minimizing the contact between the players and the audience, and we will create all proper conditions in the playing hall. We also introduced the recommendation not to shake hands before the game.

"You need to understand that this tournament is not massive — there are only eight chess players. We will cancel or postpone large events. This tournament has been authorized not only by FIDE, but also by the Russian health departments. We are in daily contact with healthcare providers.

"Teimour believes that the problem of the virus has not been taken care of properly and that FIDE cannot be ready for all possible scenarios, which is logical from his point of view. However, we do not see any criticality in this situation since the tournament will have medical staff.

"We used the explanation 'personal reasons,' although it might have been more accurate to use the phrase 'personal decision,' precisely so that we do not accuse Teimour of exaggerating. You can argue whether Radjabov's decision is appropriate, but it has not been dictated by the instructions of the authorities. We are not just brushing aside his questions; we're providing a list of measures that will be taken.

"Of course, the decision is up to the player. We understand that the situation is unusual. In any other situation, if a player would withdraw from the tournament just 10 days in advance, sanctions would be taken against him. Now that's out of the question."

FIDE Director Emil Sutovsky
FIDE Director General Emil Sutovsky. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

In a new Instagram post, Radjabov says FIDE gave him a deadline of March 6 at12 a.m. Moscow time to make up his mind:

Per FIDE regulations (here in PDF) the first substitute for Radjabov is Vachier-Lagrave. The procedure is described in articles 2.2 and article 2.1.E:

2. 2. If any replacements are needed including due to a withdrawal or a refusal of participation, then the procedure as in Article 2.1.E is applied.

2.1.E One place is reserved for the player with the highest average FIDE rating. For the purpose of deciding the qualifier, the average ELO rating from the twelve (12) FIDE Standard Rating Lists from February 2019 to January 2020 is used...."

After Ding Liren and Anish Giri (who are both already qualified), MVL has the highest average rating during the aforementioned period of 12 months, so he is the first eligible player. See also Martin Bennedik's Google Sheet.

According to FIDE, the French GM has already been informed, he is ready to take part in the tournament and "his travel arrangements are being made at the time of this announcement."

GM Wang Hao, who is planning to travel to Russia from Japan on March 13, told Chess.com that he thinks FIDE should postpone the tournament:

"I believe that all the big events (not just chess) should be postponed for now. For example, FIDE is taking a big risk to hold the World Seniors now. Although there are not many cases in the Czech Republic, the outbreak of the virus in Europe just seems unstoppable. These old people could easily get infected on the way to Prague, and infect each other.

Wang Hao
Wang Hao. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

"The problems of the Candidates Tournament would be probably simpler but definitely not easy to solve. If some players arrive in Moscow, and someone in his flight just got infected or has a fever, I guess that the player would be simply quarantined for 14 days and miss the tournament.

"And I don’t know what will happen if some player just happened to cough or has a fever during the tournament. It’s a big question because it’s not easy to test the virus and the results can also be wrong. Also, it’s possible that he just caught a cold or the flu. But if such a case happens, what should we do? At least I don’t think that there’s a good solution.

"I just saw the news about the withdrawal of Radjabov. I think that it’s a decent decision, probably he just wants to stay at home to avoid all the possible risks. No one can blame him if it’s the reason."

Here you can find all the information about the Candidates Tournament.

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