FIDE World Cup To Start This Weekend
The opening ceremony is on Saturday, and on Sunday we'll see the first games being played. One of the biggest events of the year is about to start: the FIDE World Cup.
A number of players, including the likes of Hikaru Nakamura and Anish Giri, are already in Tbilisi, Georgia. (The latter's wife is from the country.) It's never a bad idea to get used to the local climate (up to 35 degrees Celsius!) and time zone (UTC+04:00).
@anishgiri) August 28, 2017
The weather might not be too much of an issue for an indoor sport, although many players like to go for a walk before or after their games. But during the hours of action, they will all be in the "Hotels & Preference Hualing," located outside the city center but close to the Tbilisi Reservoir. (For those who make it to the final: that will be played in the Biltmore Hotel in the city center.)
The Hualing hotel may not be the first choice for many participants. Located six kilometers northeast of the old Tbilisi center, the hotel rates offered via the tournament website are $187 for a single, and $247 for a double, full board. That's a lot of money for a city where you can find decent accommodation for $50 a night or less, and a fine meal for $10-20.
However, there's no way for the players to escape paying the Hualing fees. According to the official regulations (here in PDF), "[f]or security and administrative reasons, all participants are expected to stay in the officially designated hotel(s)" and in the players' contract it says that FIDE will "deduct hotel expenses" from the player's winnings. A player who is eliminated in the first round gets $6,000 (net $4,800) and spends at least $561 for three nights.
Format: classical, rapid, blitz
Nonetheless the players (and the fans!) must be looking forward tremendously to what is considered to be one of the most attractive tournaments of the year. Rather standard in many other sports, the knockout format is rare in chess. It leads to special tension on the chessboard, because a single mistake can get a player close to elimination—especially during tiebreaks, where things are decided in rapid, blitz and sometimes even an Armageddon game.
Each round starts with two classical games (except for the final, which has four), meaning that those tiebreaks are being played every third day, for the matches that have ended in 1-1. It was this mixture of classical, rapid and blitz that made World Champion Magnus Carlsen decide to participate: "I think the format is great, mixing different skill sets of classical and faster chess. Besides, you've got all the best players in the world playing, and those are the ones I want to compete with, be it a world championship event or not."
Chess.com's interview with Carlsen on his participation in Tbilisi.
World's top 16 play
Carlsen is just one of the full top 16 (!) players that will be playing in Tbilisi. Yes, just about everyone will be there, which makes this edition very special.
The strongest grandmasters missing in this tournament are Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria), Leinier Dominguez (Cuba) and Dmitry Jakovenko (Russia). Former winners who will play include Levon Aronian (won in 2005), Boris Gelfand (2009), Peter Svidler (2011), Vladimir Kramnik (2013) and Sergey Karjakin (2015).
It's not just the $1.6 million total prize fund (and the $120K first prize). The biggest attraction are the two qualification spots for the 2018 Candidates' Tournament, especially important for the ones that have lost their chance to qualify via the Grand Prix series or by rating.
Not taking into account the one wild card for the Candidates', players such as Aronian, Giri, Nakamura and also Vishy Anand really need this World Cup if they want to become world champion next year.
2015 World Cup winner Karjakin is not under such pressure. As the loser of the last world title match, he is already qualified for the next Candidates'. His first-round opponent is the youngest player in the field, IM Anton Smirnov of Australia.
The World Cup involves 128 players, but it's not simply the 128 highest-rated players in the world who accepted the invitation. Because it's an event in the world championship cycle, besides rating FIDE uses a number of other qualification methods: national championships, zonal tournaments, and continental championships.
That's why we'll see players below 2500, 2400 or even 2300. Because the number-one is paired against the number 128, Carlsen's first-round opponent is Oluwafemi Balogun (2255) of Nigeria. Second seed Wesley So plays Joshua Daniel Ruiz Castillo (2377) of Colombia.
How to watch
Chess.com relays top tournament at Chess.com/Live, and this will also be the case for the World Cup. Besides, you can watch live commentary on Chess.com/TV provided by the Chessbrahs, which includes some of the best commentators of the planet: GM Eric Hansen, GM Robin van Kampen, GM Yasser Seirawan and IM Aman Hambleton.
Who is your pick for winning this year's FIDE World Cup?