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Kramnik On Candidates' Wild Card: 'Most Likely My Last Chance'
Vladimir Kramnik. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Kramnik On Candidates' Wild Card: 'Most Likely My Last Chance'

Vladimir Kramnik has been selected as the wild card for the 2018 Candidates' Tournament. This was announced earlier today by Agon/World Chess, the company that organizes tournaments in the world championship cycle.


Update: Chess.com got in touch with Kramnik shortly after posting the news. He commented:

"About a week ago I heard that it was quite likely, and two days ago the Russian Chess Federation and World Chess told me I was nominated. It came as a surprise. I hadn't talked about it with anyone.

"It is nice, but I also feel disappointed that I did not qualify. Before the World Cup I estimated my chances 70-80 percent, but then it was just bad luck. I had a bad period, Wesley So lost in the seminal, Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin both didn't reach the final... And then my blunder against James Tarjan in Isle of Man was kind of the turning point. Before that I still had chances to qualify by rating.

"This is most likely my last chance because of my age. I am giving a certain handicap to my opponents as I am by far the oldest player; I should do my best not to make this handicap too dramatic. It is pretty clear that my recent results have been shaky. I will prepare, also physically, to avoid blunders.

"It looks like it's going to be the strongest Candidates' Tournament ever. Historically I have done pretty well in tournaments with only the best players, such as Mexico 2007, London 2013, Khanty-Mansiysk 2014 and also Stavanger this year; I always came second or third. This gives me some confidence. But OK, now it's only about number one."


At this point, six of the eight participants are known:

2018 Candidates' Tournament | Participants so far

# Rank Fed Name Rating B-Year Method
1 2 Aronian, Levon 2801 1982 World Cup
2 4 Caruana, Fabiano* 2794 1992 Rating
3 5 Kramnik, Vladimir 2794 1975 Wild card
4 7 So, Wesley* 2788 1993 Rating
5 11 Ding, Liren 2772 1992 World Cup
6 12 Karjakin, Sergey 2765 1990 Loser match

*Pending official FIDE announcement, but at this point no other player can overtake them

Kramnik failed to qualify via the World Cup in September when he lost to Vassily Ivanchuk in the third round. He then lost precious rating points during the Chess.com Isle of Man tournament.

During the European Club Cup, Kramnik didn't play all games, and most of them he got the black pieces. He was losing the race for qualifying to the 2018 Candidates' tournament by rating to Fabiano Caruana and Wesley So... but he seemed fairly relaxed about it. Had he already heard about his wild card behind the scenes?

According to Ilya Merenzon of World Chess this was not the case. He told Chess.com that the decision was made "last week" and that sponsors (such as EG Capital Advisors, whose management board is mostly Russian) were not involved. "But all of them were happy simply because they believe that this way the Candidates will be stronger and that Kramnik deserves this chance at the title."

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Ilya Merenzon of World Chess.

Some influence by Andrey Filatov, President of the Russian Chess Federation and known as a wealthy entrepreneur, cannot be ruled out. Filatov is extensively quoted in the press release:

"I am pleased that FIDE and World Chess had selected Kramnik. For over 20 years he is in the top three world’s strongest chess players, and for seven years he’s been the World Champion. Kramnik is extremely popular among chess players and will his participation will certainly generate additional attention and drama.

"Now Russia has at least two players who have a chance to become the challenger to the incumbent World Champion. With a bit of luck, the third contender, Alexander Grischuk, can join them. I very much hope that a Russian chess player will 'capture Berlin' and will face Magnus Carlsen in the Match in November of 2018."

Kramnik himself, in the press release:

"I'd like to thank everyone who helped my nomination to the Candidates. Usually, the chess world’s attention is drawn to the tournament and taking part in it is a challenge for any grandmaster. I hope to show worthy performance and fight for first prize!"

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After finishing equal first with Magnus Carlsen in 2013 but coming second on tiebreak, and missing out in 2016, 14th world champion Vladimir Kramnik will be back in the Candidates'. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

The wild card choice has been made at a remarkably early stage; for previous editions it was done after the other seven players had qualified. World Chess stated:

"World Chess and FIDE have decided to issue its Wild Card nomination before the final leg of the World Chess Grand Prix Series in consideration of the fact that should the Wild Card choice be announced, it might affect the preparation and determination of players who are fighting for the Candidates qualification via the Grand Prix Series."

The final Grand Prix will take place 16-25 November in Palma de Mallorca, Spain. The fight for the last two qualification spots will go between Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (not playing, having played in the first three legs), Alexander Grischuk (also not playing), Teimour Radjabov and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

FIDE Grand Prix 2017 | Top 5 Standings After 3 Legs

Rk. Fed Name Sharjah Moscow Geneva Palma Total
1 Mamedyarov, Shakhriyar 140 140 60 x 340
2 Grischuk, Alexander 140 71,4 125 x 336,4
3 Radjabov, Teimour x 71,4 170 ? 241,4
4 Ding Liren* 70 170 x ? 240
5 Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime 140 71,4 x ? 211,4

*Already qualified via the World Cup

A first place earns 170 Grand Prix points, second 140, third 110, fourth 90, fifth 80 and so on. Therefore, it looks like MVL needs to finish in clear second place whereas Radjabov can come third.

The 2018 Candidates' Tournament, scheduled for 9-28 March 2018, will be held at the Kühlhaus Berlin in the German capital. The format for the Candidates' will be a double round robin over 14 rounds, with eight players. The prize fund will be €420,000. The winner will earn the right to challenge Magnus Carlsen in a world title match in November 2018.


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