World Rapid Championship Takes Off Without Israeli Players
The World Rapid Chess Championship started on Tuesday in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. After five of the 15 total rounds, Baadur Jobava and Vladimir Fedoseev are leading the open tournament, and Ju Wenjun the women's segment. Israeli participants are absent as no visas were issued.
Despite all the controversy (see the second half of this article), the world rapid championship is much bigger than last year's edition in Doha, Qatar. No doubt this is related to the record prize fund of $2 million total for the rapid and blitz events ($1.5 million for the open tournaments, $500,000 for the women's events). Here are some statistics:
Several players have noted that the organization is on a very high level. "I really think they have done a very spectacular event," said Vishy Anand today.
The playing hall inside the Apex Convention Center is professionally set up with flags of the represented federations along one wall, big TV screens on another showing live boards, and all tables and chairs in a dark green color with the tournament logo in gold.
The rest area for the players is also very good, and arbiters are clearly putting an effort in running this event smoothly.
The playing hall in Riyadh. | Photo: FIDE.
Round 1: Top players stumble.
In these excellent conditions, several top players nonetheless took off with a bad start. Top seeds Magnus Carlsen and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave both lost their first game, and so did Sergey Karjakin.
Carlsen lost with the white pieces to Bu Xiangzhi—for the second time in four months. You'll surely remember that it was the Chinese grandmaster who knocked the world champion out of the FIDE World Cup, also with a kingside attack.
Bu Xiangzhi talking to FIDE's Nastja Karlovich.
Georgian grandmaster Levan Pantsulaia went for a modest double fianchetto but it worked pretty well as he completely outplayed Vachier-Lagrave in the opening. The French GM managed to get back in the game, and was even winning for a moment but the lack of time on the clock started to blur his vision:
Levan Pantsulaia beat Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in round one. | Photo: FIDE.
Round 2: Karjakin's bad start, Anand's pretty win.
A single loss isn't a huge deal in a tournament that runs 15 rounds, but two in a row is not great. And, in a big Swiss event like this, it means that you went down to a much weaker opponent in that second round.
This is what happened to Karjakin, who first lost to Pavel Eljanov (can happen) but then also to the 45-year-old IM Sami Khader of Jordan, who probably uses Parimarjan Negi's repertoire book for his Najdorfs as White.
Unlike Karjakin (who would win three in a row after this debacle), Carlsen and MVL scored relatively easy wins to get back into the tournament. Anand went to 2/2 with a beautiful attacking game vs an opponent he had faced 81 times before including rapid and blitz games (the last time five years ago): Peter Leko. Anand won with a lovely attack:
In the first round, Levon Aronian was held to a draw by the 52-year-old Kiril Georgiev and in the second round the Armenian star even lost. He could only add two draws and one win in subsequent rounds.
Rounds 3-5: Fedoseev grabs the lead, Jobava joins.
The 8-time Russian champion Peter Svidler was the first player to reach 2/2, and then also the first to get to 3/3. (A round later he would be the first to reach 3.5/4, together with Alexander Grischuk, after a friendly draw.) In an already problematic position, Andrei Volokitin missed a basic tactic:
Vladimir Fedoseev, who's had a great 2017, started this tournament well. He was the sole leader with 4/4 with wins vs Zoltan Almasi, Santosh Vidit, Boris Savchenko and Tigran L. Petrosian. Here's his round-four game.
In round five Fedoseev drew, and the only other player to reach 4.5 points was Baadur Jobava. His 20th move in round four, against Wang Hao, was pretty:
Baadur Jobava talking to FIDE's Nastja Karlovich.
Anand's 27th move in the same round was a nice mirror:
Vishy Anand talking to FIDE's Nastja Karlovich, also about his game with Leko.
Carlsen dropped a half-point to Eljanov and was still on a 50 percent score after three rounds, but then finished with two wins.
In round four he used Alekhine's gun against Salem's isolated d-pawn—take that, Nimzowitsch!
Vachier-Lagrave had quite a bad first day. After bouncing back from his early loss, he lost again in rounds three and five. It was Baskaran Adhiban who went for checkmate in the endgame:
2017 World Rapid Championship | Round 5 Standings (Top 20)
|18||114||Van Foreest Jorden||2298||3,5||0||2686||10,5|
(Full standings here.)
In the women's section, Ju Wenjun, the world number-three in classical chess, started with an impressive 5/5. She leads by a full point over eight players who scored 4/5. Here's her last game of the day:
Ju Wenjun talking to FIDE's Goran Urosevic.
2017 Women's World Rapid Championship | Round 5 Standings (Top 20)
|3||36||IM||Pham Le Thao Nguyen||2390||4||0||2413||13,5||2|
(Full standings here.)
Games via TWIC.
Muzychuk to lose both titles.
Although more top players might have skipped the event due to its location, only two did so openly: GMs Hikaru Nakamura (via a tweet) and Anna Muzychuk (via a Facebook post). Especially for the latter it's a big thing to miss this event, since she will lose both of the titles she won last year.
In another Facebook status update, posted two days before Christmas, Muzychuk wrote how difficult the decision was for her: "Exactly one year ago I won these two titles and was about the happiest person in the chess world but this time I feel really bad. I am ready to stand for my principles and skip the event, where in five days I was expected to earn more than I do in a dozen of events combined. All that is annoying, but the most upsetting thing is that almost nobody really cares."
No visas for Israelis.
As FIDE Vice President Israel Gelfer had suggested to Chess.com on Friday, and to the Reuters press agency on Sunday, the Saudi authorities did not issue visas to the Israeli players. Today, in an open letter (here in PDF), the Israeli Chess Federation has demanded the contract between FIDE and the Saudis to be cancelled as it is "contradicting FIDE statutes."
The letter refers to a FIDE press release issued on December 25 (here in PDF) where FIDE notes that visas had been secured for players from Qatar and Iran. (Three Qatari players will arrive later to participate in the World Blitz Championship only.) It includes the sentence: "As everybody clearly understands from the above, FIDE and the Saudi organisers are always ready to welcome any participant."
However, in this lengthy press release not a single word is spoken about Israeli players. FIDE, which still holds up its motto Gens Una Sumus ("we are one people"), did not reply to Chess.com's question: what about Israel?
Update: On 27 December Chess.com received an email from FIDE which stated that the federation "will issue a full statement after the end of the event."