Eight world-class players named for Candidates tournament

The eight participants for the 2018 Candidates Chess Tournament have been decided. Six were chosen previously based on a number of transparent criteria, and last week the final two were selected from the Grand Prix at Palma de Mallorca, Spain.

The Grand Prix at Palma was a serious exercise in competitiveness for two participants: Teimour Radjabov of Azerbaijan, and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France. Both players were hoping to gain a berth in the notable 2018 Candidates Tournament scheduled for March in Berlin. Both players, however, failed in their quest to qualify.

Radjabov lost two games from which it was impossible to recover, and Lagrave lost one but still fell short with his accumulation of the desired Grand Prix points which were necessary for qualification. That allowed Shakhriyar Mamedyarov of Azerbaijan and Alexander Grischuk of Russia to qualify for the Candidates. The top finishers of the 2017 Grand Prix series were:

  1. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov- 340 points
  2. Alexander Grischuk – 336
  3. Teimour Radjabov – 312
  4. Ding Liren – 311
  5. 5.Dmitry Jakovenko – 236
  6. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave – 231
Armenian grandmaster Levon Aronian (right), exchanges a handshake with Chinese grandmaster Ding Liren following his victory in the 2017 World Cup. After four classical games ended in draws, the fight between Aronian and Liren switched to the shortened tiebreaks. Aronian was able to win the 25” + 10’ rapids and clinch the World Cup title. The World Cup is a 128-player, knockout chess tournament featuring the finest chess players worldwide. Aronian has won the World Cup twice. He is currently participating in the London Chess Classic Tournament which features the world champion. (Photo: Amruta Mokal)

The full list, therefore, of entrants for the 2018 Candidates’ Tournament is: Sergey Karjakin, Vladimir Kramnik and Alexander Grischuk of Russia; Wesley So and Fabiano Caruana of the USA; Levon Aronian of Armenia; Shakhriyar Mamedyarov of Azerbaijan and Ding Liren of China. The winner of the Candidates’ Tournament will challenge Norway’s Magnus Carlsen for the world championship title. That is how important the Candidates is.

The London Chess Classic Tournament representing the final leg of the prestige Grand Chess Tour, began last Friday and will conclude on December 11. Seven of the world’s top ten including the world chess champion are participating. It would be interesting to see who would succeed in the Classic.

From the beginning of the 1960s, it became difficult to compete in the Interzonal Chess Tournament which is what the Grand Prix series represented. No chess player from the English-speaking Caribbean ever contested the Interzonal. Grandmaster strength was as conspicuous, as it is today. Guyana entered the Zonal Chess Tournament through No 1 chess player Maurice Broomes. It was as far as we got. It was impossible to break through into the Interzonal labyrinth.

In the old days, a total of two players were chosen from the Zonal Chess Tournament to compete in the brutal Interzonal cycle. The Caribbean, South and Latin American countries comprised one zone. The US and Russia comprised two separate zones respectively due to their numerical preponderance in chess.

The Grand Prix at Palma brought back fond memories of the Interzonal Tournament of 1970 in that city. Bobby Fischer had mercilessly erased his competition by an astounding 3½ points. I do not believe that record was ever equalled or surpassed.

I have always equated Fischer’s feat at the 1970 Interzonal with Mike Tyson’s knockout of Michael Spinks in 91 seconds of the first round of their heavyweight title fight on June 27, 1988. Prior to the fight, a reporter had enquired: “Mike, how do you intend to approach this fight?” And Tyson gave a classic answer: “With bad intentions!”

Once upon a time, Guyana’s chess was robust. Believe it or not, Guyana did in fact select the best or the near-best for overseas competitions. Some years ago, the FIDE representative for the Caribbean, Alan Herbert, visited Guyana. He noted that Guyana played remarkable chess at the 1978 and 1980 Olympiads and obtained a mite more than the 50% mark from the illustrious Olympiads. That, he claimed, was the highest mark in chess ever achieved in the English-speaking Caribbean for the Olympiads. Star player Broomes played chivvy chess. He harassed and pursued an opponent to the ends of the chess board once he spied a minute advantage. His brother Gordon exuded more conservatism, but Edan Warsali, the East Coast champion, was just as tormenting as Maurice in unleashing lethal combinations. And what about the Guyana Defence Force sergeant John Macedo? He was respected for his theoretical knowledge of the game. I know, because I was there, all the way.

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