The chess world is still mourning the loss of Arianne Bo Caoili (pronounced kay-OH-lee) who sadly died March 31st. Her death came two weeks after a horrific single-vehicle accident that shocked the chess world.

Arianne was intelligent, articulate and certainly statuesque in appearance. She had an engaging personality and was down-to-earth. A native of Manila, Philippines, she started playing chess at six years old and represented her country in international events.

WIM Ariann Caoili

Arianne Caoili

Philippines Australia Armenia

At the 1996 World Youth tournament in Menorca, Spain, she met Levon Aronian, a young star from Armenia. Over time, they begin to develop a close friendship. She also represented the Philippines at Chess Olympiads in 1998 (Elista, Russia) and 2000 (Istanbul, Turkey). After changing her affiliation to Australia, she represented the country in 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2012. In 2006, she listed some of her likes her website…

“Funny stories, The Cream, arguing, getting up to no good, shopping, quotes, tea, Pink Floyd album covers, dancing (all forms), chocolate, blitz, theatre, Karpov’s games, Oreo’s, black and dry humour, singing, good music, gravity (without it we’re doomed), sunsets, sunrises, fine food (and fine boys), stars, moons, water, Edward Norton and Johnny Depp, grace, green lights, cooking, pina colada’s, vodka, red wine, Kahlua, dwarfs and the odd Cuban cigar.”

One memorable point of the relationship was made public when during the 2006 Chess Olympiad, Aronian was attacked by Daniel Gormally who was also trying to win the heart of the 19-year old stunner. This created a ruckus at the “Bermuda Party” as Gormally assaulted Aronian. Immediately, the Armenian players were seeking out the British Grandmaster. They later confronted him, “roughed him up” and he ended up leaving Italy.

Levon Aronian and Arianne Caoili
married at the Saghmosavank Monastery
Photo by u1+

That incident may have strengthened an already budding relationship. Soon this couple was on the world’s chess radar. The couple started to be seen in public and became one of the most doting couples on the chess scene. Both tended to be very well-liked and had enough contrast to be very interesting. Caoili, a stunning, multi-talented and an ambitious activist and Aronian, a free-spirited, jazz-loving, affable superstar with a penchant for garish styles.

When the two got married in 2017, it was quite a celebration as the Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan was Aronian’s best man in the wedding. At the time, Aronian was a 34-year old, three-time gold medallist and one of the world’s famous Grandmasters. Apart from his uncompromising style, he is loved for his quick wit and brutal trashtalking. Now he was known for having one of the most beautiful wives.

As the saying goes, “Levon married up.”

Arianne was an accomplished salsa dancer!
Photo by Oli Scarff (Getty Images)

For Arianne, she had earned the WIM title in 2001, but she had other ambitions. How many can say they have performed on “Dance with the Stars”? Paired with Carmelo Pizzino in the show’s 5th season, their stirring performance took second place!

Meeting Arianne

One of the most amazing traits of Arianne’s persona was her generosity and warmth. She once raised $6,100 in a fundraising campaign for children’s education. As a cyclist, I can appreciate her riding 2,000 kilometers (1,243 miles) in a two-week period. This was not easy terrain as the trek was from Ayas, Turkey to Agarak near the Armenian-Iranian border.

My first encounter with Arianne occurred during the 2006 Chess Olympiad in Turin just before the “Aronian-Gormally” incident. We were both walking over to the Oval Lingotto stadium in Turin, Italy which was nearly 15 minutes away. Anyone who attended that Olympiad would remember the walk. It was a bit annoying, but somewhat therapeutic, good for blood circulation and provided a good opportunity to meet new people and chat.

On the way over, I met Arianne, who mentioned she was playing for Australia. I told her I was a journalist from the U.S. Her warmth shone as she spoke with pride about the Philippines and her background as a junior player. She also spoke highly of (now GM) Mark Paragua, who was also a Filipino junior player the same time she was. I don’t remember much else from the conversation, but I do remember how engaged she was in whatever I said and how easy the conversation was. It was one of my best memories of that Turin Olympiad.

Arianna Caoili and Ian Wilkinson at the closing of the 2012 Chess Olympiad. Ian was serving as the President of the Jamaica Chess Federation. Photo by Daaim Shabazz

I would later met her at the 2012 Chess Olympiad in Istanbul, Turkey after interviewing Levon Aronian. Armenia has just won another medal and he was in a very good mood. After our interview, I reminded Arianne of our 2006 meeting. She was surprised and gracious. I would then take a photo her and one of my favorite persons, Jamaica’s Ian Wilkinson.

After marrying Levon, she would often accompany him to tournaments and they seem to have such a chemistry. She was certainly a complement, yet had her own interests, both in and outside of chess. She granted a very nice interview with GM Maurice Ashley during the Grand Chess Tour in Zagreb, Croatia.

Video by Grand Chess Tour

Finally, a memorable game and an upset of GM Vladimir Epishin as a 13-year old!

Arianne Bo Caoili
December 22, 1986 – March 31, 2020

Beejay Hicks
Photo courtesy of Pearline Hicks

Adia Onyango reported on Facebook Chess Connections that, “fellow teammate and chess player, Beejay Hicks passed away due to COVID-19.” Beejay Hicks, born on December 19th, 1954 in Harlem (NYC), was 65 years old.

According to Pearline Hicks, Beejay’s wife of 23 years, their family had felt unwell in mid-March and went to the hospital to be tested amidst the coronavirus outbreak. The couple, along with their son Nicholas exhibited positive signs of the virus. After this diagnosis, it turns out that their three cases were not considered severe enough, so they were told to return home and quarantine for two weeks. Hospitals have been sending people home as part of a triage procedure to admit only the most severe cases.

Pearline mentioned that Beejay had “high blood sugar” and suffered from neuropathy, a condition common in people with diabetes. Nevertheless, Beejay continued working out during the quarantine. After two weeks, symptoms from the virus rapidly worsened with Beejay. On Friday, March 27th, he developed an intense fever that reached 103-104 degrees (40 Celsius).

While Beejay did not have previous respiratory issues, he began to develop shortness of breath. On Monday, March 31st, Beejay woke up struggling to breathe. The virus was ravaging his body, but he stated he did not want to return to the hospital for treatment. His wife honored his wish and he died in her arms.

Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19)

According to a USA Today article, coronavirus cases could soar in underserved groups, given the lack of access to tests and treatment. Just yesterday, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams highlighted the high-risk factors in the Black community, such as asthma, hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease. They pointed out that the virus was causing widespread devastation. Data continues to emerge about the disproportionate socioeconomic impact during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Sadly, Beejay had become a victim of an epidemic (COVID-19) on top of another epidemic (diabetes). Harlem also lost Peter Roberts a couple of years ago to a chronic illness. This discussion of how chronic diseases are ravaging the Black community is becoming a theme during the coronavirus outbreak. Many in this community have labor-intensive jobs that cannot be done from home (under quarantine) and also offer little security in terms of health insurance.

Harlem resident and National Master Jerald Times weighed in…

Black and Brown communities has less hospital beds per capita than the mainstream population. Beejay was in a high risk population, he was 60 plus year-old man (12/19/1954) who has a preexisting condition. He did not receive adequate health care as he was sent home from the hospital during this outbreak. I mention high risk population also because Beejay was a weightlifter with a jovial spirit, so his death came as a surprise to many.

The coronavirus has exploded to over 1,440,000 cases worldwide with the U.S. leading the country count with over 400,000 cases. Approximately 35% of those cases are in the state of New York (142,000+). The five boroughs (Manhattan, Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island) that make up New York City has a high concentration of people who rely heavily on public transit systems. Also, airports are massive hubs for international traffic. Unfortunately, the virus had spread before Governor Andrew Cuomo has enacted several acts of legislation to effectively shut the city down.

Beejay Hicks… New York’s Chess Gladiator

Tournament laborers: Jerry Bibuld (Arbiter), Daaim Shabazz (The Chess Drum), Beejay Hicks (tournament hall manager), Jeffery Mitchell (Deputy Arbiter). Copyright ©, Daaim Shabazz.

Tournament laborers: Jerry Bibuld (Arbiter), Daaim Shabazz (webmaster), Beejay Hicks (tournament hall manager), Jeffery Mitchell (Deputy Arbiter). Photo by Daaim Shabazz (The Chess Drum)

Jerald Times had known Beejay since the 1970s. They were teammates on several league times and helped to make Harlem a main stopping point for chess activity. Adia Onyango eulogized Beejay by referring to him as “… a chess player that was not only active in the Harlem community but also USCF tournaments (most recently playing in the last Millionaire Tournament).” She listed Beejay’s activities in league play:

1998-1999 Kingsmen III
1999-2006 St. Nicholas Unknown (Captain, Kenneth Moody)
2010-2011 Chess Connections (Captain Adia Onyango)
2011-2012 X-Men (Captain Mark Albin)
2012-2015 Chess Connections II (Captain Adia Onyango)
2016-2017 Bad Bishops (Captain Jose Leon)
2017-2020 Chessismo (Captain Carlos Rodriguez)

Jerald and Beejay helped to host the historic 2001 Wilbert Paige Memorial tournament at the Hotel Teresa on 125th street. Hicks could be seen working the demo boards and providing all of the support that organizer Jerry Bibuld needed.

Beejay Hicks working the demo boards

Beejay Hicks working the demo boards
at the Wilbert Paige Memorial in Harlem, New York.
Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

Beejay Hicks, Abdullah Abdulbashir, Adia Onyango, Walter Harris, Kenneth Moody at 2014 World Open in Arlington, Virginia. They are posing with fellow New Yorker Walter Harris (second from right), the first Black player to earn the National Master title. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

According to Jerald Times, Beejay had an older brother Kenny Hicks who won the Harlem championship in 1977. They were extremely close and shared a passion for chess. Kenny’s death inspired Beejay to take a different direction in life and become more focused on chess, and of course, his weightlifting.

Pearline and Beejay Hicks
Photo courtesy of Pearline Hicks

Pearline Hicks stated that Beejay went all over New York to play chess and it was his main passion along with weightlifting. Initially, she said that she initially impressed by his serious demeanor and his muscular build, but that behind this imposing presence was a soft heart. They were to celebrate their 23rd anniversary on April 2nd.

Pearline laughed when reflecting on his “corny jokes.” His jovial spirit belied his tough persona. It is a tremendous loss for the New York chess community and Harlem at-large. Chess players send their well-wishes to the Hicks family and thank him for his service. Beejay leaves behind his beloved wife Pearline and son, Nicholas Hicks, a 19-year old student at Hostos Community College.

Please send any cards, well-wishes and donations to:

Pearline Hicks
227 W. 140th Street, Apt. #1A
New York, NY 10020

Grand Chess Tour

MEDIA CONTACT
Rebecca Buffington
Phone: +1 (314) 277 – 3930
Email: press@grandchesstour.org

For Immediate Release

Grand Chess Tour Cancels 2020 Season
Due to COVID-19

Saint Louis, MO, April 2, 2020 – The Grand Chess Tour (GCT) regretfully announces the cancellation of its 2020 season. The global pandemic known as COVID-19 is impacting our lives, and all sporting events around the world are being canceled or postponed.

“The Grand Chess Tour’s priority is the health and well-being of our participants, spectators, staff and partners,” said GCT Executive Director Michael Khodarkovsky. “The GCT board of directors reached this decision in collaboration with partners and sponsors based on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).”

“We would like to reassure players and the world chess community that all our sponsors and partners: Superbet Group and Superbet Foundation, Vivendi SA, Colliers International and the Saint Louis Chess Club have confirmed their commitment for the 2021 season,” said legendary World Champion and GCT President Garry Kasparov. “The sixth season is now to be held in 2021, and fans around the world can expect an expanded tour.”

The Saint Louis Chess Club will await further developments and recommendations from medical and civic authorities before determining the fate of the Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz, Sinquefield Cup and Champions Showdown: Chess9LX, currently scheduled for August 24 – September 14 collectively.

“The Saint Louis Chess Club hopes for the best global outcome possible,“ said Rex Sinquefield, founder of the Saint Louis Chess Club. “Our goal is to host these events as scheduled.”

Details on dates and format for the Grand Chess Tour 2021 season will be announced in the coming months. For more information please visit grandchesstour.org.

###


About the Grand Chess Tour™ https://grandchesstour.org/

The Grand Chess Tour is a circuit of international events, each demonstrating the highest level of organization for the world’s best players. The legendary Garry Kasparov, one of the world’s greatest ambassadors for chess, inspired the Grand Chess Tour and helped solidify the partnership between the organizers.

Grand Chess Tour
325 N. Euclid Avenue, Saint Louis, MO 63108
USA

Link: https://mailchi.mp/grandchesstour/2020-canceled-announcement

Jamaica Jamaica Jamaica

With COVID-19 bearing down on the world, Jamaica got in the last of their tournament activity before the Executive Council of the Jamaican Chess Federation (JCF) suspended activity on March 13th. That included the St. Catherine Open, a FIDE-rated event scheduled for March 19th-22nd.

In light of the coronavirus (COVID19) threat being experienced across Jamaica and the world, the National Executive Council of the Jamaica Chess Federation (JCF) has decided to suspend all chess activities for the next two (2) weeks in the first instance. This is in keeping with the Government of Jamaica’s recent recommendations against all major gatherings as more cases are confirmed locally.

The press release continues…

“We encourage everyone to remain calm and take the necessary precautions as more information becomes available. For further information, contact JCF Secretary Maxine Brown (jamchessfed.secretary@gmail.com) or Public Relations Chairman David Rose (876-879-0391) for further details.”

However, the JCF was able to hold its National Age Group Championships. The federation’s Public Relations Chairperson David Rose gave the following account…


TWELVE NEW NATIONAL CHESS CHAMPIONS CROWNED
by FM Warren Elliott

The most important chess championships for youth concluded over the weekend (March 8) at the UTECH Auditorium! The National Age Group Chess Championships 2020 selects the youth champions of Jamaica, who will later on represent the country at International events. The tournament saw young talents across the island crossing their “mind” swords against the best in the country. Over 400 children from more than 50 schools participated. 12 new champions were crowned in sections from Under 8 to Under 18.

Under 10 Champion Ronak Shergill of Porter Center for Knowledge, ponders his next move

Under 10 Champion Ronak Shergill of Porter Center for Knowledge,
ponders his next move.

Under 10 Female Champion Victoria Salazar from Hillel Academy is in a pensive mode

Under 10 Female Champion Victoria Salazar from Hillel Academy
is in a pensive mood.

In the end, the Under 8 winners were, Victoria Powell and Khaleel Johnson Bartlette with a perfect 6/6 points. Victoria Salazar and Ronak Shergill walked away with the Under 10 titles. Kaia Gayle got 5.5/6 points to capture the Under 12 female title, while Jaheim Smart had to win a tiebreak playoff vs Corbin Harvey to claim the Under 12 boys section, after both were tied on 5.5 points.

Young Jaheim Smart (right) from Lannaman’s Preparatory won the speed chess playoffs to become Under 12 Champion. He played Corbin Harvey (left) from Harrison’s Prep.

Young Jaheim Smart (right) from Lannaman’s Preparatory won the speed chess playoffs to become Under 12 Champion. He played Corbin Harvey (left) from Harrison’s Prep.

The competitive Under 14 section saw Amy Stephenson and Daren Mckennis both continuing their fine run of form, winning with 5.5 points. Under 16 champions were Raehanna Brown and Antonic Chung with an untouched 6/6 points. Tajae Morgan seized the Under 18 title with 5.5 points. The Under 18 female girls section went to a playoffs between Adani Clarke and Ashanti Blackwood after both finished on 4 points. Adani Clarke emerged victorious after the tiebreak speed chess playoff.

Under 10 Female Champion Victoria Salazar from Hillel Academy is in a pensive mode

Ashanti Blackwood (left) from Charlemont High, about to make a move
against Under 18 Female Champion Adani Clarke from St. Jago High School.

FIDE Master Warren Elliott, one of the chief organizers for the National Chess Federation event, said: “Chess in Jamaica is growing at a rapid pace! It was a joy to see so many competitors from across the island.” Players travelled from as far as Montego Bay to play for the one weekend championships.

The National Age Group Chess Championships is a Jamaica Chess Federation event and is sponsored by Serge Island Monster Milk. Players who win are eligible to represent Jamaica internationally for 2020.


Contact: David Rose
Chair of Public Relations Committee
Jamaica Chess Federation
Email: jamchessfed.public.relations@gmail.com

FIDE

The players competing for the berth to challenge Magnus Carlsen will be playing the “COVID Gambit” during the second-half of the 2020 Candidates tournament. A decision was made by Russian organizers to hold the event since the government was still allowing mass gathering. Less than a month later, the organizers and FIDE agreed that the tournament would be cancelled due to Russia’s newly-imposed flight restrictions.

Here was the announcement by FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich:

Today, the government of the Russian Federation announced that starting March 27, 2020, Russia interrupts air traffic with other countries without indicating any time frames.

FIDE can not continue the tournament without guarantees for the players’ and officials’ safe and timely return home. In this situation and on the basis of clause 1.5. Rules of Candidates Tournament, the FIDE President decided to stop the tournament. It will be continued later, with the exact dates to be announced as soon, as the global situation related to the COVID-19 pandemic will allow. As it was stipulated by the special rules agreed with the players before the start of the event, the results of the 7 rounds played remain valid, and the tournament will be resumed in the same composition starting with the games of the 8th round. FIDE is grateful to the players, officials, volunteers and the entire team of organizers, including the Chess Federation of Russia and the main partner of the tournament – SIMA-Land.

Sincerely,
Arkady Dvorkovich,
FIDE President

Candidates’ tournaments have always been very intense given the high stakes. The growing threat of the coronavirus makes the logistical execution even more intense. While the organizers had procedures in place, there were constant reminders about the virus as the news cycle was dominated by its rapid spread.

Events of major leagues had been canceled so that left everyone in the world with few options for sporting entertainment. The Candidates tournament stood alone. There was a binge on live broadcasts at FIDE, chess.com, chess24, and St. Louis Chess Club.

There were also large audiences on Twitch, Internet Chess Club and lichess. Of course Facebook was buzzing. So there was success as far as reaching a critical mass, but as the virus rapidly spread, there was more ambivalence about the tournament continuing.

For the players, they were rather insulated, but they could not escape the thought that they (and their families) may be in danger. Morale had also deteriorated among some of the players. Russia’s Alexander Grischuk had this reaction:

Even during the Candidates, there was some inconsistency on the precautions and some players shook hands, while others nodded. Ian Nepomniachtchi and Grischuk gave and “elbow bump” before their game. Nepomniachtchi had initially refused to shake the hand of Anatoly Karpov during the ceremonial first move before his game against Anish Giri. Giri obliged Karpov and later derided the elbow bump as being a bit silly.

Most understood Nepomniachtchi’s refusal of Karpov, but the moment was indeed awkward. What is most ironic is that Nepomniachtchi seem to come down with a bad cough during the tournament and didn’t look well. “I’m definitely not feeling OK today,” he said during the interview after his win over Ding. There were also others coughing in the area. Take a listen…

Video by FIDE

Even the thought that Nepomniachtchi could have been infected was also alarming since he was sharing the environment with many others. He was tested and the fortunately, tests were negative. In the final analysis, it was a very risky decision to hold the tournament with a dangerous virus blanketing the globe. FIDE Director General GM Emil Sutovsky made a statement to clarify FIDE’s decisions:

FIDE does its utmost both to minimize the risk and not to overwhelm grandmasters who are already under the pressure with all sorts of check-ups. FIDE really takes it all very seriously.

These comments give little solace since the players’ interactions were inconsistent. Nepomniachtchi declined shaking hands with Anatoly Karpov, elbow bumped Alexander Grischuk and later shook hands with Ding Liren. The fact that two Chinese players had to constantly have thoughts of home on their minds had to be unsettling. This was mentioned by Wang Hao who had recommended postponed the tournament in the beginning. He told chess.com:

I think it’s like a joke. From the start, it shouldn’t have been held. It shouldn’t be started just to be postponed. Not like this, this is just a big mess. They could have known it would cause a lot of different problems. Of course, they cannot control everything. There were a lot of reasons to postpone.

During the whole tournament, I felt I was distracted. I was worrying about flights, seeing bad news about China… Now if we enter China, we will be quarantined for two weeks. I could just have arrived from Tokyo to Beijing and quarantine at home, now I don’t think that is possible.

Azerbaijan’s Teimour Radjabov had withdrawn from the tournament because he could not convince FIDE to postpone the event. He had full intention of participating despite rumors that he may not have the motivation. After the tournament was postponed, questions emerged on whether Radjabov should somehow be inserted or given an automatic spot in the next cycle.

Many fans and high-level players agreed with Radjabov including Hikaru Nakamura who admonished those questioning Raja’s decision to withdraw. It was a very prudent decision since the virus was in its initial growth stage and doctors had not completely figured out how to contain it. As of today, the cases exceed 700,000 with China’s cases having largely been stabilized. Meanwhile, the U.S. cases have soared given the lack of initiative conveyed by the Trump administration.


How would they treat the second half of the tournament
if one of the players became ill and could not continue?


Now there is a question when the second-half of the Candidates tournament will be played. With the Candidates tournament and Chess Olympiad being postponed, it will delay other events until 2021, most notably the World Chess Championship. The other question is how long this crisis will last. No one knows, but several of the players live in countries with the highest number of cases.

Many argued that the players were safer in Russia (1500+ cases) than their home countries. Others like Viswanathan Anand thought the tournament should have been completed. Of course, these are understandable thoughts, but without guaranteed charter flights, it would put players in a situation of being stuck in Russia weeks after the tournament. It does present a quandary. How would they treat the second half of the tournament if one of the players became ill and could not continue?

Someone suggested that the classical tournament finish online. During the outbreak, many activities have moved online, so it is an interesting suggestion, but probably not desirable. Perhaps that may be considered in the future as over-the-board chess is slowly being affected by Internet gaming. Perhaps we also will see some changes in health standards at chess tournaments. The coronavirus notwithstanding, they were long overdue.

Sierra Leone Sierra Leone Sierra Leone

Aijibola Olanrewaju
Photo by Sierra Leone Chess Federation

While many organizers have canceled tournaments worldwide, the Africa 4.2 Zone is holding the subzonal tournament in Freetown, Sierra Leone at Hotel Barmoi. According to the Facebook post, “All the measures against COVID-19, are taken for the tournament to be safe.” There are available bottles of hand sanitizer, but it is not clear what other measures have been put in place as a safeguard against infection.

There are 30 players from Nigeria, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Senegal and host Sierra Leone competing. The top seed is Olanrewaju Ajibola of Nigeria. After five rounds, Ajibola and IM Oladapo Adu are sitting atop the field. Liberia’s James Tondo is 3rd on 4/5 along with FM Simplice DeDondo and Yoboue Manan, both of the Ivory Coast. The tournament began March 15th and will end on March 21st.

This is the first subzonal since the reorganization of the African zones from June 1st, 2019. Continental President Lewis Ncube had recently announced that Zone 4.5 (Lesotho) has postponed their tournament due to threats of the coronavirus. Let us hope that the players and all involved in Sierra Leone remain healthy throughout the event.

Chess Results: http://chess-results.com/tnr525324.aspx

FIDE

For the past couple of months, the world has been facing a global pandemic dubbed as the “coronavirus.” It has resulted in scores of tournaments being canceled and rendering travel difficult and even impractical. There was a discussion about the fate of the Candidates tournament after the eight players (including two from China) were on their way to Moscow.

Organizers cleared Ding Liren of China after undergoing two weeks of quarantine. That did not alleviate the concerns of the chess community, many called for a suspension of the event. FIDE announced that only the Russian Chess Federation could cancel the event.

After some uneasiness and requests to postpone the tournament, the 2020 World Chess Candidates will officially open this evening. The eight participants will start the process of determining the challenger for the World Championship match against World Champion Magnus Carlsen. It is undetermined whether the championship match will take place this year, given the global outbreak. Still, FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich stated he was 99% sure that the United Arab Emirates would be the host.

Like top-seed Fabiano Caruana, China’s Ding Liren will be looking for a shot at Carlsen. Photo by Anastasia Kharlovich (FIDE)

Only three of the players were in the 2018 tournament won by Fabiano Caruana (USA). He will be the top seed, followed by Ding Liren as the most serious challenge. Caruana won the 2018 event and faced Carlsen in London, England. That match ended in a 6-6 tie in the classical segment with Carlsen winning 3-0 in the rapid tiebreaks.

This year’s field will look very different but not less competitive. There are three Russians in the field with Alexander Grishuk, Ian Neopmniachtchi, and the surprise wildcard of Kirill Alekseenko defending home turf. Alekseenko is the only participant without a 2700+ FIDE rating. There was a minor controversy after Russian organizers gave him the nod despite there being many elite players they could have chosen. However, they made clear that they would use the pick on a Russian player. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave made a plea for the wildcard, but it was rebuffed.

In an unexpected turn of events, Teimour Radjabov withdrew from the tournament only two weeks before its opening due to his concerns about the coronavirus. He qualified by winning the 2019 World Cup. In a bit of poetic justice, he was replaced by Vachier-Lagrave, the highest-rated non-qualifier.

Wang Hao, who was traveling from Japan, did not undergo quarantine and is not traveling a team. His seconds are in China, where they are subject to travel restrictions. Both Wang Hao and Ding Liren had to interrupt their training camps due to the situation in China and will be somewhat at a disadvantage. As far as health procedures, FIDE has announced that everyone involved in the tournament will be tested twice a day.

Again, we can look at a book written by participant Anish Giri titled, After Magnus: Who Can Dethrone the World Chess Champion? Four of those he featured in the book are in the tournament: Caruana, Ding, Vachier-Lagrave and, Alexander Grischuk. Giri did not profile himself as a contender, but most certainly will be ready to compete for glory.

With so many tournaments canceled, most of the chess world will be tuning in on various servers and following the coverage on major websites. Official FIDE commentary will be handled by GMs Evgeny Miroshnichenko, Daniel King, and the legendary Judit Polgar! FIDE will also have David Llada as the official photographer on site. The popular chess.com will have exclusive coverage with a star-studded commentary, including GMs Viswanathan Anand, Hikaru Nakamura, and Wesley So. Egypt’s Bassem Amin will also be one of the commentators. The St. Louis Club will feature live commentary with Grandmasters Yasser Seirawan, Maurice Ashley and Alejandro Ramirez.

This tournament will serve as a respite against the dreadful pandemic sweeping across the globe. Many chess players have flocked to following and playing chess online, and some are even under travel restrictions. Since many professional sports leagues have been affected, many will go to the store, grab snacks, and log onto their favorite chess server on March 16th until the closing ceremony on April 3rd. What a wonderful way to pass the time!

Main Site: https://en.candidates-2020.com/
Regulations: https://www.fide.com/
Schedule: https://en.candidates-2020.com/about
Video Coverage (FIDE): YouTube, Twitch

2020 Candidates Chess Championship
March 15th- April 5th, 2020 (Yekaterinburg, Russia)
Participants
#
Name
Title
Federation
Flag
Rating
1 Caruana, Fabiano GM USA
2842
2 Ding Liren GM China
2805
3 Grischuk, Alexander GM Russia
2777
4 Nepomniachtchi, Ian GM Russia
2767
5 Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime GM France
2767
6 Giri, Anish GM Netherlands
2763
7 Wang Hao GM China
2762
8 Alekseenko, Kirill GM Russia
2698
Main Site

One day this will be a classic photo. Photo by Amruta Mokal

Viswanathan Anand with the traditional handshake with Sergey Karjakin at the 2016 Candidates tournament. Fabiano Caruana, the top 2020 Candidates contender, looks on. On the eve the 2020 Candidates tournament in Moscow, how will things change in the face of the global pandemic known as the “coronavirus”? Photo by Amruta Mokal

The coronavirus has blanketed the world with surprising rapidity, bringing to a grinding halt many economic activities. The result has been the disruption of supply chains, the closing of school systems, and the cancellation of major events. To date, the virus has afflicted more than 140,000, including several high-profile figures.

Governments are scrambling to put into place precautions to ensure the health and safety of its citizenry. Italy has suspended its football season, as has the National Basketball Association of the U.S.A. Organizers of the Coachella music festival have moved the event to October, while the Tokyo Olympics and the Moscow Chess Olympiad are still in limbo. There are even problems in getting to events. Fabiano Caruana, one of the favorites in the Candidates, tweeted this message:

With the Candidates tournament slated to start in a couple of days, the world is on edge as the virus snakes its way around the planet. “Over-the-Board” (OTB) chess tournaments are a unique activity where interactions are rather personal. Competitors shake hands before and after the game, sit a meter away for hours at a time, and exchange ideas while handling 32 figurines over this period.

Rethinking Tournament Etiquette

Apart from the usual facial expressions and behavioral quirks, there is the coughing and the sneezing in tournaments. Some players make an effort to relieve themselves into their shirt or sleeve, while others let out their sneeze in the open. What happens in this case? Researchers at the Massachusetts of Technology found that a sneeze can travel at a speed of 100 miles per hour at up to 200 feet. The sneeze cloud can remain suspended in the air for up to 10 minutes. (link)

These frame-by-frame images from MIT research demonstrate the force of a sneeze and the massive cloud of droplets we expel if we don’t cover our mouths.

There are other hygienic issues as far as eating at the board, and bathroom etiquette is concerned. Other concerns are the smells, chewing sounds, and potential reactions of those afflicted with allergies to certain foods. Imagine ketchup or mayonnaise on your pieces from someone’s Subway sandwich, not to mention mouth to hand moisture while eating. Should there be a rule about food in the tournament hall to ensure a clean and hygienic environment? Questions. Questions.

OTB Tournament cancellations a major concern

If we have not paid much attention to these issues, the virus has forced us to address how we run tournaments. Many of the tournaments are supplying the rooms with hand sanitizer, wipes, and banning handshakes of any kind. However, there has been a rash of tournament cancellations reported on social media. The larger question is whether this virus will affect over-the-board chess after the virus eventually subsides.

Hand sanitizers have become a fixture at chess tournaments. Photo by Kevin Pryor (Florida Chess Association)

The Continental Chess Association (CCA) has been updating its site and provided instructions on how to deal with the coronavirus. It encourages players to bring hand sanitizer but will provide some if needed. However, there seems to be only one cancellation (New York State Scholastic Championship). At this point, there are no plans by the CCA to cancel the Chicago Open and World Open. The St. Louis Chess Club has also canceled a slate of events, but the U.S. Championship is not one of them. There is a litany of cancellations of major events, including the popular Reykjavik Open. Peter Doggers of Chess.com compiled a list of other cancellations.

With the chess world becoming more acclimated to online play, will this outbreak have a lasting impact on OTB play? Will players feel a bit skittish about playing in these tournaments and increasingly preferring to play in online tournaments? These defections are a real issue given that the chess clubs already struggle to compete with the online communities. What will be interesting is how chess organizations will handle the publicity damage as players understand that chess events can be a breeding ground for all types of pathogens.

Crossroads for Tournament Organizers

There are a number of questions that will be posed given the mandatory attention to cleanliness to stem the tide of the virus. Will there now be regulation requiring sports bodies to supply materials that help control the spread of germs? Will there be a change in policy on handshaking before games? The evidence on germ exchange precedes us. Some tournaments are making the ceremonial greeting “optional,” which is different from the 2007 FIDE rule requiring a shake of hands.

Nigel Short won a game via forfeit because Ivan Cheparinov refused to shake hands. Maybe such a rule change is afoot for more reasons than mere sportsmanship. Will the formal handshake give way to the informal and friendly fist bump? Will there be a market for hypoallergenic chess sets? Should there be a policy of players wiping (or spraying) down their chess set after every game? GM Ian Rogers raises the point:

Online chess will boom during this unfortunate time, but what will become of the already-challenged, over-the-board chess tradition? Could it be that this outbreak could make chess tournaments safer, and thus more appealing? Maybe. If there is a silver lining in all of these cancellations, perhaps it will force us to take a closer look at the rules, etiquette and overall conditions in which players play.

Tani Adewumi on the rise!
Photo by Angel Lopez

Just after the recent announcement of the upcoming book, Tanitoluwa Adewumi continued his rapid rise. Last weekend at an Action tournament at the Marshall Chess Club, Tani scored 3/4 including wins over three masters including IM Jay Bonin. He would lose to eventual winner GM Michael Rohde, but this performance would net him 96 rating points and he would soar over 2000. When seeking rating goals, it is a common practice to crawl over the rating barrier to meet the qualification. In Tani’s case, to get to 2059 means his improvement trajectory is still on a steep incline.

Playing in his first tournament in 2018, he received national acclaim after winning the 2019 New York Primary Championship. His story of living in a homeless shelter with his family went viral and an outpouring of support followed. He started appearing on TV shows and giving interviews. Many have wondered if all of the attention would be overwhelming and have reflected on the story of Josh Waitzkin of the “Searching for Bobby Fischer” fame.

Waitkin became an International Master, but later stated that the pressure was more than he could handle and he found himself not enjoying the process. He successfully rechanneled his energy to martial arts. Of course, the New York community will have to ensure that lessons have been learned from Waitzkin. Besides the upcoming book release in April, Trevor Noah is set to produce a movie about the young Nigerian immigrant.

As he continues his march toward National Master, he will require a more measured approach to his training. New York, the nation’s historic chess Mecca, seems to be the right place for him. He has the support of his coaches Angel Lopez and Shawn Martinez as well as The Chess Drum community. We salute you!

US Chess: http://www.uschess.org/msa/MbrDtlTnmtHst.php?16649696.1

Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19)

The chess world gasped as Azerbaijan’s Teimour Radjabov suddenly withdrew from the Candidates tournament with less than two weeks remaining before the opening round. Frenchman Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who had barely missed out qualifying, will replace him (per FIDE regulations… articles 2.2 and article 2.1.E).

While this will certainly shake things up, there is another factor that threatens the tournament to its core. It turns out that Radjabov’s rationale for withdrawing was not due to lack of chess ambitions (or “personal reasons“), but specifically the omnipresent COVID-19 known as the “coronavirus.”

Statement of Teimour Radjabov’s statement (from Peter Doggers at chess.com):

Teimour Radjabov
Photo by Kirill Merkuryev

“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.”

This well-stated concern by Radjabov raises a number of important questions and they have been echoed by other players, including Wang Hao of China. For the past couple of months, the world has been gripped in a battle against against the coronavirus.

A number of high profile tournaments have already been cancelled. Federations are now scrambling with contigency plans to ensure that players are taking the appropriate measures to prevent the transmission of the virus. Some organizers of world events are establishing criteria based on number of participants.

The European Chess Union announced that the following events have been cancelled in Crete, Greece…

  • World Cadet & Youth Rapid & Blitz Chess Championships 2020
  • World Amateur Chess Championship 2020
  • European School Championships 2020

In addition, word circulated that the following events have been cancelled due to the Coronavirus:

  • HD Bank Cup (Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam)
  • Dubai Open (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
  • Bangkok Open (Bangkok, Thailand)
  • Reykjavik Open (Reykjavik, Iceland)
  • Sharjah Open (Sharjah, United Arab Emirates)

The U.S. Chess organization had released a statement ahead of their National K-12 Championships that dealt with hygiene prescriptions. The usual advice of washing one’s hands and covering one’s mouth are standard, but also wiping down the chess pieces after every game!

Many will glad to know that the Candidate’s tournament will begin this week in Yekaterinburg, Russia, but is it a wise choice? There was some apprehension that Ding Liren (coming from Shanghai, China) and Wang Hao (traveling from Japan) would somehow be affected due to the national emergency, but FIDE posted the following message on social media.

Ding went through the quarantine process, while Wang did not. There is a brewing controversy as to whether proper procedures are being followed by FIDE to address the outbreak. Many players traveling to Moscow will be traveling on planes and it is not clear whether there is any allowance for the 14-day quarantine.

FIDE has issued a statement for the World Senior Team Championships in Prague, Czech Republic. The senior age group is said to be the most vulnerable to the virus. The protocol included such precautions as “social distancing,” handwashing, and optional handshaking.

Cases have already soared to over 100,000 worldwide with nearly 3,700 deaths, mostly in China. One important question that looms pertains to the Chess Olympiad. How will the biennial event be affected? While we wait on word about the Tokyo Olympics, FIDE does not have much more time than the Tokyo IOC to make a decision.

The next month will be crucial in determining which major tournaments will be scuttled as a safeguard measure against the virus. One thing is for sure, the pandemic will have a crushing effect on travel and the global economy at-large.

FIDE World Candidates: https://www.fide.com/news/411
FIDE World Seniors: http://www.wstcc2020.net/information/fide-medical-security-protocol/
CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/index.html
COVID-19 world meter: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/

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