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.
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.
— MVL (@Vachier_Lagrave) March 7, 2020
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!
March 15th- April 5th, 2020 (Yekaterinburg, Russia)