Monday, Nepo, Coffee & Potpourri
How are you today? Xmas in just a couple of days and the end the year not long afterwards…I don’t know about you but I like the feeling that comes along with LIFE relentlessly happening all on its own. There is no magic break switch…why would we even want one? Appreciate each day, and all of the little things that make LIFE special. Such as coffee…
Nepo’ wins his 2nd Grand Prix of the year
For all of Magnus Carlsen’s great achievements in 2019, probably it is Ian Nepomniachtchi who deserves to be recognized as the Player of the Year for winning 2 of the 3 super-tough Grand Prix tournaments that he played in. An absolutely singular achievement. Congrats, Ian!
With his victory in Jerusalem, Nepo directly qualifies for next year’s Candidates Tournament. The Russian Chess Federation president, Andrey Filatov, just announced today that the ‘wild card’ will go to a young St.Petersburg grandmaster – Kiril Alekseenko – rounding off the number of tournament participants to 8. (The unofficial list is HERE.)
I think the choice is fair. Part of this decision is based on written regulations, and part of it is a long standing tradition: the organizer of the Candidates Tournament gets to pick a participant. I remember when I participated in the 1985 Montpellier Candidates Tournament, the organizer chose Boris Spassky as the wild card. When the 1988 equivalent of this tournament was held in Canada, I was given the wild card. ETC. ETC. There are numerous precedents.
The above 2 examples I give of where the wild card was used in a Candidates level event, in each case there were 16 participants. When you get to just 8 participants, then the wild card begins to assume a dimension that must be considered testing the soundness of the concept of fairness.
Of course, while the decision to pick Kiril Alekseenko may be a fair decision in itself, it is also a CONTROVERSIAL decision. The concept of a wild card has many critics. Fans have lamented that the French superstar Maxim Vachier-Lagrave was not given this opportunity.
Maxim finished 3rd overall in the 2019 Grand Prix series, and as in the previous World Championship qualification cycle, narrowly missed qualification. Maxim’s CV might now begin to read a lot like the legendary Paul Keres’ CV…Keres was the eternal #2. Always the bride’s maid. Always just missing his chance…
Some of his die-hard fans have noted that 2 Russians have already qualified for the tournament, and why a 3rd? OK. Sounds like a reasonable argument, but it is outside of what is written, has been agreed upon and accepted by all of the Grand Prix participants – including Maxim himself.
Better to change the rules next time around than subvert them with a popular vote by fans today. What happens on the street should stay on the street…
Where have all the Bobby Fischers gone?
I think the conditions under which the world’s elite grandmasters agree to play today would never have been accepted by Bobby Fischer, who was well known for his crusade for players’ rights. Knock-out qualification tournaments in particular would have got him going.
In 1969 Fischer refused to defend his US title when the USCF decided to reduce the championship from a 16 player event to a 12 player event. Fischer argued that a reduced size playing field would not allow for a player to recover from a bad start.
Today the world elite grandmasters appear to be more interested in winning money than in winning world titles. Vachier-Lagrave, as just one example, has played more than 300 games so far this year: he does not want to take a rest.
Or set his own priorities. Winning the world championship title requires one or two sacrifices…such as occasionally saying no to generous tournament invitations so that one can work on one’s own priorities.
Fischer fought for improved tournament conditions for all chess players (including better money), but he also never lost track of what his priorities were. He said ‘no!’ many times. He single handedly put chess on the map and increased international interest in the process.
Today these efforts seem to have been forgotten…especially by the elite. This is sad. On the other hand, Bobby Fischer is and will always be remembered as an iconic figure. Perhaps the greatest of all time. How many of the Vachier-Lagrave’s and Giri’s out there will be able to say the same?
To be continued later today…
Photo of Nepo by Niki Riga