Monday, 30th October 2017

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Chess Candidates comes to a halt

The tournament, which started on March 15, was supposed to end on April 5

By Angshuman Roy in Calcutta
  • Published 27.03.20, 1:33 AM
  • Updated 27.03.20, 1:33 AM
  • 2 mins read
Ian Nepomniachtchi (Getty Images)

The Fide on Thursday decided to halt the Chess Candidates tournament which was being played at Yekaterinburg in Russia after the Vladimir Putin government decided to close down air traffic with other countries from Friday in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Till now seven rounds have been played with Frenchman Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Russian Ian Nepomniachtchi sharing the lead with 4.5 points each.

“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 cannot 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 seven rounds played remain valid, and the tournament will be resumed in the same composition starting with the games of the eighth round,” a Fide media release stated.

The tournament, which started on March 15 and was supposed to end on April 5, drew a lot of flak after the organisers — the Fide and the Russian Chess Federation — decided to go ahead with the meet despite the outbreak of Covid-19.

The winner of the tournament would have challenged world champion Magnus Carlsen later this year.

The tournament was also the only top billing competition being held across the world despite all other sporting events coming to a grinding halt.

“Fide should not have gone ahead with the tournament since the coronavirus had a rippling effect all over the world. But at the same time, the organisers took proper measures like sanitising the venue. The players wore masks, the spectators were not allowed and even the media was kept at a distance.

“Also, the meet came to a halt not because one of the eight players fell sick. It was because the Russian government decided to stop air traffic,” Grandmaster Surya Sekhar Ganguly told The Telegraph on Thursday.

In the seventh round played on Wednesday, Vachier-Lagrave defeated Nepomniachtchi. And the irony is Vachier-Lagrave was not there in the first place. He came in after Teimour Radjabov from Azerbaijan pulled out as he felt staying away from the tournament in the times of Covid-19 would be the wisest decision.

The Azerbaijani won the slot after winning the World Cup in 2019.

“Now that the tournament has been stopped due to the virus attack, Radjabov would have a very valid reason to be upset with Fide,” said Grandmaster Dibyendu Barua.

“Also, the indefinite stoppage would hamper the rhythm of the players, particularly Vachier-Lagrave and Nepomniachtchi. After all, they were the joint leaders.

“You come to play the Candidates after gruelling preparations. There is the mental part as well. I am not sure when the tournament restarts, whether Vachier-Lagrave and Nepomniachtchi would have the tempo straightaway. It would be very difficult.

“Fide could have postponed the Candidates meet at the very outset. Even the players were not comfortable in these trying times,” Barua added.

Barua made a very valid point since pre-tournament favourites and US Grandmaster Fabiano Caruana in the morning tweeted: “The Candidates is over for now. The hard part still remains: getting home. I expect to re-enter a world I’ll hardly recognise.”

Diptayan Ghosh, the youngest Grandmaster from the city, felt the reason why Fide went ahead with the tournament was because chess is not a sport like football or cricket. “There is no mass contact and you can maintain social distancing,” he said.