The world title candidates starting in Ekaterinburg on 15 March has survived a scare after Russia’s “temporary suspension” of entry to Chinese citizens, announced on Monday as part of anti-coronavirus measures, raised serious doubts on whether Ding Liren and Wang Hao would be allowed to compete.
Ding, 27, and Wang, 30, qualified for the eight-player, €500,000 competition where they are scheduled to meet three opponents from Russia and one each from the US, the Netherlands and Azerbaijan. The winner will take on Magnus Carlsen for the Norwegian’s world title in a €2m, 14-game series in November, probably as part of Expo 2020 Dubai. Ding, the world No 3, is second favourite behind Fabiano Caruana of the US.
The global chess body, Fide, has stated that both Ding and Wang have been granted “humanitarian visas” which are defined as travel for sport, cultural or scientific purposes. The Chinese delegation had planned to journey on 1 March but will now probably arrive earlier. Fide may also provide them on arrival with a country house near Moscow, with medical assistance available, so that they can continue to Ekaterinburg even if security tightens further.
Fide’s concern is understandable for, if the Candidates had to be postponed or halted by illness, finding an alternative venue and schedule for an event lasting three weeks would be problematic in itself and could also jeopardise the later title match.
Last week’s $180,000 Cairns Cup, the female version of the elite Sinquefield Cup, provided a historic moment when Carissa Yip, 16, the youngest and lowest ranked player, recovered from a terrible 0/4 start to defeat the reigning world champion, Ju Wenjun.
Yip prepared her black opening well, blitzed out a rare Ruy López defence with a6 and g6, seized the initiative by bold play and clinched victory by her bishop sacrifice at move 39. She was already the youngest female player to defeat a grandmaster when aged just 10, so American expectations are now high, although IM standard at 16 does not compare with Judit Polgar, who was a GM at 14, or Hou Yifan, who played for the women’s world crown at the same age.
India’s Humpy Koneru won the Cairns Cup at St Louis with 6/9, after taking two years off from chess for marriage and a daughter. First prize was $45,000, underlining that now is a golden financial age for the top women professionals, due to increased prize money backing from Fide and tournament sponsors.
The women’s Grand Prix series, which Koneru also looks like winning, has two of its four legs at high class venues in Monaco and Lausanne. The Gibraltar and Isle of Man Opens award generous prize funds for women within the main tournament, so that an exceptional performance can score in both sections, as Hou did when she shared first with Nigel Short at Gibraltar 2012.
Ju Wenjun finished second, half a point behind Koneru, which allied to her successful defence of her world crown against Russia’s Aleksandra Goryachkina makes her a worthy champion, although she would probably lose a match to Hou or to the retired Polgar.
If the Cairns Cup is really to become a major item on the calendar for global chess fans, it needs to persuade Polgar and/or Hou back to the board, include Ju, Koneru and Goryachkina, and give Yip a chance to prove herself against this super-elite.
The chess world’s rising star Alireza Firouzja, aged 16, won his first major trophy on Friday evening when he defeated India’s No 2, Vidit Gujrathi, 2-0 in a speed play-off in Prague.
The pair had finished in a five-way tie on 5.5/9 with Jan-Krzysztof Duda of Poland, Nikita Vitiugov of Russia, and Sam Shankland of the US. Firouzja and Vidit had the best tie-break scores so contested the play-off.
Most of the GMs in the competitive 10-playar event were from the world top 30. There was chaotic play in the final two rounds with blunders and missed chances to win the tournament outright. Vidit was especially culpable as he lost from a totally winning position in the penultimate round and then lost again in the final round.
The Iranian exile won two fine games, notably a complex battle against the top seeded Pole, Jan-Krzysztof Duda.
Firouzja missed several chances in other games and was comprehensively routed by Vidit. Long ago Mikhail Botvinnik used the Exchange Slav 1 d4 d5 2 c4 c6 with an early cxd5 to neutralise brilliant tacticians like Mikhail Tal and, when Vidit followed the same recipe, Firouzja was all at sea, made a rash Qxb2 capture and went down in only 24 moves.
3659 1 Be6! Resigns. If Qxe6 2 Qd4+ and the black queen no longer defends g7.