Anand weighs in on Chennai Grand Masters controversy, says tournament within FIDE rules

With D. Gukesh and Arjun Erigaisi seeking a spot in the upcoming Candidates 2024 in April, the tournament’s announcement just four days before its commencement raised eyebrows regarding its timing and fairness.

Published : Dec 18, 2023 16:48 IST , Chennai - 5 MINS READ

FILE PHOTO: Vishwanathan Anand during the ‘Tata Steel Chess India Tour-Rapid & Blitz’, in Kolkata in 2019.
FILE PHOTO: Vishwanathan Anand during the ‘Tata Steel Chess India Tour-Rapid & Blitz’, in Kolkata in 2019. | Photo Credit: Rajeev Bhatt/The Hindu

FILE PHOTO: Vishwanathan Anand during the ‘Tata Steel Chess India Tour-Rapid & Blitz’, in Kolkata in 2019. | Photo Credit: Rajeev Bhatt/The Hindu

When the Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu (SDAT) unveiled its plan to host the prestigious Chennai Grand Masters 2023 chess tournament, anticipation rippled through the city, renowned for its rich history in this sport.

However, whirrs of scepticism arose regarding the timing and fairness of the tournament’s announcement just four days before its commencement.

The whole narrative takes a fascinating turn as the players — D. Gukesh, Arjun Erigaisi and Parham Maghsoodloo — vying for victory in this tournament are unwittingly entangled in the web of fate, all seeking a spot in the upcoming Candidates 2024 to challenge the current world champion, Ding Liren.

Ding Liren beats Nepomniachtchi to crown World Chess Championship

Ding’s journey adds a layer of irony. Now, Ding, although the most deserving of all, would not have had the opportunity to participate in the Candidates in 2022 if not for the ‘bending of rules’.

Ding had missed all of the qualifying events — the World Cup, FIDE Grand Prix, and FIDE Grand Swiss — due to the COVID-19 pandemic and China’s strict lockdown. He was also ineligible for the highest rating spot after FIDE decided not to grant a spot through rating for the first time since 2013.

However, FIDE’s six-month ban on Russia’s Sergey Karjakin opened the door for Ding, as the spot left vacant should be filled by the highest-rated player on the official ranking list in May 2022. To be eligible, though, a player needed at least 30 rated classical games under their belt between June 2021 and the end of April 2022.

Denied participation at first due to unprecedented circumstances, Ding seized a spot at the last minute after the Chinese Chess Association organised 26 classical games within a month to make Ding meet the eligibility criteria for the highest-rated player spot.

Ding not only secured his place in the Candidates but went on to claim the world championship, underscoring the unpredictable nature of chess and the lengths one may go to seize an opportunity.

International Master and former India player Saravanan V. opined about the same.

“FIDE has not made any rules stating that this is the number of tournaments required to qualify for a circuit slot and that only these many events should be held. They have not issued any notification to that effect... any number of tournaments that meet certain criteria are eligible for consideration for circuit points. So, I don’t see anything wrong with that.

“If you made a rule that there is a circuit spot, but it comes only from this set of tournaments, say the Grand Chess Tour, then it would have been unfair, but they haven’t made any rules, so there is nothing wrong with this tournament,” he said

Saravanan further drew a parallel with the way China rushed games for Ding. He said, “Let’s say this whole thing is unfair... and you can not a spot to your player, then Ding Liren should not have been a world champion today. China did something atrocious to make him qualify for the candidates.

“To be very, very correct, FIDE should probably have notified that these are the number of tournaments. But in that case, also, we can always have permission to conduct a tournament, right?,” he added.

FIDE, the international chess governing body, not only had no objections to the tournament being held but actively encouraged such events to increase competitiveness.

Speaking on behalf of FIDE, Viswanathan Anand, the organisation’s Deputy President, said, “If people find out that they need to finish fifth in the tournament to qualify, they will focus on finishing fifth instead of focusing on finishing first, is that a violation? Yes, you are supposed to play for first place, but if a player is content with fifth place, he’s contended fifth place. It’s the same thing,” explained the five-time world champion.

“Within the rules, if you organise a do this and I’m very happy with this system. In fact, it produces more tournaments, that’s good. So I don’t see a problem with that at all, and I think it is one of the good things about the FIDE Circuit,” he said.

Meanwhile, out of 16 players in the open and women’s sections of Candidates 2024, three Indians have already qualified for the marquee event: Vidit Gujrathi, R. Praggnanandhaa, and R. Vaishali.

“I don’t see anything wrong with this tournament,” Vidit, who won the FIDE Grand Swiss to confirm his spot, said. It’s fantastic that more and more tournaments are being organised ethically, providing more opportunities for players.”

As the chess community grapples with questions about fairness and opportunity, the Chennai Grand Masters 2023 becomes a stage for the larger chess narrative, where moves are made not only on the board but also in the intricate dance between tradition, rules, and ambition.

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