Magnus Carlsen To Play FIDE World Cup

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It’s almost unprecedented that a reigning world champion is participating in a cycle for the next world championship, but this year it will happen. Magnus Carlsen will be playing the FIDE World Cup in September in Tbilisi, Georgia.

It was FIDE itself that broke the news on Monday morning, by publishing the full list of participants of this year’s FIDE World Cup. (See below). As it turns out, the top 15 of the July FIDE rating list is playing—which, in a broad sense, makes it the strongest chess tournament ever held.

“FIDE is delighted to confirm that the top 15 players in the latest rating list are participating in the World Cup and particularly that the world champion, Magnus Carlsen, has agreed to participate,” FIDE Executive Director Nigel Freeman told Chess.com.

Zurab Azmaiparashvili, the Director of the Organising Committee, is equally thrilled: “To be honest I know about it more than ten days, but anyway I’m really surprised positively! I don’t know if it happened for the first time or not that a world champion will play the World Cup, but for us Georgians, it’s great! We will have Magnus here in Tbilisi and our chess lovers will see him live.”

Azmaiparashvili admitted that it’s something special: “Of course other players are very important for us and we are very proud that many world champions (Anand, Kramnik, Ponomariov, Hou Yifan) will play here, but the current world champion and especially such a star like Magnus is giving a different value to the Tbilisi World Cup. We feel serious responsibility and I hope my team will do everything for a successful tournament.”

Held every two years, the World Cup is a 128-player knockout that consists of seven rounds, consisting of classical chess and rapid & blitz playoffs. The top two finishers qualify for the 2018 Candidates’ Tournament, which will determine the challenger for Carlsen in the 2018 world championship match.

Whereas it’s normal for most sports, it’s a rare thing for chess: the reigning world champion joining the qualification stage for the world championship. Well, he doesn’t really need to qualify for his next title match obviously, but besides the prize money Carlsen has a simple reason for playing the World Cup: he likes the format.

In fact, two years ago the Norwegian star proposed a knockout format for the world championship itself. On August 11, 2015 on Facebook, he wrote: “I have long thought that moving to an annual knock-out event, similar to the World Cup, would be more equitable.”

“Two years ago he wanted to play the World Cup as well, if I remember correctly. But it didn’t fit his schedule,” Carlsen’s manager Espen Agdestein told Chess.com. “Now it does fit his schedule. And it’s a cool event to play. He likes a knockout; it’s a challenge.”

For FIDE it’s not completely new that a reigning champion joins the new cycle. “Alexander Khalifman, Viswanathan Anand, Ruslan Ponomariov and Rustam Kasimdzhanov took part in such events, as did Vladimir Kramnik in 2007,” said Freeman.

However, in those cases, not participating would automatically result in losing the title. In World Cups of the current format, which have been held since 2005, it’s unprecedented that the world champ participates.

Carlsen himself played in two World Cups, before he was the world champion. In 2005, in Khanty-Mansiysk, he finished in 10th place. In 2007, also in Khanty-Mansiysk, he lost in the semifinals to the eventual winner, Gata Kamsky. For the 2013 Candidates’ Tournament (which he won, half a year before claiming the title), Carlsen qualified by rating.

Magnus Carlsen.

Qualifier for the Candidates’ Tournament

The World Cup serves as one of the methods to qualify for the 2018 Candidates’ Tournament. The top two finishers qualify directly, and that’s one of the reasons why so many top GMs are playing.

So, what happens if Carlsen wins, or comes second? Would he qualify for the 2018 Candidates’ Tournament?

This sounds like a hypothetical question, if only for the fact that Carlsen wouldn’t need the World Cup to qualify. If he wanted to play the Candidates’, he could take one of the rating spots.

For the sake of fun, it’s interesting to note that the regulations are not very clear on this. FIDE’s Nigel Freeman admitted to Chess.com that there is no specific rule that would prevent a reigning world champion from playing the Candidates’.

“That’s funny. I’m sure Magnus hasn’t been thinking about the Candidates’ yet!” said Agdestein.

This is what the relevant paragraph from the World Cup regulations (here in PDF) says:

4. 1. The winner and the runner up of the World Cup 2017 will qualify to the Candidates stage of the World Championship cycle 2016-2018. If there is a 3rd place qualification, a match will be organized together, and with the same terms, with the final match of the World Cup to decide the 3rd place.

This last rule is intended for the situation where Sergey Karjakin reaches the final in Tbilisi. Because he has already qualified for the Candidates’ as the loser of the 2016 title match, in that scenario a match for third place is needed.

If we continue speculating along these lines, FIDE would actually be in an awkward situation if Carlsen reaches the final. They would need to know if Carlsen would be using his right and play the Candidates’ as a World Cup qualifier, because in that case they would need to organise a match for 3rd and 4th place as well. However, they could hardly force Carlsen to make a decision that early.

Back to reality. It’s unlikely that Carlsen, or any world champion, would ever play the Candidates’ if only because of the actual name of that tournament. It’s intended for world title candidates. But, except for some of his colleagues (who will have another roadblock on their way to the Candidates’) everyone will be happy to see Carlsen making his appearance in Tbilisi.

The FIDE World Cup takes place 2-27 September in Tbilisi, Georgia. The total prize fund is $1.6 million (€1.37 million) with a first prize of $120,000 (€103,000).

2017 FIDE World Cup | Participants

World Ch + World Cup 2015 66 Artemiev
1 Carlsen 67 Rodshtein
2 Karjakin 68 Aleksandrov
3 Svidler 69 Erdos
4 Eljanov 70 Kuzubov
5 Giri 71 Lenic
Junior World Ch 2015 & 2016 72 Hjartarson
6 Antipov Americas
7 Xiong 73 Onischuk
FIDE Rating Lists 74 Akobian
8 Caruana 75 Zherebukh
9 Kramnik 76 Sambuev
10 Vachier-Lagrave 77 Ruiz Castillo
11 Aronian 78 Gonzalez Vidal
12 Nakamura 79 Cori
13 Wesley So 80 El Debs
14 Anand 81 Mareco
15 Ding Liren 82 Krysa
16 Harikrishna 83 Cordova
17 Mamedyarov 84 Lenderman
18 Grischuk 85 Kovalyov
19 Li Chao 86 Flores
20 Adams 87 Sevian
21 Andreikin 88 Delgado Ramirez
22 Gelfand 89 Bachmann
23 Yu Yangyi 90 Bruzon
24 Nepomniachtchi 91 Bacallao Alonso
25 Rapport 92 Fier
26 Tomashevsky Asia/Oceania
European Ch 2016 & 2017 93 Sethuraman S.P.
27 Inarkiev 94 Le Quang Lie
28 Kovalenko 95 Wei Yi
29 Jobava 96 Murtas Kazhgaleyev
30 Navara 97 Deep Sengupta
31 Vallejo Pons 98 Pourramezanali Amirreza
32 Wojtaszek 99 Mollah Abdullah Al Rakib
33 Piorun 100 Yeoh Li Tian
34 Fressinet 101 Nguyen Ngoc Truong Son
35 Goganov 102 Vakhidov
36 Dubov 103 Muhammad Khusenkhojaev
37 Vitiugov 104 Liu Guanchu
38 Cheparinov 105 Dai Changren
39 Najer 106 Anton Smirnov
40 Hovhannisyan 107 Karthikeyan Murali
41 Zhigalko 108 Wang Hao
42 Palac 109 Bu Xiangzhi
43 Salgado Lopez 110 Vidit Santosh Gujrathi
44 Dreev 111 Batchuluun Tsegmed
45 Anton Guijarro 112 Sadorra Julio Catalino
46 Stupak Africa
47 Nisipeanu 113 Haddouche
48 Tari 114 El Gindy
49 Demchenko 115 Solomon
50 Matlakov 116 Balogun
51 Fedoseev 117 Amin Bassem
52 Fridman 118 Cawdery
53 Motylev ACP Tour
54 Duda 119 Ivanchuk
55 Howell FIDE nominees
56 Kravtsiv 120 Ponomariov
57 Areshchenko 121 Hou Yifan
58 Bluebaum 122 Adhiban
59 Grachev 123 Kulaots
60 Kunin 124 Ziska
61 Bok Nominees organisers
62 Jones 125 Pantsulaia
63 Bacrot 126 Radjabov
64 Melkumyan 127 Mchedlishvili
65 Mastrovasilis 128 Dzagnidze
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