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.
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|
|Junior World Ch 2015 & 2016||72||Hjartarson|
|FIDE Rating Lists||74||Akobian|
|13||Wesley So||80||El Debs|
|European Ch 2016 & 2017||93||Sethuraman S.P.|
|27||Inarkiev||94||Le Quang Lie|
|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|
|43||Salgado Lopez||110||Vidit Santosh Gujrathi|
|45||Anton Guijarro||112||Sadorra Julio Catalino|
At the moment it looks like 128th seeded is Oluwafemi Balogun (2255) from Nigeria, so that will be Carlsen’s opponent in R1.