From start to finish

Ernesto Inarkiev. Photo: EICC2016.comErnesto Inarkiev. Photo: EICC2016.com

Grandmaster Jonathan Tisdall, Matt & Patt regular columnist, looks at the recently concluded European Championship. Ernesto Inarkiev scored an impressive result while Norwegian 16 year old star Aryan Tari sensationally qualified for the FIDE World Cup. And what are Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin up to, 6 months before their title match is supposed to start?

by Jonathan Tisdall.

First steps

The European Individual championship is a showcase event and also a gateway to the world title – the top 23 spots qualifying for the FIDE World Cup knockout event. This year’s edition in Gjakova, Kosovo was perhaps slightly weaker than could be expected – the second EICC per cycle can be given a miss by those who know they have a qualification spot and can consider giving this massive brawl of a tournament a miss – but the first in a cycle tends to attract ‘everyone’.

The playing hall in Gjakova. Photo: EICC2016.com

The playing hall in Gjakova. Photo: EICC2016.com

Of course ‘weaker’ is a very relative thing indeed in a tournament of this stature. The numbers: ‘Only’ five players rated over 2700 on the starting line – but 60 were 2600 or over. This magic 2700 number has become an obsession in recent years, thanks to the excellent 2700chess.com website and the work it is based on, Norwegian Hans Arild Runde’s wonderful idea of calculating and updating the live ratings of the chess elite.

And while it has become a fine, respected goal to attain as a stamp of supergrandmastery, it is not an easy thing to maintain. 2700chess.com, hit the top 100 tab near the top of the page and look at the names on this less exclusive list, and mouseover the ratings as you scroll down. As I do this while writing, the bottom man is Alexander Areschenko on 2654.4, whose career best was … 2720, good for World #28 at the time. For the first time in ‘modern memory’ former title challenger Nigel Short isn’t even on this expanded list. And you will find many, many of this year’s EICC entrants are former members of this exclusive numerical club.

In summary, and my point – there are a LOT of very strong players out there, and the EICC was swarming with them.

Strong start…stronger finish

David Navara. Photo: EICC2016.com

David Navara. Photo: EICC2016.com

The tournament could be seen as a sprint of two halves. Ivan Saric blasted out of the gates and at the first rest day he led alone with 5.5/6. Incredibly, he would not even nab one of the qualifying berths.

Favorite David Navara (CZE) and arguably the hottest player on the planet in May, Ernesto Inarkiev, were close by, and it was the Russian who turned on the turbo jets in the second half, beating Saric, then Navara with Black, before racing to 8/9 and drawing out to win the event by a clear margin.

Ernesto Inarkiev. Photo: EICC2016.com

Ernesto Inarkiev. Photo: EICC2016.com

Inarkiev, whose parents reputedly named him in honor of Che Guevara, also seems to have the very unusual addition of a cheerleading section, according to some photos that appeared on social media. If he continues his furious rise up the rating list maybe he can popularize this feature of US sporting events to liven up chess coverage further. It might be just the angle needed to mobilize those sluggish Manhattan sponsors needed for the world championship.

Another Norwegian teen

Aryan Tari. Photo: eicc2016.com

Aryan Tari. Photo: eicc2016.com

Norway managed to grab some attention when teenager Aryan Tari unexpectedly nabbed one of the qualifying spots, becoming only the second Norwegian to win a berth for the FIDE World Cup, after previous kid star Magnus Carlsen. Tari won some key upsets with the black pieces, and was the one who eventually completed the derailing of early leader Saric.

Global angles

Jon Ludvig Hammer and Laurent Fressinet. Photo: Tarjei J. Svensen

Jon Ludvig Hammer and Laurent Fressinet. Photo: Tarjei J. Svensen

In my previous article I concentrated on the sport of ‘secret second’ hunting, trying to deduce the work going on behind the scenes of the coming title match by following the movements of known assistants and possible new recruits. Known Carlsen seconds Fressinet and Hammer were in action in Kosovo: the former qualified after a clutch last round win and the latter had a nightmare event.

The world champion was following his chum in action:

Hammer had produced a lovely, energetic, sacrificial game to rekindle his qualification hopes after seven rounds, but couldn’t follow through.

Karjakin teammate Daniil Dubov qualified comfortably and played some truly sparkling games. The jaw-breaking tactical blow in this game is vintage romantic chess, and will doubtless be immortalized in columns and puzzle collections for years to come.

I don’t know if Dubov is more than a Karjakin teammate, but he is young, rising, and boldly creative – the kind of guy who would certainly make an interesting addition to the title match preparation team…

There was one clear signal that the serious work in Team Karjakin is underway. The EICC non-appearance of registered Vladimir Potkin, former Carlsen aide and current Russia and Karjakin trainer, doubtless means he’s at work and not giving anything away by playing himself.

The title match

Ilya Merenzon and Magnus Carlsen

Ilya Merenzon and Magnus Carlsen

And what about closer to the title action? Ilya Merenzon, head of organizer Agon, mentioned on social media that he was looking into Trump Tower as a venue, and he also gave an interview to FIDE where many exciting things were mentioned, but no new facts about venue or sponsors emerged – though he did say the player contracts would be finalized soon.

The champ appeared in a half-hour Facebook Q&A session answering submitted questions from fans read by Play Magnus CEO Kate Murphy. He cheerfully tackled topics ranging from chess history, the NBA, and his rivalries with Nakamura and Giri.

Chess24.com covered this well and thoroughly.

The challenger was visible first via SoMe coverage of public appearances with Putin, then in a photosession with David Llada, arguably the world’s leading chess photographer:

Warming up

Then Sergey moved on to more serious things, getting back to the board at the Shamkir event in Azerbaijan. Here he began with a quickish draw against Mamedyarov, who has been mentioned as a potential Karjakin second, blundered and lost vs Giri, and then struck back by battering Harikrishna with a fine win. Nothing will be more interesting in terms of the title watch than a close examination of everything Karjakin does and doesn’t do.