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FIDE Grand Prix struggling in Sharjah as big names stay away

Magnus Carlsen, Vlad Kramnik, Vishy Anand, Fabiano Caruana and Wesley So are all absent and the organisers may struggle to sell pay-per-view packages

Sharjah has its closing rounds this weekend (11am start). The €130,000 tournament in the United Arab Emirates is the first of four legs of the Fide Grand Prix, which also visits Moscow, Geneva and Palma de Mallorca later this year, and will qualify its overall top two for the 2018 candidates and a possible shot at Magnus Carlsen’s world title.

Three rounds from the end France’s Maxime Vachier-Lagrave shared the lead on 4/6 with the Azeri Shak Mamedyarov,  half a point in front of the England No1, Michael Adams, and others.

Sharjah has had its share of problems for its organiser Agon, the commercial partner of the world chess body, Fide. Most of the biggest names in chess turned down the Grand Prix – no Carlsen, neither of the former champions Vlad Kramnik or Vishy Anand and no world No2 and No3, Fabiano Caruana and Wesley So. This was not good news for Agon’s pay-per-view offer of $30 to watch all four GP tournaments live with videos and commentaries.

It is normal for major events now have a rule to stop early draws, requiring a minimum 30 or 40 moves or using the Sofia rules where draws must be approved by an arbiter. Sharjah had no such restrictions, leading to more than 70% of the games being drawn, several of them with much play remaining.

Then there was the curious case of Wei Yi. The 17-year-old Chinese champion is the world’s best teenage talent and was in serious competition for the first prize against the elite at Wijk aan Zee last month. A growing global army of fans follows his progress and he is freely compared with Bobby Fischer and Garry Kasparov at his age.

Wei Yi was announced in the Sharjah field but at the last minute was replaced by the world woman champion, Hou Yifan. It was apparently a mix-up, Hou was the original choice, withdrew, then was reinstated after the misunderstanding was sorted.

Wei Yi was the one player among exposed names capable of putting bums on seats, or more accurately credit cards online, especially if he got into contention for one of the candidates places. Yet Agon preferred Hou.

Why did the Chinese Chess Federation apparently bless the deal and ditch its national champion? The Grand Prix was Wei Yi’s best chance to qualify for the 2018 candidates. Now he can reach it only via the knockout World Cup, a far more uncertain route. China has won the 150-nation team Olympiad and has many GMs in the top 30 but Wei Yi in the Grand Prix represented Beijing’s opportunity to fulfil an ambition and break into the absolute world top. A bizarre episode.

Full article here.

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