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    Monday
    Oct302017

    Kramnik Receives Organizer's Wildcard for Candidates

    More about this here: apparently Vladimir Kramnik wasn't lobbying for it, but he was given the organizer's wildcard for the 2018 Candidates, to be held next March in Berlin. He joins Sergey Karjakin (who qualified by virtue of losing the last world championship match), Levon Aronian and Ding Liren (World Cup finalists), and Wesley So and Fabiano Caruana (mortal locks to qualify by rating).

    Anyone who has read this blog regularly knows that I'm a big Kramnik fan, but this is just wrong. He's a great player who could contend for victory in the Candidates next March, and he should be in the conversation about who deserves the organizer's wildcard. For most of the year he looked set to qualify by rating, until faltering in events beginning with the World Cup. But there are still two slots to be determined based on the results of the final Grand Prix tournament starting next month.

    Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Alexander Grischuk lead in the overall standings, but they've already played their full complement of Grand Prix events. They could be overtaken by Teimour Radjabov and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, and while one might be able to make a case for Kramnik against Mamedyarov, Grischuk, and Radjabov there's nothing to be said in his favor compared to MVL when it comes to their 2017 campaigns.

    Vachier-Lagrave is nine points higher-rated than Kramnik at the moment, won the Sinquefield Cup (and had excellent-to-great results in Gibraltar, Sharjah, Paris [blitz], Leuven [rapid], and Dortmund), came within an Armaggedon game of qualifying through the World Cup, and will have come very close to qualifying by the Grand Prix as well. Thus MVL ultimately outshone Kramnik this year by rating, World Cup performance, Grand Prix performance (Kramnik didn't play, but that's also more to Vachier-Lagrave's credit: he's in the arena and Kramnik's not), and won a more prestigious non-qualifying event than Kramnik did.

    It would be fine to give Kramnik the wildcard after the Grand Prix finishes, assuming Vachier-Lagrave qualified. But before? This is terrible. Agon, which has the financial rights to the world championship and the qualifying cycle, is owned by a Russian, so it's less than shocking that they'd pick a Russian with the wildcard. There really need to be objective criteria for the wildcard, aside from the minimal requirement of a player's having achieved a 2725 rating at any point during the qualifying year. Obviously Kramnik's qualifications are much greater than that, but his qualifications, this year, don't hold a candle to MVL's.

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    Reader Comments (10)

    Dennis, while I agree with you that MVL's achievements this year have been greater than Kramnik's,I respectfully disagree with your assertion that there need to be objective criteria for the wildcard. If we could establish who should be given the wildcard by objective means, then this would simply create, in effect, another qualification spot. You might as well dispense with the idea of a wildcard altogether. The wildcard allows the organisers to pick a player who they feel would benefit the tournament in some way. As an ex-world champion whose influence on the game has been immense over several decades and who still seems to be hugely popular among the chess-watching public, Kramnik will stir a considerable amount of added interest into the mix. This is very much to the benefit of the organisers and, indeed, to the benefit of the watching public, and this is precisely the purpose a wildcard should serve, in my opinion, rather than being a means of allocating a spot in the tournament to the player who came closest to qualifying through any of the formal routes.

    October 30, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSeeley

    As I am a Kramnik fan, too, I hate to say it - but you are right.

    October 30, 2017 | Unregistered Commentercmling

    That's why it's a wildcard... There isn't right or wrong. The bad thing is the very existence of a wildcard, not that they used it to give it to whomever they liked.

    [DM: I lean in that direction too, but I think a wildcard *can* be a good idea. Suppose we add another qualification method and - to borrow a Kramnikism - MVL comes a millimeter short there too. It would still be a pity for him not to get in. And I wouldn't mind Kramnik getting it if the race between him and Vachier-Lagrave for the best also-ran had been closer. My issue is that it's a slam dunk in the Frenchman's favor: he dominated in every respect, and almost certainly lost out for nationalistic reasons. Worse: unless Merenzon sells Agon, this will always be the case, so if Vachier-Lagrave doesn't get it this year it's really a Russians-only affair.]

    October 30, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterquik

    Everyone knows MVL was more deserving, and everyone knew the Russians would prefer Kramnik. I think the actual reason they announced it so early is to try to avoid criticism. Now they can say that MVL had his chance to qualify but simply failed. The given reason that it was done to motivate the players for the Grand Prix is of course silly. Why would MVL not try his best in the last event just to hope for someone to bribe FIDE to get him a sponsor spot? :-) On another note I found the press release from Filatov, who I guess picks that wild card, a tad tasteless. Talking about the Russians ”conquering Berlin” is maybe not something that will give the organisers happy thoughts about 1945...

    [DM: True that...though Berlin wasn't averse to conquering Russia before that. Btw, Kramnik lived in Germany for some years, as did Aronian.]

    October 31, 2017 | Unregistered Commentermothra

    If Kramnik had/has lobbied for the wildcard, he won't say so!? If someone else has lobbied on his behalf, Kramnik may not even know - and if he knows he won't say so!?

    The wildcard has always been a subjective pick, with things beyond chess (politics, money) playing a role.

    [DM: Really? In other news, water is wet.]

    BTW recently it has always been 'Soviet' but not always Russian: twice it went to Azeris (Radjabov and Mamedyarov), once to an Armenian (Aronian, AGON already in charge) and now for a second time to a Russian (before Svidler, now Kramnik). This - incentive to sponsors of the candidates event - is the idea behind a wildcard, personally I consider it a necessary evil.

    If there was no wildcard but rather another qualifying spot, there could be three scenarios (in order of qualifying priority):

    [DM: There could be others; we're just assuming that only the same categories remain in place. But FIDE and Agon are capable of all kinds of silliness - maybe they could determine it with a chessboxing event, or by seeing who can write the finest poem in praise of Putin. More seriously, how about best PR for the year (with certain further criteria so that, say, a player can't win one game vs. a 2600 and call it quits for the rest of the year)?]

    1) third spot from the World Cup - it would mean a match between semifinal losers MVL and So that wouldn't have a favorite. If MVL wins, he'll play the candidates. If So wins, he and Kramnik (who then gets a guaranteed rating spot) will play the candidates. 2) third spot from the GP series, significantly improving MVL's chances [I don't expect Radjabov to repeat or approach his result from Geneva]. 3) third rating spot going to Kramnik. Overall, it would be fifty-fifty between MVL and Kramnik (Kramnik's chances would be 50% in the first, 0% in the second and 100% in the third scenario) - while in the first scenario MVL could control or at least influence his own fate, and Kramnik would be spectator (as he was for the So - Ding Liren semifinal).

    Some combined approach also considering results in events that aren't part of the WCh cycle: what if Aronian hadn't reached the World Cup final, and MVL doesn't qualify via the GP series? Then the 'informed' choice would be between these two players, hard to say who would be more 'worthy', either way it would be right AND wrong ... . I would then lean towards MVL as he had clearly better results in the GP series. Ironically, if Aronian had skipped the GP series (like Caruana, So and Kramnik) he would have been fully in the race for a rating spot.

    There have always been "close but no cigar" scenarios in WCh cycles. In 2015, Eljanov lost a tense semifinal against Karjakin - and if the crazy final between Svidler and Karjakin had been a semifinal, one player would be more unlucky than the way things went: only trophy, bragging rights and extra prize money at stake. In 2013, Caruana narrowly missed out on qualifying via the GP series. Both times, the wildcard didn't go to the player who almost made it but came a millimeter short [more controversial for Caruana as he had other merits than a World Cup result].

    [DM: Fine, but this ignores the point of my argument. There will often be one or more heartbreak stories in qualification contests, but MVL will have come up just short for all the qualifying methods.]

    New now is only the timing of the wildcard announcement. France may have considered lobbying for MVL in case of need (whether they would have the required resources and connections is another story) but doesn't even get such a chance - because Russia wanted clarity NOW?!

    October 31, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterThomas

    From FIDE/AGON's viewpoint, the logic behind the wild card category is not first and foremost to try and find the most deserving participant from those who didn't manage to qualify by other routes, but rather to get sponsorship for the event - the incentive being that the sponsors can then nominate their "own" player. Historically, the identity of the wild card has everything to do with the sponsor, rather than the official "organizer" and/or host: 2013 - the main sponsor is SOCAR [State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic], the wild card is Radjabov; 2014 - the sponsors are Russian, the wild card is Svidler although 3 other Russians [Kramnik, Karjakin, Andreikin] already qualified; 2016 - the sponsor is a company with an Armenian CEO, the wild card is Aronian. So once AGON announced EG Capital Advisors as their "main partner," it was enough to look at their management team (https://www.egcapitaladvisors.com/about-us/management-team) to realize what's going to be the nationality of the wild card; and once it was clear Kramnik doesn't qualify by rating, the results of the final GP tournament had no importance. Accordingly, I strongly suspect that even if Kramnik had made it by rating, the choice would have been another top Russian (Grischuk/Svidler) rather than either So or MVL.

    October 31, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEyal

    "Berlin wasn't averse to conquering Russia before that"

    No, but imagine that it had been an event held in Moscow, and a German player was picked, and the official article of the organizer that picked the player on behalf of the Russians would include some similar statement about the hopes that the Germans will manage to capture Moscow this time, or something to that effect with the same war allusions...But maybe it's just me, I haven't seen anyone else comment on it, so at least it can't be too bad :-)

    November 1, 2017 | Unregistered Commentermothra

    Let me say , the event is sponsored by an Indian company and held in India. Certainly the wild card will go to Anand even though MVL and Kramnik are more qualified. I don't think any one can contest that. Similarly if organizers feel that Kramnik is a better prospect here it is their prerogative. The more relevant question , if we can question their decision is, whether the wild card can fit in and compete against other players. Kramnik is more than capable of doing it.

    November 1, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRahul

    If a wildcard being "wild" is as normal/trivial as water being wet, complaining about it makes as much sense (not only because it won't change anything anyway) as complaining about the weather?

    [DM: You're going to make an argument from etymology? In that case, I expect Kramnik to be removed, and replaced by a joker from a deck of playing cards.]

    It's still OK/legitimate for the world championship cycle, where MVL was/is close to qualifying for the candidates by two ways, but was never in the Elo race. He was structurally behind Kramnik for most of the year, caught up with him only in September and now overtook him (or rather Kramnik "undertook" MVL) for the November list. "MVL ultimately outshone Kramnik this year by rating" over-emphasizes IMO very recent developments - any rating list, live or official, past, present and future, is just a snapshot in time. Many people have an attitude (or IMO mistake) to consider the most recent list "the truth".

    [DM: Good old "many people" - always a fine way of taking a dig in (almost) complete safety! Of course, I - who may or may not be among your hoi polloi, didn't claim that MVL was close to qualifying by rating. I did note that his rating surpassed Kramnik's, and that his PR for the year greatly exceeded Kramnik's. So of course Kramnik was "structurally" ahead, as you put it, but that's it, and that's resting on the previous year's laurels, not anything he did this year. Anyway, I liked your "undertook" - that was a nice way of describing Kramnik's "achievement".]

    As to TPRs, perpetualchess.com has a list of 12-month TPRs (thus currently including November and December 2016), these are the top10: Mamedyarov 2822, Carlsen 2816, Sadler(!) 2808, So 2801, Aronian 2797, Radjabov 2796, Grischuk 2791, Anand 2788, MVL 2786, Nakamura and Caruana 2785 (then Ding Liren 2778, Kramnik 2776, etc.). So Vachier-Lagrave doesn't stand out - he also had rather bad results (Grenke Chess and Norway Chess, before in late 2016 European Club Cup and London Classic), 4/7 in Dortmund also wasn't really "excellent-to-great", from this point of view the World Cup (many draws in classical games, including two against Lenderman) wasn't great either.

    Mamedyarov on top is no surprise, Sadler obviously is - he scored 16/18 in 4NCL and one open in the Netherlands (highest-rated opponent Ivan Sokolov, 2628, whom Sadler beat twice). So still benefits from results in late 2016/January 2017. Grischuk was a "rising star" this year, not clear how much he benefits from 7/8 in the Chinese League against nominally weak (while possibly underrated) opponents (draws against Ding Liren and Wei Yi). Anand surprises me a bit - he played relatively little (46 games), didn't win anything but also never disappointed (but at the World Cup, and these were just four games).

    In aggregated TPR space, the fairest solution would be a qualifying event with two of Mamedyarov/Radjabov/Grischuk/MVL (whoever do not qualify via the GP series), Sadler? [if he is even interested, it might be a terrific and disappointing learning experience], Nakamura (while not being close to qualify for the candidates by any means) and Kramnik.

    [DM: Yes, if it's just YPR (yearly performance rating) this would make sense. But that was just one part of my case for MVL. Btw #1: Sadler hasn't hit 2725, so while his YPR is impressive he's not eligible to be a wildcard. Btw #2: A question, really: you mentioned a couple of rating periods last year (especially as they helped your case against MVL), but I thought that only 2017 counted.]

    But there isn't really unfairness IMO - either you qualify for the candidates or you don't, the wildcard is a privilege not a right. And I like both Kramnik and MVL (and some other players).

    [DM: I agree that MVL isn't entitled to play in the Candidates, and it's legal for the organizers to put Kramnik's name in the hat. But that's not sufficient for its being appropriate or best. Police could write tickets to all drivers who come to rolling "stops" at essentially deserted intersections, but that would be ridiculous. And so it is here, I say: a player who has excelled all year long (certainly compared to Kramnik), has come close to qualifying two ways, has participated in all the qualifiers, is being passed over for a player whose rating has dropped and barely tried to qualify. Procedurally fair? Yes. The right thing for the organizers to do? No way. It rewards neither excellence nor effort in the relevant time period, and it isn't as if Kramnik is some sort of hard luck story like Leonid Stein or Paul Keres, whose careers were beset by a series of heartbreaking near-misses (and worse).]

    November 1, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterThomas

    I'm a humongous Kramnik homer as well, but I have similar mixed feelings. In a sense, the fact that a pick like Kramnik could somehow be viewed as even slightly shady displays the weakness of the concept of a wild card. I can't remember a wild card pick that wasn't discussed through the lens of favoritism and plutocracy. Such a system is most likely too grueling and incompatible with modern chess, but it makes one long for the days of the Interzonals - aside from Soviet politicking to manipulate who competed in which Interzonal, it was a mostly fair way of choosing candidates. I do enjoy certain aspects of the current system - the World Cup is an incredibly engaging tournament, and the addition of the two guaranteed slots adds quite a bit of value. I'd lean towards eliminating the wild card and replacing it with another tournament style method of seeding it. Perhaps a small double round robin event with the four highest rated players who haven't qualified through other means towards the end of the cycle? It would add another high profile world event to the calendar, and turn a controversial subjective measure into a completely objective victory.

    [DM: It's an interesting idea. One worry about that is scheduling: tournaments recruit players many months in advance, so unless the event you're talking about dodges all the competing events - and with enough time for the players to prepare as well - it might wreak havoc with the schedule. But maybe it could work, and in any case I'm with you in preferring some further objectivity in selecting that final spot.]

    November 2, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJohn

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