Having concluded my reporting on the proceedings, it's time to vent some spleen. Before doing so, it's important to note that nothing I will now say is intended to blame Magnus Carlsen or to deny that he was a deserving winner of the London Chess Classic. (I certainly don't think he's the deserving winner of the Tour, but again, that's not his fault.)
I've already noted the unfairness of the playoff procedure which forced Anish Giri and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave to engage each other for around three or four hours (including breaks between games) while Carlsen could rest, nap and/or prepare for his tired challenger. For that matter, I don't understand why it should have been a two-stage event. Using the Sonneborn-Berger tiebreak makes sense in a Swiss system event, where players face different opponents; in a round-robin it seems to me without value. Fine, player A beat player C while player B beat player D, where A and C finished in a tie while C outscored D by half a point. Why not criticize A for his relative incompetence in failing to beat D? And what if A beat C because C was fighting for first place and had to take undue risks? Also, maybe A had White against C while B had Black against both C and D. Why is A's performance more noteworthy? Still further: suppose A is higher-rated than B. Then B had a higher TPR than A; again, why isn't that the first criterion? It has the further benefit of not making A's and B's tiebreakers dependent on how C and D perform against players E through J.
So those are two ways - one more particular, one more general - in which Carlsen was (greatly) benefited and Giri and Vachier-Lagrave were harmed by the tiebreak system in the London Chess Classic. Next, let's recap the way Giri and MVL were punished by the Grand Chess Tour's tiebreak system in the Sinquefield Cup while Carlsen was rewarded. That tournament was won by Levon Aronian, and after that there was a four-way tie for second between Carlsen, Hikaru Nakamura, Vachier-Lagrave and Giri (in tiebreak order). Rather than splitting the points for second through fifth places, the points were allocated as if each player had outscored those below him. As a result Carlsen obtained 10 Tour points, Nakamura 8, Vachier-Lagrave 7 and Giri only 6. As was widely noted at the time, the upshot was that Giri, who was undefeated and +3 in the first two Tour events (the first event was the Norway Chess tournament back in May), was behind Carlsen, whose cumulative score was -1. What a crock.
Finally, Vachier-Lagrave got ripped off in his own special way by the Tour and its absurd policies. The London Chess Classic wasn't just important in its own right or even in its own right and for its implications for this year's Tour; it also had implications for next year's Tour invitees. So, you may ask, who gets to play in next year's Tour? The answer is that the top three finishers from this year's Tour, plus the next six players based on the average of their monthly ratings from February through December of this year, with their live post-tournament rating counting as another "month" to average. (As this year, so too next year will include a tenth wildcard spot for each tournament, decided by the organizers.) They are:
- Magnus Carlsen
- Anish Giri
- Levon Aronian
- Vladimir Kramnik
- Hikaru Nakamura
- Fabiano Caruana
- Viswanathan Anand
- Veselin Topalov
- Wesley So
The first three were Tour qualifiers, the last six made it by rating. Carlsen finished with 26 Tour points, Giri with 23, and Aronian with 22. Vachier-Lagrave finished with 21 points, and before you say "hard luck, he just had to win rather than take second", here's some information for you: he took third. That's right: he beat Giri in the playoff and nevertheless took third in the tournament, behind him. (Incidentally, it wouldn't have mattered to Giri if their places were reversed, because Giri still would have qualified by rating, bumping Wesley So off the list.) So Vachier-Lagrave finished tied or better with Carlsen in all three tournaments (not counting the playoff), but somehow finished fourth and off of the 2016 Tour.
There's enough steer manure here to fertilize a small country. FIDE has been guilty of incompetent and unfair practices over the years, but I don't think they've ever managed to pack so many brain-dead and unjust policies within such a small space in their entire history, and that's really saying something. Well done, Grand Chess Tour. Well done.