Radjabov withdraws from Candidates, Vachier-Lagrave to jump in

by ChessBase
3/6/2020 – The general sense of uncertainty in the world due to the Coronavirus outbreak has reached the chess world, with plenty of open tournaments announcing they will not take place or have been postponed. It is not known whether it is specifically due to the virus but FIDE has cited Teimour Radjabov withdrew from the Candidates Tournament 'for personal reasons'. Radjabov denies the characterization and instead expressed a desire for the tournament to be postponed. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave will be his replacement in Yekaterinburg. | Photo: FIDE

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An unexpected twist

Less than two weeks before the Candidates Tournament kicks off in Yekaterinburg, FIDE announced that Teimour Radjabov decided to withdraw from the Candidates Tournament, citing personal reasons. As the press release mentions, the tournament regulations state that the non-qualified player with the highest average rating from 2019 gets to replace the participant that has withdrawn from the event. In this case, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is the one who got the late qualification spot.

According to FIDE, the Frenchman has confirmed his participation and "his travel arrangements are being made at the time of this announcement". 

We can only wonder why Radjabov withdrew with the starting date so close already, although we can speculate that it has something to do with the Coronavirus outbreak that has already convinced the organizers of the Dubai Open, the HDBank Open in Vietnam, the Sharjah Masters and the Reykjavik Open to cancel or postpone this year's events.

Recently, FIDE informed that the Chinese participants would be able to reach Yekaterinburg after being issued humanitarian visas. Four days ago, the International Federation mentioned in a tweet that "Ding Liren has been admitted through the Russian border control and his delegation is now on its way to a dacha on the outskirts of Moscow".

Wang Hao, on the other hand, was in Japan when the situation aggravated in China. The experienced grandmaster questioned on Facebook whether more official tournaments should take place, however:

I think that FIDE should postpone all the official tournaments from now. I am not sure if they have any plans against all the unpredictable possibilities caused by the plague, if the tournaments are still going on.

The first round of the highly anticipated eight-player double round robin is scheduled for March 17th, eleven days from now. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is used to facing top-notch opposition, but getting such a short period of time to prepare might make this a difficult task. However, even in the worst case scenario the Frenchman perhaps considers this to be a chance to gain valuable experience.

This plot twist follows an already dramatic storyline that developed during the qualification process, with semi-retired Radjabov unexpectedly winning the World Cup and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave barely failing to qualify to the Candidates through more than one avenue for a second consecutive time. The French grandmaster's last hope was for the organizers to grant him the wildcard spot, but the Russian Chess Federation decided to give the last ticket to Kirill Alekseenko instead. Vachier-Lagrave's manager even sent the RCF an open letter calling for a qualification match between 'MVL' and Alekseenko.

Shortly ago, Teimour Radjabov published the following message on his Instagram account, denying FIDE's claim that he withdrew for personal reasons:

Dear compatriots, chess fans, the entire chess community, colleagues and friends. It is not correct, I have no personal reasons to withdraw from the tournament. I will come up very soon with the statement and with letters that were sent to FIDE and their answers.

Update: Azerisport quotes Radjabov's statement, indicating that he fears a risk of Coronavirus infection potentially disrupting the tournament and requested that FIDE postpone the event. FIDE declined, and therefore Radjabov is withdrawing.

FIDE Director General Emil Sutovsky told the Russian site Championat.com, that "personal reasons" was a poor choice of words, and that "personal decision" was more apt. He clarified that there would be no sanctions despite the late withdrawal:

You can argue about how appropriate Radjabov’s decision is, but it wasn’t dictated by government regulations. We’re not simply brushing aside issues but providing a whole range of measures that will be taken.

Of course it’s the player’s decision. We understand that the situation is unusual. In any other circumstances if a player withdrew from the tournament with 10 days to go we would apply sanctions. Now that’s out of the question.

Radjabov indicates he had received an ultimatum of sorts from FIDE to confirm his participation by today or else he would be replaced. He opted to confirm his withdrawal.

We will keep you updated as more details arise...


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kenneth calitri kenneth calitri 3/17/2020 05:08
I think bondsergey is on to something :).
fckeres fckeres 3/16/2020 09:05
What would Bobby Fischer do at his young age being in Radjabov´s situation? How would Bobby Fischer comment the issue at his mature age seeing Radjabov withdrawing? ;) (All the respect to Bobby Fischer the World Chess Champion)
sashka1 sashka1 3/10/2020 03:38
World would be a better place, if things were spelled out. What is he afraid of (apart from the virus 🙂)? As a top chess player, it is his responsibility to speak about things he sees to be problematic in world chess. But again, this is a pure speculation, he is only worried about the virus (officially). So imagine FIDE said, ok, let's postpone the tournament because Radjabov is concerned. No one else voiced any concerns, so would that be fair to others? Ok, I retract my comments about cowardice, let's not put any labels, but his refusal does not give him any credits, quite the opposite. One of the biggest events of the two-year cycle in chess, he is at the top of his job - and he voluntarily refuses to take part. If he can't handle the pressure - again, there is nothing wrong with that, but just say, I am not feeling up to scratch, I have personal reasons, I can do as I like, yadda-yadda-yadda. We'd still speculate 🙂, but saying let's move the tournament to a later time because I might get sick, sounds a bit saucy...
strategos78 strategos78 3/9/2020 11:48
Everything is unfortunately not always so simple, so obvious. And perhaps it's better to stick to this official thesis of covid19...
Expeessing it ?... It doesn't work like that dear friend... Not always so simple...
sashka1 sashka1 3/9/2020 10:54
It would be courageous to say it (if it was so). Even more courageous it would be to play above all the intriguing. If he chose to quietly step aside, blaming the virus, there is no courage in that. Niether for him, nor for the game. It's like when your colleague is blamed for what he hasn't done and you silently step aside disagreeing and blaming the unfairness of it without expressing it. Is that courageous, too? Rajabov actually stated quite clearly his concerns, for me it's quite evident he thought about this and the true reason has nothing to do with unfairness.
strategos78 strategos78 3/9/2020 03:23
To be clear: I think the corona virus is just an excuse. Russia wants the title (evidenced by the wild card granted to Alekseenko). They will therefore, as in 1962 (Curacao), favor one of their players and all the others, who are part of their area of ​​influence, will lose or draw when the game seemed to be won...
This is why, I think, Radjabov preferred to use the excuse coronavirus rather than to lend himself to a masquerade where he should have favored the Russian champion. And for that, it takes courage.
sashka1 sashka1 3/9/2020 03:11
Hero of what? Lol. Well, if he is not telling a true reason behind his refusal, he's even more of a coward. But it really sounds like he is just too scared for his precious self. Anyway, why would you move a tournament because one player thinks it should be moved? One wants it moved, another one removed. Perhaps, a player's job is to play? Chess is sport. He is a sportsman. He should be fit and prepared, not dictate his preconditions. Let's not play football in the rain and swim when the open water is a bit cold. As someone pointed out he is not even in danger group... What Alekseenko is doing at such tournament is a totally different story. I personally can't agree with wild cards at this level.
strategos78 strategos78 3/8/2020 02:16
Coward ??? Of course not, an hero ! Remember Curacao 1962. Radjabov just don't want te be an "extra" for Russia... Like Alekseenko... Open your eyes...
FoxForceFive FoxForceFive 3/7/2020 05:12
I'm happy MVL is in but not happy the winner of the World Cup is out. Radjabov definitely earned and deserved his spot. To call Radjabov a coward is wrong and to all who do I'm calling you chess scum. FIDE should of moved the Candidates forward. Bobby fischer probably would have done the same as Radjabov, he was that principled. Well the good news is at least MVL is in.
Rambus Rambus 3/7/2020 11:14
Sad to have winner of 2019 World Cup pulling out. It's our loss. Let's view his correspondences with FIDE which he has promised to post. I do not have a high opinion of FIDE since Campomanes & Ilyumzhinov's days, though it seems to be somewhat on the mend.
mamago92 mamago92 3/7/2020 11:01
A coward?
klklkl klklkl 3/7/2020 07:51
@mekkk Teams (seconds, managers), sponsors, staff, photographers.

@Queenslander is right: this is a crisis - an early pandemic, with a high death rate. Radjabov is a class act, and it's wretched to jeer at him, as @Masquer does, for demonstrating an appreciation of the gravity and risks of the pandemic.
Masquer Masquer 3/7/2020 07:16
Sounds like Radjabov just found the perfect excuse not to play. Maybe he wasn't too thrilled with his preparation.
bondsergey bondsergey 3/7/2020 07:03
Looks like somebody bought a place for Maxime, maybe without Maxim knowing. Overwise Teimour clearly is losing money for personal reasons.
sashka1 sashka1 3/7/2020 06:16
Sorry, if I spell what many are saying indirectly, but simply sounds like he is a bit of a coward...
Peter B Peter B 3/7/2020 05:06
@phishmaster Wang Hao has not been in China. There could have been a rule requiring all 8 players and their teams to be quarantined, but I don't see why Wang Hao should be and not the other 6.
Queenslander Queenslander 3/7/2020 01:38
I don't think anyone should criticise personal decisions related to not travelling and competing in tournaments in the current context. In general we are not privileged to know family circumstances, for example, an elderly parent with serious health issues who would be at high risk of succumbing to corona virus. So let's try and show more compassion and understanding for each other in this difficult season.
Mekkk Mekkk 3/6/2020 11:21
High-level chess tournament is probably one of the least crowded places one can find nowadays. You face much more people at store, train, office, … I'd consider limiting contact with kibitzes and journalists, but this should suffice. Probably most risk is related to travel, here Radjabov could be in better situation than most other participants (travel by car would be tough but is not completely impossible).

Not sure why so much fuss in chess. Football matches are still played, with kibitzes and teams travelling abroad, etc.
Stupido Stupido 3/6/2020 11:00
Too bad, Radjabov is a great player.

Poisoned gift for MVL, candidates without preparation can be a nigthmare. I guess Bacrot will have little sleep until the end of the tournament.
HariharanS HariharanS 3/6/2020 06:29
Not a great move by FIDE to hold a big event like the Candidates with very little safety measures. These apprehensions can definitely affect the preparation and quality of play of the players.
mythiclott mythiclott 3/6/2020 05:57
Well this sucks.
For everyone.
s8977 s8977 3/6/2020 04:20
MVL has a great chance.
in history we have examples. in 1992 at eurepean football championship yugoslavia is disintegrated and denmark had given a chance for it. the players who were on the beaches are called for. then they became the champions!
go Maxim!!
Cizia Cizia 3/6/2020 04:12
Postponing the tournament will stop the virus , for sure
Frits Fritschy Frits Fritschy 3/6/2020 02:41
The fatality rate for people in Radjabov's age group is 0,2%. This age group represents 17% of the infected persons. So on a total of 100,000 infected people, the number of persons in his age group that died as a result of the virus are 0,2% of 17% of 100,000 = 34. Worldwide, and not corrected for pre-existing medical conditions, like diabetes or heart problems. And then you still have to take into account the chances of getting infected.
So I guess he just didn't trust Russian airlines. (Or wasn't too keen to play, as he suggested earlier, and found an excuse.)
abdul-raheem abdul-raheem 3/6/2020 02:19
We want to see Radjabov play, not MVL.
Postpone the event, FIDE hasn't changed.
Radjabov and Wang Hao both wanted the event postponed. Maybe the other players too?
But ohh! We have known FIDE for so long.
Raymond Labelle Raymond Labelle 3/6/2020 02:13
Wang Hao has not been in China for months. And will not pass by China before going to the tournament.
PhishMaster PhishMaster 3/6/2020 01:12
FIDE is allowing Wang Hao to play without going through a proper quarantine, which should not be acceptable. He should have left sooner.
daftarche daftarche 3/6/2020 12:09
Finally MVL gets his wish. Let's see how he performs in the candidates.
Gerald C Gerald C 3/6/2020 12:08
A very debatable and extremely late decision by T. Radjabov and certainly not a gift to MVL who will arrive unprepared !