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state that the non-qualified player with the highest average rating from 2019 gets to replace the participant that has withdrawn from the event.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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