Vachier-Lagrave appeals for Candidates wild card

by ChessBase
12/23/2019 – In an open letter to the Russian Chess Federation on Monday, the manager of French GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who narrowly missed out on multiple avenues to qualify for the 2020 Candidates tournament in Yekaterinburg next March, calls for a qualification match against Kirill Alekseenko. The RCF has already nominated Alekseenko. | Photo: Nadja Wittmann

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Open Letter to the Russian Chess Federation

From Laurent Vérat, MVL's manager:

Qualification for the Candidates Tournament to be held in Yekaterinburg, March 2020, concluded yesterday in Jerusalem. Congratulations to Ian Nepomniatchi for winning the tournament, and for taking the 7th qualifying spot. The 8th and last place will be awarded by the organizers to a player eligible according to FIDE rules ("wild card"); a questionable privilege that we hope will disappear for the next world championship cycle.

On November 11th, in a press conference announcing the Russian international chess events of 2020, the President of the Russian Chess Federation (RCF), Andrei Filatov, had stated that he was pleased with the organization of the Candidates Tournament in Yekaterinburg, because it "guaranteed the presence of a Russian player".

The situation has changed since then, as Sacha Grischuk and Ian Nepomniatchi both qualified via the FIDE Grand Prix. The RCF could therefore choose to give the wild card to the only eligible Russian player, Kirill Alekseenko, for his third place at the Grand Swiss that took place on the Isle of Man. But on a purely sporting level, it could legitimately pick Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (MVL), three times eligible and first non-qualified player by 2019 average rating, 2019 World Cup, and 2019 FIDE Grand Prix!

Whether it opts for a third Russian player or for the most obvious sporting choice, the RCF remains sovereign in its decisions. However, we suggest it takes into consideration the possibility of organizing a MVL-Alekseenko match in order to earn the wild card spot. It would have the merit of preserving sporting equity and would, I believe, meet the wishes of a vast majority of chess enthusiasts throughout the world.

Laurent Vérat,
MVL Manager

Alekseenko all but certain

This morning the RCF has publicly given the nod to Alekseenko. Given the advantages of having three Russians in the Candidates in terms of the probability of a Russian qualifying to the World Championship, it seems unlikely they will acquiesce to MVL's proposal of a match.


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Jacob woge Jacob woge 12/26/2019 07:54
There is a difference between a wild card in a knock-out system like tennis, and a wild card to a double round robin in chess.

In the first case, only the direct adversary is concerned, and when and if the wild card is knocked out, he or she no longer impacts the tournament.

In the latter case, the performance of the wild card may be decisive in determining the tournament winner - even if he/she has no bid for first.

Therefore, one has, in my opinion, more of a free choice when giving a wild card in a knock-out system than in (double) round robin.

The problem of several players from same federation may be solved by letting such players meet in early rounds. This has been done before. Not necessarily to avoid collusion, but to avoid suspicion of collusion preying on someone’s mind(s). Implemented as a standard procedure no-one would have to get hurt.

Obviously with more players from same country the problem aggravates. Just letting the two Chinese and the two Russians face off in round one is no longer sufficient.
Arminio12 Arminio12 12/26/2019 04:11
@ jrf1831: Seriously?
1. Russians are cheaters, so let’s bend the rules to make them Russian proof, shall we? One wild card means one is enough, irrespective of who already qualified. If there’s nothing in the rules forbidding Alekseenko to be the lucky one, then he is. Good or bad? That’s irrelevant. Rather weird he would do if he were the only Russian, and not do if there are others.
2. You’d judge people for their qualities? Sure, but, as I said, you’re not an organizer and you don’t judge like an organizer. A French one would pick MVL, not because of “his strength”, but because it would please the French audience. Wild cards are not meant for the next best or so (that would not be “wild”). Compare other sports (e.g. tennis) and count the “worthy” ones : none. And what good is your judgment (or mine)? We clearly do not agree on MVL. Remember the fuzz when Kramnik got the wild card many thought should have gone to MVL. Actually, he wás the next best guy then (average rating).
3. The Najdorf game in the GCT finals? With Carlsen actually winning until he blundered? So, in your opinion, one game, one blunder says it all? Personally I’d look at other moves, games, tournaments, ELO … as well. The records are clear: Carlsen everywhere, MVL next to nowhere. And there are others, too. See also 4.
4. Failing to make it to the Candidates “doesn’t say anything about his strength”? I think it does. Look at how many chances he had (WC, GP, rating, even wild card) at least three times (2015, ‘17, ‘19). He failed at every occasion. That’s not just tough luck. Players like Grischuk, Ding, Giri … have already made it more than once. And Carlsen would every time: he’s been no. 1 for several years now, which implies that, “with such conditions”, he’d always make it to the Candidates. Not that he’d need rating to qualify, see his tournaments wins.
michaelriber michaelriber 12/26/2019 10:04
MVL finished just outside the qualifying spots in 3 out of 4 categories. Of course anyone in chess can see that logically he should get the wild card. He is clearly the strongest player to be left out.

Luckily for the RUSSIAN organizers, a RUSSIAN player was also eligible. Just barely. So now they can have 3 RUSSIAN players in the Candidates, because apparently 2 wasn't enough.

Did anyone really think things would get better with a new - RUSSIAN - president of FIDE...? :-(
Jacob woge Jacob woge 12/25/2019 11:20
“What MVL wants is an exception to the rules.”

Is it? The RCF can choose the wild card in any which way they want, can’t they. Not that I think a match would necessarily be a good idea, but I don’t see it as being outside the rules. As long as it is the decision of the RCF.

I wonder, if Alekseenko had not taken third at Isle of Man. Who would be next?

Enter geopolitics on the stage. Which country are you on friendly terms with?

What a mess.
Alobert Alobert 12/25/2019 10:45
Well, MVL would certainly be a good contender on account of his playing strenght but he is not legitimate as he didn't comply with the various ways of qualifying, that were known well in advance and contractual. The Russian Chess Federation and the FIDE are simply sticking to rules.
What MVL wants is an exception to the rules. He agreed to compete under these conditions and failed to qualify. Why would any federation or the FIDE make a breach to the rules to give a free spot to any player ? The MVL open letter is like begging... which is sad from such a top player.
jrf1831 jrf1831 12/25/2019 03:34
1, Organizers want something in return for what they do.
Sure, I understand that and respect that. How much should they get? One player is ok? It seems too much in my opinion? Because the one player may shuffle the cards, e.g. loosing in purpose in last round when he has no chance. Russians has a long history of bad sportsmanship, so this is definitely an option we must consider.
2, So it is to be expected that a Russian organizer will rather pick another Russian than a Frenchman.
Why? I prefer to judge people for their qualities, not their nationality. I am from the Czech Republic and I wouldnt be giving a wildcard to David Navara over MVL. I always root for Navara whenever he sees top competition, but why would I chose based on nationality and not based on quality (chess strenght)? Nationalism has done a lot bad in history.
3, I don't think the Frenchman is any kind of challenge to him.
Come on, look at the last example: Grand chess tour finals. Saw the Najdorf game? Really no challenge? I wanna see that in candidates, or possibly in championship match.
4, He can't even make it to the Candidates.
Which doesnt say anything about his strenght. I say, one in 5 cycles, Carlsen doesnt make it to Candidates, with such conditions.
Arminio12 Arminio12 12/25/2019 03:13
@ jrf1831:

"If I would be the organizer…"

Exactly. You are not. Organizers want something in return for what they do. So it is to be expected that a Russian organizer will rather pick another Russian than a Frenchman. Secondly, what is best for chess is not necessarily what you think is best. Or I for that matter. Thirdly, Ding and MVL have managed to beat Carlsen in fast format tiebreakers once. That's not a lot. Now Ding hasn't lost too many classical games against Carlsen, but MVL has. I don't think the Frenchman is any kind of challenge to him. Ding might have a better chance, but probably not too big either. In my opinion, Ding and Caruana are the only ones that can cause Carlsen any difficulties (and probably not much more than that). And maybe Nepomniachtchi, who has a good classical record against the world champion. But MVL? No way. He can't even make it to the Candidates (which I deeply regret, but there it is).
Jacob woge Jacob woge 12/25/2019 02:56
I don’t much like the wild card idea, in my opinion it degrades the seriousness of the whole qualification procedure, but if that is what it takes to have the Candidates’ organized at all, then so be it.

Wild cards exist in other sports, tennis and golf (I think). It would be interesting to know on which basis wild cards are given in these sports. Is it self-serving the hosting country’s interest, as it seems to have developed in chess, or are other criteria at play?

With the present state of affairs, it is advisable for any aspiring player belong to a small federation to change towards someone big in chess. Abandon your home country, and you may get a second chance outside the qualification process.

In my opinion, the wild card should always be given to someone with a legitimate chance of winning it all. Alekseenko? Let me put it this way: if he can take down Carlsen, anyone having taken part in the qualifiers (Swiss excluded) can.

But we will see.
jrf1831 jrf1831 12/25/2019 02:51
Lets ask a question: Who is able to beat Magnus?

Magnus had high winning chances against Caruana in the 12th championship game, but rather settled for a draw and later explained that it was a tactical decision because he felt he has high chances in rapid and blitz. So Magnus doesnt mind deciding the classical world chamion by rapid or blitz. So he doesnt mind drawing all 12 classical games against most challengers, which gives him great psychological edge.

So who is able to beat him? Someone whose rapid and blitz skill can scare Magnus. That is Ding and MVL. Then pause and maybe Grischuk, Radjabov and Nepo. But truly scared may Magnus be only from Ding and MVL, because they both already proved they are able to beat him in fast formats. And that would make him play it at least a little bit different in classical.

So again, the chess suffered a lot, lost a lot, by decision to give wildcard to Alekseenko.

Some people say here that wildcard is a wildcard and organizers may choose whoever they like. Sure. Then why chose Alekseenko over MVL? If I would be the organizer, I would want to do something good for chess, I would want the best player there. What do these orginazers want? Are they doing it for chess? Or are they in to show strenght? To show that money speaks? Show power?
Arminio12 Arminio12 12/25/2019 01:06
@ Masquer
You can’t limit the number of representatives for the host country without doing the same for non-host countries. And a wild card is a wild card. If you can live with it, okay, but then don’t try and turn into something which it is not, otherwise change the rules and get rid of it. Besides, having a match between “the wild card” and “the next best guy” doesn’t change much: there will be just as much fuzz about who is the worthiest wild card choice and who deserves the chance and who doesn’t. And the more so when the wild card wins the match.
The next best guy? Looks like it may be MVL this time, because he was very close at every occasion, but nothing guarantees such an outcome and clearly, not everybody agrees on this either. Your “set of criteria”, objective as they may be, will still lead to the same sort of discussion: if one’s favourite doesn’t get it, there’ll always be one or other part of the set that is “not fair” or favours someone who “does not deserve” it.
By the way, I imagine they do have some rules as to who’s next in line when a Candidate has to withdraw, but whatever they are, there’ll always be a reason to criticize them.
Arminio12 Arminio12 12/25/2019 11:59
@ chessgoddo
Mind your comparisons. So far, Alekseenko has only qualified for the candidate tournament, nothing more, whereas Kasimdzhanov was a (FIDE) world champion. But perhaps the latter deserves a bit more respect. He became world champion by winning a knock-out tournament, in which he defeated players like Grischuk, Topalov and Adams. Compared to one of his predecessors, notably Khalifman, that was not so bad. Of course, as we all know, (strong) players like Kazimdzhanov, Khalifman or Ponomariov were not really world champion material. But if you want the Candidates to be played by “worthy” people only, you must change the rules, to select only players “who could be viewed as legitimate champions”, whatever that may mean and whoever would fit your requirements. Better still: have no Candidates at all and, each period (a year, two years …), declare the number one of that period world champion.
Masquer Masquer 12/25/2019 02:32
That's right. Another gray area needing to be addressed by FIDE.
Maybe MVL should also petition his own federation to help in bringing the Candidates to France next time.
Jacob woge Jacob woge 12/25/2019 01:56
And if the organizing country, or countries, have no elite player, the spot goes to the highest bidder ... ?
viryzhkov viryzhkov 12/25/2019 12:49
Guys, it's all not only about sport and about who deserves a spot in the Candidates most of all. Don't forget that the Russian federation has chosen to invest in organizing this tournament, which is a part of an overarching program of developing chess in Russia. Now that Alekseenko can be legally chosen, he MUST be chosen irrespective of how big or small his chances are to perform well in the candidates. The reason is simple: for Kirill this will be such an experience that he won't be able to get anywhere else, and this alone can help him become an elite player at a later time, and without that tournament these chances would be much smaller. To put it simply, investing in this tournament gives the federation the right to help developing their young talents, period. Had the French federation cared for developing chess in France as much as the Russian one, they would get their player in. Forget about the meritocratic principle, there are enough spots (seven!) to be taken based on the tournament results, and this one remaining spot must be given to the federation that CARES.
tom_70 tom_70 12/25/2019 12:47
A true world champion would not need a handout from any organization to play for the title. But that's what separates the Carlsen's and Kasparov's from everybody else.
TechWrtr TechWrtr 12/25/2019 12:34
The idea that a host nation is allowed to nominate one of its own players to play in an event as important as the Candidates Tournament is farcical. The strongest players should be allowed to play. For MVL to be passed over once again would be a travesty. He should have been the wild card choice during the last cycle, but the Russians got to choose one of their own players then too even though Kramnik had not been playing well in the year leading up to the last candidates cycle. The choice then was also made very early, before the Grand Prix events had concluded. Do not expect the Russians to make the fair or sporting decision; this is all politics and Russia has the most clout in FIDE.
Masquer Masquer 12/24/2019 11:17
In an earlier post, I acknowledged that the host country is entitled to at least one representative. But what if there are several players already qualified from the host nation - then the wildcard should no longer be reserved to the hosts. This is where the current rules begin to break down.

It's not that hard to have a set of criteria to determine who the 'next best' guy is. In fact, it turns out to be very important to know this, since one of the Candidates may have to withdraw due to ill health or other reasons, and then who do you pick to replace him?
UncleBent UncleBent 12/24/2019 08:03
It's hard to feel sorry for MVL, when I think of all the Soviet players denied entry into the Candidates' matches, as a reaction to the 1962 Curacao Candidates Tournament. FIDE said that no more than 4 out of the 8 participants could be from the same federation and play in the matches. This, in an era where 75% of the top GMs were from the Soviet Union. Keres, Stein and Geller, to name just 3, were denied inclusion after rightfully earning their spot. At least MV: had his chances.
Ajeeb007 Ajeeb007 12/24/2019 07:47
FIDE needs to fix this farce. Letting sponsors buy spots in the Candidates tournament and thereby displace much more deserving players is demeaning to the game. The Russians have been rigging the odds in their favor since 1948. Botvinnik with his automatic rematches, the collusion against Fischer in the 60s, Shirov getting shafted after beating Kramnik in a candidates match....
drunkenknight8 drunkenknight8 12/24/2019 07:46
MVL should be in the candidate. He is far better than Giri and Alekseenko . Its a pity the candidate tournament won't have the world no.4. Astonishing!! isn't it ?
Denix Denix 12/24/2019 07:08
I miss Jeff Sonas' predictions
Magic_Knight Magic_Knight 12/24/2019 06:58
I think all the whiners about MVL are missing the point of what a wildcard is. Wildcard is a player that gets randomly selected by the host without any contingent qualifications, thus a “wild card”. So all these sore MVL losers that think the wildcard ought to play in a match vs MVL are just being sore.

The wildcard requires no such contingency to get in. You need to start facing the facts people.
retspan retspan 12/24/2019 06:35
The RCF's objective is to increase the chances of a Russian becoming challenger to Carlsen, so Alekseenko's nomination is not surprising. I just hope he doesn't 'lose' to either Grishuk or Nepomniatchi when one of them needs the extra half point. That would make a travesty of the candidates tournament.
jrf1831 jrf1831 12/24/2019 05:06

It feels that hysteria around Alekseenko missing out is misplaced. Everybody knew the rules. Everybody played knowing the rules. Alekseenko missed many chances on the chess board, he is a great player but tough luck. Don't be a sore loser. Rules are rules, and MVL deserves to be in the Candidates based on the existing rules. The only valid suggestion is to change wild card rule in the future. The rest *( like Alekseenko-MVL match) is whining of sore losers.I just find that origanizers choice is a bit pathetic and unbecoming of great orginazers.
chessgod0 chessgod0 12/24/2019 04:04
The Candidates Tournament should only contain players who could be viewed as legitimate champions should they actually advance to face Carlsen. There is simply no way Alekseenko would be viewed as a credible champion--he would be the Kasimdzhanov of his generation and everyone knows it. From a purely sporting perspective, his direct placement into the Candidates is a travesty and ought to be contingent on winning a match with MVL. Finishing equal third in a single Swiss tournament does not and should not qualify someone to cross swords with leading lights of the chess world in the second biggest show on earth.

All that said, it's really hard to have much sympathy for MVL. He has consistently failed perform at his very best when the moment demanded it. This is not the stuff of champions and he has only himself to blame when all is said and done. He is clearly aware of this, and the gracious tone of his letter reflects this essential reality as well as, I suspect, his character and good nature.

I actually don't think there is anything wrong with having a wildcard appointee---it's a very nice incentive to help find sponsors (subject to restrictions, of course). The real problem is that you can win a lone Swiss tournament and automatically be seeded into the Candidates---this is very bad. The rating qualifier, Grand Prix, and World Cup require consistently excellent performance over a lengthy amount of time---once again, winning a single Swiss tournament does not meet this criteria. The Swiss qualifier should be replaced with another rating qualifier.
Lilloso Lilloso 12/24/2019 03:33
@Bill Alg
One feels you are a great and gracious winner ! I would like, for my part, to be a "loser" like MVL.
thesavage4 thesavage4 12/24/2019 02:44
I am still mystified as to why people keep on arguing using the qualifier "if" ("[I]f instead of the wildcard..."). Also, there are some hallucinating that I made a comment on Giri's play.

1) We do not need to try to imagine what would have happened had the rules been X or Y. All we know is that those rules were known beforehand and gave equal preference to everyone: Seven spots were available based on actual play (or six if you remove Caruana's automatic qualifier, which in itself is deserved) and one was not. As explained before, the various spots accentuate various facets of the game a given player may be good at -- head-to-head competition (tests steadiness and nerves at faster controls), a Swiss (ability to take risks to rack up points, as opposed to winning 8.5-7.5), and so on and so forth. Whether the rules are RIGHT is subjective. But it is objectively true that these rules are FAIR as they do not give preference to any one player. They say: "Everyone has to turn Left here." They do not say: "You are obliged to use this route to get from point A to point B." Arguments such as "Nakamura is better at blitz" or "Aronian reached a higher ELO rating" are akin to saying, "If only so and so were allowed to turn Left he would have gotten here faster." The highway code is the same for everyone.

2) That Giri is regarded as less spectacular or boring or whatever by some is also irrelevant. That Justin Bieber manages to sell more music than Beethoven says nothing about their musical ability. All it says is that within our system Bieber sold more records. The Elo rating does says nothing about playing styles. In this case, it just says Giri was playing at a higher strength for more time than MVL during the year 2019. (Note: For future years, it may be interesting to have an adjacent, separate rating running alongside the standard one in which all players are reset to 2700 on Jan 1st of the qualifying year, whereby the average play for Year X ... 1/2
thesavage4 thesavage4 12/24/2019 02:42
..2/2 would not include "residue" from the previous year).

At any given point, if you would like to stretch out imaginary rules, Aronian, So, Anand, Topalov and Mamedyarov, are registered to have played better than MVL. None of these players are suggesting they were allowed in as, much to their credit, they accepted the rules beforehand.

That the rules are such that we cannot predict whom will be qualified is not only fair, it is what keeps the spectators watching.
Bill Alg Bill Alg 12/24/2019 02:12
The question is, is MVL "unlucky" or just a loser? I think unlucky is one time, or maybe two, but not ALL the time.
Arminio12 Arminio12 12/24/2019 11:34
@ Masquer:
Of course, one should always consider the question whether the system can be improved or not, as no system is ever perfect. However, if the “wild card should have to win a direct match against whoever just missed out” that is not an improvement. For one thing, there may be more than one player who “just missed out”, so you would need extra rules and criteria to decide who is the luckiest loser (and, probably, have all the more fuzz, as well). More importantly, there is no such thing as a wild card having to play an extra match (unless of course the organisers can’t make up their minds, e.g. when they want to pick a compatriot and two or more compatriots are eligible). A wild card implies the organisers have a choice, within certain criteria (which were rather clear and strict this time), but if their choice is not guaranteed, then it is irrelevant. If I were an organiser and the choice I’d make could be eliminated again by someone I did not pick or even want at all, then what good is it? So either you have a system with a wild card that to some extent satisfies the wishes or preferences of the organisers, or you have a system without wild cards. There is nothing in between that would be better than any of those two.
Puss_In_Boots Puss_In_Boots 12/24/2019 11:33
P.S. or Carlsen ! 😁
Puss_In_Boots Puss_In_Boots 12/24/2019 11:30
Every candidate player has 50% chance to win the tournament ! 😁
Cizia Cizia 12/24/2019 08:31
As a french player I am very disappointed for Maxime
But it is true that his opening book is narrow and also I think he is still not a great fighter , and lacks of nerves in crucial moments : to me these are the two points that he has to improve
Anyway the letter his manager made is 'polite' and maybe the Russian federation will listen ... who knows ... they already have several russian players for the candidate tournament and they may want to show their fair-play in international "sports" ( for instance there will be officially no Russian sportsmen in Tokyo 2020 )
(Forgive my poor english)
enigmavbg enigmavbg 12/24/2019 07:32
Ding has a 60% chance of winning vs. Carlsen;
MVL 30% chance; Nepo 20%. The rest of the candidates less than 10%.
What do you think?"

This evaluation is based on what exactly? You asked your crystal ball? Ding's rating is almost 70 points lower that Carlsen's with no sign that the gap is closing any time soon. And yet "he has a 60% chance of winning vs. Carlsen"!?. Only a crystal ball could come up with such a ludicrous statement.
Masquer Masquer 12/24/2019 06:13
Yes, what is done is done. Now the focus should be on having a better qualification set of rules. The current system is not all bad, but the wildcard controversy can come back and bite hard again next time, it's a like a time bomb.

This is why I don't necessarily mind MVL's letter, since it could serve as a spark for change in future qualifications.
Someone has to call out the current wildcard rule as unsatisfactory and unfair in its present format. I've made several suggestions in earlier posts as to how it could be better handled.
dsilver70 dsilver70 12/24/2019 05:29
It feels that hysteria around MVL missing out is misplaced. Everybody knew the rules. Everybody played knowing the rules. MVL missed many chances on the chess board, he is a great player but tough luck. Don't be a sore loser. Rules are rules, and Alekseenko deserves to be in the Candidates based on the existing rules. The only valid suggestion is to change wild card rule in the future. The rest *( like MVL-Alekseenko match) is whining of sore losers.I just find that MVL's PR campaign is a bit pathetic and unbecoming of a great player.
Masquer Masquer 12/24/2019 05:18
The current system needs to be improved. Whoever gets the wildcard should have to win a direct match against whoever just missed out, based on the main qualification criteria. A wildcard can't be a total walk-in, the player would have to earn their way, too, if there is to be fairness.
Magic_Knight Magic_Knight 12/24/2019 03:55
I don’t think MVL will get his way with this challenge, even though it is understandable that he wants a last stab at getting in all cost. If Russia declines this challenge then he will just have to suck it up.
KingDing2020 KingDing2020 12/24/2019 01:43
Ding has a 60% chance of winning vs. Carlsen;

MVL 30% chance; Nepo 20%. The rest of the candidates less than 10%.
What do you think?
cjan25 cjan25 12/24/2019 01:32
Get rid of the wildcard option whenever it comes to the Candidates tournament. You give the absolute discretion to a federation, it will be partisan. If the top qualifiers are just 7, then so be it.

The best in the sport will feast on Alekseenko, the bottom-dweller in the 2700+ Elo rating list.