There’s a beginner’s opening trick in chess we are all taught and know as “Legal’s Mate” – named after the early 18th-century French player François Antoine de Légal de Kermeur (1702-92) – but now comes another version on a theme as Teimour Radjabov says he’s considering legal action to get his place back in a reshaped Candidates Tournament after its abrupt coronavirus postponement last week in Ekaterinburg, Russia.
The Azeri was the surprise winner of the FIDE World Cup to gain an automatic Candidates qualifying spot to decide Magnus Carlsen’s title challenger – but two weeks before the start, with all sport and cultural events were beginning to be cancelled as the global pandemic crisis intensified, he asked FIDE to consider postponing the event. When his – not unreasonable in the circumstances – request was declined, Radjabov withdrew, and was replaced by Frenchman Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who is now the favourite to win when the tournament is eventually resumed as he holds a crucial tiebreak advantage over his Russian co-leader, Ian Nepomniachtchi.
Like many, Radjabov’s judgment that – eventually – the Candidates was also likely to become a casualty of the pandemic was proved correct after Russia imposed its own sudden travel restrictions late last week, all of which left players, seconds, officials and journalists scrambling to return home with just a few hours notice. Now interviewed on Chess.com/TV (see video interview below), Radjabov feels he’s been vindicated for his stance, and he’s now looking for a way back into the tournament!
“I think FIDE should take some action to include me back into the tournament, that’s what I think. I think it’s a fair decision. From my side, I think I have done everything possible. I just asked them, warned them, I also warned the chess community by expressing it openly. There was no action by FIDE and now we are in this situation.”
But FIDE remain adamant through a response from President Arkady Dvorkovich that there’s no way back now for Radjabov, as they can’t restart the cycle. And even if FIDE did restart the Candidates, then that would be even more unfair on MVL, as the Frenchman is in the joint-lead with seven of the 14 rounds of the tournament already played.
Many, though, such as former world champion Vladimir Kramnik are speculating that Radjabov could be compensated with a wild card spot into the 2022 Candidates – but not so Magnus Carlsen!
On Chess24.com, the reigning World Champion said: “Obviously the situation we have now is not ideal, but I think giving Radjabov the wild card for 2022 – that I would find just ridiculous…. I don’t know the law, I don’t know what is supposed to happen there, but to me it doesn’t feel justified that he should play even if it resumes, but I would understand it. But 2022… no!”
GM Fabiano Caruana – GM Kirill Alekseenko
FIDE Candidates Tournament, (2)
Nimzo-Indian Defence, Kmoch variation
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.f3 The Kmoch variation, named after the Austrian-Dutch-American IM Hans Kmoch (1894-1973), who became the Secretary and manager of the Manhattan Chess Club, with his claim to fame being the author of the classic tome Pawn Power in Chess. This is a dynamic opening is a sharp and very complicated way for White to try to dominate the center – and definitely something that would have come as a big surprise for Alekseenko, as Caruana admitted he’d never played this before! 4…d5 The solid and safe mainline. The ‘adventurous’ line is 4…c5!? 5.d5 Nh5!? 6.Nh3 Qh4+ 7.Nf2 Qxc4 8.e4 Bxc3+ 9.bxc3 Qxc3+ 10.Bd2 Qa3 where Black has two pawns, but White has good compensation and all ‘the fun’ with the better development and more space. 5.a3 Be7 6.e4 dxe4 7.fxe4 c5 8.d5 There’s also the double-edged endgame option of 8.e5 Nfd7 9.dxc5 Nxe5 10.Qxd8+ Bxd8 11.Be2 Bd7 12.Nf3 Nxf3+ 13.Bxf3 Bc6 14.Ne4 we witnessed recently in Firouzja, A-Anand,V, Wijk Tata Steel Masters 2020. 8…exd5 9.exd5 0-0 10.Be2 Re8 11.Nf3 Bg4 “An extremely decent plan for Black,” commented Caruana in his post-game presser. 12.0-0 Nbd7 13.d6 Bf8 14.h3 Bh5 15.Nb5 Re6?! This was an “unusual move”, according to Caruana, who felt Black had two good options in 15…Rb8 16.Bf4 a6 17.Nc7 Re4!? or 15…Qb6 16.Nc7 Bxd6 17.Nxa8 Rxa8 with the bishop-pair and a pawn for the exchange. 16.Bf4! This has to be the most logical and best move. Caruana did say he looked at the alternative plan of 16.g4 which, initially he thought looked good for him, but he soon realised that after 16…a6 17.Ng5 it was all becoming as bit murky and messy. 16…a6 17.Nc7 Re4 This was the point of Alekseenko’s play – but when Caruana doesn’t play ball by going for the messy lines, it’s almost as if he fails to to spot the obvious moves needed to stay competitive. 18.Bh2 Alekseenko was hoping for 18.Nxa8?! Rxf4 19.Nc7 Nb6! 20.Qd2 Qxd6 21.Qxd6 Bxd6 22.Nd5 Nfxd5 23.cxd5 c4 24.Nd2!? c3! 25.Bxh5 cxd2 26.Rxf4 Bxf4 27.Bf3 Nc4 and Black seems to be doing OK. 18…Rc8?! It’s yet another little inaccuracy, and they soon all begin to mount up for Alekseenko as Caruana now ruthlessly seizes the initiative. Instead, Caruana thought the best try was 18…Rb8!? where now his game continuation of 19.g4 Bxg4 20.hxg4 Nxg4 21.Bd3 Nxh2 22.Bxe4 Nxf1 23.Qxf1 Nf6! 24.Bf5 and there’s no hit on the …Rc8 – all of which makes a big, big difference as the Russian’s position now simply collapses. 19.g4 Bxg4 20.hxg4 Nxg4 21.Bd3 Nxh2 22.Bxe4 Nxf1 23.Qxf1 Bxd6 The only fighting chance Alekseenko has is to admit his mea culpa and still play the tempi-losing 23…Nf6 but, as explained above, after 24.Bf5! Rb8 25.Rd1 Bxd6 26.Nd5 g6 27.Qd3! Black, while not really dead, does face an uphill task to stay in the game. 24.Nd5 g6 25.Qh3! Not only bringing the queen into the attack, but also threatening Qxd7 with the Nf6+ fork winning another piece. It simply never rains but it pours for poor Alekseenko, as it is amazing who quickly Caruana has built-up his winning attack. 25…Kg7 Alekseenko had not one but two deadly works to be wary of. After 25…Ne5? 26.Nxe5 Bxe5 there’s the other with 27.Qxc8! Qxc8 28.Ne7+ Kf8 29.Nxc8 winning. 26.Kh1 Clearing g1 for his rook to pile in now with the attack. 26…Ne5 27.Nh4 h5 28.Rg1 Bf8 Caruana had also spotted the nice win after 28…Ng4 with the forcing line 29.Nf5+! Kg8 30.Rxg4 hxg4 31.Qh6 Bf8 (If 31…gxf5 32.Nf6+ wins) 32.Nde7+ Qxe7 33.Nxe7+ and Black can resign. 29.Nf4 Ng4 30.Nxh5+! [see diagram] So much for that age-old adage that a knight on the rim is dim! 30…gxh5 31.Bf5 Be7 32.Bxg4 hxg4 33.Qxg4+ Bg5 34.Qh5! 1-0 Caruana finds the most accurate move that forces mate and Alekseenko resigns, faced with 34…f6 35.Nf5+ Kf8 36.Qh8+ Kf7 37.Qh7+ Ke6 38.Re1+ Be3 39.Rxe3#