Sergey Karjakin may well have reached the dizzy heights of being a former world championship challenger, but the Crimean-born Russian came crashing down to earth earlier today after the governing body of international chess, FIDE, banned him from competition for six months following his controversial online outburst in support of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Karjakin, who challenged Magnus Carlsen for the world title in 2016, vociferously and continually defended his adoptive country’s actions on social media in recent weeks, but his often inflammatory and unhinged outbursts came under intense criticism from the chess world.
This led to the 32-year-old being reported to the FIDE Ethics Committee for his reactionary statements on the ongoing military conflict in Ukraine. “Sergey Karjakin is found guilty of breach of article 2.2.10 of the FIDE code of ethics, and is sanctioned to a worldwide ban of six months from participating as a player in any FIDE rated chess competition, taking effect from the date of this decision, 21 March 2022,” the governing body announced today in a statement.
The ban puts Karjakin’s participation in the Candidates Tournament, which starts on 16 June, in jeopardy. He can appeal against the decision within 21 days, but earlier today, while criticising FIDE’s decision as being “shameful”, Karjakin gave a clear indication that he would not be seeking to overturn the ban.
According to the FIDE rules, if Karjakin does not play in the Candidates Tournament, his spot goes to the highest-rated player who has not qualified yet, with the proviso though that they must have played 30 rateable games – and this immediately creates another problem for the most obvious player not in the Candidates, namely China’s world number 3, Ding Liren, who has constantly found himself caught in the quagmire of the many Covid lockdowns and travel restrictions to have hit China. As it stands, the highest-rated players in the frame to replace Karjakin are:
Ding Liren, 2799, only 4 rated games
Lev Aronian, 2785, 30 rated games
Wesley So, 2778, 35 rated games
Richard Rapport, 2776, 45 rated games
Anish Giri, 2772, 34 rated games
It does look rather unlikely that Ding will be able to play another 26 rated games within the next couple of weeks, and this makes for a rather intriguing sideshow for the third and final leg of the FIDE Grand Prix that starts later this week in Berlin.
With an additional rating spot now available, Aronian, So, and Giri will all play in Berlin. Rapport does not, but the Hungarian virtually has a foot in the Candidates as he leads the Grand Prix standings, so likely the Candidates lifeline will be fought out between Aronian, So, or Giri – and this means it could all come down to simply who wins the most games of all in Berlin to boost their rating chances.
Meanwhile, some good for Ukraine does come out of online chess activity. Liem Quang Le hit a very hot streak as the Vietnamese star dominated the opening three days of the Charity Cup’s Prelim stage, the second leg of the $1.6m Meltwater Champions Chess Tour supported by the NEAR Foundation that’s being held as a Ukrainian relief fundraiser for UNICEF, which has so far raised $60,000.
Going into Tuesday’s final day, speed maven Leim is three points clear of Magnus Carlsen and already assured of a place in the Knockout phase. For Carlsen, as ever in the Prelims, it proved to be a bit of a rollercoaster ride for the two-time defending Tour champion – but one highlight was a sparkling miniature win over a potential future title-challenger, in a line against the Closed Sicilian that briefly came to fame after Ljubomir Ljubojevic beat Boris Spassky with it.
Coverage of the final day of the Prelims will be provided by chess24 and available on Play Magnus Group channels and in several languages. In Norway, the event will be broadcast live on TV 2 with the regular Tour commentary team of host Kaja Snare assisted by experts GM David Howell and WGM Jovanka Houska.
GM Richard Rapport – GM Magnus Carlsen
Charity Cup | Prelims, (7)
1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 The Closed Sicilian is a rarity at elite levels these days – but back in the 1960s and through the 1970s, it was a big favourite of the 10th World Champion Boris Spassky, who did much to popularise it at all levels, and where it took off briefly at club level as an antidote to mainline Sicilians. 2…Nc6 3.g3 Rb8!? A strange early rook move that I well remember being introduced at top-level praxis, as this was Ljubomir Ljubojevic’s big surprise weapon to beat Spassky at Bugojno 1978. I was so impressed by Ljubo’s play that I followed the Yugoslav/Serbian GMs recommendation for about 18 months whenever I faced the Closed Sicilian – and with excellent results! The main point behind it is not only to start a rapid queenside expansion but also to get the rook out of the way of e5 tricks and pin down the long h1-a8 diagonal. 4.Bg2 b5 5.a3 g6 6.b4 Stopping Black from playing the annoying …b4 – and ultimately this is where Spassky went wrong in the aforementioned game. 6…d6 7.Rb1 a6 8.Nge2 Bg7 9.0-0 Nf6 10.f4 Nd7 Again avoiding e5 tricks. 11.Nd5 On reflection, perhaps better for White was going for something like: 11.bxc5 dxc5 12.e5!? Nd4 13.a4 b4 (Black has to move quickly in these lines. Too slow would be 13…0-0 14.axb5 Nxb5 15.Nxb5 axb5 16.d4! and White is in control.) 14.Nxd4 cxd4 15.Ne2 Nc5 16.c3!? and an equal and dynamic struggle ahead for both sides. 11…0-0 12.Bb2 Bxb2 13.Rxb2 e6 14.Ne3 Bb7 15.Kh1 Nb6 Both 15…Ne7 and 15…f5 also had to be taken into consideration here. 16.c3 d5 17.e5 Snatching the pawn with 17.exd5 exd5 18.bxc5 risked 18…Nc4 19.Rb1 Nxe3 20.dxe3 Na5 and with the other knight swinging into c4, White, in the long-term, is going to have a difficult task trying to defend his multiple pawn weaknesses on a3, c5, c3 and e3. 17…d4! Stronger than 17…Nc4 – and without much pressure, Carlsen is now suddenly “bossing” the position. 18.Ng4 Nc4 19.Ra2 dxc3 20.Nxc3? It all goes rapidly downhill with the velocity of Franz Klammer for Rapport from here. It’s definitely not an easy position to defend against Carlsen, but Rapport had to try 20.dxc3 Qc7 21.Nc1! Kg7 22.Qe2 and look for compensation with Nc1-d3-c5 and Ng4-f6 – certainly those knight prospects look better than the daunting task Rapport now faces. 20…cxb4 21.Ne4 It seems that Rapport has misjudged the compensation he’s going to get with his knight-play here – he could have had much the same in the above note but crucially without the heavy loss of material. 21…bxa3 Well, unless Carlsen has overlooked a dramatic mating attack on his king, then he’s going to come out of this with a treasure-trove of extra material! 22.d3 Nb4! Carlsen stays calm and calls Rapport’s bluff. 23.Ngf6+ Kg7 24.Qg4 Ne3 [see diagram] There was just so many ways to win for Carlsen here, and even quicker was taking the other rook with 24…Nxa2 – but Carlsen works on the all-too-human gut instinct of removing White pieces from the equation of any possible tricks on the kingside. 25.Qg5 Marginally better was 25.Qh3 but White is struggling for survival after the simple 25…h5. 25…Bxe4! Now Rapport’s position implodes. 26.dxe4 Nxa2 27.Nh5+ Kh8 28.Nf6 Rg8! 0-1 Carlsen very calmly plays the winning move, and with it, Rapport resigns. The point is that White can’t capture the rook without the queens being traded leaving Black with a big material advantage and if 29.Qh4 Rg7! defends the mate on h7.