The world's great sporting events are suspended or postponed, minus one: the Chess Candidates Tournament, a contest of eight participants whose biggest prize is being able to challenge the world champion, Magnus Carlsen, which is being developed in Yekaterinburg, with curious security measures as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic.
After three days, the leaderboard shows three leaders, with two points each, including Frenchman Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who came to the tournament as a substitute for Azerbaijani Teimour Radjabov, absent by his own decision for fear of the coronavirus. And is that the pandemic is almost as protagonist as the players. So much so that the organization recommended that the formal greeting between the players not be carried out, even though during the games the chess players touch pieces to eat that their rival has already moved.
Behind closed doors and with games followed from different parts of the world through video, the contest started with several surprises. Chinese Ding Liren, undefeated for more than a year, number three in the world ranking and one of the top favorites for the title, started with two losses in a row, after three months without playing. Maybe it has influenced the double quarantine he had to go through, first in his country, isolated 800 kilometers from Wuhan, and then in a farm outside Moscow, an essential requirement for the Russian authorities to allow him to reach Yekaterinburg.
His recovery seems to have started this Thursday, when he defeated the American Fabiano Caruana, the other great candidate for the title and number two in the ranking. The Italian-born player, who already challenged Carlsen last year, He also suffered an odyssey to reach Russia, as authorities in the Czech Republic, where he was located, closed the borders just before his trip. Only on Friday, the International Chess Federation (FIDE) was able to assure their presence. “We are happy to confirm that Fabiano Caruana arrived in Yekaterinburg,” wrote FIDE on his official Twitter account.
Caruana was the protagonist of another curious fact, when he refused to greet the Russian Kirill Alekseenko, the only invited player and who is not among the best in the ranking, who He did not remember the protocol and extended his right hand when he lost his game of the second round.
With the head elsewhere, concentration will be key to define the title. At the moment, Vachier-Lagrave, Russian Ian Nepomniachtchi and Chinese Wang Hao seem the most focused, with two points out of three possible, just before the rest day on Friday. Meanwhile, from his home, Carlsen recommends through social networks that everyone stay locked up and take advantage to play chess.