Saturday, August 10

FIDE World Cup from Norway


Tromsoe in northern Norway.
The mesmerizing first round of the always exciting FIDE World Cup kicks off with 64 royal contests on Sunday morning at 6:00am Pacific time.  An array of 128 elite chess masters, including 38 members of the 2700 club, have made the trek to the remote town of Tromsoe, Norway, located north of the Arctic circle.  Most will not stay for long thanks to the cold-blooded nature of a knockout tournament.  Indeed, only 32 will play for more than 5 or 6 days.  A lucky two will contest the final round on Labor Day weekend.  Both finalists also qualify for the 2014 Candidates Tournament.

The knockout format has not varied much over the past decade.  Much like the annual college basketball championship tournament, the top seeds face the lowest rated participants in the first round.  Conversely, players ranked in the 50s get opponents in the 70s, most rated within merely 30 FIDE.

2013 World Cup Statistics
  • 128 total players
  • 38 rated 2700+
  • 52 rated 2600-2699
  • 27 rated 2500-2599
  • 11 rated U2500
  • highest rating = 2813
  • median rating = 2647
  • lowest rating = 2304

In each pairing, the participants play two games at a classical time control of 40/90 + G/30 with inc/30 starting on move 1.  The winner of this two day head-to-head encounter advances to the next round while the loser goes home.  Many matches invariably end in a tie, to be broken on the third day.  The tiebreaks start with a pair of G/25 + inc/10.  If still tied, they play a pair of G/10 + inc/10.  If still tied, they play a pair of G/5 + inc/3.  If the match remains deadlocked after two slow games and six rapid or blitz contests, then comes one Armageddon game (white 5 minutes versus black 4 minutes and draw odds).  No doubt these playoffs are stressful; those who advance from the first two slow games earn a valuable rest day.

A generous prize fund of $1.6 million will be divided among the 128 participants (although FIDE deducts a 20% tax).  Post tax, the 64 first round losers go home with $4,800.  The World Cup winner earns a cool $96,000.  All players pay their own travel expenses out of the prizes.

Top 10 Seeds
  1. Levon Aronian (ARM) 2813
  2. Fabiano Caruana (ITA) 2796 
  3. Vladimir Kramnik (RUS) 2784 
  4. Alexander Grischuk (RUS) 2785
  5. Sergey Karjakin (RUS) 2772
  6. Hikaru Nakamura (USA) 2772
  7. Boris Gelfand (ISR) 2764
  8. Gata Kamsky (USA) 2741
  9. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (AZE) 2775 
  10. Leinier Domínguez Pérez (CUB) 2757 

Most top players in the world signed up for the richest tournament on the 2013 calendar.  Only three stars will sit out.  World Champion Viswanathan Anand and official challenger Magnus Carlsen are busy preparing for November's title match in Chennai, India.  The 2012-13 Grand Prix winner Veselin Topalov also chose to stay home.  Not coincidentally, these three already punched tickets to the 2014 Candidates Tournament.

The American delegation consists of nine Grandmasters, headlined by Top 10 seeds Hikaru Nakamura and Gata Kamsky.  The other seven will be tested from the start.  Indeed, six of those seven are paired up in the first round!  Historically, the Americans have fared poorly in the World Cup, except for Kamsky, who actually won the 2007 edition!  Unfortunately, it appears unlikely for anyone except the top pair to survive beyond round 2.

Americans at World Cup
  • #6 - Hikaru Nakamura 2772
  • #8 - Gata Kamsky 2741
  • #55 - Alexander Onischuk 2667
  • #83 - Ray Robson 2623
  • #95 - Larry Christiansen 2584
  • #97 - Alejandro Ramirez 2588 
  • #99 - Gregory Kaidanov 2574
  • #106 - Alexander Shabalov 2546
  • #112 - Conrad Holt 2539 
Round 1 Results: Nakamura, Onischuk and Robson are through to round 2.  Kamsky and Ramirez face tiebreakers on Tuesday. The other four were eliminated.  Kamsky moved on after four rapid games.  Unfortunately, Ramirez lost the Armageddon game against Tomashevsky, rated 2706 FIDE.

For live coverage beginning at 6:00am PDT daily, check out the official website and the Internet Chess Club.  Do not try to watch all of the games during the early rounds; just follow your favorite players and some top seeds.

Predictions?  I actually filled out a bracket just like for March Madness.  Quarterfinals: Aronian vs Kamsky, Wang Hao vs  Bruzon, Giri vs Polgar and Kramnik vs Nakamura.  Semifinals: Aronian vs Wang Hao and Giri vs Nakamura.  Final: Nakamura over Aronian!

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