By WGM Alina l'Ami
Is there anything left untold, unheard, unrequited or unseen amidst the far-famed facts, the re-re-retold pages of history or the omnipresent clichés about the most known city on earth?!
Until I find a clear answer to that: welcome to the city with an overwhelming personality, a city that you cannot replace with any other, a giant you cannot avoid nor ignore, the epicenter of fantasies and dreams, a place that exudes a perpetual seduction, always the same and always different – welcome to Paris!
In its two syllables, the French metropolis enclosed titles that any corner of the planet would be jealous for: an absolute cultural landmark, an inexhaustible source of inspiration, the quintessence of elegance and refinement, the capital of glorious food and stylish shopping, the place where you helplessly fall in love...Paris is always a good idea.
With its charming character, with that unique je ne sais quoi, Paris has enticed for centuries many of the world’s most influential artists, writers, thinkers and architects to call it home and become...'Parisophiles'. Can we still then act surprised that one of the most important pages in our chess history has been written here, in Paris?!
Just a few iconic symbols
Back in 1924, on 20th July to be precise, the city was the silent witness to the birth of what has grown to be a very special part in all of us: FIDE. Interesting to note is the French term which hasn’t been changed in almost a century: Fédération Internationale des Échecs, the world chess federation for the English speakers. Its roots date back to the 18th and 19th century, most probably in Café de la Régence, the chess heart which at the time couldn’t beat elsewhere than in the French capital. After all, if artists have no other home in Europe, except Paris, I would take the liberty to speculate even further: the chess seeds couldn’t have found a more fertile ground than in the city on the Seine.
But the "FIDE" acronym is not the only preserved French expression. Another commonly used term amongst chess players originates in the very same grand city: Grand Prix! Although these words are mostly associated with Formula one racing or combat sports like K-1, chess is no less than a highly competitive activity; after all, chess players are out there to 'kill', right?
The fortunate "Grand Prix" title stands at the present day for some of the most important events a chess player can find: the world championship cycle! Just for the profane in us, I will make a small detour to explain what it is all about. The most followed and acclaimed competition is obviously the match for the supreme title:
World Championship. We all know this year the battle will take place in India, between Carlsen and Anand. But how did they get there? To cut a long story short, FIDE came up with an ingenious and viable plan, to give the strongest chess players a fair chance. So, to challenge the world champion, one has to make his way to the:
Candidates tournament, a double round robin event with eight players, whose winner will play either Carlsen or Anand for the world title; who is then eligible to participate in this high class event? There are five ways to qualify:
1. A spot is already taken by the victim of the match from Chennai
2. Another one is granted to a player from the hosting country of the Candidates event
3. Two players will qualify on rating
4. Two players will be taken from the World Cup, thus first and second place from Tromsø
5. Two sits will be given to the best performances from the aforementioned Grand Prix competitions
Now we’re getting somewhere…there are six GP tournaments, spread over 2012 and 2013, and the strongest chess players are given the chance to play in four of them. That’s why you have seen the grandmasters shuffling around London, Tashkent, Zug, Thessaloniki and Beijing, the cities where the first five GP have been organized. At the end, two players will be considered the overall winners, qualifying for the Candidates tournament according to a clever system, of which you are probably aware of:
* From these four events, the worst result of each player will be cut off, to minimize damages of an eventual accident.
* For each place in the final standings, the player gets a certain number of points: 170 for being unshared first; 140 for finishing on the first spot but shared with someone else and so on;
* To sum up: the first two players to have gained the highest number of points from their best three out of four events will promote to the Candidates tournament.
That having been said, we move on to the most significant detail on the list: the last but not least important in the series, the decisive sixth Grand Prix! There is no coincidence if you ask me, that this crucial event is back where everything started long time ago: Paris! I cannot imagine a more hopefulness location than here, in the promised land for the artist in all of us, closing in a perfect circular shape what begins with the FIDE foundation and ends with this final GP…
As much as we would like to claim perfection (in the spheres’ footsteps), every system has its flaws, nothing is perfect. I am trying now to outrun the possible arguments some of you might come up with, against the viability and equality of chance amongst the participating players in the GP series. Until that point, let us first see what we should expect in Paris and which players might qualify for the Candidates:
Since everything is about the two available spots and for the sake of simplicity, I wrote down only the players that actually have a chance to make it. For the full overview and current standings after 5th leg, I would kindly advise you to check the FIDE Grand Prix website.
As mentioned before, the chosen participants are allowed to play in four GP, so we can already see that Topalov and Mamedyarov have finished their series. If you check the right column, you can easily figure out that Topalov is already intangible with his 410 points (he is inevitably qualified), while Mamedyarov will surely watch the games from Paris with high interest. There is a risk that he drops from his comfortable second spot to accommodate another player, as both Grischuk and Caruana might cross his 390 points by a whisker!
There is only one condition to that: either Grischuk or Caruana have to win unshared, to gain the necessary 170 points. In the table I already eliminated their worst results, so if you add 170 to the numbers in red you will understand the looming danger for Mamedyarov.
The question is: will Grischuk or Caruana outrival Mamedyarov, to join Topalov in the next Candidates event?
So you may wonder: isn’t it better to play in the last Grand Prix, to have a clear overview, a clear target, giving everything you can to win the event or playing it safe to preserve what you already have? What about the other players, wouldn’t they lack motivation, since for them there is no more chance to qualify?
I haven’t heard yet of an one-sided coin; besides, perfection exists only on the mathematicians papers. In a real tournament like this one from Paris, the beauty lies precisely in its ‘shortcomings’. The very same ‘advantage’ of having a clearly marked goal can be seen as an extra weight pressuring Grischuk’s or Caruana’s shoulders. As for the so called de-motivated players, wouldn’t this be a chance to leave their inhibitions aside and play for the sake of chess and for the…prizes?!
I am afraid I don’t hold the key to these questions, only the upcoming Grand Prix from Paris will bring some light, satisfying our patience and thirst for grandeur. Consequently, any way you slice it, I would put my bet on a very interesting, exhilarating and definitely not boring event!
And to give you the last touch of color: elegant up to its bones, Paris amazes me with its enviable nonchalance while convincing you of its perfection right through its very imperfections! Why wouldn’t we then accept our weakness in the same sovereign way that Paris does?! Voltaire said it even better: “The perfect is the enemy of good”.
Tournament faith is a bit like real life; the rules are always fair, but chance and unforeseeable may cast us in different parts; it only depends on each of us to play our cards as well as we can.