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The FIDE Women’s Grand Prix was supposed to end in Sardinia in May 2020, but then the pandemic intervened. It was rescheduled for Gibraltar, then postponed from January, but it finally begins Saturday May 22nd, with the players competing for two places in this year’s Women’s Candidates Tournament. Aleksandra Goryachkina is uncatchable in first place, but already has a spot in the Candidates. The leaders in the race are Humpy Koneru and Alexandra Kosteniuk, but neither plays, so that most of the field in Gibraltar is in with a chance.

The highlight of the chess week ahead will be the FTX Crypto Cup, with the 6th stage of the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour featuring the complete world Top 10, and 12 of the Top 13. The action kicks off at 17:00 CEST on Sunday May 23rd, with our regular commentary teams of Tania Sachdev and Peter Leko, and Kaja Snare, Jovanka Houska and David Howell. Watch it all here on chess24.

There’s lots more going on, however, with World Cup qualifiers being held around the globe in a largely hybrid online/offline format, while over-the-board chess is back in Gibraltar.

Chess returns to the rock

The 2019-2020 FIDE Grand Prix series began in the Skolkovo Science Park near Moscow, Russia in September 2019, with Humpy Koneru finishing in clear first above both World Championship participants, Ju Wenjun and Aleksandra Goryachkina. In Monaco in December, Humpy was again first, this time with Goryachkina and Alexandra Kosteniuk. The 3rd stage took place in Lausanne, Switzerland in early March 2020, just when the world was going into lockdown. Zhao Xue was unable to travel and was replaced by Zhansaya Abdumalik.

The planned 4th stage in Sardinia in May had to be postponed, and was initially set to take place instead in Gibraltar in January this year. Big opens like the Gibraltar Masters were out of the question, but a small closed event seemed possible. Instead the pandemic suddenly hit Gibraltar hard, and the tournament was again postponed… until now!

Gibraltar is now one of the world’s few “post-COVID” locations, with almost the entire population and many cross-boarder workers vaccinated. That doesn’t mean no precautions are taken, with the Indian strain of the virus, now prevalent in the UK, raising concerns.

When it comes to chess, we have a new line-up. The 16 players in the Grand Prix series were supposed to play 3 of the 4 events each, but Women’s World Champion Ju Wenjun is joined by Marie Sebag, Zhao Xue and Humpy Koneru in not playing in Gibraltar. That means spots for Zhansaya Abdumalik (again), Gunay Mammadzada, Dinara Saduakassova and Irina Bulmaga. 

Women’s World Champion Ju Wenjun’s absence is unsurprising, given that, like her challenger Aleksandra Goryachkina, she’s automatically qualified for the Candidates. Humpy Koneru is the major absence, since she was 2nd in the standings and a heavy favourite to secure a spot, but now she could still be caught. Here are the standings:

With 160 points available for winning the tournament (2nd = 130 points, 3rd = 110 points) a lot can still happen, so there should be plenty of tension for Nigel Short and Fiona Steil-Antoni to commentate on. Fiona safely made it in the end.

World Cup qualification begins

The FIDE Grand Prix is all about the Women’s Candidates Tournament, but elsewhere all eyes are on qualification for the World Cup. That marquee event is planned to be held with an expanded 206 players in Sochi, Russia from July 10 this year – the first 50 seeds get a wildcard straight into Round 2.

The European Qualifier starts Monday May 24 and features no less than 264 players. They’ll compete in a hybrid format where they play online on the Tornelo platform but need to go to physical venues, with arbiters present, in their home or a neighbouring country. 

The top seeds, including Vladislav Artemiev, Andrey Esipenko, David Navara and Boris Gelfand, start from the second round and need to win two matches to reach the World Cup. Each match consists of two classical games, while if tied there are then just two 10+3 rapid games before Armageddon decides the match.

The knockout will end when the World Cup spots are decided, but the 36 winners will then play a 10+3 Swiss to decide the prizes.

You can follow all the action here on chess24.

There are more events around the world. The top four in the over-the-board African Championship in Lilongwe, Malawi will reach the World Cup, as will 8 players from the Asian Individual Chess Championship. That event is hybrid, but the pandemic in India meant it was impossible for Indian players to play from central locations, so that a separate qualifier will be arranged at a later date. 

The top seed is Iran’s Parham Maghsoodloo, but he suffered a shock in the 2nd round.

The qualifying action also takes place in the Americas, with 8 separate knockout tournaments to determine a World Cup qualifier, using the same time controls as in Europe. The event is again hybrid, with the US players competing from the Saint Louis Chess Club.

Stay tuned to all the action right here on chess24!

Chess Mentor

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