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On Chess: Grand Chess Tour introduces new format and elite players to start competition next week

A scene from the 2017 Your Next Move event in Leuven, Belgium, the location of the first stop of the 2018 Grand Chess Tour.
Lennart Ootes | Grand Chess Tour

The fourth annual Grand Chess Tour is right around the corner — this time with a new format. Instead of the London Chess Classic being just a stop of the tour, it will be the final stage for the Grand Chess Tour. At the end of the Sinquefield Cup, the top four players with the most points accumulated across the four events will proceed to the finals in London, where they will compete in a series of matches for additional prizes and the title of the 2018 Grand Chess Tour Champion.

The tour will consist of three rapid and blitz events and one classical event, the Sinquefield Cup. The first stop on the tour will be in Leuven, Belgium, from June 12-16 and will continue in Paris from June 20-24. After a month break, play will start back up in St. Louis with the St. Louis Rapid and Blitz Aug. 9-15, followed by the Sinquefield Cup from Aug. 17-28. The prize fund of each rapid and blitz event will be $150,000, while the prize fund of the Sinquefield Cup will be $300,000. The Sinquefield Cup will also offer more points toward the players overall standing – 18 points for first place with two bonus points for a clear winner, as opposed to rapid and blitz events, which offer 12 points for first place with only one bonus point.

The 2018 tour will consist of nine players who will compete in all of the events, with each tournament offering one wild card. There won’t be a repeat winner, as last year’s victor and current World Champion Magnus Carlsen has declined his invitation. Former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik has also declined his invitation. The nine participants are:

  • Fabiano Caruana (USA) – No. 2 in the world, winner of 2017 London Chess Classic
  • Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (AZE) - No. 3 in the world, winner of the 2017 Grand Prix series
  • Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France) – No. 6 in the world, winner of the 2017 Sinquefield Cup
  • Sergey Karjakin (Russia) – No. 8 in the world, 2016 World Championship Challenger
  • Wesley So (USA) – No. 9 in the world, winner of Grand Chess Tour 2016
  • Hikaru Nakamura (USA) – No. 10 in the world, 4 time US champion
  • Alexander Grischuk (RUS) – No. 11 in the world, two-time World Blitz Champion
  • Levon Aronian (Armenia) – No. 12 in the world, winner of the 2017 World Cup
  • Viswanathan Anand (India) – No. 14 in the world and 5-time World Champion

Four-time Dutch champion Anish Giri will be the wild card in Leuven, while Vladimir Kramnik will be the wild card in Paris.
As Levon Aronian once put it, whenever the World Champion is playing in a tournament, he’s the clear favorite. With Carlsen's absence, all the events and the tour itself are wide open for anyone to take. The headliner of the event will be world champion contender Fabiano Caruana. The chess world will watch his performance with curiosity leading up to the World Championship match in November.

All the players, with the exception of Alexander Grischuk, are currently playing in the Altibox Norway Chess tournament, which will conclude on June 8, only days before Leuven. It has already become a historic event. Welsey So defeated Magnus Carlsen for the first time in a classical event. Levon Aronian had a phenomenal outcome last year, but has hit a slump since then. His performance in the Candidates Tournament, where he was considered the favorite for several years already, was particularly lackluster. Viswanathan Anand has been written off many times as too old to compete, but time after time he proves he is not to be underestimated. After his near perfect play against Vachier-Lagrave just days before in Norway, Carlsen expressed his respect for Anand’s achievements and understanding of chess. Hikaru Nakamura, Sergey Karjakin, Alexander Grischuk and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave are the familiar faces of these events and are still looking to snag the Grand Chess Tour overall trophy. The fresh face of the tour will be Shakhriyar Mamedjarov, who was the wild card in the 2017 Paris leg of the tour. Since then, he’s had a meteoric rise in rating, climbing all the way to the second spot on the rating list, only to fall behind Caruana after the Candidates tournament.

The Grand Chess Tour events will be broadcast live on grandchesstour.org with commentary in St. Louis by the exceptional team of grandmaster Yasser Seirawan, international master Jovanka Houska and  grandmaster Alejandro Ramirez. There will also be a Russian broadcast by grandmaster Yaroslav Zherebukh of Saint Louis University and grandmaster Evgenij Miroshnichenko (“Miro”). The broadcast team will also be accompanied by on-site reporter grandmaster Maurice Ashley and grandmaster Nigel Short in Leuven, who will report live with insights from the event and live interviews with the players. You don’t want to miss it.

Abrahamyan is a Woman Grandmaster. She will serve as the journalist for the Grand Chess Tour events and provide expert commentary on social media, as well as written reports after each event. Follow her at @GrandChessTour.