Leading players target World Cup qualifying spots in Armenia
The Guardian, Friday 7 March 2014 10.19 EST
The 2014 European championships are underway in Yerevan, Armenia, but most of the leading contenders will not be too concerned about who wins the title.
Their real targets are the 23 qualifying places for the 2015 World Cup, a 128-player bonanza where you are paid $4,800 (£2,900) just for turning up. And the top three in the World Cup qualify for the 2016 World Championships with the ultimate jackpot of a multi-million dollar match for Magnus Carlsen’s world crown.
An event in Armenia is always geopolitical due to that country’s permanent state of near-war with its neighbour Azerbaijan, which is heightened because the two small Caucasian nations are super-powers on the chessboard, regular medalists in the Olympiads and other major competitions.
No Azeris are playing at the Europeans in Yerevan, a safe boycott because the venue for the more important World Cup is Baku, Azerbaijan. The tournament will still feature a battle between hostile nations, with Russia and Ukraine sharing seven of the top 10 seeds.
There are no UK entrants, which at first sight is a surprise because the England No1 Michael Adams is a knock-out specialist and will surely want to compete in 2015, while Gawain Jones was one of the European qualifiers for the last World Cup.
Adams is currently ranked No16 in the world, which is convenient since 18 grandmasters will qualify for the cup via ratings. Jones has preferred the Reykjavik Open this week, an event where he has a fine track record, rather than the long trip to Yerevan. The small print helps him, too, because the 2015 European championships, reportedly scheduled for Jerusalem, will be staged earlier than the cup and will also have 23 qualifying places.
But potentially the most significant event for English chess this weekend is the European senior championship, which starts Saturday in Oporto, Portugal. The age limit for seniors, which used to be 60, was recently reduced to 50.
England will be represented by GM Keith Arkell, who is the No3 seed after a Georgian and a Russian. Arkell is from the generation who were inspired by Bobby Fischer’s 1972 conquest of the Soviet-held world title to become serious players, and who within a decade made England the No2 chess nation after the USSR.
Arkell is a pioneer, the first of this golden group to compete for a senior European title. He is having to pay most of his own expenses, and even the first prize will not cover the bill at the hotel where competitors have to stay. He is doing it, he says, just for the glory.
The English Chess Federation takes little interest in senior chess but this is a missed opportunity. Next year Nigel Short will reach 50, and while the main England team is now an also-ran in major contests, a squad of our best over-50s would sweep the senior board.