Ukraine grandmaster Pavel Eljanov, probably the least-known of the world’s leading players, won the sixth Grand Prix tournament in Astrakhan, Russia. Eljanov’s 8-5 score in the round robin gave him a distinct edge over his 13 rivals, who all finished between 7-6 and 5 1/2 -7 1/2.
Eljanov, who turned 27 during the tournament, won five games, mostly by superb handling of Queenless middlegames. This success unofficially boosts him to sixth in the world rankings. He modestly said, “Today I am in the top 10, and tomorrow I can be far, far away.”
Thus the trouble-plagued 2008-2009 Grand Prix cycle ends, six months behind schedule. Levon Aronian of Armenia had already clinched first place in the Grand Prix standings by winning two earlier tournaments. Second prize goes to Teimour Radjabov of Azerbaijan, thanks to his second-place tie at 7-6 in Astrakhan. According to the current plan, Aronian and Radjabov qualify for the eight-player competition that will determine the challenger in the next world championship match, probably in 2012.
The World Chess Federation (FIDE) designed the Grand Prix to select a challenger for the world championship, a plan which might have worked if the organization had consulted the players. Problems arose immediately when the four highest-rated stars refused to participate. Later, FIDE abruptly altered the rules, prompting young sensation Magnus Carlsen to drop out.
When sponsors in the Czech Republic, Qatar and Switzerland withdrew their promise to host a tournament, FIDE had to scramble to find replacements. Ultimately, the Grand Prix resembled a Soviet-era production, with four tournaments in Russia, one in Armenia and one in Azerbaijan.
Nevertheless, the Grand Prix was a treat for fans, providing plenty of exciting games. The more anonymous members of the world’s elite welcomed the chance to compete against their peers for substantial prize money. In my opinion, the Grand Prix is just the sort of spectacle that FIDE should stage. Unfortunately, FIDE has made no announcement about continuing the series.
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