The International Chess Federation (FIDE) has postponed the remainder of the Candidates Tournament, citing new Russian travel restrictions put into place due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Candidates Tournament postponed chess
Ian Nepomniachtchi ponders a difficult position in Round 7 of the Candidates Tournament, which FIDE postponed on Thursday before Round 8. (Image: Maria Emelianova/FIDE)

On Thursday, Russian officials announced a prohibition on international air travel beginning on Friday, March 27, with no prescribed end date for that restriction.

Travel Restrictions Force FIDE’s Hand

While players had raised concerns about holding the Candidates Tournament throughout the event, FIDE acted now due to concerns over the travel situation.

“FIDE cannot continue the tournament without guarantees for the players’ and officials’ safe and timely return home,” FIDE president Arkady Dvorkovich said in a statement. “It will be continued later, with the exact dates to be announced as soon as the global situation related to the COVID-19 pandemic will allow.”

FIDE is pausing the tournament at its exact midpoint after each of the eight players has completed a single round-robin. Currently, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Ian Nepomniachtchi share the lead with 4.5 points each earned from seven rounds of play. Players earn one point per win and a half-point for each draw during the tournament.

Those results will stand when the tournament resumes, according to FIDE.

“As it was stipulated by the special rules agreed with the players before the start of the event, the results of the seven rounds played remain valid, and the tournament will be resumed in the same composition starting with the games of the eighth round,” the FIDE statement read.

Radjabov Wants to Rejoin Candidates Tournament

That wording suggests that there are no plans to somehow work Teimour Radjabov back into the event. Radjabov qualified for the Candidates Tournament, but pulled out due to his personal concerns over the coronavirus outbreak. FIDE did not punish Radjabov for that decision, but did bring in the next qualified player as a replacement: Vachier-Lagrave, who now shares the lead.

Given that Radjabov proved prescient with his concerns, some in the chess world want to see FIDE bring him back into the fold, without removing Vachier-Lagrave or upending the current standings. That would prove logistically difficult, however, as organizers would have to find a way for Radjabov to catch up to the rest of the field either before the tournament restarts or during the second half of the event.

Radjabov told Chess.com that he is talking to lawyers to discuss his options in regards to the Candidates Tournament.

“Now the situation is super complicated,” Radjabov told Chess.com. “I think FIDE should take some action to include me back in the tournament.”

As for the players who did participate, they had already begun to travel home as FIDE made the announcement public.

“We had to act swiftly,” FIDE director general Emil Sutovsky told ESPN. “FIDE took all the travel arrangements and costs upon itself. Half of the players have been sent on the direct chartered flight to Amsterdam while the others flew to Moscow, and members of the organizing committee accompanied players until their point of departure from Russia.”

ESPN reported that FIDE is hoping to resume the Candidates Tournament sometime between July and September, depending on global conditions. The winner of the tournament will advance to face Magnus Carlsen for the World Chess Championship late this year.

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