The FIDE Grand Prix is one of the stranger events in the chess world.
We can easily wrap our heads around more straightforward events. Play at the Tata Steel tournament and score more points than everyone else? You win! It is rather more complicated with the Grand Prix, but this is still a very important tournament as the finishing in the top two earns one a place in the upcoming Candidates tournament, and therefore a shot at the next World Championship.
First of all, the Grand Prix is not a single event. It is a series of three tournaments, or legs, played this year in Berlin, Belgrade and then back to Berlin. Overall, twenty-four players are invited to compete in the Grand Prix, and each player competes in two of the three legs. This means that there are sixteen different players in each leg of the tournament.
The format of each tournament is as follows. First there is the Pool round, where four players compete against each other in a double round robin. The winner of each pool (A, B, C and D) advances to the playoff rounds, which are a knockout culminating in the top two players playing to win the leg.
If this sounds a little complicated, well, we’re not done! Winning a leg of the tournament does not give one a “win” so much as earn one a number of points that contribute to an overall score. It is those scores that ultimately determine the winners of the event.
Points are awarded in each leg as follows: the winner gets 13 points, the runner-up 10. Getting to the semi-final but losing earns 7 points, and smaller number of points are awarded based on performance in the Pool round.
The twenty-four players invited to compete include some of the top players in the world. Unfortunately, Ding Liren, the world’s #3 player, was plagued by visa issues and will be unable to play in the first two legs of the Grand Prix, though he is scheduled to play in the third leg as first reserve.
Hikaru Nakamura is known as the best blitz player in the world, and a very popular streamer. In fact, he had not played a classically-timed game for over two years prior to the 2022 Grand Prix. His appearance in this event was a bit of a surprise, and came about only because he was nominated to participate by the FIDE President as a wildcard entry.
It was Hikaru’s time to shine, and shine he did! He won in Pool A, beating both Esipenko and Alexander Grischuk with 1.5/2, and drawing his two games with Etienne Bacrot, giving him a winning score of four points, and advancing to the knockout stage.
He went on the beat Hungary’s Richard Rapport in the semi-finals, and faced Levon Aronian in the finals.
After drawing his two classical games against Rapport, the finals were decided by two rapid tiebreak games, which Nakamura won with great style. We feature both of these games below.
The second leg of the FIDE Grand Prix will be held in Belgrade in the first two weeks of March, with the final leg starting on March 21st in Berlin. Nakamura will be playing in the third leg, and has a credible shot to win the whole thing and earn a spot in the Candidates.
Nakamura’s performance at classical times has certainly improved. He was cool and focussed under pressure, and after winning said: “I think that the main difference is that I don’t panic anymore. I get a bad position, and I just try to find good moves…”
Words to live by for any chess player!