On Chess: 2015 World Cup of Chess has huge field, with strong American players

Jul 30, 2015

Every two years FIDE, the International Chess Federation, holds a World Chess Championship. One of the qualifying events to earn a seat at the tournament is the World Cup. The World Cup is different than most chess tournaments because it is a 128 player knockout event. Most chess competitions are Swiss-system or round-robin (all-play-all) events. However, the World Cup is similar to the NCAA March Madness as half the players are eliminated every round. The tournament takes a few weeks compared to most Grandmaster level events taking a mere 9-13 days.

The 2015 World Cup will be held Sept. 10-Oct. 4 in Baku, Azerbaijan. The top two finishers will be automatically seeded into the 2016 Candidates Tournament. This tournament will then determine who will challenge World Chess Champion, Magnus Carlsen, at the end of 2016 for the title of World Champion.

There are two very interesting things about this iteration of the World Cup. First, there are several Americans playing, with two of those Americans, Fabiano Caruana and Hikaru Nakamura, having already qualified for the Candidates Tournament next year. So, why are they playing in the World Cup if they already qualified? The cash prizes are quite high, with the winner getting $120,000 and the runner-up receiving $80,000. Both Hikaru and Fabiano will be flying to Baku from St. Louis, where they will be participating in the Sinquefield Cup from Aug. 22-Sept. 3. The third American with good odds is Wesley So, ranked 8th in the world. So, Caruana and Nakamura are expected to strengthen the United States’ chances to go for gold in the 2016 Olympiad and 2017 World Team Championship.

Even more startling news is that Levon Aronian, an Armenian, top 10 in the world,  will be playing in Baku as well. Relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia are on a decline and Aronian has never played chess in Baku. Assurances from the president of Azerbaijan made it possible for Aronian to play for the World Title. Occasionally in the world of chess, as with other sports, some athletes will not travel or are not allowed to visit other countries, but rarely has this affected the highest chess title.

The 2015 World Cup will be one of the few events ever held with more than 100 grandmasters participating. The United States will have nine players participating including the world’s youngest GM, Sam Sevian. Sam also has Armenian roots, so it will be a great coup for the FIDE motto, “Gens una sumus” (Latin for ‘We are one people’). It is reassuring to see politically disputing countries still playing chess and battling it out on the chessboard.

Other American participating are grandmasters Ray Robson (a student at Webster University), Gata Kamsky, Alex Onischuk, Sam Shankland and Var Akobian. All of the American grandmasters have visited St. Louis on several occasions. Many have participated in the annual U.S. Chess Championship, which has been held at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis for seven consecutive years.

Grandmaster Ben Finegold learned the rules of chess at age 5 and was dubbed “The 40-year-old GM” after receiving the title in 2009. In between, Finegold was a U.S. Junior champion in 1989, a recipient of the prestigious Samford Chess Fellowship in 1993 and a competitor in nine U.S. Championships. He is a popular scholastic coach and commentator for elite events. On Chess comes from the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis.