World Cup Final preview
Tomorrow in one of the draughts capitals of the world, Ufa (Russia), the ‘World Cup Final’ tournament will start. Both the separate men and women groups have a very attractive set of ten players, who will play a round robin tournament. Prize money is high, totalling up to an amount of 5 million rubles (over 80 000 euros at the current rate, equally shared between men and women). The official website is http://ufa17.fmjd.org/, where (hopefully) live games will be broadcast. Interestingly, former women world champion Darya Tkachenko (check her twitter account and facebook profile) also travelled to Ufa – not as a player, but as a journalist; perhaps she will give (live) comments on the games as well.
Сеанс одновременной игры pic.twitter.com/yKugvF17B3
— Darya Tkachenko (@Darya_4248) March 2, 2017
Before the tournament there has been some commotion about the selection of participants, most prominently expressed by the open letter to the president of the FMJD written by women top player Viktoriya Motrichko. Her main concern is that only one participant is selected from the World Cup standings, whereas the name ‘World Cup Final’ indicates that these standings should provide the main body of participants. On Facebook quite some strong draughts players and officials reacted on her letter, supporting her arguments. However, the general conclusion was that the name ‘World Cup Final’ was poorly chosen; if the tournament would have a more general name, there would be no problem – except the absence of a World Cup Final.
As mentioned before, the players will play a round robin tournament. However, the scoring system is unconventional: a regular game victory will be awarded 5-0, while in case of a draw a Lehmann-Georgiev (LG) tiebreak follows in which a win will be awarded 3-2. This is a new scoring system which fits the trend of the last years, in which many of such systems (for example World Cup Wageningen 2013, Heerhugowaard Masters group 2015 and Women World Championship Match 2016) have been tried. Especially the system used in the Heerhugowaard Masters group (which was also round robin) turned out to be unfortunate: players generally decided to postpone the battle from regular games to blitz games, leading to only 3 victories out of 45 regular games. We will see how the system of the upcoming tournament will work; personally I am suspicious since three LG victories (3+3+3=9) are worth as much as a regular game win and two LG losses (5+2+2=9). Will players find it worthwhile to go all-in in the regular games, or will they wait for the tiebreaks?
In my opinion the men tournament has four clear favourites: current world champion Boomstra and former world champions Georgiev, Chizhov and Valneris. Boomstra was merciless in the WC match against Groenendijk, but will he be able to demonstrate such supremacy in a top level tournament as well? Georgiev recently hasn’t played any tournaments, but always appears to be ready to show his best level. Chizhov qualified as European champion 2016 and has good records against most of his opponents. Valneris has had suffered a severe drop on the rating list, but is still a top class player. The battles between these players are likely to end up in tiebreaks, which may prove decisive for the top places.
The next ‘group’ of players (vice-champion of the world Groenendijk, Amrillaev, Shaibakov and Samb) are outsiders for the tournament victory. Groenendijk and Shaibakov are known for their agressive playing style, but also for time trouble; in case this won’t cause them to make (too many) big mistakes, they can match the four favourites. Amrillaev loves to play blitz and will adapt his tournament strategy to that; his recent victory in Cannes Open shows that he is in a good shape. Samb is the most unpredictable player of all, dangerous for everyone – including himself; he won the African Championship 2016 with an impressive score of 25 points in 17 games.
Pan-America’s pride Silva and Asian champion Ravjir complete the group. Silva has proven to be able to withstand the strongest players in the world (given his clean sheet in the 2015 WC), but usually doesn’t have the skill to score. Ravjir will be the main ‘prey’ for the others and will certainly be having a tough two weeks. Still he can surprise every round and thus may have a big influence on the final ranking!
I think that the champion will have at least two regular games wins (which requires an almost flawless LG record); three wins in the regular games give a buffer to cover some LG losses, whereas (an almost otherworldly) four ‘5-0’s will guarantee victory!
The women tournament is much more unpredictable; the top six will most probably battle for the first places, for which they have practically even chances. Record champion Golubeva is top-rated, but hasn’t played in a long time and dislikes blitz games, so she might not be the first favourite. Tansykkuzhina and Kamychleeva are the other representatives of the ‘previous’ generation, while Sadowska (current World Champion) and Idrisova (current European champion) together with Nogovitsyna are top players of the current generation. The last three may have a benefit in the quicker games, especially near the end of the tournament; just like in the men tournament, these will probably determine the final ranking. And there is another similar question to be asked: will Sadowska be able to win a round robin tournament, after dominating the WC match?
Cesnokova, Doumesh, and Aminova are outsiders for the top places; while Doumesh should trust her experience, Cesnokova (17) and Aminova (24) will have to use their ‘youngness’. Especially Cesnokova’s games will be watched, since she is the most promising talented girl (Golubeva’s pupil), waiting for a big breakthrough in women’s tournaments. Nyamjargal will probably have the same role as Rajvir among men, although her rating may be misleading; at least everyone will feel pressure to win against her.
Tomorrow the first round starts at 11:00h local time (GMT+5; this means 7:00h in the Netherlands), while the LG tiebreaks are planned at 17:00h local time (13:00h in the Netherlands). The pairings have been posted on the tournament website and the tournament starts off with some interesting duels like Chizhov-Shaibakov and Georgiev-Samb! I will certainly be following the games closely and hope to give some updates during and after the tournament! And, as a chauvinist, I say: may the Dutch win!