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Curious strategy by Kramnik at European Club Cup

Though the tournament is in Berlin, the likely sponsors are Russian as they were in 2016, so Kramnik could yet be awarded the final wildcard place.

The European Club Cup in Antalya, Turkey, has its seventh and final round on Saturday, when all the games can be viewed live and free on the internet (1pm start). Matches are decided over six boards and, as has become traditional, the 36 competing teams are a mismatch. Genuine clubs fielding mostly amateur experts face an unequal battle against the handful of sponsored elite grandmaster squads who will fight for the title and medals.

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Yet in the early rounds the talking point was rather the strange behaviour of the former world champion Kramnik, who is supposed to be battling with the Americans Fabiano Caruana and Wesley So for the two rating places in the 2018 Candidates, the eight-player event to decide Magnus Carlsen’s next world title challenger.

There are persistent and growing rumours that London in November 2018 will shortly be announced as the venue and date for the championship match itself.

After his terrible start at the Isle of Man Open last month, when he lost to Caruana and to 65-year-old James Tarjan and drew with IM Lawrence Trent, Kramnik fought back, regained most of his lost rating points, and declared that he would take the fight with Caruana and So down to the wire by playing not just the Eurocup, but also the European national teams championship in November which is the final event before the 1 December ratings cut-off date.

But Kramnik sat out round one in Antalya against an Icelander more than 200 points lower, then bizarrely also missed round two and White against a 2672-rated GM. If he had played and won both, he would have kept on schedule in his race with So and Caruana. Kramnik then made a tame draw with a 2740 player before again missing round four.

It seems that he has given up the race without a fight. Is he, then, out of the Candidates? Not quite. Though the tournament is in Berlin, the likely sponsors are Russian as they were in 2016, so Kramnik could yet be awarded the final wildcard place.

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