Added on 2/2/2022

We're excited to announce that GM John Burke is a new ICC contributor!

John became an IM at 14, in 2016, and a GM in 2018, at 16.  

In 2020, John won the US Junior Championship. That qualified him for the 2021 US Championship, where he was able to score 5/11 with a performance rating north of 2650, despite being the lowest-rated player. Currently, John is a junior at Webster University, where he's able to study chess with his teammates and his coach GM Liem Le.

Here is John's article on the 1st FIDE Grand Prix 2022.

"The FIDE Grand Prix, the final leg of the current World Championship cycle before the Candidates Tournament, is almost upon us. The Grand Prix series has been a part of the cycle since 2008, awarding two spots into the Candidates. Although the format has been tinkered with over the years, the basic premise has remained the same. A group of elite players qualifies for the Grand Prix series through various channels, such as by rating, World Cup spots, and host city nominations. Each player plays most, but not all, of the events, and is awarded points based on their final standings. When all is said and done, the top two point-scorers qualify for the Candidates.

In the first edition of the Grand Prix, players played four of six events, but this was later lowered to three of four, and finally to two of three for the current year. Also, in the most recent edition, from 2019, the knockout format was introduced for the first time, replacing the traditional round-robin. This year, FIDE has implemented a curious hybrid approach. Each tournament will have sixteen players divided into four groups, who will play a double round-robin event. The four pool winners will then compete in a knockout event à la the World Cup, with matches of two classical games followed by rapid tiebreaks if necessary.

Twenty-four players were originally scheduled to take part in the series, but special circumstances have arisen which changed that. More on that later! Let’s take a look at some of the big names who will be vying for the precious two spots. Newly transferred Armenian-American GM Levon Aronian has not played classical chess since the Grand Swiss, which was a disappointing result by his standards, as he was never in contention for the top places. However, he’s fared better in blitz, winning the Tata Steel India blitz tournament and coming within a whisker of winning the World Blitz Championship. A host of well-known players are coming straight from the recently concluded Tata Steel tournament in the Netherlands, including Giri, Mamedyarov, Rapport, and Vidit. Current US Champion Wesley So, the French star Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (aka MVL), and Cuban-American GM Leinier Dominguez will also be present.

Arguably the most unpredictable player will be the FIDE Presidential Nominee, Hikaru Nakamura. He has not played classical chess in over two years, which led to his rating becoming inactive. His only recent over the board tournaments were the St. Louis Rapid and Blitz, which he dominated, posting an undefeated score, and the World Rapid and Blitz, in which he also posted a solid, undefeated performance, but was forced to withdraw from the second day of blitz after testing positive for COVID. He has been streaming regularly and performing well in online events, such as the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour. It will be fascinating to see how his classical skills will stack up after such a long break. If any of his matches go to rapid tiebreaks, he will certainly be a favorite, regardless of the opponent.

Speaking of COVID, Daniil Dubov is scheduled to play, after testing positive toward the end of Tata Steel. Hopefully he’s had enough time in between the two events to recover. 

Besides the players I already mentioned, I would like to highlight two additional participants on opposite ends of the age spectrum. The legendary 49-year-old Alexei Shirov, who recently has had impressive performances that led to him reclaiming a 2700 rating, will participate by virtue of his strong showing in the Grand Swiss. 17-year-old German prodigy Vincent Keymer qualified from the same tournament.

Unfortunately for chess fans, there’s one more extremely prominent name that I’ve skipped for a good reason. Amid strict travel restrictions, FIDE announced on Wednesday that Ding Liren will miss the first leg of the Grand Prix, which will take place in Berlin from February 3-17. As for now, he is still slated to play the second leg in Belgrade, but it will be close to impossible for him to score enough points through only one event. Dmitry Andreikin also had to withdraw from the first leg, and the two players have been replaced by Andrey Esipenko and Radoslaw Wojtaszek. I suspect most chess fans, like me, will be very disappointed that we will miss out on seeing Ding, the world number three and an absolutely fantastic player, return to classical chess. Some of the prime years of his career are being robbed by the pandemic, but unfortunately it’s the nature of the world we live in nowadays. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that we’ll see him back in action soon!

That’s about it, I think! The first Berlin leg will kick off on February 3 with an opening ceremony, and round one commences on February 4 at 9:00 am EST. With so many star players battling it out for only two Candidates spots, it’s bound to be a thrilling contest!"

GM John Burke