Reports | September 13, 2012 16:37

Anand, Aronian, Carlsen, Caruana, Karjakin, Vallejo to play in Sao Paulo/Bilbao

Grand Slam Masters Final logo

This week the organizers of the Grand Slam Masters Final, which will be held September 24th-October 13th in Sao Paulo and Bilbao, confirmed that the participants will be Vishy Anand, Levon Aronian, Magnus Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana, Sergey Karjakin and Francisco Vallejo Pons.

In a press release sent on Tuesday, September 11th the organizers finally confirmed the participants of this year's Grand Slam Masters Final. Here they are:

Grand Slam Masters Final 2012 | Participants

Name Fed Rating Rank Born
Magnus Carlsen NOR 2843 1 1990
Levon Aronian ARM 2816 2 1982
Viswanathan Anand IND 2780 5 1969
Sergey Karjakin RUS 2778 7 1990
Fabiano Caruana ITA 2773 8 1992
Francisco Vallejo Pons ESP 2697 51 1982

Although the press release used a headline that wasn't too flattering for Vallejo ("Five of the best players in the world will compete in the 5th Masters Final in Sao Paulo and Bilbao") it is a bit remarkable to see 5 players from the top 8 and one who's not even in the top 50. The Spaniard himself was surprised to be invited, as he stated at a press conference during the Olympiad.

I don’t know why they invited me. I am sure it will be very interesting tournament.

In the press release it is stated that Vallejo received his invitation

because of his outstanding performance last year.

Although he finished last, in 2011 Vallejo did beat Magnus Carlsen, Vassily Ivanchuk and Hikaru Nakamura.

Grand Slam Masters Final 2011 | Final standings (football)

1-2  Magnus Carlsen, Vassily Ivanchuk 15
3-5  Hikaru Nakamura, Levon Aronian, Vishy Anand 12
  6  Francisco Vallejo 10

Grand Slam Masters Final 2011 | Final standings (classical)


The glass cube, spectators and commentary booth inside the Alhondiga in Bilbao last year

The 2012 tournament will be a double round robin with five rounds played in each of the two host cities: Sao Paulo, Brazil (September 24th-29th) and Bilbao, Spain (October 8th-13th). For the second time, the first half of the tournament will be in Brazil's largest city. In 2010 it was Shanghai, while the first two editions were held in full in Bilbao.

Peter Doggers's picture
Author: Peter Doggers

Founder and editor-in-chief of, Peter is responsible for most of the chess news and tournament reports. Often visiting top events, he also provides photos and videos for the site. He's a 1.e4 player himself, likes Thai food and the Stones.


Pollen's picture

All are great players!!!!!!

RealityCheck's picture

Viva WCch Vishy Anand!

fernando's picture

Paco Vallejo will have hard times even playing at home !

Thomas's picture

Last time Vallejo wasn't first (or sixth) choice by the organizers but only joined the field when "noone else" was available:
"Andoni Madariaga, the Grand Slam General Secretary, explains the substitution process as follows: “Vallejo is, without doubt, a very attractive option, and we have been very lucky that he was able to accept, because the five other players in the top ten have unavoidable professional or personal commitments for those dates. Paco is the top Spanish speaking player in the world rankings."
[Kramnik and Karjakin had declined their invitations, so did apparently Topalov, Mamedyarov and Ponomariov]
This time, did they try to invite others? For example Radjabov based on his rating and results in Wijk aan Zee and Tal Memorial - Dominguez as the highest-rated Spanish-speaking player will play at the London Grand Prix.

Raikonnen's picture

Actually the highest-rated speaking players are Anand and Topalov
Just jocking, but they speak really good Spanish

robert's picture

good to see Anand playing tournaments again ! Also for a come back he wil have not an easy time with such a line up of youngsters !

foo's picture

Yea. But I bet he is hungry to play again. I hope he wins. Badly needed and about time.

DMiA's picture

"... top Spanish speaking player ..."
A curious reason for being invited, and even this one is probably not correct.
Weren't Anand and Topalov living in Spain? If so, they probably were the top Spanish speaking players.
They were referring to Spanish native speakers? In this case, I'm not sure about it, but being born in Menorca means a huge probability that his native language is Catalan, not Spanish.
Anyway, a bizarre explanation.

Thomas's picture

It wasn't even unprecedented last year: in 2010, Wang Hao and Shirov were invited to the Shanghai qualifier as best players from China and Spain, respectively. Wang Hao was rather unknown at the time, hadn't played any of the qualifying events and had just overtaken Wang Yue by rating. But Shirov had finished shared second in Wijk aan Zee (with Kramnik and behind multi-qualifier Carlsen) which might have been a better reason to invite him but wasn't even mentioned by the organizers.

Basically Bilbao has become "just another supertournament" - obviously a strong one but one can hardly call it a final, also because three out of four qualifying events didn't take place.

Charles's picture

Paco is from Baleares, where they normally speak in spanish (business, family, etc). The nazionalism propaganda has misslead you, as with many others in this particular subject

DMiA's picture

He's from Menorca, one of the Balearic Islands. According to the English version of the Wikipedia (not a very nazionalist media, I'd say):
"The two official languages are Catalan and Spanish. Natives to the island speak the variety of Catalan called Menorquí, and they typically speak Spanish fluently as a second language; many immigrants are monolingual in Spanish"
I know very well the subject by myself and, I can tell you, this description is by far much more accurate and less propagandistic than yours.

valg321's picture

he'll bring more attention from the local media

sulutas's picture

I wonder whether Ivanchuk might have gotten invited but declined the invitation ultimately because of the robbery that had happened to him last year in Sao Paulo - he was very frustrated about it since his wife couldn't travel with him because of a stolen passport, as far as I remember.

Thomas's picture

Ivanchuk also plays at the London Grand Prix (20 September to 3 October), so do Nakamura, Grischuk, Topalov, Svidler, Wang Hao, Gelfand, Leko, Mamedyarov, Dominguez, Giri (and Kasimdzhanov). Hence just a few strong players play neither event. Kramnik declined the Bilbao invitation (to recover from the Olympiad and because he doesn't like intercontinental events), Morozevich and Gashimov had and may still have health problems (at least the organizers wouldn't know when the field was finalized), so only Radjabov might be clearly preferable to Vallejo. Of course there are other names - Kamsky, Ponomariov, ... - but they currently wouldn't be logical choices for a super-superevent.

sulutas's picture

Great - thanks for updating me. I still need to update myself about these Grand Prixes; there are so many of them and I am totally lost about the schedule of them.

Thomas's picture

Info about the GP events is @ (for the first two events also at where I had looked). BTW Bilbao also overlaps with the European Club Cup starting 10th October; possibly Radjabov declined a Bilbao invitation because he already committed to (all rounds of) the other event?

valg321's picture

i wouldn't blame him if he did decline

arkan's picture

great setup, this will be a ''bloody'' tournament

slonik's picture

Easy win for Anand as usual :-)

NN's picture

Karjakin has good chances here

Rob's picture

Sadly, I think Anand will continue his slow slip down the ratings and probably only finish ahead of Vallejo. He struggled against Gelfand, who is lower ranked than all but one in this field. Seems a long time since his last big win in a tournament. Personally I'd love to be proven wrong.

slonik's picture

It was more than 4 1/2 years ago Anand won a tournament, then he was 0.5 ahead of a 17-year-old Carlsen that was ranked last in the field and now is more than 100 Elo stronger. Nowadays Anand is just a much weaker player than he was five years ago and would need opposition like Gelfand or Topalov to have any chance, this is just too strong opposition for him today.

das's picture

topalov was world number 1 or 2 when he was beaten,and was in great form by winning linares when he met anand in 2010..if u feel like topalov is a weak opposition,then it's only after anand demolished him. anand is one of the greatest champ ever,and if u can't digest that truth even now..,then i have to say chess is a too strong thing for u to understand

redivivo's picture

Topalov has been playing (for him) horrible chess 2010-12. He did win the last Linares but that was a weak event (Vallejo, Gelfand and Gashimov were the players Topalov scored +1 against) and Grischuk was winning until Gelfand blundered away a trivial draw in the last game. Chessbase summed up the tournament by saying that Topalov had been lucky to say the least in several games.

Anyway, in 2010-12 in all Topalov hasn't been a top ten player, even if he had a top ranking thanks to earlier results in the beginning of the period. He didn't play well in the match against Anand either, and only won two games thanks to gifts from Anand, and blundered badly himself many times.

Gelfand is of course far from top ten strength, and Anand himself has performed below top ten level for close to two years now. If he can improve his play in this tournament I think he might be able to fight for fourth place with the one of Caruana or Karjakin that is having a drop in form.

Chess Fan's picture

I am a real Anand fan, and I hope that he wins. But I appreciate your sincerity, and the respectful way you have stated it. You make sense, and I look forward to you being proved wrong - saying this respectfully.
(I believe that Gelfand came specifically prepared for Anand and played like a true equal - a world championship challenger.. But that is another story).

ShockeR's picture

very good lineup !!!

reeally nice ;)

only Vallejo Pons slightly off, but I dont think that he will be the point deliever either.

go go Carlsen !

Zeblakob's picture

Aronian will win thanks to Anand. If MC wants to win, Topalov must replace Vallejo.

redivivo's picture

Has any other World Champion scored 0-5 against an opponent while holding the title? Aronian even won four of those five against Anand with black.

foo's picture

yeas..but when it really mattered in Mexico WCH Anand beat Aronian.

RealityCheck's picture

@foo Yeas. And gm Aronian beat gm Carlsen in the Candidates rounds; sent the young boy home to his momma in Norway to watch the WCch Tournament in Mexico on TV.

I predict another second or third place for gm Carlsen--behind Wch Anand, gm Aronian or gm Caruana..

Longyearbyen's picture

A Grand Slam with six players is a bad joke. Imagine Wimbeldon with six players. What is that supposed to be? That is not a real competition. This is a form of inbreeding, which is keeping chess from becoming more popular.

Bartleby's picture

And they don't have strawberries either. Can you imagine Wimbledon without the strawberries? No wonder chess doesn't make it to prime-time TV, without strawberries.

valg321's picture

they do have lemons though

Anonymous's picture

@Longyearbyen: If you fancy a comparison to tennis, this Grand Slam Final would rather be the equivalent to the ATP world tour finals in London, for which, quite differently to a regular grand slam tournament (128), only the top 8 players from the world ranking qualify. Given the difference in media interest, 2 players less should be fine.

Thomas's picture

Anyway, Longyearbyen is a bit inconsistent to put it mildly: after the Olympiad, he rather wanted a small round-robin team event with only the strongest teams participating (which exists in chess and is called World Team Championship). Now he rather wants a 128-player knockout event - which exists in chess and is called World Cup. "Next time" (still some time ahead) he might complain about the format of the World Cup.

Solomon Francis's picture

Sorry to see Kramnik not playing. Neverthless, looking forward to seeing the games. Will be rooting for Anand - the old man in the pool!

Morley's picture

This will be a great one, with so many strong players. We will see if Carlsen can continue his run of late, he is +6 =13 -0 in his last two events, has played 11 straight tournaments with a 2815+ performance rating, and is at his highest rating ever. Aronian is coming off a double gold medal performance at the Olympiad. Anand is World Champion, and Karjakin has handed Carlsen his only loss of the year. Caruana is one of the most active, fast-rising young players in the world, and Paco has demonstrated that on a good day, he can beat any of these guys. Looking forward to some great chess!

Anonymous's picture

+1 This will be very interesting! Not only to the quality of games, but also with this line-up, including Vallejo... These top guys sure want to show their very best against this competition :-)

Bryan's picture

Aronian wins maybe .... but will have to deal with carmen. >>>

RuralRob's picture

Carmen? Is she a new Aronian girlfriend we haven't heard about yet?

Do tell!

damian's picture

Karjakin UKR Fed. as we see on the table?

Peter Doggers's picture

Oops, old habit. :-) Thx, corrected.

uschess's picture

just don't see how anyone but carlsen could win this, hope i'm wrong and we see a close event, but I don't see aronian getting anything vs karjakin, caruana, and def not against magnus

Anonymous's picture

Youre entitled to your opinion but Aronian beat Cauana just a few weeks ago

Anonymous's picture

Youre entitled to your opinion but Aronian beat Cauana just a few weeks ago

redivivo's picture

To me Karjakin and Caruana are the two underestimated players in the poll. They are given as many votes as Vallejo, and the latter is as always bound to finish last in these types of events, he's done it 6-7 times in Linares and in the previous Grand Slam final.

Last time he had all the luck he has had for the last ten years amassed in one single event, and he still finished last with a very clear margin. Then Nakamura amazingly lost on time when he was clearly better, and Carlsen made one of the worst blunders of his life in a winning position. A more "normal" tournament for Vallejo here and he will have a very long way up to fifth place.

Karjakin and Caruana have both played well in very strong events and are players on a totally different level than Vallejo. I'm sure they will fight for the last place in the upper half together with Carlsen and Aronian.

S3's picture

not Caruana.

AljechinsCat's picture

Great line-up, of course. Aronian convinced a lot at the Oplympics, so he is my favourite. Vishy is a black box. Will he be drawing king again or will he be able to compete here?

redivivo's picture

The last more than 20 months Anand hasn't beaten a single opponent ranked anywhere close to top ten. The (with a very good margin) highest rated player he did win against in all this time was 2727, and that only in a single game thanks to Gelfand's horrible opening blunder that lost the game immediately. Considering how strong Anand was just a few years back he really must be able to do much better than he has lately, but it still remains to be seen.

Thomas's picture

These last 20 months Anand played just 43 rated games - for various reasons (WCh preparation, fatherhood, tournaments being cancelled: Bazna, Linares?). And while he hardly won he also hardly lost: overall =8-1 against Carlsen, Aronian and Karjakin (the loss was "of course" against Aronian). If he manages to draw against his strong opponents and to beat Vallejo as he did twice in Bilbao 2011, he will certainly finish in the upper half of the field, it might even be enough for first place. BTW the unknown is Caruana as Anand so far played just one rated game against him - a draw at Corus 2010.


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