One spot in the 2020 Candidates Tournament to decide Magnus
Carlsen’s next World Championship challenger will be determined in an 11-round
Swiss Open later this year. The new “FIDE Grand Swiss” will invite the Top 100
rated players from mid-2018 to mid-2019, plus a few others, for an all-expenses
paid 15-day event that recalls the old Interzonal tournaments. The extra spot comes
at the cost of a rating qualification place, with Mamedyarov and Ding Liren now leading the race for just one place.

The new FIDE administration has already overhauled the women’s
World Championship cycle, introducing a Candidates Tournament, and today the
first big change to the overall cycle was announced
. One place in the
8-player tournament to be held early next year will go to the winner of the new
FIDE Grand Swiss to be held in the second half of this year. Some details of that
event (check out the full regulations here):

  • An 11-round Swiss Open with a single rest day after Round 6
  • A minimum $400,000 prize fund (bids for hosting the event
    are being taken until February 9)
  • $70,000 for 1st place, $50,000 for 2nd, $40,000 for 3rd down
    to $2,000 for 26th-30th
  • Prizes are shared by tied players, while a 1st place tie won’t
    be settled by a playoff but by mathematical tiebreakers, starting with “tournament
    performance rating”
  • The winner gets not only money but a coveted spot in the
    2020 Candidates Tournament
  • The tournament is open to the top 100 players by average
    rating for the 12 lists from July 2018 to June 2019
  • If a player rejects their invitation players lower on the
    rating list will be offered that place
  • There are additional places for the World Junior and Senior
    Champions, an ACP Tour qualifier and for an unspecified number of players
    chosen by the event organiser
  • All accommodation costs and a travel allowance will be paid for
    the players

The tournament is in many ways a return of the large Interzonal
tournaments that fed players into a Candidates Tournament from the 1950s up
until 1993. Players qualified via Zonal tournaments (for different geographic
areas) and then would usually play a large round-robin, but by the end big open
tournaments were being played as well. Boris Gelfand won the last FIDE
Interzonal that was held in Biel in 1993. 

The big advantage of the format is
that a relatively large number of players will have a realistic chance of
qualifying for the 2nd biggest event in chess, the Candidates Tournament. There
were already positive responses from well-known grandmasters:

But how will it fit into the current system? Well, let’s
take a look at the qualifying for the 2018 Candidates in Berlin. We had:

  • The defeated player in the last World Championship match –
  • The World Cup finalists – Aronian and Ding Liren
  • The top 2 in the FIDE Grand Prix – Grischuk and Mamedyarov
  • The top 2 by average rating for 2017 – So and Caruana
  • One organiser wildcard – Kramnik

So far the only player we know for the 2020 Candidates
Tournament is Fabiano Caruana. We also know the World Cup will take place in
Khanty-Mansiysk later this year. What we don’t have are full Candidates
Tournament regulations, but in the absence of information to the contrary we
can assume the system will be similar except for the change announced today. FIDE
explained that the Grand Swiss spot would come at the expense of one of the
places that would otherwise be determined by the average ratings for 2019 (in
2017 Wesley So would have missed out).

To have only one spot is bad news for players hoping to
qualify by rating, with Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Ding Liren currently leading
that race by a large margin – Ding Liren in 4th place (remember, Carlsen and
Caruana have no need to qualify) is a full 30 points ahead of the next player,
Anish Giri. Suddenly their comfortable lead has become a head-to-head battle!

Peter Heine Nielsen brought up their situation in a comment under a
Facebook post by FIDE Director General Emil Sutovsky

This will hurt Mamedyarov and Ding? Wouldn’t it be better and more fair removing the organizers’ Wildcard for the Candidates?

The discussion there sheds some light on the limitations
imposed on FIDE by the contract signed with Agon/World Chess by the previous administration.
It turns out Agon “own” the wildcard spots for 2020 and even 2022 as well, so that it’s impossible to replace that spot with
a player from the Grand Swiss without their agreement. Since the wildcard is something that can essentially be sold in return for sponsorship, that’s not something they’re likely to do freely. 

The current big unknown with the cycle is the status of the
Grand Prix. Will those somewhat unpopular events, which in the previous cycle
were further crippled by Agon’s broadcast policy, return this year? If they don’t
it would be possible to re-add another rating spot, and potentially offer a
second place from the Grand Swiss – something that the regulations leave open:

The final decision on the number of qualifying spots to the
Candidates 2020 from the FIDE Grand Swiss is to be taken by the FIDE
Presidential Board not later than March 1st 2019.

So there are still some unknowns, and tournament organisers
everywhere must be desperately trying to juggle a schedule overloaded with the expanded Grand Chess Tour and new FIDE events…

…but chess
fans can look forward to another thrilling event in the second half of 2019.
And players on the cusp of qualification may suddenly be thinking about their
ratings. Is it time for Jan Gustafsson to play in a Candidates Tournament?

What do you think about the new event? If you’re in or
around the Top 100 are you planning to play? What changes would you make to the
qualification cycle? Let us know in the comments below!  

See also: