Opinion | September 21, 2011 10:45

Svidler, Grischuk and Ivanchuk qualified for... what exactly?

Svidler, Grischuk and Ivanchuk qualified for... what exactly?

In this year's FIDE World Cup, which concluded last Monday, the first three players qualified for the next Candidates event. But what will this event look like? What we know is that, like in Kazan in May this year, there will be eight players. But will there be matches again, or will there be a round-robin tournament?

Until early September, the regulations stated that we'd see matches again. But last week one of our readers discovered that FIDE had changed the regulations and suddenly they were speaking of a round-robin! Unsurprisingly, over the last week the FIDE website hasn't seen any press release mentioning this massive change. Instead there are lots of copied round reports from the World Cup website (so that everyone can read them at FIDE.com as well).

However, last Monday FIDE did mention the new regulations, but hidden as a footnote to the bidding procedure. All the way at the end of the page there is a link to the regulations, which is the same as the one in the Handbook, where a new version has been uploaded, as it seems on September 7th, overwriting the previous one. But our reader ebutaljib managed to find the previous version and you can download it in PDF here. See? Matches. And in the current one, tournament.

The most important aspects of the current regulations are:

2.    Qualification for the 2012 Candidates Tournament

The players who qualify for the Candidates Tournament are determined according to the following, in order of priority:

2.1 World Cup 2011 - The three (3) top winners of the World Cup 2011 qualify.
2.2 World Championship Match 2012 - The player who lost the 2012 World Championship Match qualifies.
2.3 Average FIDE Rating List of July 2011 & January 2012 - Three (3) players qualify to participate by rating (excluding the players who qualify from articles 2.1 and 2.2 above). For the purpose of deciding the 3 rated player qualifiers, the average from the following lists will be used: rating of July 2011 plus rating of January 2012 divided by 2. In case of equality two decimals will be taken into consideration. If the numbers are still equal then the number of games from the twelve months covering the whole year 2011 shall be decisive. That means the player with the greater number of games shall qualify. If the numbers are still equal then the list of March 2012 shall be decisive. If the rating in the March 2012 list is still the same, the player with the greater number of games in this list will qualify. Players who appear in the inactive list in both July 2011 and January 2012 will not be able to qualify as a rated player. If the player is inactive in one list but appears in the other, then the single rating that is published shall be taken as the average.

2.6 One nominated player by the Organiser - A player, nominated by the organiser, with a rating of at least 2700 in the FIDE rating list of January 2012.

2.7 Replacements - Any replacements necessary will be fulfilled from the average rating list of July 2011 & January 2012.

3. Candidates Tournament Regulations

3.1 Tournament Format & System

The 8 players shall play a double round robin tournament (14 rounds). The players who are from the same federation will play each other in rounds 1 and 8 (if only two) and if up to four players are from the same federation in rounds 1, 2, 3 and 8, 9, 10.

If a player withdraws after completing 50% or more of the games, the rest of his games are lost by default. In case a player completes less than 50%, all his results are annulled.

OK, maybe this change doesn't come as a big surprise, and maybe we shouldn't make such a fuss about it? It doesn't come as a big surprise because already on August 15th, Israeli GM Emil Sutovsky told Chess News that the next event to decide the World Championship challenger will be an 8-player double round-robin tournament. And maybe we shouldn't make such a fuss about it because, as Sutovsky told us on Skype, the majority of the top players who filled out his questionnaire, prefer a round-robin. This was the survey which he sent to the twenty top-rated players just after Kazan:

Dear colleagues,

On behalf of the World Championship and Olympiads committee ( WCOC ), I'd like to ask your opinion regarding the format of the future World Championship Cycles.

As we all know, opinions differ, and it is not easy to find a solution that will satisfy all the leading players. However, we shall try to find a system which will be both professional and realistic. In this regard, I would appreciate hearing your thoughts before the topic is discussed on the next WCOC meeting in the beginning of June and important decisions are taken.

As the topic is too complex, I've prepared several questions. It would be nice to have your answers, but of course, you are most welcomed to present your vision as a separate letter. The questions:

  1. What is more suitable system for Candidates – matches or double round robin?

  2. If the match system is used, what format would you prefer (4+4+6, like in Kazan, 6+6+6, other...) Do you have positive/negative remarks about the format used in Kazan?

  3. Should the World Champion's privilege stay intact or should the World Champion join the Candidates in the future cycles?

  4. Do you think FIDE should preserve two-year cycle or consider switching to a yearly Championship?

I would appreciate having your response before May 30, so that it can be presented on the WCOC meeting.

Best regards,
Emil Sutovsky

As said, most of the top players prefer a tournament over matches. So why are we using so many words to point out the change? Well, because of the timing, and because of the typical FIDE way of dealing with such important aspects of chess.

The timing, for example, is wrong. Again FIDE is making changes during a cycle, which is wrong on principle. If they wanted to make changes to the Candidates format, they could have proposed if for the Candidates in 2015, but not the one that is connected to the current World Cup, i.e. the current World Championship cycle. OK, when most of the top players actually prefer a tournament over matches, then an even better way of dealing with it would have been to make these change before the World Cup had started, by organizing an extra General Assembly, or whatever is needed.

Besides, it's ridiculous that the participants of the World Cup didn't even know what exactly they were playing for. Until September 7th the participants were qualifying for Candidates matches, and during the finals they were suddenly qualifying for a Candidates tournament. A few days before the tournament ended in Khanty-Mansiysk, we asked Ruslan Ponomariov and Peter Svidler if they received a email or letter from FIDE which informed them about the change, but of course they didn't.

And then FIDE' style, their way of dealing with such matters, doesn't deserve praise either. In the last cycle they at least announced the changes; now they changed the regulations on their site without a word, probably hoping that noone would notice. In this respect we couldn't agree more with Mark Weeks, who nicely summed up things in his still topical blog post of July 27th called 'FIDE's got a secret'. We quote it in full:

Q: How do you pack a four stage qualifying cycle into three years? • A: You hold one stage per year and let the first stage of a new cycle overlap the last stage of the previous cycle. This is how the World Championship was organized from 1950 until 1990, when the title match for cycle X was held in the same year as the zonals for cycle X+1. This worked for 14 cycles.

Q: How do you pack a four stage qualifying cycle into two years? • A: No one seems to know. • FIDE's solution: You schedule the second stage of the cycle, aka the 'World Cup', every two years, preferably at Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia. This fixes the schedule for the first stage -- the zonals and continental championships -- during the months before the World Cup. As for the third and fourth stages, you issue regulations and bidding procedures whenever you think the time is right and hope that someone is paying attention (or maybe you hope that no one is paying attention, thereby sparing you any criticism).

According to Google, the Rules & Regulations for the Candidates Matches of the FIDE World Championship cycle 2011-2013 were published on 16 May 2011. They were unaccompanied by any of the usual marketing nonsense like a press release or a news item on Fide.com. Why let your light shine when you can hide it under a bushel basket?

Why all the hush-hush? One reason might be that we are once again faced with that situation peculiar to today's FIDE that I call Two Overlapping World Championship Cycles. This guarantees that no one can follow the events except FIDE insiders, of whom there are few; it helps them feel important. Another reason might be that we are faced with the exact same format that bored everyone and was roundly criticized in the recent 2011 Candidates Event at Kazan, Russia. Yet another reason might be that FIDE can make changes to the 'Rules & Regulations' whenever they fancy, then claim, 'But it wasn't official!' Still another reason might be the chronic incompetence that plagues FIDE leadership.

I suspect it's all of the above and then some. Come on, FIDE, you've had six years since Kasparov handed you exclusive ownership of the World Championship. It's time you start acting like professionals. Do you really want to be the world's largest *amateur* sports organization?

In the same style, FIDE included an intriguing paragraph in their aforementioned article about the bidding procedure:

6. Τhe commercial agency of FIDE (CNC) reserves all rights for the live transmissions of the event and its games. The organiser of the event can have its own website and if the organiser wishes to implement the live transmission of the games, CNC must be consulted beforehand.

There we go again. We've dealt with the issues of copyright many times here at ChessVibes.com and the conclusion was always two-fold: it doesn't make sense, and it's not possible. The latter was confirmed once more in the recent Bulgarians vs. Chessbase case. FIDE, what is all this?

Peter Doggers's picture
Author: Peter Doggers

Founder and editor-in-chief of ChessVibes.com, 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.



adam's picture


S3's picture

In order to state that the top 20 prefers a DRR tournament one should know the result of the votes -anonymized or not-. Without this informaion saying a DRR is good or logical is just as shady as the change of the candidates format.
Has chessvibes any detailed info on the outcome of that poll?

Also, Mark Weeks must have been drunk when he wrote the above. Why else would he think that "Kasparov handed over the exclusive ownership of the world championship". The only thing Kasparov did was destroying a reasonable wch-cycle by FIDE. It was a great achievement of FIDE, and a great gesture of Kramnik, when the titles unified again. But Kasparov had nothing to do with it.

On a second note, it's worth mentioning that Weeks and Vibes don't mention another likely explanation: that the format was changed to attract Magnus Carlsen to compete in this cycle. After all he is the only top player who made a press release in which his preference for a DRR was announced (difference being that he wants the wch to compete in it for the title). However, one of the drawbacks of a DRR is already visible: "If a player withdraws after completing 50% or more of the games, the rest of his games are lost by default. In case a player completes less than 50%, all his results are annulled."

mdamien's picture

I'm guessing that Weeks meant Kramnik, not Kasparov.

I too was struck by the clause about withdrawing players. No doubt, this clause is intended to correct some potential unfairness, but can this solution be well thought out? Through round 7, any player, however poorly they are doing in the tournament, can affect the outcome by withdrawing? Particularly, a player who has lost 6 rounds to the tournament leader and won 6 against other opponents, can withdraw so the leader's wins and the other player's losses are annulled. Surely, whatever defect this clause was intended to fix, there are better solutions?

I'm not one of those who found the recent candidates matches dull, but a candidates tournament would also be quite exciting.

Vasek's picture

No, they surely meant Kasparov. PCA was his association. And these rules are standard rules for any round robin tournament and are entirely logical and functional for many years. If there was no rule like this everyone could just drop out after beating someone in the first round and those give points to players which he didn´t play. This is much worse. Notice that there is always some possibility that player will not complete the tournament. Also this is supposed to be double round robin so every player will play with others one game in the first half and one game in the second half. Besides players can not withdraw without a good reason otherwise there is some fee.

redivivo's picture

It can't have been Kasparov that handed over the World Championship to FIDE six years ago since it's eleven years since he was World Champion.

middlewave's picture

Fully agree. Besides, come on, we are talking about the world's top players. Nobody is going to withdraw, unless he faces a very serious health problem. This paragraph was just copied from the FIDE tournament rules, for the sake of completeness.

mdamien's picture

I didn't know these were standard rules. Thank you for that information. I'm not sure that I agree that it would be much worse if a withdrawing player's already-played games were left to stand rather than be annulled. I'm really just slow to be sure of anything.

For example, I still do not share you surety about his meaning Kasparov, especially since 6 years ago coincides with Kramnik agreeing to the unification.

S3's picture

1)It doesn't matter if it are standard FIDE tournament rules. The rules can result in a disastrous situation when the credibility of the world champion-title will be harmed. Strange that most people seem to find these rules a reasonable solution.

2) Yes, Weeks must have meant Kramnik. He probably wrote his piece out of emotion rather than thinking.

Vasek's picture

I don´t know, but I believe I´ve read about the change (Tournament Format & System) BEFORE the World Cup.

Septimus's picture

Peter, "fuzz" should read as "fuss" perhaps?

Peter Doggers's picture

Thx, corrected.

bayde's picture

And that's the problem with FIDE: Not so much corruption as horrible, horrible unprofessionalism. Not even FIFA is this bad, and that's saying a lot.

But what do you expect from an organization run by a Russian mobster and an oily Greek lawyer?

Szoker's picture

In my opinion, you guys in ChessVibes are whining too much. Its good that FIDE made this decision now, at the beginning of the cycle, than lets say - 2 months before the actual candidates tournament...

FIDE is not perfect, not at all, but this decision is a good one, and lets be happy that it was made.

ebutaljib's picture

Ongoing cycles shouldn't be changed. Period! It doesn't matter if it's the 1st day of the ongoing cycle or the last day before its conclusion - it shall not be changed!!!

ebutaljib's picture

Not to mention the way this changes were made: If there wouldn't be few nutcases like me who follow what documents FIDE puts on their site, nobody would even know that the changes were made.

Harish Srinivasan 's picture

Even if the changes are mid cycle they are good since if let as such it would be a failure like kazan. And also people like carlen might boycott it again. So what do we prefer -- to have the top players play or stick to the rules of not changing the format during the cycle. I would prefer the former. And I am sure the players playing in the world cup had known that they are qualifying for the tournament even though the official press release came only a few days ago.

ebutaljib's picture

Kazan was in May. They only figured out in September that the format was a failure? And no, players were not informed. They only knew if they happened to read and interview with Sutovsky on one of the Russian sites, which is unlikely and certainly can not be counted as official announcement. If someone read the interview on August 15th and then went to the FIDE site to see the regulations one could read the regulations about Candidates matches! The regulations were changed on September 7th when the World Cup was already in its final stages. And during the tournaments players certainly don't have time to read FIDE site (which by the way still doesn't have any announcement that any changes were made - you have to read the actual documents in FIDE's handbook to see the changes). So they couldn't have known and many probably still don't know that anything was changed.

mishanp's picture

"They only knew if they happened to read an interview with Sutovsky on one of the Russian sites, which is unlikely..."

Actually I'd be surprised if anyone likely to qualify hadn't seen it, but in any case anyone who'd vaguely followed chess news after Kazan would have been aware that the format of the next Candidates event was still to be decided. And whether there's a tournament of 8 players or matches with 8 players makes no difference to how you approach the qualifying events.

So agreed, they could have made an announcement as soon as they'd come to a decision (though it's hardly pressing as there's over a year to the event), but even if it's technically a case of "changing the rules during the cycle" it hardly compares to something of real significance like changing the system from the World Cup winner plays the Grand Prix winner to an 8-player Candidates.

S3's picture

I prefer matches. As did Bobby Fischer.

help's picture

A tournament is not perfect either.

1) You don't control your own destiny.
2) Collusion is possible.

1) Player A makes +4 and all his games were hard fought without major blunders.
Player B wins 2 hard fought games without major blunders but gets gifted 3 games where his opponents blunder a piece. Suddenly player B wins the tournament.

2) Player A and player B are good friends. They both start the tournament with high aspirations wanting to win. But after round 3 Player A has lost all of his games and it turns out he is horribly out of shape, on top of that he is coming down with the flu. It's clear he has no chance of winning the tournament anymore. So Player A gifts his games against his good friend giving him 2 free points.

These are extreme examples to illustrate the point, but they will almost surely play out to a lesser degree.

I understand that they players don't want short matches when one blunder can get you eliminated. Long matches are still the only way but unfortunately they seem to be too hard to organize and sponsor.

ebutaljib's picture

How many times did this happen in so called super tournaments? The players are professionals enough, and the prize difference between places is also a good reason to play at your best ability throughout the tournament. Collusion is not a problem in this day and age.

Szoker's picture

But on the other hand i completely agree with You on the broadcast rights.

Its nonsensical, and it WONT work...

PircAlert's picture

This surprise format change, in my opinion, is to include the buy/sell possibilities to make a player that an influential group wants to promote to win the candidates event. If lobbyists can make FIDE trade a better match format in exchange for a tournament format, I am sure this attempt will not be without any idea of buying players. Will people like Kramnik accept this format?

noyb's picture


redivivo's picture

"Will people like Kramnik accept this format?"

Kramnik on the knockout format after Kazan: "I can only agree with the critics who said that the system is not suitable for today’s classical World Championship candidates. It has become totally obvious now"

"I personally have always preferred the tournament format"

"I think there must be much more classical chess in a new format, and that can be done with a round robin tournament"


PircAlert's picture

Thanks for pointing me to that. In theory, I too agree DRR is better than a less than sufficient or less than six game matches. In fact I always had that opinion DRR likely to produce the strongest as winner under ideal conditions. But the major concern with DRR is the fixing possibility. Other than that, among a quite few other things, the DRR offers outside possibilities from players unlikely to finish first who will less motivated towards the end of the tournament.

Harish Srinivasan 's picture

As early as mid July which was well before the start of the world cup this http://www.chessninja.com/dailydirt/2011/07/not-dead-not-sleeping.htm#co... had been posted on chessnjinja where there is a link to the new format. So Fide had this new format on their website well before the world cup. I presume the players would also have been informed about this.

ebutaljib's picture

Are you illiterate or you just don't believe what you read? FIDE has OVERWRITEN the old regulations that were talking about Candidates matches!!! The link is the same. That link posted in July got you to the regulations about Candidates matches and that was until September 7th when they overwriten the old regulations with the current ones (while the url remains the same!). And they didn't even tell it to anybody that they have changed it! Get it?!

Richard Core's picture

This why chess will never be considered a sport like the other major sports. When I watch NFL football, I know the process to get to the championship game. Even when I watch boxing, I know how the champion is decided. In chess who knows. No wonder Carlsen decided not to take part in this mess.

RealityCheck's picture

Its not that hard to figure out how the champion is decided in chess. Ok, chess isn't the NFL or NBA but, the next chess champion will be the person who wins a world championship match against the GM Anand. Easy.

Thomas's picture

@Harish: I think you miss something - the URL hasn't changed, but the content of the document regscandidates.pdf did change ... . Yet basically the World Cup participants knew that they can qualify for an event which has 8 players, 14 scheduled classical games and the winner will earn a WCh match against either Anand or Gelfand :) . Whether it will be a tournament or matches certainly didn't affect the players' approach or opening choices in Khanty-Mansiysk, or the results of games and (mini-)matches - so it isn't such a big deal?!

I agree that FIDE could have communicated in a better and more transparent way, but that aspect aside it was virtually a lose-lose situation:
- now, with a change during the ongoing cycle, they get criticized.
- but if they had stuck to short matches (longer matches aren't realistic if you want to hold the candidates event in one go at one location), they would also be criticized: "Didn't you learn from Kazan?", or even "Don't you want Carlsen to participate?"
Ironically, Carlsen (who was the first to suggest a tournament rather than matches) could now withdraw saying he doesn't like changes when the cycle is already underway. My impression is that in any case he prefers to win tournaments and obtain/maintain/defend his #1 rating spot rather than risking his reputation in a WCh cycle ... . As long as he doesn't participate in the cycle, his fanboys can always claim that he is sort of the moral or 'real' world champion who doesn't have to prove himself in WCh-related events.

Regarding possible collusion, http://www.whychess.org/node/1958 mentions "To avoid one of the generic problems of the tournament system players from the same federation will play each other at the start of each round of games – i.e. when the sporting situation is less likely to make it clear how the players could collude to help each other.".
How will this work in practice? During the World Cup it was mentioned that Khanty-Mansiysk is interested in holding the candidates event. This would probably mean four Russian players: Svidler, Grischuk, Kramnik or Karjakin (rating spot), Karjakin or Kramnik (wildcard). This would mean major manipulations to the schedule to avoid two Russians facing each other in the final rounds. If Carlsen should drop out, it would mean a fifth Russian player (Morozevich or Jakovenko or Nepomniachtchi?) - and at least one Russian-Russian duel in every single round.
BTW I am not afraid of collusion: Even friends and/or countrymen will play for their own glory. Even for those who are no longer in the race for first place there's still Elo at stake, as well as probably a considerable difference in prize money between, say, fifth and eighth place.

redivivo's picture

Ooh those pesky Carlsen fanboys, why can't he just have supporters like the other players? As for Carlsen not wanting to risk his reputation, well, I don't think he cares that much about his reputation. If he finds it stupid to change the rules from a Candidates match between two players to a knockout between eight players (to give spots to those refusing to participate in the same qualification as Carlsen), long after a cycle started, he may drop out as he did. This time I noticed that people already have said that it would be hypocritical of Carlsen not to withdraw since it's another cycle change during a cycle. Less of a change of course, since it's not a question of making place for players that doesn't want to qualify, but the same eight players as before the change. This time it's also a change the players themselves have urged FIDE to make, Kramnik was very clear after Kazan about wanting a round robin instead of a knockout, not something FIDE thought out against the wishes of the players.

Chris's picture

Collussion is possible remind Quaracao.

and the last match Grischuk Morozevich when Morozevich has not decided to fight vs his friend.

ebutaljib's picture

Yeah the Russian federation will issue an order that Svidler, Grischuk and Kramnik should throw their games to Karjakin, and they will all obey. But then you woke up and realised that Russia is democratic and that players don't give a rats ass what the head of Russian chess federation says.

Martin's picture

I do not want tyo argue your conclusion, but "Russia is democratic" .....
Democratic my ass; as you living in Utopia?

ebutaljib's picture

Russia is no less democratic than USA or UK and other "western" countries.

S3's picture


ebutaljib's picture

Laugh all you want but it is true. There is no democracy on the world. All the leaders of this world are installed on the leading position by capitalist elite and their work is dedicated to protect that capitalist elite. In that way Russia is no different than USA or any other country. Don't tell me that you are that naive to think that common people decide who is going to be the Preisdent, do you? And that they are working for the good of the common people? Please don't be naive.

redivivo's picture

North Korean leaders aren't installed by the Capitalist elite! :-)

ebutaljib's picture

No - THEY ARE the elite capitalist of that country :)

Chris's picture

Not neccesarily the federation gives an order, it may be 'friends' agreement in certain situation etc.

mishanp's picture

On collusion, that was my interpretation of the regulation:

"The players who are from the same federation will play each other in rounds 1 and 8 (if only two) and if up to four players are from the same federation in rounds 1, 2, 3 and 8, 9, 10."

PircAlert's picture

It sounds like a cosmetic work from FIDE that they have addressed the collusion part. Collusion is purely based on the individual player than federation although same federation players are easily approachable. Case in point. Nakarmura wasn't approachable for game fixing I believe by a same federation GM.

Collusion depends on your integrity level. You can compromise it on your own. Or enough money or some goodwill can comprosise it. Or for a so called common good, you compromise it without any guilty feeling. If you still don't compromise, either you are afraid of the law or you are truly a man of integrity.

Do we have top 8 players with true integrity and do we always expect to have players of integrity at the top?

Or may be FIDE should consider some sting operation! Then they are talking of addressing collusion.

Ben's picture

This seems way overblown. Despite the deficiency in timing, who has a legitimate gripe to argue the change? Did relying on the previous format compromise any player's choices? No (Nakamura, who skipped the World Cup has the only plausible argument among top players, but there's a lot of evidence his self-imposed exclusion was not due to the WC Candidate format; other gripes are even more far-fetched). So, yes there is a wrong, but it didn't cause any harm when taken so early in the cycle. Without causation, FIDE's actions are harmless.

As far as RR goes, it is by far my favorite format to determine the WC Candidates, or even the champion himself (though FIDE does not go that far on this occasion).

RealityCheck's picture

Here's my take on the Sutovsky questionair:

1. Stick with the match system. 6-6-6.. The mark of the beast.
If money's the issue, ask the players to play for less. If time is the issue ask the public to be patient.

Kazan's big minus was that it was too short.

2. The World Champion Title is sacrosanct!! Leave it alone.
Demanding the Wch join the Candidates in a match or tournament is dead wrong.

3. Preserve the two year cycle.

Fernando Honório's picture

Candidates tournament, no doubt. Almost everything is better than last time system of small matches, where the players can't make no risks and we see almost all games drawn. Tournament please!

Bob's picture

I agree. It is impractical to have a repeat of the previous series. A DRR would be fine, I think, BUT I dislike the withdrawal clause where the games would be annulled, this is not fair in my opinion.

PircAlert's picture

Again more room for manipulation by making someone withdraw at an opportune moment!

ebutaljib's picture

If a player withdraws with less than 50% of the games played then his games are annuled, if he plays 50% or more of the scheduled games then his remaining games are awarded to his opponents by default - those rules are standard and are in place since AT LEAST 1940's. Possibly they have been in place since early 1900's.

PircAlert's picture

You quote rules. You quote history. That is fine. May be that is one of the reason tournaments were avoided at challenger or champion level in the past?? I mean, what is your point? Is it okay to have a manipulatable system at challenger level? Why knowingly opt for an unsound format when you can come with a number of better formats? For example, X is leading by half point over his nearest rival Y at the penultimate round. And if Z has lost to X but won over Y and if he withdraws, the lead and possibly the right to challenge for title has simply changed hands!


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