FIDE Grand Prix: Call for a fair player selection process
By Peter Zhdanov
Women’s chess is relatively neglected as compared to men’s. If
you ask a typical chess fan what the Women’s Grand Prix is and who qualifies
for it, the answer will usually be silence.
As of now, the FIDE Women’s Grand Prix is a series of round robin tournaments
with nice cash prizes and opportunities to increase one’s mastery by facing
other strong grandmasters. One of the main goals of holding these events is
to determine the Challenger, i.e., a female player who will face the winner
of the Women’s World Cup for the Women’s World Chess Champion title.
Therefore, in some sense the Grand Prix is the semi-final of the World Championship,
because winning it entitles one to play the final match for the crown.
It is hard to follow the Women’s World Chess Championship Cycle, so here
is a quick reminder:
The current champion is Hou Yifan from China. She has also secured the
first place in the Women’s Grand Prix series.
The Women’s World Chess Championship will take place in November
2012 in Khanty-Mansyisk, Russia. If Hou Yifan defends her title there, she
will play in 2013 a match against the lady (Challenger) who finishes second
in the Women’s Grand Prix series. If Hou loses her title in November,
she will challenge the new champion, because she has qualified for the match
via the Grand Prix series.
Naturally, one would expect only the best of the best players to qualify for
the Grand Prix circuit – on the basis of their career achievements and
playing strength. However, let’s take a look at the list of the participants
and indicate on what grounds the players have been invited:
1. Hou, Yifan (World Champion 2010)
2. Ruan, Lufei (Finalist, World Championship 2010)
3. Koneru, Humpy (Semi-finalist, World Championship 2010)
4. Zhao, Xue (Semi-finalist, World Championship 2010)
5. Kosintseva, Tatiana (by rating 2566,00 / Jul 2010 & Jan 2011)
6. Stefanova, Antoaneta (by rating 2553,00 / Jul 2010 & Jan 2011)
7. Kosintseva, Nadezhda (by rating 2551,50 / Jul 2010 & Jan 2011)
8. Muzychuk, Anna (by rating 2528,00 / Jul 2010 & Jan 2011)
9. Lahno, Kateryna (by rating 2526,50 / Jul 2010 & Jan 2011)
10. Cmilyte, Viktorija (by rating 2526,50 / Jul 2010 & Jan 2011)
Six nominees from the organizers of each tournament:
11. Ekaterina Kovalevskaya (Rostov)
12. Ju Wenjun (Shenzhen)
13. Alexandra Kosteniuk (Nalchik)
14. Alisa Galiamova (Kazan)
15. Elina Danielian (Jermuk)
16. Betul Cemre Yildiz (Istanbul)
Two nominees of the FIDE President
17. Zhu Chen
18. Batkhuyag Munguntuul
In Shenzhen Tan Zhongyi (2447, CHN) also participated.
Furthermore, the current list has four more new names in it: Monika Socko (2481,
POL), Nino Khurtsidze (2456, GEO), Lilit Mkrtchian (2450, ARM), Kubra Ozturk
(2296, TUR). As far as I know, the reasons for their inclusion have not even
been stated officially.
Now let’s do a bit of elementary Math. Only ten players were invited
to the Grand Prix on a competitive basis, thirteen more were granted wild cards
of some sort. Summarizing, about 57% of the players are participating in the
Grand Prix not due to having great chess skills, but simply because a certain
FIDE official likes them, or because someone has the money and the desire to
stage a stage of the Grand Prix specifically for them! Can you imagine another
reputable sport where one has the option of paying a few hundred thousand dollars
and entering the semi-final of the World Championship Cycle, no matter what
his international ranking is?
Don’t get me wrong, I have no intentions of hurting the feelings of any
of the participants. The one thing I am protesting against is that sports are
supposed to be fair, while modern top-level women’s chess isn’t.
Of course, everyone has different training conditions. For example, some athletes
can afford top-level coaching and travelling a lot, while other can’t.
Nonetheless, one would typically expect the players to have equal legal chances
to fight for the crown. The way the system is working now, talent and skill
matter only to a certain extent, because quite often you won’t be invited
unless you have powerful sponsors or FIDE connections. On the contrary, if you
have them, your chances to succeed are greatly increased. Unfortunately, professional
women’s chess is becoming a “pay to win” sport.
A notable example of prevalence of personal relationships over chess mastery
is that IM Ekaterina Atalik (2448), who along with her husband GM Suat Atalik
has a conflict with FIDE Vice-President and President of the Turkish Chess Federation
Ali Nihat Yazichi, is not taking part, while two significantly weaker Turkish
women rated in the 2200s-2300s got wild cards. Moreover, one can question oneself:
why are some even higher-rated players than Ekaterina Atalik not participating?
ChessBase is usually kind enough to publish interesting feedback from the readers.
Let me try to anticipate at least some of the remarks and try to address them
Who cares if some relatively weak players get a wild card? They won’t
affect the final standings anyway.
First of all, not all of the players who received wild cards are weak in the
sense of not being able to compete for the Challenger title, or at least affect
the final standings. Secondly, if you check the FIDE women’s rating list,
you will notice that quite a few of the strongest players are not competing.
Why? Thirdly, I have no problem with some players having organizer friends and
sponsors. That’s absolutely great! But why don’t they just offer
them endorsement fees and/or stage private super tournaments instead of trying
to affect the official World Chess Championship cycle?
Your opinion is biased, because a conflict of interests is in place.
Your wife is a well-known grandmaster and a potential participant of the Grand
Prix series, so you are simply disappointed about her not having received
Believe me or not, I am trying to be objective and criticize the things that
I find unfair, no matter if they benefit or harm me and my friends. Of course,
like any human, I am more likely to notice that something wrong is going on
if it affects me personally in a negative way. Nevertheless, if Natalia Pogonina
gets a wild card next time, my opinion about the situation won’t be any
different. In fact, when we were discussing this situation with a top manager
of a well-known IT company, he half-jokingly suggested we hold one of the next
Grand Prix stages so that grandmaster Pogonina qualifies for it automatically.
Naturally, I waived his generous offer off, because I don’t want to play
by the unfair rules that are common practice in chess nowadays.
Anyone can criticize the system. But where are you going to find the
funds to stage the events if you don’t allow the organizers to distribute
This is a tough question. In my opinion, FIDE should either finally find a
business model that would allow it to earn money promoting chess, or at least
cooperate only with chess patrons who are genuinely interested in keeping the
competition fair as opposed to benefitting their favorites. After all, FIDE
can create a list based on rating/tournament results and then use it to persuade
certain cities/sponsors to host the events, not vice versa, the way it is done
now (“sell a few vacant spots to the bidders”). Yes, Andrei Filatov,
the main sponsor of the Anand-Gelfand match, is a friend of Boris. However,
he has only funded the Championship, while Gelfand has fairly earned the right
to play for the title. It’s not like Andrei has paid the organizations
costs and demanded that his friend gets a direct shot at the chess crown.
Meanwhile, what do we see in women’s chess? Wouldn’t it be great
to know in advance how one can qualify for the Grand Prix cycle? Isn’t
chess supposed to be a fair sport where one’s skills are more important
than having rich relatives and/or influential benefactors among chess officials?
Will we witness a transition from nepotism and plutocracy to meritocracy? What
do you think?
Peter Zhdanov is an IT project manager, debate expert and
author of two books on parliamentary debate, BSc in Applied Mathematics and
Computer Science and final year PhD student in Sociology. In chess he is a Russian
candidate master, author, husband and manager of grandmaster Natalia Pogonina.
You can read more of his articles at the Pogonina
web site, which he edits.
||Theory of success in life applied to chess
27.08.2012 – What are the factors that define
success? How does one become successful in life in general and in chess
in particular? Peter Zhdanov explains KPIs (key performance indicators)
used to measure success and seeks to apply them to the game we all love.
By objectively evaluating all the components described in his article,
you can create your own plan of becoming
a successful person.
||Is chess not for everybody? – Feedback from our readers
05.07.2012 – Boris Gelfand said he thought
that chess was not for everyone, Peter Zhdanov wrote a piece saying it
was. Chess must be presented to the general public for what it is: a sport,
an art and science. Many readers agree: "Let us make a Smörgåsbord and
have everyone decide what is tasty for them," writes one, and another
says we should emulate the
mentalist Derren Brown.
Is chess not for everybody?
04.07.2012 – Recently Boris Gelfand said
he thought that chess was not for everyone. "Chess is for people who
want to make an intellectual effort, who have respect for the game,
and we shouldn't make the game more simple so that more people would
enjoy it,” said the world championship challenger. Do you think this
is true? Peter Zhdanov, IT project manager and debate expert, begs
||Do Women Have a Chance against Men in Chess?
08.03.2012 – As we know all too well: most
of the strongest players in the world are male. In the past we have speculated
on the reasons for this gender discrepancy, with vigorous
reader participation. On International Women's Day Peter Zhdanov,
who is married to a very strong female player, provides us with some valuable
statistics, comparing men and women on a country-by-country basis. Eye-opening.
||Do men and women have different brains?
30.06.2009 – In a recent thought-provoking
article WGM Natalia Pogonina and Peter Zhdanov presented their views
on the topic of why women are worse at chess than men. A number of our
readers were unconviced: they think that efforts at "explaining" differences
between the sexes only from environmental factors are doomed at the outset.
Recent studies seem to support this. Feedback
||Women and men in chess – smashing the stereotypes
20.06.2009 – On June 5, 2009
WGM Natalia Pogonina and Peter Zhdanov got
married – she a Women's Grandmaster, he a successful IT-specialist
and debate expert. Peter is also Natalia’s manager, together they are
writing a book called "Chess Kamasutra". Today they share with us their
views on the perennial topic why women are worse at chess than men, and
take a look at the future
of women’s chess.