Making sense of the FIDE cycle

12/10/2005 – Why, many of our readers have asked, are eight players who got knocked out in round four of the World Cup in Khanty-Mansiysk still playing in the tournament? What, they want to know, is the point? Has it something to do with the 2007 FIDE world championship cycle? It most certainly does. Jeff Sonas explains in meticulous detail. Please concentrate.

Making sense of the FIDE World Championship Cycle

By Jeff Sonas

The FIDE World Chess Cup is currently taking place in Khanty-Mansyisk, Russia. Like many chess fans, you might be asking yourself, what's the point? What does it mean? Didn't we just have a FIDE World Championship in San Luis? Well, yes, but the World Chess Cup is for the next cycle, the one ending in 2007. The latest FIDE regulations tell us that the next championship, to be held in 2007, will be another eight-player tournament, just like San Luis. If you trust that those regulations are now final, what can we expect from the next cycle?

The top four finishers from San Luis (Veselin Topalov, Viswanathan Anand, Peter Svidler, and Alexander Morozevich) have already qualified for that final 2007 tournament. Sixteen other players will qualify for two rounds of six-game Candidates Matches against each other starting next year, reducing the number of players from sixteen down to four, and those four players will join Topalov, Anand, Svidler, and Morozevich in the final championship tournament.

Where do those sixteen players come from? Well, there are three different ways a player can make it into the sixteen. One spot is automatic: the prior FIDE champion, Rustam Kasimjanov, automatically qualifies. Five spots will come from the rating list. Not the current list, or the upcoming list, but instead from an average taken of two earlier lists: the July 2004 list and the January 2005 list:

  Avg July 2004 Jan. 2005
1. Garry Kasparov 2810.5 2817 (#1) 2804 (#1)
2. Viswanathan Anand 2784 2782 (#2) 2786 (#2)
3. Vladimir Kramnik 2762 2770 (#3) 2754 (#4)
4. Veselin Topalov 2747 2737 (#7) 2757 (#3)
5. Peter Leko 2745 2741 (#5) 2749 (#5)
6. Alexander Morozevich 2742 2743 (#4) 2741 (#6)
7. Michael Adams 2739.5 2738 (#6) 2741 (#7)
8. Peter Svidler 2731 2727 (#9) 2735 (#8)
9. Judit Polgar 2728 2728 (#8) (inactive)
10. Alexei Shirov 2719 2725 (#10) 2713 (#10)
11. Etienne Bacrot 2713.5 2712 (#14) 2715 (#9)
12. Vassily Ivanchuk 2713 2715 (#12) 2711 (#11)
13. Evgeny Bareev 2712 2715 (#13) 2709 (#13)
14. Ruslan Ponomariov 2711 2722 (#11) 2700 (#15)
15. Alexander Grischuk 2707.5 2705 (#16) 2710 (#12)
16. Boris Gelfand 2702.5 2709 (#15) 2696 (#16)
17. Alexey Dreev 2697 2690 (#18) 2704 (#14)
18. Vladimir Akopian 2692.5 2692 (#17) 2693 (#17)

It’s not as simple as just taking the top five from the list, because four players (Anand, Topalov, Morozevich, and Svidler) have already qualified for the final eight-player tournament, thanks to their top-four finishes at San Luis. So the top five remaining players who will be invited to the Candidates Matches, based on their average ratings, will be Kasparov, Kramnik, Leko, Adams, and Polgar. The order of the “reserve” list, in an extremely tight race, is Shirov, Bacrot, Ivanchuk, Bareev, and Ponomariov.

Presumably Kasparov (being retired) will not participate, and Vladimir Kramnik will almost certainly decline as well. They have to submit a letter of intent to FIDE by December 31st, and so in a month we should know for sure whether these two player have declined, and whether Shirov and Bacrot would move off the reserve list and into automatic qualification for the Candidates Matches, based on their ratings alone.

The remaining ten qualifiers for the Candidates matches will come from the top finishers at the current World Cup. Supposedly the top ten World Cup finishers will qualify, but it gets complicated because both Shirov and Bacrot were participating in the tournament. If either Shirov or Bacrot finished in the top ten, and then qualifies by rating on December 31st due to Kasparov and/or Kramnik declining to play in the Candidates matches, then according to the regulations, the next-highest finisher (the 11th-place finisher) at the World Cup will qualify for the Candidates Matches. In other words, if you qualify based on rating and also World Cup finish too, then you actually just qualify by your rating, and that frees up a spot for the next-highest World Cup finisher. Similarly, if both Shirov and Bacrot had finished in the top ten, and also qualified by rating, then even the 12th-place finisher would get to qualify for the Candidates Matches. But they wouldn't know for sure until the end of the year because of the Kasparov/Kramnik factor!

So what does this mean for the participants? If you are Alexei Shirov, you qualify for the Candidates Matches as long as either Kasparov or Kramnik declines to participate. If they both magically produce letters of intent, then you had to finish in the top ten at Khanty-Mansyisk in order to qualify. We already know that you have been knocked out, and thus must wait until December 31st to find out about Kasparov and Kramnik and to know for sure whether you qualify.

If you are Etienne Bacrot, then you qualify for the Candidates Matches as long as both Kasparov and Kramnik decline to participate. Still almost a certainty, but if one or the other of them decides to participate, then you have to finish in the top ten at Khanty-Mansyisk. Even finishing 11th would have been good enough as long as Shirov had been one of the top ten. If you can eliminate Joel Lautier in your fourth round match, then you for sure will finish in the top ten, but even a loss to Lautier would not be a problem if you can still win the next two matches and ensure a top-ten finish. Otherwise, you have to wait until December 31st and hope that Kasparov and Kramnik both default.

If you are Vassily Ivanchuk, then you probably bitterly regret not being rated one point higher on either the July 2004 or January 2005 rating lists, because that would have been enough to move you ahead of Bacrot on the “reserve” rating list. Instead, you had to finish in the top ten at Khanty-Mansyisk (not counting Shirov or Bacrot). Since you were knocked out early, your best bet at this point is probably for either Kasimjanov, Leko, Adams, Polgar, Shirov, or Bacrot to go on paternity/maternity leave and withdraw from the matches, in which case you would take their place based on your rating (as long as Kasparov and Kramnik do both decline to play).

For everyone else, you have to finish in the top ten at the World Cup in order to qualify for sure. #11 will be good enough too, as long as Bacrot is one of the top ten (and Kasparov and Kramnik decline to participate). If you win your first four rounds, you are guaranteed to finish in the top eight at the World Cup (even if you lose the rest of your games), and thus you have qualified for the Candidates Matches. If you were eliminated in one of the first three rounds, then you're done, and you don't qualify for anything.

What gets tricky is if you are one of the eight players who win the first three rounds and then lose in Round Four. At that point you're going to be somewhere between 9th and 16th, depending on how you fare against the other players who also lost in Round Four. Even though you just lost, you are guaranteed to play all the way through round seven, because of the new knockout format where places #1 through #16 are exactly determined. The goal is to finish somewhere in the top ten (by winning rounds five and six), unless Bacrot manages to finish in the top ten, in which case finishing 11th may still be good enough. But if you're 11th, behind Bacrot, then you're probably fine but you won't know for sure until December 31st comes along and we learn that both Kasparov and Kramnik have indeed failed to submit a letter of intent. At that point, when both Shirov and Bacrot qualify by rating, you will magically become one of the ten qualifiers from the World Cup for the Candidates Matches.

Also note that aside from the financial incentives, there is an additional incentive to actually win the World Cup. The seedings for the Candidates Matches will use the January 2006 rating list, with the standard “highest plays lowest” pairings where #1 plays #16, #2 plays #15, and so on. However, the winner of the World Cup gets an automatic #1 seed, despite their lower rating. This is extremely important, because it means that whoever wins the World Cup will get a relatively easy path to the final tournament. The #1 seed will play the #16 seed (i.e., the lowest-rated qualifier from the World Cup) and then the #8 or #9 seed, who won’t be nearly as highly rated as Peter Leko, Judit Polgar, Alexei Shirov, etc. Since only four players qualify for the final, normally you would have to play a match against one of the four top-rated qualifiers in order to advance, but having that #1 seed means you don’t have to face any of the top-seven-rated opponents! So there is still plenty to play for, even if you do win your fourth-round match…

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