FIDE Circuit: Abdusattorov leads, a few top GMs express disapproval

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
5/7/2024 – While the World Championship match of the 2024-2025 cycle is supposed to take place at the end of the year, players are already fighting for a spot in the 2026 Candidates Tournament. As per the updated regulations, two places will be granted to the winners of the 2024 and 2025 FIDE Circuits (one per year). Currently, Nodirbek Abdusattorov is atop the leaderboard after winning the TePe Sigeman & Co. Tournament. A few top GMs, including Fabiano Caruana and Anish Giri, have shared complaints regarding the scoring system.

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The 2-year race begins

In January, following a somewhat controversial end to the 2023-24 cycle, FIDE announced that the qualification paths for the Candidates Tournament have been updated. Most importantly, the loser of the World Championship match will not automatically get a spot in the 8-player double round-robin. The spots will be granted as follows:

  • 1 spot: Highest-rated player (6-month average rating, from August ’25 to January ’26)
  • 3 spots: FIDE World Cup 2025
  • 2 spots: FIDE Grand Swiss 2025
  • 1 spot: FIDE Circuit 2024
  • 1 spot: FIDE Circuit 2025

As seen above, 7 out of 8 spots will be decided in 2025, but there is 1 place up for grabs during this year, the one granted by the FIDE Circuit. In the previous cycle, Gukesh, the eventual winner of the Candidates, qualified via the first edition of the Circuit. Not much was said about FIDE’s initiative last year, while the changes made to the regulations this year sparked a number of negative reactions by top GMs.

These are the rules of the 2024 and 2025 FIDE Circuit:

The final score will be the sum of a player’s highest event scores, but not more than seven event scores.

Other main changes in FIDE Circuit rules:

  • for round-robin tournaments points are given to the top three places only,
  • a new bonus for sole 1st place without any tie-break criteria is added,
  • an unlimited number of tournaments in one country is allowed, in case the average rating of the top eight players of each event is 2650 or higher.

Organizers of events taking place after July 1st, 2024, must notify FIDE GSC at least three months in advance.

FIDE Chess Circuit

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The first events eligible for the 2024 Circuit created a few questionable results, which were pointed out by Fabiano Caruana and Anish Giri.

Since 4 players tied for first place in the Tata Steel Masters, and the new rules give points only to the top 3 finishers, Gukesh, Abdusattorov and Giri — who lost in tiebreaks to overall winner Wei Yi — obtained fewer points than, for example, the winner of the Tata Steel Challengers, Leon Luke Mendonca.

The problem is that the total number of points granted in the Masters was divided by 4 (i.e. if there was no tie, it would have been divided by 3). This is an issue that might resurface in any tough round-robin, when it is much more difficult to get big scores.

Moreover, even the winner of the Grenke Open, Hans Niemann, gained more points than the 3 players tied for first in the Tata Steel Masters who failed to prevail in the tiebreaks. This fact might result in top players choosing to play open events at the end of the year, which, as pointed out by Giri, offer much lower prizes.

The system is devised to encourage top players to play opens with 5000$ first prize and “FIDE” collects over 1M$ from the match. And that’s besides that it’s broken.

All these mathematical deviations are produced by the fact that, instead of half the field receiving points (like last year), only the top-3 finishers get points this time around. It is likely that FIDE opted for this rule change in an attempt to encourage fighting chess — but perhaps they failed to consider the possibility of many players tying atop the standings (despite there being many decisive games!).

Wei Yi, Dommaraju Gukesh

Wei Yi defeated Dommaraju Gukesh in the final match of the tiebreaks in Wijk aan Zee | Photo: Tata Steel Chess Tournament / Lennart Ootes

Another issue, identified by Levon Aronian, is that tournaments featuring players from just one country are not eligible, except for national championships. Aronian realized that the American Cup, which he won in style ahead of the likes of Caruana, Wesley So and Leinier Dominguez, was not included in the Circuit. The Armenian-born GM explained on X:

How come the American Cup is not rated? It’s a tough event with many elite level players. How come winning opens almost equals winning the Candidates or Tata Steel. Didn’t the amount of games make any difference?

The idea behind this rule is to prevent national federations from organizing last-minute events to favour their representatives.

In an exchange with FIDE’s CEO Emil Sutovsky, Aronian noted that “established events with world-class players” should be considered, to which Sutovsky replied that “‘established’ is a tricky definition”. Surely, adding more specific provisos — like receiving authorization by FIDE months in advance — might solve this issue.

Finally, it is strange to see that the Aeroflot Open, organized by the Chess Federation of Russia, was included as an eligible tournament. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Russian Federation was sanctioned and excluded from international sports events. FIDE supposedly followed the recommendations of the International Olympic Committee.

Levon Aronian, Fabiano Caruana

Levon Aronian and Fabiano Caruana during a post-mortem at the 2024 American Cup | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club / Lennart Ootes

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Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.
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