FIDE updates and the World Championship cycle

by Macauley Peterson
4/26/2019 – Today FIDE has released new regulations for the upcoming World Championship cycle (both Open and Women). The overall championship match is being extended from 12 to 14 games, and draws will no longer be permitted before move 40. Players can qualify to the Candidates Tournament via the revised Grand Prix, now a series of knockout tournaments, and a new "Grand Swiss" to be held in October on the Isle of Man.

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Reforms and news

The stream of news coming from FIDE has been constant since our last update on the World Championship cycle in January.

The bidding procedure for the Candidates Tournament 2020 and its regulations were released in early March. The deadline for bids is set at June 6th. The minimum prize fund should be EUR €500,000, announced following the March FIDE Presidential Board meeting, in Astana on the sidelines of the World Team Championship.

Among the reforms proposed, at both the Candidates and the World Championship match in 2020, draws by mutual agreement before move 40 will be prohibited unless made via the arbiter after resulting from a threefold repetition of position.

Grand Prix and Grand Swiss

The first of the new Grand Prix series of tournaments will begin on May 17th at Moscow's Central Chess Club, with 16-players, qualified by rating, participating in a knockout format. Three more tournaments are expected to follow later this year in Jurmala/Riga, Latvia (July 11th – 25th), Hamburg, Germany (November 4th – 18th), and Tel-Aviv, Israel (December 10th – 24th).

World Chess is still in charge of this part of the cycle. FIDE Legal Advisor Aleksandr Martynov told ChessBase in response to questions regarding the role of World Chess and the series financing:

World Chess is responsible for the events budget and prize fund (which is higher than the one in the FIDE-Agon contract), but FIDE adds additional 280K to make the series more attractive for players. FIDE and World Chess will also work on sponsorship or working with host cities to make the Series even more sustainable and attractive.

The inaugural Grand Swiss tournament will take on the moniker of the Isle of Man tournament, and be an 11-round Swiss with 120 players invited, with 100 qualifying by rating. A preliminary list (PDF) has been published and a final list is expected "within a week after the publication of the June 2019", according to the announcement.

Dress codes are clarified and upgraded. For the Grand Swiss, for men: business casual (neat shirt with a collar, jacket/blazer, trousers); for women: business casual (neat shirt/blouse with a collar, jacket/blazer, trousers/skirt or dress).

The World Cup knockout tournament and the World Championship dress codes are even stricter with a neat shirt and formal suit required for men, which should avoid the 2017 Anton Kovalyov debacle.

Dvokovich and Pelletier

FIDE President Dvorkovich with GM Yannick Pelletier in March | Photo: FIDE

World Championship match

The new regulations for the 2020 World Championship match are out today, resulting from the work of a new Global Strategy Commission (GSC) chaired by the new Director General, GM Emil Sutovsky and notably featuring Harvard Economics professor Kenneth Rogoff, who is also a grandmaster. Rogoff is expected to help connect FIDE with large Western companies and organizations.

The portfolio of the GSC commission is also the main focus of Sutovsky's work, as he noted in a recent interview (in Russian) with ChessPro. One of the salient takeaways is that, presumably, FIDE will abandon the claim first put forward by World Chess following a commissioned YouGov poll in 2012 that there are "more than 600 million" chess players globally. Sutovsky rightly criticised the poll's methodology, and promises "serious research" into this question. 

As for the World Champinship match format, the regulations indicate it has been tweaked in several respects. Principally, the match will return to 14 games, which was one of the suggestions floating around during the 2018 London match. The last time the match for the World Championship was a best-of-14-games was in 2004, when Vladimir Kramnik defended his title in a 7:7 tie against Peter Leko in Brissago, Switzerland. At that time the Champion had draw odds and no rapid tiebreak was used.

The time control has also been revised so that each player will receive 120 minutes for the first 40 moves, followed by 60 minutes for the next 20 moves and then 15 minutes for the rest of the game, while the 30-second bonus per move now begins only at move 61.

A statement from FIDE President Dvorkovich in March previewed that the regulations would "allow to hold the match in multiple cities if this promotes chess and does not present excessive logistical problems" for the participants. And indeed the regulations now state "FIDE can decide on the World Championship Match to be divided into two (2) parts held in two (2) different places."

The number of rest days has been reduced from six to five days.

The "recommended" prize fund provided by the match organisers should be EUR €2,000,000 net of any applicable local taxes. This is double what World Chess managed in the previous two cycles, however the wording seems to provide some wiggle-room in case the winning bidder cannot meet that target.

The prize fund will once again be split 60%/40% between the winner and the loser if 14 games are played, and 55%/45% if a tiebreak is needed.

There's another provision that could be relevant this time around too, considering that Stavanger, in Norway, is a leading organising candidate city: "If the match is played in the country of one of the players, then the foreign player receives one hundred thousand (100,000) euros of the prize fund." That would be deducted off the top, with the remainder split as above.

As to where else the match might be held, organisers in Vienna were previously interested, but it seems they could not secure sufficient funding and, as we reported (in German), they are now focusing on a potential bid for the 2020 World Blitz and Rapid Championship.

Saint Louis is still a likely bidding candidate, although this will obviously have to be decided well before the next Challenger is known, indeed possibly before even the number of Americans who may ultimately qualify for the Candidates has become clear.

Both Sutovsky and Dvorkovich himself have expressed an interest in working with the Saint Louis operation bankrolled by Rex Sinquefield. In conversation with GM Yannick Pelletier (acting as FIDE Press Officer in Astana) in March, Dvorkovich said:

I met Rex Sinquefield for the first time during the opening ceremony of the World Championship match in London and our short discussion was very friendly. Actually, my colleague of the management board Director General Emil Sutovsky has had intense consultations with Sinquefield’s team of the Grand Chess Tour, including Garry Kasparov, in order to adjust the tournament calendar. They have increased the number of events this year, so that coordination with the World Championship cycle was essential. All tournaments now have their place in the calendar 2019, and we basically avoided clashes of the main competitions, except for November which was completely unavoidable. But the smooth cooperation with the Grand Chess Tour allowed to minimize the damage for the players. Indeed, providing for the satisfactory distribution of all participants in the events of both cycles was fundamental. Both sides are happy and continue to work effectively. FIDE has big expectations for the upcoming World Championship and I hope that we will receive competing bids from many countries.

Perhaps the most consequential change in the long term of the new regulations, is FIDE's retaining "all commercial and media rights of the World Championship Match".

It remains to be seen how they will exercise the rights asserted, in particular, 7.3: "FIDE has the exclusive rights for live games transmission on Internet." This has been a major point of contention in the past, with World Chess undertaking various publicity and legal actions in an attempt to protect this exclusivity as FIDE's previously appointed commercial agency.

According to the new cooperation agreement, World Chess still has the title of "official FIDE broadcaster" and the nature of the cooperation is still very much an open question. When pressed on this point, Martynov (FIDE's legal advisor) only reiterated the terms of the January press release:

FIDE and World Chess intend to jointly develop a policy of broadcasting FIDE events in the interests of spectators and long-term commercial development of chess sports. In line with the policy, World Chess shall develop the official broadcasting widget in accordance with FIDE technical guidelines that will be offered for free to all media and sites alike and will allow live moves relay broadcast. World Chess will also develop and promote video broadcasting of Grand Prix and other tournaments as will be determined by FIDE and World Chess in the future.

Beyond that, Martynov added, "The policy of FIDE, first of all, is that the moves should be available free to all in a live mode."

The World Championship regulations stipulate further that "FIDE provides to the Organizer the signal for online game display in the different function rooms as agreed between the parties", but FIDE will still have to sign off explicitly on any further use of each match game's move information.


Macauley served as the Editor in Chief of ChessBase News from July 2017 to March 2020. He is the producer of The Full English Breakfast chess podcast, and was an Associate Producer of the 2016 feature documentary, Magnus.


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