Geoffrey Borg replies to Zhdanov on the FIDE Women Grand Prix

by ChessBase
9/28/2012 – The call by Peter Zhdanov for a "fair player selection process" in the Grand Prix did not meet with universal aclaim. In fact most readers disagreed with the notion that the cycle could or needed to be run on purely strength-based criteria. "While we thank Mr Zhdanov for his article," writes FIDE CEO Geoffrey Borg, "some deeper research and objectivity would have been appreciated." Resounding reply

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Some reader feedback to Peter Zhdanov's article

Kevin Cotreau, Merrimack, NH USA
Peter Zhdanov is clearly a young man, because anyone with a few miles on them would know that "life is not fair", and that "the people with the money, make the rules". So Peter, if you want to really change things, you come up with a concrete method of funding, and then you can make it as fair as you want. You brought up the issue, so why do you pawn it off on FIDE to find the answer to an age old problem no one has really ever solved? Chess still does not have wide viewer appeal when broadcast on a medium that generates great revenue, so good luck. In other words, please fix the problem yourself, or stop complaining. In the meantime, the good news is that the best players, the ones who do qualify by rating, are still the ones that seem to win every time. If they don't, and a weaker player wins, that also vindicates the selection of said weaker player since they were clearly not so weak.

Ozdal Barkan, Mountain View, USA
Trying to make everyone equal can result in everyone being poor as shown many times in history. Whatever encourages funding for chess tournaments should be considered with a flexible mind. If you insist on equality, there should be no Women's World Championship in the first place. Judith Polgar has been the strongest woman player for decades and she doesn't even play in Women's competitions. Also, the entire concept of Olympics is based on encouraging participation by a wide group and not based on equality. Is it fair that some of the strongest athletes in the world are not allowed to participate in the Olympics because their country is allowed only three entries?

Most other messages we received were in the same vein. Instead of quoting them we will – with apologies to the readers who took the trouble to write – bring you the formal reply of a person who is one of the driving forces behind the FIDE Grand Prix circuits.

A reply to Peter Zhdanov regarding the FIDE Women Grand Prix

By Geoffrey Borg, CEO of FIDE

While the article starts off with a factual introduction of the qualifiers for the FIDE Women Grand Prix series 2011/12, Mr Zhdanov then unfortunately veers off any form of objectivity with allegations of favouritism by organisers or FIDE officials as well as criticising unfairly the constitution of the participants. Instead of lauding the stability and increase in women events that the GP series offers, Mr Zhdanov accuses women’s modern chess top level as being unfair.

I prefer to review facts as they are and avoid subjective comments.

In the FIDE Women GP series 2011/12 there were 18 players at the outset and 17 who satisfactorily finished the event. The GP regulations call for a minimum participation in three events. Reserve players do not count since they only play one event. Zhu Chen, a former World Champion, withdrew after participating in two events only. Mr Zhdanov therefore misinterprets, in favour of his argument, the participation of reserve players and ignores to mention that these reserve players have only played one tournament and do not have any opportunity to progress in the cycle due to the condition of having three results as a minimum. The reserves (Tan Zhongyi, Lilit Mrktchian, Kubra Ozturk, Monica Socko and Nino Khurtsidze) all replaced for one event the official players who could not participate for personal reasons. These were Alisa Galliamova, Betul Yildiz Cemre, Alexandra Kosteniuk and Zhu Chen.

The way the players are chosen were moulded originally with the launch of the Grand Prix series in 2008 (men) and then modified slightly from 14 players to 12 players for the women. The new series of the Grand Prix (the fourth series with one men and two women series so far) taking place in London copies the same principles which have been used in the Women criteria. They are reviewed by the FIDE World Championship and Olympiad Commission before the launch of every series and discussed at great length to ensure the maximum objectivity to all the factors involved in having a GP series. Following a decision by FIDE Presidential Board, until such time as there is a contractual commitment by six cities no GP series will be launched. This is to avoid similar problems as were experienced in the first series in 2008.

Coming to the main point which Mr Zhdanov glosses over at the end of his article, the success and continuity of the Women Grand Prix series has been down to host cities which have organised women events based on their objective of supporting their local player or because they wish to promote women chess without expectations of their representative affecting the final results. Would the 18 cities who have organised GPs so far have organised them without this incentive. I can inform Mr Zhdanov that the answer is absolutely negative. The "host" invitee principle applies in several other events such as World Team Championships (Open and Women), Candidates, World Cup, Women's World Championship Knockout etc.. and applies to other sports as well such as the FIFA World Cup amongst the most notable.

The attempt by Mr Zhdanov to term the Grand Prix series as a semi-final is also misleading, since the participant has to play well in at least three events over the course of two years – it is not just a singular event. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and the results of the last Women Grand Prix series 2011/12 reflect the fairness of the series as the top three women rated players have earned the aggregate top three places in the GP. The previous series also confirmed the same result with Hou Yifan, Koneru and Dzagnidze in 1-3 positions and rated 1, 2 and 5 in the world when it ended. (excluding Judit Polgar, of course, in this comparative analysis of results)

Are there other ideas which can give more players the chance to participate? Yes, and they have been discussed at length. One idea is to give all players only three events rather than four and increasing therefore the players from 18 to 24 hence giving six more places to rating qualifiers. Another is to have qualifying events or festivals or using the ACP tour for some of the qualification spots in the WGP. All these ideas carry their own pros and cons.

The new GP series, starting with London last week, organised by AGON, attempts to go in the sponsorship direction that Mr Zhdanov advises at one point: find an organiser who wants the top players and ignores the host city sponsorship. This is fine as long as the organiser ultimately manages to find sponsors for the increased costs. AGON has taken an investment approach to this subject and are currently funding the GP series until adequate sponsors are found.

Women events are not at all easy to sell to sponsors, despite the large number of products and services available to the female population. The cost of the FIDE Women Grand Prix cycle is over 1.2 million Euros over the two years, so that one gets a brief idea of the effort and time required to organise such a cycle. Discussions have been held with FIDE’s new commercial partner and AGON have reserved the rights in the future to consider organising the Women Grand Prix and World Championship cycle, but this could still be a few years from now.

FIDE is always open to receive objective and constructive criticism, and whilst we thank Mr Zhdanov for his article, some deeper research and objectivity would have been appreciated.

Geoffrey Borg
FIDE Chief Executive Officer

FIDE Grand Prix and related tournaments conducted in recent years

Ankara Women's Grand Prix
Jermuk Women's Grand Prix
Kazan Women's Grand Prix
London Grand Prix 2012

Doha Women's Grand Prix
Nalchik Women's Grand Prix
Rostov Women's Grand Prix
Women's World Championship Tirana

FIDE Grand Prix Astrakhan
Jermuk Women Grand Prix

Khanty-Mansiysk 2010
Ulaanbaatar Women Grand Prix
Women's World Championship 2010

FIDE Grand Prix Jermuk 2009
FIDE Grand Prix Nalchik 2009
FIDE World Cup Khanty-Mansiysk 2009
Women's Grand Prix Istanbul

FIDE Grand Prix Baku 2008
FIDE Grand Prix Elista 2008
FIDE Grand Prix Sochi 2008
Women's World Championship 2008

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