Let me quickly get some Elo, please!

by André Schulz
12/18/2023 – There are still two places available in the 2024 Candidates Tournament. One of these places will go to the player with the highest Elo rating in the January 2024 world rankings who has not yet qualified for the Candidates Tournament. A tournament was therefore organised at short notice in Chennai, India, to give Erigaisi and Gukesh a better chance to qualify. Leinier Dominguez tried his luck at the Sunway Sitges Open, while Alireza Firouzja now suddenly has a chance to gain Elo in a series of matches in France.

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Some older players might still remember: When FIDE took over the organisation of the World Championships after World War II, they set up a pretty good system based on a World Championship cycle of three years. In the first year there were zonal and interzonal tournaments. Then came a Candidates Tournament, which later turned into Candidates Matches. The change from a tournament to matches had become necessary after Bobby Fischer had protested against the prearranged draws the Soviet players Efim Geller, Paul Keres and Tigran Petrosian had agreed against each other at the 1962 Candidates Tournament in Curacao.

Not everything about the FIDE World Championship cycle at that time was good, but some things were. For example, a three-year cycle makes more sense than a two-year cycle. In the latter case the world champion has to defend his title every two years and tires out more quickly, as the example of Carlsen shows.

When Kirsan Ilyumzhinov became FIDE President, this tried and tested system was jettisoned without need and replaced by a knockout tournament. Chance, form, blitz and rapid skills, and luck played far too large a part in this format, and after 2004 this format was consigned to oblivion. But the FIDE was still looking for a reliable qualification system.

The Executive Committee elected in London in 2018 took a new approach. They decided that the top two players in the World Cup would qualify for the Candidates Tournament, this year the top three. Incidentally, the World Cup is played in the same knockout format that Ilyumzhinov introduced as the FIDE World Championship. Two places for the candidates go to the top two players in the Grand Swiss Tournament. Not everyone is happy with this, as the final standings in Swiss tournaments are often influenced by many factors beyond the players' control.

These five players will be joined by the loser of the last World Championship match, while the last two places will be awarded to the winner of the FIDE Circuit and the player who has the highest rating on the world ranking list of January 2024 and is not already qualified for the Candidates.

In the past, the average Elo rating over a period of time decided who got a spot in the Candidates. Now that it is only the rating on 1 January that counts, you can see how useful that was.

Even during the Sinquefield Cup, some of the top players who could still qualify for the Candidates by Elo checked their live ratings daily to see how many points they needed to qualify.

Leinier Dominguez was one of the players at the Sinquefield Cup who, thanks to his high Elo rating, had a good chance of making it into the Candidates. Then, during the Sinquefield Cup, FIDE suddenly issued a statement saying that players had to have played at least four tournaments in the tournament year, but in different countries, to be eligible for qualification by rating. This caused an uproar and it was claimed that FIDE had changed the rules at the last minute. Which, however, wasn't the case.

In the last World Championship cycle Ding Liren, who went on to win the Candidates and become World Champion, had to play a certain number of games to be eligible for the Candidates. When this became known, Ding quickly played four tournaments to reach the required number of games, but he played them all in China. As a result, leading grandmasters pointed out that it would be easier to manipulate if you only played tournaments in your own country, and sent a letter to FIDE demanding that the rules be tightened. One of the protesters was Leinier Dominguez.

After the Sinquefield Cup, Dominguez found himself just behind Wesley So in the live rankings and decided to make a last-minute entry to the Sitges Open in Spain to improve his rating and play a tournament in another country. However, he fell victim to the vicissitudes of the Swiss system and lost Elo despite starting the tournament with 4.0/5. Not wanting to risk further Elo losses which could jeopardise possible invitations to top tournaments, he decided to withdraw from the tournament.

The last-minute GM tournament in Chennai is also intended as an Elo gain tournament, especially for Erigaisi and Gukesh. To be fair, Parham Maghsoodloo, who still has a theoretical chance of qualifying for the Candidates Tournament, and a few other strong players have also been invited.

No such problems in Chartres, where an Elo tournament for Alireza Firouzja has been organised at very short notice.

Firouzja's club C'Chartres Echecs is organising a series of three two-game matches from Monday 18 to Friday 22 December 2023. Firouzja (2750) will play two games each against Sergey Fedorchuk (2546), Andrei Shchekachev (2506) and Alexandre Dgebuadze (2439). There is a 200-point gap between him and his opponents, but if he performs well, Firouzja could gain the rating points he needs to make it into the Candidates.

Ivan Cheparinov commented on Facebook:

I don't understand why they changed the system for the candidate tournament spot. The latest change, only last rating list to be taken in my opinion is very unfair. I see all people involved in this race, are making crazy moves in order to qualify for the candidates. In last moment everybody makes matches, tournaments and even some top GM are going to Sitges, then after 2 draws they quit the tournament. This is so bizzare. Not to mention that can involve unfair play. I heard Firouzja will play some games in Chartes. Fide, Emil please stop this madness for the next cycle. Much more fair is to take last 6 or even last 3 lists. At least everything will be more fair. It is not normal that in last days of December all involved players will make some private matches or games just to gain 5 raiting points.

Emil Sutovsky answered for FIDE:

Look, Ivan, we strive to the most objective system. To provide more chances and opportunities. To stimulate chess activity.

But I agree - if it is abused, the measures to be taken (sic). I promise - we will look into it very closely. Thanks!

On Monday, Firouzja won the first game of his match against Dgebuadza and with a current live-rating of 2751.8 he is now only 5.6 rating points behind Wesley So, who currently has a live-rating of 2757.4.

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André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.