The Road to the 2020 Candidates

by Macauley Peterson
1/23/2019 – The road to the Candidates tournament in 2020 is starting to emerge. World Chess / Agon will no longer organise either the Candidates or the 2020 World Championship match. FIDE has launched a new qualification path — the FIDE "Grand Swiss"— a Swiss tournament for which 100 players will be eligible. The winner (and maybe more) qualify for the Candidates Tournament. The Grand Prix series is back too, albeit as a quintet of knockout tournaments. Dates and host cities are still TBA. Here's what we know now...

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New FIDE "Grand Swiss" and Grand Prix plans

FIDE has terminated the agreement with World Chess (a.k.a. Agon) for the organising the 2020 World Championship cycle, Emil Sutovsky, the new Director General announced this afternoon in Gibraltar. FIDE is reasserting control over the 2020 Candidates and the World Championship match.

Sutovsky reports that a new contract has been signed that continues a scaled-back relationship with World Chess through 2021. But both the Candidates and the World Championship match will undergo a bidding procedure.

In the previous World Championship cycle, the candidates tournament qualification spots were as follows: 

  • The previous World Championship challenger
  • The finalists from the World Cup knockout
  • The top two scores Grand Prix series
  • The top two by Elo Elo rating from the previous year
  • An organiser nominee

Caruana is a Candidate

Shortly after FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich began his tenure, FIDE announced reforms to the Women's World Championship format:
Gone is the biennial knockout tournament — instead a candidates tournament followed by a match is the new norm, following the same scheme as the open World Championship. Now the new leadership has set its sights on changes to open World Championship candidates qualification.

We know that Fabiano Caruana is automatically qualified to the 2020 Candidates Tournament as the challenger in London, 2018 — that's unchanged — but FIDE has plans for a new tournament and a new format for the existing Grand Prix series in the works to revamp the process for the next cycle.

FIDE Grand Swiss

Earlier this month, FIDE announced the launch of a new FIDE "Grand Swiss" tournament as a new way to qualify for the 2020 Candidates Tournament.

The Grand Swiss is scheduled to take place in the second half of 2019, with precise dates to be determined. FIDE has set a requirement for a total prize fund of at least USD $400,000 (net of local taxes) and a first prize of $70,000. A maximum of 100 players will be able to take part, mostly selected based on one-year average Elo ratings. A few spots are reserved for specific qualifiers, however: The Women's World Champion, Junior World Champion, Senior World Champions 50+ and 65+ and the winner of the ACP Tour will all be invited.

The tournament will be an 11-round Swiss and (at least) the winner qualifies for the Candidates Tournament 2020, replacing one of the qualification slots previously allocated by rating. That format and 'grand prize' should make for an exciting event.

FIDE Grand Prix

On Monday, news of the return of the Grand Prix series was posted to the FIDE web site. According to the press release, it will be "in cooperation with World Chess" — the only remaining tournaments World Chess will organise — and switch to a knockout format. 

Many players and other chess professionals have advocated an increased role for KO tournaments as a way of sparking greater public interest in chess. The previous Grand Prix series was underwhelming and definitely ripe for reform.

The current plan calls for a four-tournament series in which each of the top 20 players qualified by rating participates in three events. Thus, each Grand Prix leg will feature 16 players (one wild-card nominee of the local organisers is still in the regulations — so there will be one for each tournament — four in total). 

The prize fund for each event should be EUR €130,000, and FIDE proposes an additional €280,000 fund for the entire series to be awarded based on the best cumulative score. Two winners will qualify for the 2020 Candidates Tournament.

Knockouts have their critics, but the ranks of the format's adherents have swelled in recent years. KO tournaments are inherently exciting, and the mini-match system largely solves "the draw problem". For instance, GM Sam Shankland, who will be eligible for the Grand Swiss and, at number 27 in the world, is on the cusp of eligibility for the Grand Prix, said in a recent interview, "I've always been a big believer of knockouts and think that's the best way to run just about any individual sport — tennis is a prime example."

Ryan Chester of the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis interviewing Shankland

There remain some big questions after this announcement: "When? Where? Who?" And what are the "new organizational guidelines"?

FIDE and World Chess are also developing new organizational guidelines that will ensure smooth organization of the Series...Dates of the Series are being finalized and will be announced by January 28, 2019, mindful of the other top chess events. Cities for the Series will be announced by February 04, 2019.

According to FIDE, we should get answers in the next two weeks.

Update — February 7

FIDE and World Chess announced cities and dates for the four 2019 tournaments on February 7th, as follows:

The World Cup and rating qualification

We still have the 2019 World Cup to look forward to from September 9th to October 2nd, in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia.

There will be more at stake for Ding Liren and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov as the third and fourth-highest rated players behind Carlsen and Caruana. Ding had a minimal lead, although it has widened to 13 points so far in Tata Steel Chess, as Mamedyarov has slipped — he is now just 10 points clear of Anish Giri.

Martin Bennedik delivers regular updates on the unofficial qualification race for the Candidates Tournament via Twitter:

Andre Schulz contributed reporting


Macauley is Editor in Chief of ChessBase News in Hamburg, Germany, and producer of The Full English Breakfast chess podcast. He was an Associate Producer of the 2016 feature documentary, Magnus.
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imdvb_8793 imdvb_8793 1/30/2019 01:26
"This means that 4 out of the 8 candidates spots will be decided by rapid and blitz"

Good! We need somebody VERY strong in rapid and blitz to qualify for the match (again?), so we don't get another boring match in classical because Carlsen knows he has draw odds (and doesn't care about winning in the classical portion), and then zero suspense on the final day. This should increase the chances of that happening.
AVRO1938 AVRO1938 1/27/2019 10:44
It's the CLASSICAL World Title isn't it?? It should therefore be decided solely by CLASSICAL chess and nothing else.
Of course the lower rated Shankland likes it, because randomising things with the KO unjustly increases his otherwise minimal qualification chances.
Looks like one lot of brain-dead FIDE idiots have been replaced with another lot of brain-dead FIDE idiots. I was afraid this would happen.
yesenadam yesenadam 1/26/2019 05:33
"World Chess / Agon will no longer organise either the Candidates or the 2020 World Championship match." - Thank goodness for that! What an embarrassing joke of a fiasco they've been.
ngnn ngnn 1/24/2019 11:40
Agree with Rokko. Classical should have more weight. However, the "wild card" is the biggest problem in the current system. Such favouritism is completely against the ideals of sport and fair competition. A spot in the world's second most important chess event must be earned.
rokko rokko 1/24/2019 08:52
This means that 4 out of the 8 candidates spots will be decided by rapid and blitz (World Cup and Grand Prix) and only 3 (Caruana, Rating, Swiss) by classical chess. You may as well seed Duda and Dubov directly in the Candidates...
mayahastheknife mayahastheknife 1/24/2019 01:12
Parting ways with Agon was long overdue. Excited to see the results!
Peter B Peter B 1/23/2019 11:06
I'm ok with a Swiss for one of the spots, but it should be replacing the organiser's nominee. Also the Grand Prix is too long and its point structure is too arbitrary. Why not just put the top 20 in a single round-robin?
thebadbishop thebadbishop 1/23/2019 10:12
And why not a Zonal/Interzonal tournament + Candidate Matches format like in the old days?
dysanfel dysanfel 1/23/2019 06:32
This format stinks. Luck is too much a factor. I bet Magnus is very happy. He might actually win a classical game defending his title now.
Ajeeb007 Ajeeb007 1/23/2019 01:23
It's understandable that most players would prefer knockouts to tournaments. A knockout format randomizes the results thus giving lower rated players a better chance to succeed. However, if your goal is to have the strongest possible players in the candidates tournament then replacing a rating qualified player with a knockout winner isn't the way to go.