Let's take a closer look at the first segment of the road, the Continental Championships. This year's events are the first qualification stage for the next cycle -- the 27th since 1948, according to my numbering -- and should culminate in a title match some time in 2016. The FIDE calendar currently offers the following information for 2014.
- European Individual Championship 2014; Yerevan, Armenia; 2-Mar-2014; 15-Mar-2014
- American Continental, Classical, Rapid and Blitz Championships 2014; Natal / Rio Janeiro, Brazil; (no dates given)
- Asia & Africa not yet listed
More detailed info should be available on the web sites for the four continents.
- 1.0 - European Chess Union
- 2.0 - CONFEDERACIÓN DE AJEDREZ PARA AMERICA
- 3.0 - Asian Chess Federation
- 4.0 - AFRICAN CHESS CONFEDERATION
For example, the site for the European federation currently offers a downloadable document which mentions the following.
3. PARTICIPATION The European Individual Chess Championship is open to all players representing Chess Federations which comprise the European Chess Union (FIDE zones 1.1 to 1.10) regardless of their title or rating. There is also no limit in the number of participants per federation; however applications have to be sent by the national federations only.
4. QUALIFIERS The European Individual Championship 2014 is a qualification event for the next World Cup. According to FIDE regulations and the decision of the ECU Board, 23 players will qualify.
5. SYSTEM AND RATE OF PLAY The championship will be organized in 11-round Swiss system in accordance with the ECU Tournament Rules and FIDE Laws of Chess.
6. TIE-BREAK SYSTEM The order of players that finish with the same number of points shall be determined by application of the following tie-breaking procedures [...]
I couldn't find the equivalent info on the other three continental web sites, which I suppose will be updated in good time. I noted one new point on the site for Africa. Under 'DIRECTORY' it lists zone 4.4 with ten countries, but my history of the zonals has never seen higher than African zone 4.3. The FIDE Handbook, 01. World Championship General Provision, confirms the zone numbering, but allocates no 'Men's places' or 'Women's places' to the new zone (ditto for zone 1.10; is this also new?). TBD...
The Road to the World Championship will undoubtedly continue to evolve. The zonal tournaments, for example, might eventually be phased out and replaced by the Continental Championships. Whatever the future, every chess player in the world has a path to winning the ultimate prize in chess, the World Championship.