I have had my doubts about the viability of the format since it was first announced. These were confirmed when the list of participants turned out to be missing five of the world's top-10 players. Here, as I see it, are the weaknesses of the current Grand Prix format as a qualifier for the World Championship.
- Its Objective: The six tournaments are designed to produce a single challenger for a match against the winner of the World Cup. The interzonals of yesteryear generally promoted at least six players to the following stage, the candidates event. Eliminating 20 out of 21 players is better than 127 out of 128 for the World Cup, but it still leaves a lot to chance.
- Its Length: The time lag between the first event in Baku and the last event in Karlovy Vary is about 20 months. In the 1970s and 1980s, when bloated interzonals were gradually split into three separate events, they were organized to take place within 3-4 months of each other. Can the chess public's attention be held for 20 months?
Also worth mentioning is the possibility for manipulating the outcome. Ten players will play in one of the last two events, nine will play in both, and two won't play at all. The nine who play in both can follow a different strategy than the others.
- Its Participants: The 21 players are a mixture of the world's elite chess players and a large group invited for political reasons. In the GMA World Cup, a prototype for the Grand Prix, the organizers of the six events were allowed to invite one participant, who played only in the one event. His games were not counted in the calculations to determine the overall winner. That was a more sensible approach than the current format. How many of the six host nominees will finish in the top-10 players overall?
Four of the 21 players are 'Presidential Nominees'. Three of these were replacements for Anand, Kramnik, and Topalov, who declined to play. This gave FIDE leadership substantial opportunity to peddle its influence with national federations: bend to FIDE's will and your boy gets to play. The three replacements should have been chosen by some neutral criterion like rating.
Chessbase.com posted an article about Morozevich's reasons for not playing -- Morozevich drops out of FIDE Grand Prix -- where he mentioned another weakness: 'The players are being required to sign a contract to take part in four tournaments, without having any definite information about where or when they will be held. I do not think it is right that I should agree in advance to play wherever they might tell me.'
The Grand Prix was designed and organized in a short period of time. It shows. Let's hope its architects use the next two years to improve it.