03 June 2020

Qualification by Rating

In 90th FIDE Congress : Whither the World Championship? (April 2020), I ended with a quote from the minutes and an action for me:-
'5.9 Global Strategy Commission [...] The qualification requirements for both Grand Prix and the Candidates Tournament represent another issue to be focused on. Many players complained that the qualification requirements used for the current Grand Prix and Candidates Tournament had a bias on the initial rating.' • 'I'll come back to that so-called rating bias another time. It's an issue that has been simmering for some time.

I couldn't recall a specific controversy with the Grand Prix, but I remembered one from the Candidates tournament; FIDE Candidates 2020 (fide.com; February 2020):-

Anish Giri (NED, 2763) -- qualified by rating as the player with the highest average rating for 12 rating periods from February 2019 to January 2020

The controversy arose in the lead-up to the Grand Swiss, played in October. In Preview: 2019 FIDE Chess.com Grand Swiss (iominternationalchess.com; 15 September 2019), John Saunders wrote,

Ding Liren is not playing in the Isle of Man but is instead competing in the FIDE World Cup in Khanty-Mansiysk. The knock-out event provides two berths into the Candidates' tournament, but it is unlikely that Ding Liren needs to worry about his World Cup result since his high rating will almost certainly get him into that competition anyway (with four more monthly rating lists to be taken into account he is well ahead of Anish Giri and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov).

According to my page 2019 World Cup, that was written around the start of the Khanty-Mansiysk (Russia) event, where Ding Liren was the highest rated player, and still very much in contention for a top place. In the tiebreak for round six, the semifinal round played on 28 September, he beat his compatriot Yu Yangyi, thereby qualifying for the final round and guaranteeing a spot in the Candidates. A short note was soon added to the 'Preview Grand Swiss' page:-

Updated 30 September: Anish Giri [has] now withdrawn

In other words, once GM Giri was nearly assured of qualifying into the Candidates thanks to his high rating, he withdrew from the Grand Swiss, where he would have been at risk of losing valuable rating points. GM Vachier-Lagrave, the new third in line for a Candidates spot by rating, pointed out (twitter.com),

@FIDE_chess Grand Swiss rules supposedly forbid players to withdraw without a valid reason from the tournament after signing the agreement...

and added,

...otherwise I would have entered the tournament back in July if I knew I had the option to withdraw at any time.

The 2020 Candidates tournament was the first to have only a single qualification based on rating. The history of rating qualification for Candidates events played over the last decade looks like this:-

  • 2011 Candidates - 2 players
  • 2013 Candidates - 3 players
  • 2014 Candidates - 2 players
  • 2016 Candidates - 2 players
  • 2018 Candidates - 2 players
  • 2020 Candidates - 1 player

GM Giri had already qualified by rating into the 2016 Candidates and has never qualified for the tournment any other way. In the 2019 World Cup, he was eliminated in the third round. What sort of a rule favors those who don't play?

Qualification by rating makes sense for events with a large number of entrants, like the World Cup. It makes less sense for events where the number of spots is severely limited, like the Candidates. A high rating can be achieved by consistently beating lower rated players. Is that sufficient reason for competing in an event that determines the next challenger for the World Championship?

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