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FIDE Grand Prix: Call for a Fair Selection Process

User Rating: / 1
Written by Administrator   
Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Originally published at ChessBase

Womens chess is relatively neglected as compared to mens. If you ask a typical chess fan what the Womens Grand Prix is and who qualifies for it, the answer will usually be silence.

As of now, the FIDE Womens Grand Prix is a series of round robin tournaments with nice cash prizes and opportunities to increase ones mastery by facing other strong grandmasters. One of the main goals of holding these events is to determine the Challenger, i.e., a female player who will face the winner of the Womens World Cup for the Womens World Chess Champion title. Therefore, in some sense the Grand Prix is the semi-final of the World Championship, because winning it entitles one to play the final match for the crown.

It is hard to follow the Womens World Chess Championship Cycle, so here is a quick reminder:

  1. The current champion is Hou Yifan from China. She has also secured the first place in the Womens Grand Prix series.

  2. The Womens World Chess Championship will take place in November 2012 in Khanty-Mansyisk, Russia. If Hou Yifan defends her title there, she will play in 2013 a match against the lady (Challenger) who finishes second in the Womens Grand Prix series. If Hou loses her title in November, she will challenge the new champion, because she has qualified for the match via the Grand Prix series.

Naturally, one would expect only the best of the best players to qualify for the Grand Prix circuit on the basis of their career achievements and playing strength. However, lets take a look at the list of the participants and indicate on what grounds the players have been invited:


1. Hou, Yifan (World Champion 2010)
2. Ruan, Lufei (Finalist, World Championship 2010)
3. Koneru, Humpy (Semi-finalist, World Championship 2010)
4. Zhao, Xue (Semi-finalist, World Championship 2010)
5. Kosintseva, Tatiana (by rating 2566,00 / Jul 2010 & Jan 2011)
6. Stefanova, Antoaneta (by rating 2553,00 / Jul 2010 & Jan 2011)
7. Kosintseva, Nadezhda (by rating 2551,50 / Jul 2010 & Jan 2011)
8. Muzychuk, Anna (by rating 2528,00 / Jul 2010 & Jan 2011)
9. Lahno, Kateryna (by rating 2526,50 / Jul 2010 & Jan 2011)
10. Cmilyte, Viktorija (by rating 2526,50 / Jul 2010 & Jan 2011)

Six nominees from the organizers of each tournament:

11. Ekaterina Kovalevskaya (Rostov)
12. Ju Wenjun (Shenzhen)
13. Alexandra Kosteniuk (Nalchik)
14. Alisa Galiamova (Kazan)
15. Elina Danielian (Jermuk)
16. Betul Cemre Yildiz (Istanbul)

Two nominees of the FIDE President

17. Zhu Chen
18. Batkhuyag Munguntuul

In Shenzhen Tan Zhongyi (2447, CHN) also participated.

Furthermore, the current list has four more new names in it: Monika Socko (2481, POL), Nino Khurtsidze (2456, GEO), Lilit Mkrtchian (2450, ARM), Kubra Ozturk (2296, TUR). As far as I know, the reasons for their inclusion have not even been stated officially.

Now lets do a bit of elementary Math. Only ten players were invited to the Grand Prix on a competitive basis, thirteen more were granted wild cards of some sort. Summarizing, about 57% of the players are participating in the Grand Prix not due to having great chess skills, but simply because a certain FIDE official likes them, or because someone has the money and the desire to stage a stage of the Grand Prix specifically for them! Can you imagine another reputable sport where one has the option of paying a few hundred thousand dollars and entering the semi-final of the World Championship Cycle, no matter what his international ranking is?

Dont get me wrong, I have no intentions of hurting the feelings of any of the participants. The one thing I am protesting against is that sports are supposed to be fair, while modern top-level womens chess isnt. Of course, everyone has different training conditions. For example, some athletes can afford top-level coaching and travelling a lot, while other cant. Nonetheless, one would typically expect the players to have equal legal chances to fight for the crown. The way the system is working now, talent and skill matter only to a certain extent, because quite often you wont be invited unless you have powerful sponsors or FIDE connections. On the contrary, if you have them, your chances to succeed are greatly increased. Unfortunately, professional womens chess is becoming a pay to win sport.

A notable example of prevalence of personal relationships over chess mastery is that IM Ekaterina Atalik (2448), who along with her husband GM Suat Atalik has a conflict with FIDE Vice-President and President of the Turkish Chess Federation Ali Nihat Yazichi, is not taking part, while two significantly weaker Turkish women rated in the 2200s-2300s got wild cards. Moreover, one can question oneself: why are some even higher-rated players than Ekaterina Atalik not participating?

ChessBase is usually kind enough to publish interesting feedback from the readers. Let me try to anticipate at least some of the remarks and try to address them in advance:

Who cares if some relatively weak players get a wild card? They wont affect the final standings anyway.

First of all, not all of the players who received wild cards are weak in the sense of not being able to compete for the Challenger title, or at least affect the final standings. Secondly, if you check the FIDE womens rating list, you will notice that quite a few of the strongest players are not competing. Why? Thirdly, I have no problem with some players having organizer friends and sponsors. Thats absolutely great! But why dont they just offer them endorsement fees and/or stage private super tournaments instead of trying to affect the official World Chess Championship cycle?

Your opinion is biased, because a conflict of interests is in place. Your wife is a well-known grandmaster and a potential participant of the Grand Prix series, so you are simply disappointed about her not having received an invitation.

Believe me or not, I am trying to be objective and criticize the things that I find unfair, no matter if they benefit or harm me and my friends. Of course, like any human, I am more likely to notice that something wrong is going on if it affects me personally in a negative way. Nevertheless, if Natalia Pogonina gets a wild card next time, my opinion about the situation wont be any different. In fact, when we were discussing this situation with a top manager of a well-known IT company, he half-jokingly suggested we hold one of the next Grand Prix stages so that grandmaster Pogonina qualifies for it automatically. Naturally, I waived his generous offer off, because I dont want to play by the unfair rules that are common practice in chess nowadays.

Anyone can criticize the system. But where are you going to find the funds to stage the events if you dont allow the organizers to distribute wild cards?

This is a tough question. In my opinion, FIDE should either finally find a business model that would allow it to earn money promoting chess, or at least cooperate only with chess patrons who are genuinely interested in keeping the competition fair as opposed to benefitting their favorites. After all, FIDE can create a list based on rating/tournament results and then use it to persuade certain cities/sponsors to host the events, not vice versa, the way it is done now (sell a few vacant spots to the bidders). Yes, Andrei Filatov, the main sponsor of the Anand-Gelfand match, is a friend of Boris. However, he has only funded the Championship, while Gelfand has fairly earned the right to play for the title. Its not like Andrei has paid the organizations costs and demanded that his friend gets a direct shot at the chess crown.

Meanwhile, what do we see in womens chess? Wouldnt it be great to know in advance how one can qualify for the Grand Prix cycle? Isnt chess supposed to be a fair sport where ones skills are more important than having rich relatives and/or influential benefactors among chess officials? Will we witness a transition from nepotism and plutocracy to meritocracy? What do you think?

Peter Zhdanov is an IT project manager, debate expert and author of two books on parliamentary debate, BSc in Applied Mathematics and Computer Science and final year PhD student in Sociology. In chess he is a Russian candidate master, author, husband and manager of grandmaster Natalia Pogonina. You can read more of his articles at the Pogonina web site, which he edits.

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Comments (5)
1. Written by This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it on 00:06 27 2012 .
Dear Mr.Zhdanov, 
apart from the unfair choice of players for the inclusion of Turkish players,WGM Yildiz is not an inhabitant of Istanbul(the host city) but she is from Izmir.I fully believe that the choices should be made seriously alas current people from FIDE they even do not comply with the rules they have written.Best regards 
GM Suat Atalik
2. Written by on 10:26 27 2012 .

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3. Written by Peter on 11:45 27 2012 .
Dear GM Suat Atalik, 
I don't think that FIDE cares where the players live. Similarly, Alexandra is not from Nalchik. I don't want to check the backgrounds of the other participants, but it is obvious that this is a common situation. Do the regulations explicitly say that the nominee must be from the organizing city? I forgot.
4. Written by This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it on 19:54 27 2012 .
In the first one it was an issue.If the host city d_d not have a player over 2350,only then it could be represented by someone else having an upper ELO.After all the arbitrary choice of players was aimed to be connected with the host city.A good example is Z.Mammedyarova played one with the assumption that Baku was supposed to host one leg.Later it turned out to be the case that they would not so she was dropped out.Now in this last Grand-Prix,there is no pattern to follow,people pop up there even if they may not be part of it.
5. Written by This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it on 19:17 28 2012 .
take them to the international court -
I think the points mentioned in the article are fair. 
Its really horrendous that these things are happening in this modern world and that too in a game such as chess, shame on you FIDE. 
The only way here is to seek arbitration from an international court, maybe 
No more wild cards, only the best should qualify, no compromises.

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