Should Open Tournaments Be Included In World Chess Championship Cycle?
The Isle of Man masters (2017). Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Should Open Tournaments Be Included In World Chess Championship Cycle?

PeterDoggers
PeterDoggers
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61 | Chess Event Coverage

In a statement published on its website, the Association of Chess Professionals (ACP) makes a proposal for changing the world championship cycle. The main change the ACP proposes is to include open tournaments.

The association, a non-profit founded in 2003 to protect chess professionals’ rights, makes a comparison with tennis: "In tennis, we have the Grand Slams at the top, but also the local Futures tournaments at the bottom. The structure is clear, easy to understand and the players see the way to the top ahead of them."

Chess is described as a pyramid with the world championship match at the top, and below that the Candidates tournament, the Grand Prix tournaments, the World Cup, and the continental championships—the latter being the only entry point for a large majority of the players.

Elitist

Association of Chess ProfessionalsThe ACP calls this system "elitist." The association claims that the continental championships are "not easily accessible to the lower-rated professionals, among other things because they are very expensive tournaments to play in."

The ACP likes to add another, bottom layer to the pyramid: open tournaments, describing them as "the bread and butter of the chess world." Although concrete research is not mentioned, the ACP states that many chess players "feel trapped in this 'swamp' of opens without a clear idea how to go 'upwards,' how to feel integrated in the big picture and feel part of the whole chess family. In its current state the chess world is a segregated place with the elite and the rest living in different worlds."

Open tournaments

What the ACP proposes is to make open tournaments part of the world championship cycle, with the current ACP Tour system or a similar one serving as a point-based tournament circuit.

"At the end of the year, the top 20 of the World Open Circuit qualify for the first round of the World Cup, thus providing direct access to the world championship cycle," says the ACP. "This would ensure that chess is as meritocratic as it can be and as it should be."

FIDE is positive

The International Chess Federation, responsible for the world chess championship cycle, is reacting positively. FIDE Director General Emil Sutovsky likes the idea but also notes that there are more opportunities to qualify for the World Cup than the ACP suggests:

"I like a lot the idea of Swiss events being implemented as a part of the cycle. However, I don't see how the ACP proposal addresses the problem of disproportional opportunities. Actually, FIDE made an effort last year and expanded the World Cup from 128 to 206 participants. One can qualify for it by rating, through continental championships, through numerous zonal events, and now through national championships in most of the countries as well. If we talk about the best opens, their winners would qualify for the World Cup through one of the above-mentioned paths.

"While rewarding one player who was just behind the qualifiers looks logical, it seems odd to allocate 20 spots for these purposes. In addition, it has to be said that a proposal to organize some circuit of 20 strong open events sounds untimely, as most of these events are now canceled or postponed."

Emil Sutovsky FIDE
FIDE Director General Emil Sutovsky. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

"Having said that, I reiterate my opinion: big Swiss events shall be implemented one way or another to the cycle. Of course, it can happen only when normal life gets restored, and we will have a sufficient number of high-level events to call it a circuit.

"Meanwhile, FIDE is planning the Grand Swiss and Women Grand Swiss, which will be announced soon. These events help a lot to all the excellent players who are ranked between 2650 to 2750 (and 2400-2500 ladies)."

Hammer: 'Misleading'

The Norwegian grandmaster Jon Ludvig Hammer, a popular chess commentator on national television, has a different opinion. He starts by saying that the ACP is "misleading" about the effects of such a tour system:

"The World Cup will rarely offer opportunities to what they call 'lower-rated professionals' because it’s a tournament for the very best, and as long as the World Cup remains an attractive tournament financially, the best will adapt to whatever qualification system used, including a tour."

Hammer agrees with the claim that the current state of the chess world is "a segregated place with the elite and the rest living in different worlds" but sees the bottleneck elsewhere: 

"I think that separation happens at world rank 25, not the World Cup. In fact, the World Cup is the great equalizer, allowing second- and third-tier players a big payday if they perform their very best. If you are not rated in the top 100 in the world, making a living from exclusively playing will always be a challenging task, and many in that bracket wanting to be chess professionals try establishing themselves as coaches instead."

Jon Ludvig Hammer
Jon Ludvig Hammer. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Europe-focused

Australia's former top grandmaster, coach, and journalist Ian Rogers says the ACP proposal is likely going to be "unfair and expensive." According to Rogers, the proposal is too much focused on Europe:

"The proposal seems to have been devised by Europeans for the benefit of Europeans. Unless the ACP circuit includes an equitable number of open tournaments in Asia, the Americas, and Africa, as well as Europe, it is simply a method of tilting the odds against a non-European becoming world champion."

Rogers adds: "The problem which the ACP fails to address, or even acknowledge, is that it was Europe's choice to abolish their zonal tournaments and require everyone but the stars to play in an enormous continental championship in order to qualify for the World Cup. Then they forced the players to pay a lot of money to play in it. So Europe should solve their own problems—not create a new pathway which is going to benefit them above others."

ACP Tour

Since it was founded 17 years ago, the ACP has struggled to play a significant role in the chess world. That role seemed even further diminished when in 2018 the new FIDE leadership under President Arkady Dvorkovich accepted a lot of suggestions from the ACP and installed the now-former ACP President Sutovsky as its Director General.

"The ACP is a very niche organization," says Hammer. "In order to grow to a sustainable size, they’ve had to accept more people from outside the top 100 than in it. As a result, we get press releases like this, where the ACP is representing its members, but members who don’t have the level needed to live as full-time chess professionals. I think they should focus on bridging the gap between number 40 and number 20 on the world rankings, rather than bridging the gap between 600 and 100.

"I think ACP’s true goal is to elevate their own product, the ACP tour, which hasn’t been a big success at any point since its inception in 2005, but I fail to see how that qualification method is better than the established one we already have in place."

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