Top Seed Ding Liren Misses Out On FIDE Grand Prix
Ding Liren can't play the FIDE GP. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Top Seed Ding Liren Misses Out On FIDE Grand Prix

| 76 | Chess Event Coverage

The FIDE Grand Prix will start on February 4 with its first leg in Berlin without the top seed GM Ding Liren. The Chinese player failed to obtain a visa in time to be able to travel to Germany and has been replaced by GM Radoslaw Wojtaszek. GM Dmitry Andreikin can't play either and has been replaced by GM Andrey Esipenko.

Ding and Andreikin are still listed to play in the second and third leg of the Grand Prix respectively, but by playing just one leg, they won't have a chance to finish among the top two places. The top two of the Grand Prix are the last two spots that qualify for the Candidates Tournament, to be held in June in Madrid. The winner of that tournament earns the right to challenge World Champion Magnus Carlsen in next year's title match.

Ding's absence in the first leg of the Grand Prix is therefore a big blow to the career of the 29-year-old Chinese top grandmaster and also undermines the legitimacy of the current world championship cycle. Ding is the current world number-three player rated 2799, and the Grand Prix was his last chance to qualify for the Candidates as he did not participate in the earlier qualifier tournaments, the 2021 FIDE World Cup and the 2021 FIDE Grand Swiss.

In earlier cycles, the Chinese number-one could still have qualified by rating, but FIDE did away with this clause this time and instead gave the Grand Swiss two spots instead of one. As a result, six out of eight candidates had to qualify by playing in either the World Cup, the Grand Swiss, or the Grand Prix. GM Ian Nepomniachtchi enters as the runner-up of the 2021 world championship, while GM Teimour Radjabov was awarded his spot after he had withdrawn from the previous Candidates Tournament as the pandemic just took off. The other players who have qualified for the Candidates are GMs Fabiano Caruana, Jan-Krzysztof Duda, Alireza Firouzja, and Sergey Karjakin.

Organized by World Chess, the FIDE Grand Prix series comprises three tournaments and features 24 players, with each player competing in two of the three events. The three tournaments have 16 participants each and are held in Berlin, Belgrade, and again in Berlin between February and April 2022. The players are distributed over the three tournaments as follows.

Leg 1 – Berlin
03.02 – 17.02
Leg 2 – Belgrade
28.02 – 14.03
Leg 3 – Berlin
21.03 – 04.04
1 Radoslaw Wojtaszek Ding Liren
2 Anish Giri Anish Giri
3 Wesley So Wesley So
4 Levon Aronian Levon Aronian
5 Shakhriyar Mamedyarov Shakhriyar Mamedyarov
6 Alexander Grischuk Alexander Grischuk
7 Richard Rapport Richard Rapport
8 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave Maxime Vachier-Lagrave
9 Leinier Dominguez Leinier Dominguez
10 Hikaru Nakamura Hikaru Nakamura
11 Nikita Vitiugov Nikita Vitiugov
12 Pentala Harikrishna Pentala Harikrishna
13 Vidit Gujarathi Vidit Gujarathi
14 Andrey Esipenko Dmitry Andreikin
15 Daniil Dubov Daniil Dubov
16 Yu Yangyi Yu Yangyi
17 Sam Shankland Sam Shankland
18 Vladimir Fedoseev Vladimir Fedoseev
19 Alexei Shirov Alexei Shirov
20 Alexandr Predke Alexandr Predke
21 Grigoriy Oparin Grigoriy Oparin
22 Vincent Keymer Vincent Keymer
23 Amin Tabatabaei Amin Tabatabaei
24 Etienne Bacrot Etienne Bacrot

Ding, who was supposed to play in the first two legs of the Grand Prix, told that he was unable to get his visa in time because a return flight after the second leg was not available yet. This is likely to be related to Covid restrictions affecting air travel schedules.

"FIDE and World Chess have done their best to help me," Ding added.

FIDE's Chief Marketing and Communications Officer David Llada: "Ding only applied for a visa on January 26, which has proved to be too late. Despite the efforts of FIDE and the German Chess Federation, we were unable to speed up the process."

It's safe to say that Ding's absence from the World Cup and the Grand Swiss was also because of the pandemic and China's strict measures regarding traveling abroad. Asked if he failed to obtain a visa for those events as well, he responded: "I didn't even try."

Ding Liren chess
Ding Liren did play in the last two Candidates tournaments. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Note that another Chinese player, GM Wei Yi, was replaced in January by GM Pentala Harikrishna, likely as a result of travel restrictions as well. It's unclear what the situation is for the other players who are playing the first leg in Berlin, and whether everyone will be making it in time. 

Llada: "Most other participants are traveling to Berlin today. So yes, they are expected to arrive on time, but life is full of uncertainties—now more than ever."

GM Daniil Dubov, who had to leave the Tata Steel Chess Tournament three rounds before the end after testing positive for Covid, most probably can play. "Dubov has tested negative twice already and will undergo one more test upon arrival," said Llada.

GM Peter Heine Nielsen, a regular critic of FIDE, expressed his worries in May 2021 that an extra qualifying spot in the Grand Swiss instead of a rating qualifier makes it "much more random" who qualifies. With Firouzja and Caruana as the qualifiers in Riga, this topic didn't lead to a further debate, but today Nielsen reminded of his tweet, arguing: "Giving an extra Candidates spot to the Grand Suisse in order to promote it, and using another to compensate Radjabov for political mistakes was eventually going to hurt somebody. Ding is being treated very unjust, having two cycles in his prime ruined."

FIDE Director-General Emil Sutovsky commented on Twitter, saying FIDE had done "all we could to ensure Ding's participation, including numerous official letters. Pity it did not work."

With Ding mostly likely losing his chance to qualify for the Candidates and Carlsen potentially not defending his title in 2023, the world championship cycle has looked healthier. One top grandmaster suggested, tongue-in-cheek, to start thinking of a separate cycle.

GM Anish Giri: "How to join the World Championship cycle with Carlsen and Ding?"

The first leg of the FIDE Grand Prix starts this Friday, February 4, at 6 a.m. Pacific / 15:00 CET. You can follow the games live from our events page. is providing a live broadcast with commentary by GM Robert Hess, GM Daniel Narodisky, and WGM Keti Tsatsalashvili, which you can find on, Twitch, and YouTube.

FIDE Grand Prix coverage

Correction: an earlier version of this article erroneously stated that seven out of eight candidates had to qualify by playing in either the World Cup, the Grand Swiss, or the Grand Prix. This should be six out of eight.

Peter Doggers

Peter Doggers joined a chess club a month before turning 15 and still plays for it. He used to be an active tournament player and holds two IM norms.

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