The 2021 New York Invitationals: Recap

The first event in a new title norm series!

Introducing the New York Invitationals! Check out the website.

The first event was held at the Hilton Garden Inn Midtown Park Avenue, organized by Keith Espinosa and IM Aleksandr Ostrovskiy.

New York Invitationals
The GM A section in action, with organizer Keith Espinosa looking on. Photo: Andre Harding

The Chief Arbiter and Tournament Director was … me!

Title norm tournaments are infrequent in New York City, as decent event space can be prohibitively expensive.

But what are norms?

First, all titles are awarded by FIDE, the International Chess Federation, and not the USCF or any other national federation. With that out of the way…

All you ever wanted to know about norms …

Norms are performance results needed for a title, specifically: Grandmaster (GM), International Master (IM), Woman Grandmaster (WGM), and Woman International Master (WIM).

[FIDE Master (FM), Candidate Master (CM), Woman FIDE Master (WFM), and Woman Candidate Master (WCM) do not require norms; only reaching a specified FIDE rating. Respectively: 2300, 2200, 2100, 2000.]

As I mentioned in my previous post on the FIDE Grand Swiss, players seeking GM/IM/WGM/WIM titles usually need three norms plus reaching a required rating threshold.

Rating and Performance Requirements for Norms
GM: 2500 rating and three norms with a 2600+ performance.

IM: 2400 rating and three norms with a 2450+ performance.

WGM: 2300 rating and three norms with a 2400+ performance.

WIM: 2200 rating and three Norms with a 2250+ performance.

Yes, the requirements for “W” titles are all 200 points lower than their “non-W” counterparts, but women can and do earn the “Open” GM and IM titles.

So a player can score, say, a 2600-level performance in any event and earn a GM norm? Not so fast.

Other Requirements for Norms
Number of games needed across events: At least 27.

Number of rounds per event: At least 9 (with few exceptions), but no more than 13 games will count (even if an event is longer than 13 rounds).

Titles of opponents: At least 1/3 must have the title you seek, or higher. In a 9 round event, a player seeking a GM norm must face at least 3 GMs. Also, at least 50% of opponents must hold (w)GM/(w)IM/(w)FM titles.

Minimum average rating of opponents: 2380 for GM, 2230 for IM, 2180 for WGM, 2030 for WIM. One player’s rating can be raised to 400 points below the required performance level. If an IM-norm seeker faces a 1900 player, they can consider it as if they played a 2050.

Federations of opponents: A maximum of 3/5 of the opponents may come from the applicant’s federation and a maximum of 2/3 of the opponents from one federation.

For a player from USA to earn a GM norm in a 9 round tournament held in the United States, they must face 5 or more titled players, including 3 GMs, and 4 of their 9 opponents must be from federations other than USA.

In a Swiss-System tournament, there’s no guarantee you will earn a norm even if you play well enough; your field may not meet all these conditions. In my years of directing, I’ve seen plenty of players miss out on norms simply because they faced three foreign players, instead of four.

Yeah. I hope you’re starting to see why norm events are often specially organized to ensure compliance with all these requirements!

 

Round Robin norm events

Round robins are the most reliable tournaments for title norms, because the tournament organizer can create a field that meets all FIDE requirements.

Such events normally have 10 players, meaning that each player plays one game against each of the other 9 players (9 rounds). For a GM norm event, at least three players will be GMs, given “conditions” (financial and/or other compensation) to participate. Four of the players need to play under a foreign federation.

The other players pay an entry fee to play and have a chance at a norm.

Round robins have an additional feature: since everyone knows in advance who they will play (and their rating), the Arbiter calculates how many points each norm-seeker requires to earn their norm. This is the amount of points that equate to a performance rating of, say, 2600 (for GM). There’s no guesswork during the event, or hoping for the necessary pairings.

If the average rating of a player’s opponents is 2600, they only need to score 4.5 points out of 9 for a 2600 performance (rare, but it can happen in super strong events like the Aeroflot Open).

If, at the other end, the average of a player’s opponents is the minimum 2380 … the GM-norm seeker needs to score 7 points out of 9, or “plus-five” (five more wins than losses)!

 

Back to the tournament!

We had three sections: GM A, GM B, and IM C.

GM A and GM B offered GM norms, as well as IM norms for players who did not already have the IM title. The IM C section offered IM norms only.

For all the details, see Chess Results. You can download all the games from the three tournaments, too!

The GM A section was very balanced, with just 129 rating points separating the top and bottom players, and this was reflected in the results. GM Titas Stremavicius (Lithuania) won the event with 6 points out of 9. To earn a GM norm, a seeker had to score 6.5 points.

Chess Life nov2021
Alex is once again on the cover of Chess Life!

The GM B section was quite different, headed by four-time and current U.S. Open Champion GM Aleksandr Lenderman (USA). He led the event from wire-to-wire and won with a dominant 7.5 points out of 9. Here, too, no norm-seeker achieved the required 6.5 points for a GM norm (or 4.5 points for an IM norm).

 

The IM C section was also won by the favorite, IM Zurab Javakhadze (Georgia), with a monstrous 8 points out of 9 (7 wins and 2 draws)! Zurab already has three GM norms, and just needs to cross 2500 FIDE to earn the GM title. After this event he’s 2484.

A norm was secured in this section, as FM Robert Shlyakhtenko (USA) earned his third and final IM norm. After this event, he’s very close to the needed 2400 FIDE rating as well.

 

What’s next?

Look for another norm event in January 2022 …

Stay tuned!

The 2021 FIDE Grand Swiss: Final Thoughts

A Grand Success

The FIDE Grand Swiss  and Women’s Grand Swiss (organized in partnership with chess.com) concluded this past weekend in Riga, Latvia. The COVID protocols were apparently effective, as we did not hear of any incidents during the event.

Grand Swiss

Alireza Firouzja
Firouzja won the FIDE Grand Swiss convincingly. Photo: FIDE

Alireza Firouzja (France) won clear first with 8 points out of 11. Fabiano Caruana (USA) and Grigoriy Oparin (Russia) finished in a tie for 2nd place with 7.5 points.

Caruana, the 2018 World Championship Challenger, had the better mathematical tiebreaks, even defeating Firouzja in their individual encounter. As a result, “Fabi” joined “Firo” in the next FIDE Candidates Tournament.

A Note on Tiebreaks
The primary tiebreak used was “Buchholz Cut-1.” Buchholz compares the total scores of tied players’ opposition, the idea being that a player who faced opponents that scored more points had a tougher road to the same final score. The “Cut-1” removes the score of the lowest-scoring opponent, to reduce the impact of an unlucky pairing. Each player therefore had the scores of 10 of their 11 opponents compared to judge who had the best tiebreaks.

Oparin, Yu Yangyi (China), Vincent Keymer (Germany), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France), Alexandr Predke (Russia), and Alexei Shirov (Spain) all got seats into the upcoming FIDE Grand Prix Series. This tournament series will have a total of 24 players; and the top two finishers at the end will qualify for the next FIDE Candidates Tournament.

Overall, it seems clear that Firouzja is the leading “young gun” who many fans are already picking to challenge Carlsen in the next World Championship Cycle. I can’t disagree; during this event he was knocking on the door of World #3 (live rating), nearly overtaking Caruana at one point.

Women’s Grand Swiss

Similar to the Open event, one player was in command for most of the Women’s event, but even more so.

Lei Tingjie
Lei scored 7 wins and 4 draws. Photo: FIDE

Lei Tingjie (China) won with 9 points out of 11, earning the only direct slot into the next Women’s Candidates Tournament. Her pre-tournament rating of 2505 shot up to 2536 afterwards!

I will note that Lei is only 24 years old, younger than her countrywomen Ju Wenjun (30) and Hou Yifan (27), the current and previous Women’s World Champions. She’s just a year older than Aleksandra Goryachkina (Russia), the previous Challenger, who played in the Open event.

The Women’s World Championship cycle should be fascinating! There are several contenders of similar strength vying for the crown, but none seem invincible (unless Hou decides to return).

Finishers 2-4 in the Women’s Grand Swiss earned a spot into the upcoming Women’s Grand Prix Series. They are Elisabeth Pähtz (Germany), Zhu Jiner (China), and Mariya Muzychuk (Ukraine).

Pähtz and Jiner each scored 7.5 points out of 11, and earned GM norms. The 36-year-old from Erfurt, Germany completed her title after a long and distinguished career, and becomes the 40th female to earn the “open” GM title. Zhu is the top Junior Girl in the World.

Muzychuk had the best tiebreaks among the 7 pointers, beating out Harika Dronavalli (India), Lela Javakhishvili (Georgia; she scored a 9-game GM norm), and Olga Badelka (Russia).

Bibisara Assaubayeva (Kazakhstan) also earned a 10-game GM norm.

A Note on Grandmaster (GM) Norms
A norm is a performance level (2600 for GM), in an event that meets other conditions relating to the makeup of a player’s opposition. Norms need to be scored in events totalling 27 or more games. With few exceptions, a player needs to play at least 9 games in an event to earn a GM norm, but the maximum number of games counted for a norm is 13. This is why players usually need three GM norms (plus a 2500 rating) to earn the Grandmaster title. In events longer than 9 rounds a player can disregard any games won, or not count any games played after a norm has been scored. In Assaubayeva’s case, for example, she had a GM norm after Round 10, but lost in the final round. Her performance rating dropped below 2600 after Round 11, so she doesn’t get an 11-game norm but keeps her 10-game norm. There’s little practical difference between a 9-, 10-, or 11-game norm since a player still needs three in any case.

What’s Next?

The FIDE World Championship Match starts November 24 in Dubai, UAE.

2022 should be a busy year: we should see the Grand Prix Series and Candidates Tournaments (open and women), as well as the 2022 Moscow Olympiad.

Stay tuned!

The 2021 FIDE Grand Swiss: Must the Show Go On?

Not such a tough decision

The FIDE Grand Swiss (organized in partnership with chess.com) was originally scheduled to be held on the Isle of Man, as the 2019 edition (won by the now-retired Wang Hao) was. This year was also scheduled to be the first edition of the Women’s Grand Swiss.

These tournaments are part of the Open and Women’s World Championship cycles. Namely, they help put the “World” in World Championship as entry is not only restricted to the 2700+ crowd.

However … COVID!

The tournaments could not be realistically be held in IoM as originally planned, but organizers in Riga, Lativa stepped up to rescue the events. Unfortunately, Latvia has been facing an uptick in cases and imposed a lockdown.

FIDE was able to get an exemption from the Latvian government, and the tournament will proceed as scheduled. The opening ceremony was held today, October 26, and the event will run through November 8.

Of course, like everything in the chess world, this sparked controversy. A few prominent players including Hikaru Nakamura and Vidit Gujrathi have withdrawn from the event.

In my view FIDE made absolutely the correct decision to go on with the Grand Swiss. I was skeptical about their decision to hold the World Cup and Women’s World Cup in Sochi this past summer, but they went quite well all things considered.

At this point it’s a case of “in for a penny, in for a pound.” Don’t disrupt the World Championship cycles any more if possible. The top finishers in Riga get slots into the Candidates Tournament or Grand Prix series.

It’s popular for people in the chess world to use FIDE as a punching bag and blame them for everything short of world hunger. True, they are far from perfect … but in my view things have definitely improved for the better in the past few years.

In times like these, it’s appropriate to cut them some slack.