The 2022 FIDE Women’s Grand Prix Series is underway, with the first of four events being held in Astana, Kazakhstan. 16 women will play three of four events, as each tournament is a 12-player round robin. The top two finishers in the series will qualify for the 2023-24 Women’s Candidates Tournament.
Let’s review the Round 2 game between Zhu Jiner (China) and Dinara Wagner (Germany).
WGM Zhu is currently the top-ranked Girl (female under 20 years old) in the World, but turns 20 in November. She qualified for the Women’s Grand Prix by tying for 2nd-3rd place in the 2021 Women’s Grand Swiss (with IM Elisabeth Pähtz of Germany, who is also competing in Astana).
WGM Wagner is the third-ranked female in Germany, and on her career-high rating. Originally from Kalmykia, she married GM Dennis Wagner earlier this year and was granted a wild card for the Grand Prix series by her adopted country, as Munich will host the second GP event.
Zhu is tied for the tournament lead with Aleksandra Goryachkina (Russia) at 4½/6, while Wagner’s 2½/6 as the lowest seed is sufficient to well outperform her rating.
Zhu is clearly in charge here, but how to break Wagner’s defense?
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.
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 (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.
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.
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.