FIDE has introduced a series of changes to the qualification paths that will be in effect for the FIDE Candidates Tournament in 2026. Most notably, the runner-up from the World Championship match no longer automatically qualifies for the Candidates
The alterations are aimed at enhancing the competitive landscape, encouraging player participation, and ensuring a fair representation of the top contenders.
The amendments will impact the selection process through various paths.
The key changes and the renewed qualification paths for the Candidates Tournament 2026 are the following:
World Championship Runner-Up - no spot
The runner-up in the World Championship will no longer automatically get a spot in the next Candidates Tournament. Instead, the runner-up will now need to navigate the qualification process.
To compensate for this change, World Championship Match 2024 is also recognized as an eligible tournament for FIDE Circuit and the runner-up will receive special bonus points for playing the match. The points they gain in the match for the World Championship title will be calculated based on performance. This means the points gained for the FIDE Circuit will depend on the score of the match. If the match is lost on tie-breaks, the runner-up will get more points than when they lose in the standard part of the match with rounds to spare.
The highest-rated player - 1 spot
The spot reserved for the highest-rated player will now be determined by the six-month average rating, not the previous 12 months or the current rating.
This spot is exclusive to the player ranked first in the FIDE rating list. If the player withdraws, the qualification spot shall be awarded to the second-highest rated player. If the second-highest rated player has already qualified, the qualification spot will be redirected to FIDE Circuit 2025 path.
Notably, the six-month average rating rule eliminates the possibility of players relying on a "last chance" tournament in December of the year in the run-up to the Candidates.
FIDE Circuit - 2 spots
Two spots in the FIDE Circuit - for the years 2024 and 2025 - will serve as qualifying paths for the 2026 Candidates.
The final score will be the sum of a player's highest event scores, but not more than seven event scores. For reference, the score calculation for Circuit 2024 was based on five event scores.
Other main changes in FIDE Circuit rules:
1) for round-robin tournaments points are given to the top three places only,
2) a new bonus for sole 1st place without any tie-break criteria is added,
3) an unlimited number of tournaments in one country is allowed, in case the average rating of top eight players of each event is 2650 or higher.
Organizers of events taking place after July 1st, 2024, must notify FIDE GSC at least three months in advance.
FIDE World Cup - 3 spots
The FIDE World Cup 2025 will provide three qualifying spots for players who finish 1st, 2nd and 3rd.
FIDE Grand Swiss Tournament - 2 spots
The FIDE Grand Swiss Tournament will offer two qualifying spots for the Candidates Tournament, for the players who finish 1st and 2nd.
This table highlights the difference between the existing and new qualification system for the Candidates:
FIDE Candidates Tournament 2026 will witness eight players qualifying through distinct paths, emphasizing diversity and fairness, ensuring a competitive and merit-based selection process.
“These changes have been carefully thought through, considering all important factors, with the aim of making the qualification process more engaging and fairer. This reflects FIDE's commitment to evolving and refining the qualification process, promoting a dynamic and competitive chess environment,” FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich said.
As the chess community eagerly awaits the Candidates Tournament in Toronto, these alterations for the 2026 event are poised to shape a new era in the journey towards determining the World Chess Champion.