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I've been following the recent developments in the chess world and noticed that Alireza Firouzja qualified for the 2024 Candidates Tournament, overtaking Wesley So in the process.

Can someone explain the sequence of events and strategic decisions that led to this outcome?

Specifically, how did Firouzja's tournament choices impact his qualification over So?

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This is described in some detail on Wikipedia. The brief version is that Firouzja played some matches against rather-inactive, arguably-overrated GMs in a bid to gain elo. FIDE intervened and ruled that the matches were not to be rated. Firouzja was really keen to play in the Candidates however, and he chose to play in a small Swiss tournament instead of the World Rapid and Blitz championships. He won all seven of his games, gaining enough rating to qualify.

The highest rated player in the January 2024 rating list who has not yet qualified for the Candidates or World Championship, and has participated in at least four FIDE Circuit classical events, qualified for the Candidates.

The rating qualifier turned out to be hotly contested. After a poor showing in the 2023 Sinquefield Cup, rating spot front-runner Alireza Firouzja lost nearly thirteen rating points, putting him behind Wesley So in the live ratings. In an attempt to surpass So, the Chartres Chess Club organized three two-game matches between Firouzja and grandmasters Alexandre Dgebuadze (52 years old, rated 2439), Andrei Shchekachev (51 years old, rated 2506), and Sergey Fedorchuk (42 years old, rated 2546). These matches, held in Chartres, France, were collectively referred to as "Alireza Firouzja's Race to Candidates". Firouzja needed to win all six games (or win the first five and not play the sixth) to overtake So in the live ratings. He indeed won the first five games after some controversy (such as Shchekachev resigning in a position that turned out to be equal in game 3), but decided to play the sixth game anyway. In what was effectively a must-win game, Firouzja overpushed and landed in a terrible endgame, but with both players in time trouble, Fedorchuk accepted Firouzja's draw offer. The 5.5/6 result still left Firouzja behind So in the live rating list.

The last-minute nature of the event as well as the hand-selecting of opponents drew criticism, including from So, who revealed he turned down similar opportunities because he disagreed with the morality of such events. Shortly after these matches were announced, FIDE affirmed that it had the right to not rate any specific event, and the United States Chess Federation called on FIDE to not rate Firouzja's games. FIDE's response drew criticism from many, including Ian Nepomniachtchi, who pointed out that Ding Liren had also played last-minute games to qualify for the Candidates Tournament 2022, to no reaction from FIDE.

On December 25, FIDE announced new rules, effective immediately, requiring events with at least one player rated over 2700 (or at least one woman player rated over 2500) to be registered at least one month in advance; however, the rule would not be applied retroactively for Alireza Firouzja's Race to Candidates tournament. Such requirement could be waived with the approval of the FIDE president or QC Chairman. That same day, Alireza Firouzja's matches (as well as another match in Chartres in which Firouzja did not play) were removed from FIDE's website.

Having fallen short, Firouzja withdrew from the World Rapid and Blitz championship to participate in the Open de Rouen tournament, which was a minor Swiss tournament with a top prize of €700, a relatively paltry sum for a super-GM. Firouzja won all 7 games, including a win against former world championship challenger Gata Kamsky. This gained Firouzja enough rating to surpass So on the January 2024 rating list, regardless of whether the event in Chartres is rated. Firouzja was officially confirmed as the rating qualifier in the January ratings list.

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The qualification for candidates by the highest unqualified player ranking is decided by the January rating list, FIDE published The January Rating List Article . His match, which was created to get Alireza Firouzja in the candidats was disqualified and he didn't receive any points for it. Firouzja had lost 12.5 points in the Sinquefield Cup, but won 15eme Open International d'Echecs de Rouen, which gave him 8.3, which is 4.2 points down. Despite this rating change, Wesley So still didn't have enough points to surpass him. That's the exact reason why Alireza Firouzja qualified for the candidates and Wesley So didn't.

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