Meet The 2022 Candidates

Meet The 2022 Candidates

| 53 | Chess Players

The field of the 2022 Candidates Tournament is set, and every player is ranked at least 15th in the world: GM Ding Liren (2nd), GM Alireza Firouzja (3rd), GM Fabiano Caruana (4th), GM Richard Rapport (5th), GM Ian Nepomniachtchi (6th), GM Hikaru Nakamura (11th), GM Teimour Radjabov (13th), and GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda (15th).

What kind of Candidates Tournament can we expect from the first round on June 17 until possible tiebreaks on July 5? Well, that depends on these players, of course. How did they get here, and what are their chances of winning? Those questions and more are addressed in this article.

How can you watch the most important tournament of the entire year? It's easy, as the 2022 Candidates Tournament will air on all channels:,, on our Twitch channel and on Games begin on June 17!
FIDE Candidates Chess Tournament 2022

Traditionally, a player who wins the Candidates knows who their next opponent will be. However, given comments by GM Magnus Carlsen after the 2021 World Championship, reiterated again recently, and a foray into poker as well, it's dangerous to assume that he is defending his title. That said, whatever he says to the public, it remains difficult to imagine once the time comes, that he'll just give up the title with no questions asked. (And at least one of his potential challengers is on the record as doubtful that he would skip the match.) While there are a handful of possible opponents who probably wouldn't excite Carlsen too much, most of them have a profile that probably would actually.

Ding Liren

Ding is simultaneously one of the likeliest players in the field and one of the least likely. He is the highest-rated player in it and has planted himself in the world top-three since February 2019. However, for almost the entire cycle, it appeared he would be left out of the Candidates. He got his chance after GM Sergey Karjakin was banned, but even that barely happened, as Ding played a number of games at the last moment to reach the minimum necessary to qualify. Meet The 2022 Candidates Ding Liren
Ding looked up and found his late path into another Candidates. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Ding has a strong argument as the best player in the Candidates, which will be his third consecutive appearance in the event. Carlsen, in another notorious interview just before the 2021 World Championship, stated that Ding was one of two players who could really challenge him for the world championship. (It was notorious because the other player of the two was not Carlsen's actual opponent in the 2021 match.) 

If Ding Wins?

Can Magnus really say what he did about Ding and not defend against him? The only way is if Carlsen not only thinks the title of world champion is useless to him but useless generally. And perhaps that is his opinion, but it would put him in a minority, no doubt influenced by his personal contempt for the title that has only brewed while he's been its holder.

Anyway, we're talking about Ding here. His most notable game against Carlsen was actually a blitz affair, with which Ding won the 2019 Sinquefield Cup in tiebreaks. Ding also pushed Nakamura to the limit in the semifinals of the 2021 Speed Chess Championship, so it would be dangerous to sleep on the Chinese player's fast chess abilities if the world championship match goes that far. This will also be the first Candidates with rapid and blitz tiebreaks for any first-place tie (the previous Candidates had a games provision only after other tiebreaks were applied first).

What Are The Chances?

After drawing 13 out of 14 games in his 2018 debut in the Candidates, Ding struggled in the first half of the 2020–21 tournament. But more than a year later, he was the best player in the second half both by score (4.5/7) and computer-measured accuracy (99.0%). Ding's comfort level in Madrid, which will be his first over-the-board tournament on foreign soil since the 2021 Candidates, will decide much about the course of the 2022 Candidates. If he has a successful first half this time, watch out.

Alireza Firouzja

The 18-year-old Firouzja (do you know he's 18?) has enjoyed a meteoric rise in the last couple of years, and he qualified for the Candidates with an outright victory at the Riga Grand Swiss in late 2021. Meet The 2022 Candidates Alireza Firouzja
The same focus that brought Firouzja success at the 2021 Grand Swiss will be useful at the Candidates. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Firouzja is the youngest player in the field by five years, and he reached world number-two—while also becoming the youngest player ever with a 2800 rating—after scoring 8/11 in the Grand Swiss followed by an 8/9 at the European Team Championship. From Junior Speed Chess Championship semifinalist in 2019 to world number-two two years later: not bad. Firouzja's position was only recently usurped by Ding in the latter's late push to make the Candidates. 

If Firouzja Wins?

When Carlsen began speculating that he might not defend his championship, he made an exception for Firouzja who represents the next generation. So Firouzja would seem to be the one victor who would guarantee a Carlsen match.

Still, Firouzja's experience in the absolute highest echelons of chess remains somewhat limited, especially compared to the veterans of the field, and his history with Magnus is no exception. Firouzja has yet to score a full point against Carlsen in a classical game, going 0–5. He does have some moments from online rapid.

What Are The Chances?

It's hard to win your very first Candidates Tournament. Nepomniachtchi did pull off the feat just this past year, but Karjakin and Caruana before him needed a second appearance to achieve a victory. Some extremely strong players, like GM Levon Aronian or GM Vladimir Kramnik, have never won a Candidates despite multiple opportunities. (Kramnik became world champion after he was hand-picked as the challenger and played in several Candidates Tournaments after losing his title.) The two teenagers to previously contest a Candidates, Carlsen and GM Bobby Fischer, didn't come close to winning it either—and teenage Fischer had two chances, in 1959 and 1962.

You certainly can't rule out a top-three player, but smooth sailing to the top of the chess world almost never happens. The closest thing to an exception is GM Garry Kasparov, who qualified for his first Candidates at 19, turned 20 while winning it, and only finally faced a real hiccup in the world championship when he fell behind 5–0. It's probably too much to expect a Kasparov-like path for anyone besides Kasparov, but Firouzja certainly could pull it off.

Fabiano Caruana

Caruana is one of two players in the field who has won this event before, doing so in 2018. He qualified this time by finishing in second place in the Grand Swiss. And despite Firouzja's huge success there, Caruana won their individual matchup to remind everyone that the established vets can still play too. Meet The 2022 Candidates Fabiano Caruana
Caruana has won one of these tournaments before and hopes to win again. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

This will be Caruana's fourth consecutive appearance in a Candidates Tournament, the longest active streak. He was surely hoping that streak would stop at two, but after losing the 2018 World Championship to Carlsen, Caruana has come back for two more tries. It's no surprise at all as, ever since his 2014 Sinquefield Cup performance, Caruana has been perhaps the scariest opponent to face in all of classical chess this side of Magnus.

If Caruana Wins?

Caruana was, with Ding, the other player Carlsen said in 2021 would pose the biggest challenge to his world championship crown. It's not difficult to figure out why, as Caruana nearly pulled it off once already, drawing every game in 2018 and coming so close to winning the sixth game. At that time, Carlsen admitted Caruana had an equal right to the claim of the best player in the world at slower time controls. It's hard to imagine Carlsen getting no motivation from the idea of beating Caruana in the classical stage of the match. 

What Are The Chances?

As one of two players here to win this event in the past, Caruana is clearly capable of doing it again. His opening preparation will surely be on point. We also know Caruana will play Nakamura in the first round because of the anti-collusion rule requiring all countrymen to face each other as early as possible in the Candidates, and that contest will perhaps be the key game of the opening round in determining the tone of the tournament. The United States is, in fact, the only country to have multiple players in this field.

Richard Rapport

Like Firouzja, Rapport is another player who, if you were asked 24 months ago, you probably would not have guessed to be in this event. Rapport was rated as low as 2675 as recently as 2017, but he capped off a strong run of play in recent months, which brought him securely into the world's top-10, with a second-place finish in the 2022 FIDE Grand Prix. Meet The 2022 Candidates Richard Rapport
Maybe Rapport is thinking about his career choices, but he'll for sure be focused on the Candidates when it begins. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

At 26, Rapport is the third-youngest player in the tournament after Firouzja and Duda. 

If Rapport Wins?

Rapport's history with the sitting world champion starts off with a bang. At Tata Steel 2017, Rapport won his very first classical game against Magnus (a feat more famously repeated four years later by GM Andrey Esipenko). Rapport and Carlsen have still only played each other 10 times at any time control.

In the question, Would Magnus play him? Rapport is by no means a clear "no." Carlsen has a winning record in classical after avenging his initial Tata Steel loss with wins in their 2019 and '22 matchups at the same tournament and hasn't lost to Rapport at faster time controls. On the other hand, Rapport is five years younger than Carlsen, not insignificant, especially if Carlsen's objection to beating the same players over and over again is a significant part of his calculus.

What Are The Chances?

Rapport is actually in an interesting spot, as everyone else besides Firouzja and Duda is 29 or older. Maybe Rapport does have a slight endurance or energy advantage on the five older players while also holding an experience advantage on the two younger players. And with his rating where it is now, firmly in the top nine (in an ideal world, the champion is number one and the candidates are numbers two through nine), he's certainly good enough to be here and to win the whole thing. 

The SmarterChess mathematical model isn't very high on Rapport's chances in part because Rapport's peak rating of 2776, which is also his current rating, isn't as high as most players in the field. But Rapport decided to play in Norway Chess starting in May, so he will have a chance to increase that rating just before the Candidates.

Ian Nepomniachtchi

The loser of the world championship has always gotten a seat at the ensuing Candidates, and Nepomniachtchi is no exception. 

All three previous challengers would have been in this year's Candidates field until one player found glee in war, one which Nepomiachtchi has opposed. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Always a major talent, Nepomniachtchi's game nonetheless plateaued from 2010-2016 before he finally took a leap into the very highest regions of the rating list. As the second-place finisher in the 2019 Grand Prix, he was the last non-wildcard player to qualify for the 2020 Candidates but put everything together to win it with a round to spare.

If Nepomniachtchi Wins?

Nepomniachtchi has the longest history with Magnus of anyone in this field, entering the 2021 World Championship with a 4–1 lifetime record against the champion going back to 2002, but struggling in the second half of the title match. It's difficult to imagine what more Carlsen could do than what he showed, winning with +4 =7, against Nepo so this is one of the more conceivable matchups for him to pass on should it arise again.

But if they were to play again, Nepomniachtchi would surely make adjustments to produce a closer match.

What Are The Chances?

Only three players have won two straight Candidates Tournaments: GM Vasily Smyslov (1953 and '56), GM Boris Spassky (1965 and '68), and GM Viktor Korchnoi (1977 and '80). Smyslov is the only one to pull it off in a round-robin format, and it has yet to happen in the post-reunification era (since 2006). But that actually makes it easier historically speaking than Caruana's task of winning twice out of three with a miss in between, which otherwise has never happened.

It's hard to beat eight-player fields this strong twice in a row, but it's doable. And Caruana does do it, it's worth noting that two of those three players (Smyslov and Spassky) won the world championship in their second attempt.

Hikaru Nakamura

Nakamura's victory in the 2022 FIDE Grand Prix got him into his second-ever Candidates tournament and first in six years. That will be the second-longest wait among the five players who have been here before. Meet The 2022 Candidates Hikaru Nakamura
For a while it seemed like 2016 would be the only Candidates of Nakamura's career, but he convincingly overturned the conventional wisdom in 2022. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

It's not a position you'd have necessarily expected the professional streamer to be in, but now that he's there, it makes total sense. Playing so much blitz and bullet in the last couple of years has made Nakamura extremely sharp at the board and alert to all his middlegame and endgame chances.

And Nakamura was at one time the second-highest rated player in the world at classical, so his abilities at any time control have never been in doubt. The only question has been whether he can take enough time out of his busy streaming schedule to devote to classical chess to remain at the highest level over-the-board. Consider that question answered in the overwhelming affirmative by the Grand Prix.

If Nakamura Wins?

As for Carlsen, Nakamura's history with him is well-documented. They are clearly the two best rapid and blitz players in the world, but Carlsen has had the advantage at classical time controls. That said, there is little doubt that Carlsen-Nakamura would be one of the most anticipated of the eight possible matches, exceeded possibly by only Carlsen-Firouzja. Given their history, it seems unlikely that should the time come, Magnus would let Hikaru become world champion without having something to say about it himself.

What Are The Chances?

As he said himself in an interview on April 10, Nakamura's main task in the Candidates will be to get out of the opening with playable positions. Fortunately for him, he's already demonstrated that ability at the Grand Prix, scoring +6 -1 =13 in classical there. Nakamura also "needs" to win this tournament the least of anyone, which could make the event easier on him and let him just play his game. Nakamura was truly a wildcard in the Grand Prix (selected as the FIDE president's nominee), and he effectively is once again now.

Teimour Radjabov

Radjabov didn't exactly qualify for the 2022 Candidates at all; he qualified for the 2020 Candidates but withdrew because of the coronavirus situation. When that tournament began and then was suspended, FIDE thought it only right to invite Radjabov this time. Meet The 2022 Candidates Teimour Radjabov
Radjabov took an unintentionally circuitous path here but shouldn't look so pensive once the games begin. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Radjabov, the oldest player in the field by nine months over Nakamura, also has the longest history in the Candidates, having played in both the 2011 and 2013 editions. His qualification in 2020 was in some ways the surprise of that field (not counting the controversial wildcard selection); he was the second-oldest after GM Alexander Grischuk and at one point, in 2016, Radjabov's rating had dipped from a peak of 2793 all the way down to 2696, but after that he worked his way back and won the 2019 World Cup.

If Radjabov Wins?

Radjabov's most recent run-in with Carlsen was in the 2021 Champions Chess Tour Final, where Radjabov won the final but didn't score enough in earlier events to win the tour, a notably bizarre situation.

Radjabov is probably the hardest player in the field to imagine Magnus getting all amped up to play. The good news for Carlsen in all of this is he at no point can just give away his title to the Candidates winner; FIDE provisions indicate that the top two finishers would play a match for the world championship if the titleholder does not defend. So his interpretation of whether an individual player "deserves" the title is not relevant; someone else could always take care of them.

What Are The Chances?

Radjabov has received criticism for a draw-heavy playing style that doesn't risk rating points. As GM Anish Giri can tell you, however, making too many draws in a Candidates won't win the tournament and can lead to persistent preconceptions about your play in the future. Radjabov will need some fighting games to make a dent in this field.

He also faces the added complication of having qualified for this event far earlier than anyone—in effect, about three years before the tournament—so it is difficult to say what kind of form he will be in. Perhaps that is why he, like Rapport, is playing in Norway Chess mere days before the Candidates begins. On the flip side, Radjabov has had more time than anyone to prepare, announced as a participant back in March of 2021.

Jan-Krzysztof Duda

Although the lowest-rated player in the field, by just three points to Radjabov, Duda is also the only one to be here on account of already beating Carlsen. Duda accomplished that in the semifinals of the 2021 World Cup, before claiming the entire tournament over Karjakin in the final. Meet The 2022 Candidates Jan-Krzysztof Duda
Poland has never won the football World Cup, but Duda took home the prize in chess in 2021. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

After Duda qualified via the World Cup, the younger Firouzja stole his thunder in a Grand Swiss performance that shot him up the rating list and into the Candidates. But Duda, who just turned 24 years old on April 26, is the field's second-youngest player and what he lacks in rating points to Firouzja he might just make up for in experience. But of course, there are six other players to worry about too.

If Duda Wins?

The World Cup wasn't Duda's first or last run-in with Carlsen—Duda previously beat Magnus at Norway Chess 2020 and won a couple more times in the 2022 Charity Cup—but it is clearly his most notable. 

Would Carlsen not want to show Duda who's boss when playing a match of 14 classical games instead of the World Cup's two games (plus rapid)? And if Firouzja represents youth, so does Duda, albeit to a lesser extent. Consider this a match Carlsen would be tempted to play.

What Are The Chances?

Duda's rating is of some concern but is by no means insurmountable, as he is within 26 points of all but two players in the field. (By comparison, the lowest-rated player entering the previous Candidates wasn't within 64 points of any other participant.) His rating has dipped a very marginal three points in two classical events since the World Cup, but that doesn't really tell us much about what form Duda will enter the Candidates with.

And after beating Magnus in the World Cup, it's hard to imagine that the pressure of the Candidates will have much of an effect on Duda's play. Also, if Duda somehow gets into a rapid tiebreak, as he did in the World Cup vs. Carlsen, he is one of just four players in the world who currently has a FIDE rapid rating over 2800 (the others being Carlsen, Nakamura, and Nepomniachtchi).


We'll have plenty more Candidates content for you in the run-up to the tournament. In the meantime, based on what you know about the field, who do you think are the favorites? What are some individual matchups you're particularly looking forward to or think will determine the outcome? Will second place be enough to play for the championship, or will Magnus defend after all?

Leave us a comment and answer any of these questions, or your own, and get ready for Candidates coverage starting June 16!

Nathaniel Green

Nathaniel Green is a staff writer for who writes articles, player biographies, Titled Tuesday reports, video scripts, and more. He has been playing chess for about 30 years and resides near Washington, DC, USA.

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