Who Will Win The Candidates: The Case For Each Player

Who Will Win The Candidates: The Case For Each Player

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It's the biggest question on everybody's mind this month: Who will win the 2022 FIDE Candidates Tournament and challenge World Champion Magnus Carlsen for the crown? There are eight candidates, and each has a chance to play for the highest title in chess.

Whether you're looking to learn more about each player, borrow talking points for your favorite to win, or share your counter-perspective in the comments, I've provided the case for each player, listed in descending order by classical rating.'s coverage of the 2022 FIDE Candidates Tournament runs from June 16 through July 7. This event is the most important of the year as the world's best players gather to fight for a chance to play for the world championship title in 2023.

Ding Liren, The King

GM Ding Liren has earned the nickname "King Ding" in Twitch chats and online forums. He is the world number-two with a rating of 2806 and the only player in the field with a current rating over 2800. Judging by his rating and his dominant tournament performances in the last few months, he is one of the big favorites to win.

The world number-two qualified this year despite numerous obstacles. Photo: Maria Emelianova/ 

This will be his third Candidates Tournament, but opponents may point to his last one as a sign of weakness. Although he finished fifth in the last Candidates despite being one of the favorites, letting slip no fewer than four losses, his fans will likely point to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the two Chinese players, Ding and GM Wang Hao, who experienced unique challenges with their preparation

Fast-forward to 2022. Needing to play 26 games before May, he proved what he was made of by finishing first in every over-the-board tournament he's played in this year: the Hangzhou quadruple round-robin, a six-game match against GM Wei Yi (currently world number-22), and finally the Second Hangzhou Asian Games Qualifier. With these recent successes and surely the desire to make up for the last Candidates, we can expect to see a motivated-like-never-before Ding. 

King Ding. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

His performances in the online chess scene have been no less impressive, by the way. Notably, he won the 2022 Chessable Masters after defeating Carlsen in their head-to-head match. Earlier, in 2021, he also showed great fighting spirit by taking the king of the Speed Chess Championship, Nakamura, all the way to the final armageddon game. Although Ding lost in the end, he played one of the greatest matches in SCC history and had chances to win at virtually every turn. After the match, the winner said: "I thought this was the hardest match I'd played—and that includes the match I lost to Magnus, by the way."

I thought this was the hardest match I'd played—and that includes the match I lost to Magnus, by the way.

—GM Hikaru Nakamura

Carlsen expressed before the 2021 World Championship that he considered Ding one of his two serious challenges. Ding was undefeated for 100 classical games, a record until Carlsen surpassed it in 2019. And no need to worry about his chances in a playoff; his win over Carlsen in the 2019 Sinquefield Cup to win the entire event should be a dreadful omen to any of his potential opponents.

Alireza Firouzja, The Prodigy

GM Alireza Firouzja is the youngest player in the field at only age 18 (he will turn 19 on the second day of the Candidates), but don't let this fool you—he is arguably the most talented player in the history of the game and has been focusing on virtually nothing but preparing for this tournament since his qualification in 2021. 

The youngest player to ever break 2800 and the world number-three is, at the moment, the greatest representative of the AlphaZero generation. With computers available since his birth, he and his fellow youngsters simply think about the game differently than those who had to learn the game without a silicon assistant. 

Is Firouzja the chosen one? Photo: Maria Emelianova/

He is already on pace to possibly outdo Carlsen in the long run, having achieved the 2800 rating earlier than the current world champion. He's also the second-youngest to reach 2700, behind Wei Yi. Carlsen has spoken highly of Firouzja on several occasions, especially after his 3015-rating performance at the European Team Chess Championship 2021, saying he was "really impressed with his performance in the Grand Swiss and in the European Team Championship.... That motivated me more than anything else."

While there are many games to choose from, the following game from the FIDE Grand Swiss is a display of pure dominance, a precursor to his rise to the world number-two spot. 

Indeed, some will remember GM Garry Kasparov predicted that GM Vladimir Kramnik would succeed him. While Carlsen has made no such explicit prediction yet, he has indicated that he looks forward to the challenge of playing the prodigy more than any other contender in this event.

Some may argue that Firouzja's last event is a sour reminder of the prodigy's youth and inexperience. You may look at his seventh-place finish (out of 10) at the Superbet Chess Classic Romania and see weakness, a far cry from his first-place victory at the FIDE Grand Swiss 2021 not long before. Looking at the crosstable, however, shows that he still finished higher than Nepomniachtchi (who won the last Candidates) and Rapport (another contender in this article). 

Firouzja actually has the best score against this field of any of the players, 9/16 or 56.25%. Although he has the smallest sample size of games (GM Fabiano Caruana has the most games at 54.5/101 or 53.96%), it raises the point that he can (at least!) hold his own among these elite players.

Firouzja, the face of a new generation. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Further, unlike most of the other players in this article, the French-Iranian super grandmaster has not been participating in almost any events—online or over the board—in the leadup to the Candidates. His absence from all chess events likely is due to his Candidates preparation, and we may speculate that he saved that preparation during the event in Romania. If this is the case, then his relatively poor score can be attributed to the fact that he's reserving his most powerful weapons for the Candidates. 

Thus, Firouzja has a strong shot at winning the tournament, and I'll also add that even if he does not, he will likely return and win one in the future. 

Fabiano Caruana, The Technician

An obvious case can be made for someone who has already won a previous Candidates tournament. After having won the Candidates in 2018, this will be his fourth appearance at this elite event, making him one of the most experienced players in this format. According to many metrics which I describe below, Caruana is one of the clear favorites to win. Considering he would've been the world number-one for the entirety of 2018-2021 if Carlsen weren't around (among other points), the case for this one is a softball. 

Surely his opponents will never forget Caruana's 2014 Sinquefield Cup win, where he won seven consecutive games (including against the world champion), a run that hearkened to Fischer's sensational 6-0 match wins about a half-century before. His highest live rating was 2851.3 after this event, a number that nobody but Kasparov and Carlsen has ever been able to approach. He almost overtook Carlsen by rating in 2018, by the way, being rated 2832 and only three points lower than the world champion at the time. No other active player has done this, period.

Caruana is one of two candidates who have already won this tournament in the past. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

After breaking into the top 10 at age 19, he's consistently stayed at or around there since, and he has been number two for longer than anyone else in this field. He first achieved it in 2014, but he stayed the world's number-two from 2018 all the way to 2021. The list of major tournaments he's won is larger than anyone else's in this field.

Known for his prolific opening knowledge and innovations, you can expect him to put pressure on his opponents early with either color. Once thought to be "weaker" in rapid, especially after his loss to Carlsen in the 2018 tiebreaks, he has now proven himself to be more than capable in this format in the Rapid Chess Championship online, taking the first two weekends in a row ahead of some of the world's best rapid players, including Nakamura—foreshadowing strong prospects if he needs to play a tiebreaker in this event or even against Carlsen in the future.

In addition, his FIDE blitz rating jumped over 100 points at the Superbet Rapid & Blitz Poland this year. This may become relevant if he reaches a playoff situation.

Half man, half calculator. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

In the last Candidates tournament, Caruana was responsible for a turning point in the event. This stunning win over GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave allowed him to jump into second place, and although in hindsight we know Nepo ended up winning, the 2018 challenger did pose a veritable threat in the second half.

Carlsen has said about the first American to play a world title match since Fischer: "I’ve long felt that Caruana has the strength to be almost at my level, but he hasn’t been stable enough." If the stars align, the third highest-rated player in history will surely be a force to reckon with.

Ian Nepomniachtchi, The Fast And The Furious 

GM Ian Nepomniachtchi is probably best known these days for having just played Carlsen in the last world championship match. He is also well known for his aggressive style and very quick calculation ability, sometimes winning games with close to all his time left on the clock. For the last challenger, the essential argument is pretty easy: he's done it before and he can do it again. 

The last challenger, Nepomniachtchi. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

One weakness that Carlsen and others have brought up in the past is Nepo's stamina in longer events. Indeed, the two-time Russian champion started off his last bid for the world title very well but seemed to run out of energy after game six.

Being split into two halves likely helped him win the last Candidates tournament, admittedly. On the other hand, winning an event of this caliber under any circumstances is a lifetime achievement and a testament to the Nepo's strength. 

Has Carlsen had the last laugh? Photo: Maria Emelianova/

While his blunders from the 2021 World Chess Championship are still fresh on everyone's mind, a look at the previous Candidates should fill Nepo's fans with hope. The following win against GM Anish Giri displayed the tournament winner's aggressive nature as he gunned for the win with Black coupled with the ability to convert technically difficult endgames. 

The way he broke the fortress with queen vs. rook and knight in the following game is the single most standout game in the last Candidates for me.

Russia's number-one player was one of the few players in the world to have a plus score against Carlsen (at least until their 2021 match). Winning the 2002 World Junior Championship, Nepo is the second player to ever win both the Under-12 World Championship and the Candidates Tournament (the other being GM Sergey Karjakin). 

Richard Rapport, The Artist 

GM Richard Rapport has been known for many years for his quirky opening choices. While this is his first Candidates, his recent performance at the 2022 FIDE Grand Prix (where he finished second behind Nakamura) instills great hopes for his fans.

Rapport has been a world-class player for a while now, and while the Candidates will surely be an uphill climb for him, he has recently shown the propensity to outplay other strong 2700+ players.

If chess is a science, sport, and art, Rapport has certainly shown the art of the game. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

The recently Romanian player is arguably the most creative and unpredictable player in the field, and he'll be impossible to prepare against. We can expect some of the most exciting openings in the event to be in his games, and some careful preparation and a bit of luck can potentially lead to wins over his esteemed opponents.

He recently employed the Alapin Opening against GM Leinier Dominguez at the 2022 Superbet Chess Classic Romania, an opening that this author humbly admits to having never heard of or seen before this game:

While he's seemed a bit unmotivated in very recent interviews, we must also acknowledge that he was just at his peak rating of 2776 (and world number-five) in April, and his rating is still close to that now. He has dropped about 10 points, but if he continues the positive trend we've been observing, we should see the greatest chess he's ever played at this tournament. An in-form ~2770 player is fully capable of winning the Candidates.

A man of trickery and innovation. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

In addition, Rapport has a unique thirst for victory that arguably many other players, even in this field, do not have. Fresh in our minds still is his speculative and insanely risky 30.Qe5!! against GM Dmitry Andreikin in the FIDE Grand Prix second leg final playoffs. With this being the best example, among many others, we can expect Rapport to keep fighting in positions where others may take a draw, a quality our reigning world champion himself is renowned for.

Hikaru Nakamura, The Streamer

GM Hikaru Nakamura needs no introduction—with his illustrious career in both professional chess and streaming, he is one of the most recognizable names in the game. Despite taking a two-year hiatus from over-the-board chess, he has shown no signs of rust, has the fighting spirit it takes to win first in an elite tournament, and is one of the favorites to win a potential rapid tiebreak.

While many know him as a streamer today rather than as a full-time professional player, the youngest American grandmaster since GM Bobby Fischer (at the time, in 2003) was once the world number-two. This was only seven years ago when he stood at a rating of 2816. Not only has he consistently stayed in or around the top 10 since then, but he is currently at number two in the world in both rapid and blitz—mind you, he hit number one in both formats earlier this year. 

Nakamura, the master of comebacks. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

While some may say that rapid and blitz are completely irrelevant to the Candidates, this is not quite the case. Since faster tiebreaks will be introduced to the tournament this year, he will be a huge favorite if he reaches that stage.

Nakamura plays for the win and is unafraid to take risks if it means he may finish first. While there's a long list of tournaments he's finished first in, the most convincing one for my case has to be his first-place finish in the 2022 FIDE Grand Prix, despite being the 10th seed going in. In a tournament where second place is as good as last—if what matters most is the chance at playing for the world title—we can expect fighting chess from the five-time U.S. champion.   

A legend has returned. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

When selecting from Nakamura's oeuvre of provocative openings, queen sacrifices, and spectacular moves, the hardest part was selecting just one game. I went with his third consecutive win from the 2022 FIDE Grand Prix third leg, where he won on demand several days in a row—not only to qualify for the Candidates but to finish first in the entire series.

While the game was ongoing, I will never forget a colleague mentioning that Nakamura's position was on the brink of disaster and that it was highly unlikely he'd find the engine's top move, 27...f5!?, to stay in the game. Somehow I'm still surprised every time this happens, and he not only slipped out of a perilous position but won—a storyline regular readers of our articles are familiar with by now.

Nakamura shared in a recent Rapid Chess Championship interview: "I think the fact that it’s not make-or-break for me the way that it will be for pretty much every other player definitely helps me." He has also stated, on several occasions, the phrase that has become a meme by this point: "I literally don't care." With perhaps less pressure on himself than the others, this mindset already helped Nakamura in the FIDE Grand Prix. 

The last point I'll make is that Nakamura draws strength from his fanbase, and this has been the case long before he became a popular streamer.

I truly believe that Nakamura plays better when he has great support—and when has he had a greater backing than now? Despite some of his blase statements about the Candidates ("I literally don't care"), he delivered gold in the Grand Prix. And with literally over a million people cheering for him now (if judging by the number of followers on YouTube and Twitch), he could not be more motivated.

Jan-Krzysztof Duda, Carlsen's Kryptonite 

GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda is the second-youngest player in this Candidates Tournament at age 24, the younger player being Firouzja. But he is not to be underestimated; the young Polish grandmaster qualified for this tournament by defeating Carlsen and then defeating Karjakin in the final of the 2021 World Cup. While he is the last seed in the event by rating, a rapidly improving young player like this one should never be written off, especially when he's been performing well in tournaments leading up to the Candidates.  

I could have chosen to feature several games, but how could I not show the game where he ended the world champion's 125-game unbeaten streak (still the record) that spanned nearly three years? 

Duda has proven himself to be a world-class player in several recent tournaments. He kicked off this year with a superb performance in the World Blitz Chess Championship, reaching the final tiebreak against Vachier-Lagrave. Although the Frenchman won the final encounter, Duda was already within reach of winning a world title. 

Duda's recent tournament performances have set expectations high for the Candidates. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Next, the 2018 Polish Champion won first place in two elite events this year: the Oslo Esports Cup, in which Carlsen participated, and the Superbet Rapid & Blitz Poland.  He has become quite the sweetheart in Poland recently and surely his country's support, as well as his mother's, will propel him to continue the momentum forward.

One last point is that Duda fears no one. In a 2020 interview, he was excited to play Carlsen before he made his words come true: "When I beat him, I will feel like, ‘Ok I’m at the very, very top.’" This kind of confidence is seen in very few, and almost no one has the ability to follow through on such a bold statement. Having already shown his capacity to defeat the world's best player, we must wonder: What can't he do?

Teimour Radjabov, The Pragmatist

GM Teimour Radjabov sat out of the 2020-2021 Candidates due to Covid concerns. But as the oldest, most experienced player in the field at the age of 35, he’s looking to avenge his previous Candidates absence and punch his ticket to the world title match. 

While his name may be less familiar to some than others, he has impressed the chess world in recent years. Notably, he defeated Ding to win the 2019 FIDE World Cup, showing that he is capable of beating anyone in this esteemed field.

A child prodigy, and a grandmaster since age 14, he beat other world champions in his teenage years, including GMs Garry Kasparov, Viswanathan Anand, and Ruslan Ponomariov. Having reached a peak rating of 2793, if he performs at the same level as his career-best tournaments, winning the Candidates is certainly possible.

Radjabov has beaten the best. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Admittedly, Radjabov has a reputation for being very solid and safe. He's caught a fair share of criticism from Carlsen himself and others on social media for taking a spot from someone else supposedly more deserving.

Judging by the last Candidates tournament, if he manages to draw 11 games and score three wins, he could finish with the same score Nepo did last year. In a tournament this long, a player cannot normally expect to blast through the field the way Fischer did with a 6-0 score in his individual Candidates matches. Stability will win out in this marathon.

Stability may win the race. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

He is incredibly hard to beat and also prepares openings that seem innocuous but are surprisingly poisonous. When he is on his A-game, his technical play is as good as anyone else's in this field, and he is able to make the most of tiny advantages against strong opposition.

One last point is that Radjabov might be the best-prepared player of anyone in the field. He never revealed his preparation in the last Candidates, and because he's relatively inactive compared to the rest, he hasn't had to show what he cooked up in 2020. The lines he prepared for the last Candidates may still be valid, and he's had time to improve on them.  

Many other candidates in this field have already surprised us simply by qualifying for the event, and surely the Azerbaijani may have a surprise of his own.

I hope you enjoyed my best efforts to make the case for every player in the most important tournament before the next world championship match. Who are you rooting for in the 2022 FIDE Candidates tournament? Let us know in the comments below!

Correction: This article previously had an incorrect game described as the one that ended Carlsen's 125-game unbeaten streak. It has been replaced with Duda's win over Carlsen in the 2020 Norway Chess tournament.

NM Anthony Levin

NM Anthony Levin caught the chess bug at the "late" age of 18 and never turned back. He earned his national master title in 2021, actually the night before his first day of work at

Anthony, who also earned his Master's in teaching English in 2018, taught English and chess in New York schools for five years and strives to make chess content accessible and enjoyable for people of all ages. At, he writes news articles and manages social media for chess24.





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