Candidates Tournament: Who Will Challenge Carlsen?

Candidates Tournament: Who Will Challenge Carlsen?

| 92

On March 17th, 2020, the 1st round of the FIDE Candidates Tournament began. The Coronavirus was rapidly growing and most schools got canceled and went online. I remember each day I would wake up, watch the Candidates Tournament while eating breakfast. Then start procrastinating on schoolwork while watching the Candidates Tournament. Many people reading have just started to play chess during the pandemic so you might have no idea what the Candidates Tournament is. Although you probably have heard of Magnus Carlsen, the highest-rated chess player in history and the current World Chess Champion. 

The Candidates Tournament is an eight-player double round-robin meaning each player will play the rest of the field twice one with white and the other with black. The winner of the tournament will head to the World Championship to challenge the current World Champion (in this case Magnus Carlsen). The Candidates Tournament started in March but was later postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The tournament was supposed to be resumed in November 2020, but later it was postponed to the Spring of 2021.

Ian Nepomniachtchi (Left) and his opponent Alexander Grischuk (Right) bump elbows to prevent spreading germs - Photo: Maria Emlianova/

Everyone in the tournament had played each other once before the tournament was postponed. Maxime Vachier Lagrave (from France) currently leads the tournament on tiebreaks but is tied with Ian Nepomniatchtchi (from Russia) with 4.5 each. Here are the standings since we left off. 

# Fed Name Rtg Perf 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Score SB
1 Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime 2767 2876 1 ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ 4.5/7 15.25
2 Nepomniachtchi, Ian 2774 2875 0 ½ 1 1 ½ 1 ½ 4.5/7 14.25
3 Caruana, Fabiano 2842 2764 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 1 3.5/7 12.25
4-5 Giri, Anish 2763 2775 ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 3.5/7 11.25
4-5 Wang, Hao 2762 2775 ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ 3.5/7 11.25
6 Grischuk, Alexander 2777 2773 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 3.5/7 12.25
7 Ding, Liren 2805 2667 0 0 1 ½ 0 ½ ½ 2.5/7 8.25
8 Alekseenko, Kirill 2698 2683 ½ ½ 0 0 ½ ½ ½ 2.5/7 9.25

Suprisingly the #2 seed in this tournament Ding Liren is in 7th with only 2.5/7. Many people thought this was Ding's tournament and he would win but it's been rough for him, he has one win against last year's challenger, Fabiano Caruana but he also has 3 losses which means he is tied for last. Before we get into the predictions let's meet the players and this time we'll see how much they've improved during the pandemic. 

Meet The Field (Current Ratings)

Note: Seeding is Based on March 2020 Ratings.

Seed #1 - Fabiano Caruana (Current Rating: 2823, USA)

World Chess Championship 2018 - Fabiano Caruana (White) vs. Magnus Carlsen (Black).

Current World #2 - Fabiano Caruana qualified as 2018's World Chess Championship Challenger. Despite losing to Magnus in the World Championship, he was able to draw all 12 games against Carlsen but later lost in the tiebreak portion. He won the 2018 Candidates Tournament, can he do it again? We haven't seen much from Caruana as he doesn't play many online tournaments although he came in 4th in the recent TATA Steel Chess Tournament as well as his 4th place finish in Norway Chess 2020. So far he has been solid throughout the tournament with 3.5/7. All draws except for one win and one loss, definitely one of the favorites but he'll have to get some wins on the board if he wants a rematch with Carlsen.

Seed #2 - Ding Liren (Current Rating: 2791, China)

Ding Liren (Left) defeats Fabiano Caruana (Right) in Round 3 of the Candidates Tournament.

Current World #3 - Ding Liren qualified due to his 2nd place finish in the 2019 FIDE World Cup. This is his second time in the Candidates Tournament, last year he came in fourth with no losses. When the Candidates started, Ding Liren was a huge favorite but after two rounds, he had an extremely rock start losing both games to the Tournament Leaders, MVL and Nepo. With only a score of 2.5/7. Ding's chances of winning the Candidates Tournament are extremely slim. Although over the pandemic Ding Liren led Team China to win the FIDE Chess.con Online Nations Cup.  Ding Liren is an excellent player and he even took out Caruana in the Candidates but with 3 losses, Ding would need a miracle to get him out of this situation. 

Seed #3- Alexander Grischuk (Current Rating: 2777, Russia)

Alexander Grischuk focuses on the position, notice how he isn't sitting in the official leather chair like the one Alekseenko has but a simple chair from the audience.

Current World #7 - Alexander Grischuk qualified from his win in the 2019 FIDE Grand Prix. The Veteran has been to the Candidates Tournament four times prior and is the oldest player in the field. He is a three-time world blitz champion. We haven't seen much from Grischuk but he is the most solid player in the field so far with all draws. If he wants to win this tournament he'll need to get a few wins or else he'll be out of the conversation. 

Seed #4 - Ian Nepomniachtchi (Current Rating: 2789, Russia)

Ian Nepomniachtchi at the 2020 FIDE Candidates Tournament

Current World #4 - Ian Nepomniachtchi qualified after finishing second in the 2019 FIDE Grand Prix behind Grischuk who placed first. I have been a fan of Nepo for a while and I am thrilled that he is doing well in this tournament. Nepo is Carlsen's friend and Carlsen pointed out that Nepo could score some upsets and win but aside from that Ding and Caruana are the favorites. Although that interview was BEFORE MVL was announced to play but Nepomniachtchi is tied for first and Ding is almost out of the conversation. Nepo's chances are very high as long as he doesn't choke! 

Seed #5 - Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (Current Rating: 2784, France)

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave defeats Ian Nepomniactchi in Round 7 of The Candidates Tournament

Current World #5 - Maxime Vachier-Lagrave was not supposed to play in the Candidates Tournament but after Radjabov withdrew Maxime filled in. He is currently one of the huge favorites to win in first place with 4.5/7. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave has proved himself to be an amazing player and even took out Carlsen in the Speed Chess Championship. Although he did quite poorly in TATA Steel getting 13th with a performance rating of only 2639 with only one win against Donchenko. If we see TATA Steel MVL then he's not winning. MVL just has to stay solid and not lose any games while still getting some wins. Definitely one of the favorites to challenge Magnus Carlsen.

Seed #6 - Anish Giri (Current Rating: 2764, Netherlands)

Anish Giri at the Candidates Tournament 2020-21

Current World #11 - Anish Giri to me, is the fan-favorite, with all the drama he has with Carlsen on Twitter, and his sense of humor I would love to see him go head-to-head for the title. Giri has had some notable tournament results such as his second-place finish at the chessable masters as well another second-place finish in TATA Steel which he was so close to winning. Giri qualified by rating and when he played in the Candidates tournament he drew all the rounds which he has become quite famous for. I hope Anish wins even though the odds are slightly stacked against him if we see Anish Giri vs. Magnus Carlsen. That'll be a lot of fun.

Seed #7 - Wang Hao (Current Rating: 2763, China)

Wang Hao at the FIDE Grand Swiss holding his first-place trophy which gave him the qualification to the Candidates Tournament.

Current World #13 - Wang Hao qualified by his impressive victory at the FIDE Grand Swiss 2019 ahead of world-class players such as Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura, Levon Aronian, Alexander Grischuk, and the World Champion himself! Wang Hao has done well so far with 3.5/7 and even beat his fellow-Chinese Super Grandmaster Ding Liren. Wang Hao is not a favorite and we haven't seen much from him during the Pandemic but one thing we should know is to not under-estimate him.

Seed #8 - Kirill Alekseenko (Current Rating: 2696, Russia)

Alekseekno vs. Carlsen at 2019 Grand Swiss, this game went to be a draw.

Current World #39 - Kirill Alekseenko is clearly an outsider and qualified as the wild card pick. Although he did place third in the 2019 Grand Swiss (Which Wang Hao won) ahead of Magnus Carlsen. The thing is... the chances of him winning are super slim. He has no wins so far in this tournament, just draws and losses. All draws and two losses, not that bad but not that good. He'll need to work some magic if he even wants a chance at winning.

Survey Results

I recently ran a survey which gave two questions. "Who do you think will win and why?" and "Who do you want to win?".  Out of the 29 votes, there were mainly 4 candidates for the "Who do you think will win and why?" section. 10 Votes went to MVL, 8 to Fabiano, 5 to Giri, and 4 to Nepo. There were also two people who still had hope in Ding and voted for him. Let's take a look at their reasoning.

"I think Fabiano has a huge potential in winning because his rating is #2 in the world, just behind Magnus Carlsen. He has also shown very great potential in the 2018 World Chess Championship, drawing all 12 main games, and I don't know for sure, but I think that was the very first world chess championship where all main games were drawn." - @son_of_the_bongcloud.

"Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is currently leading the Candidates' tournament midway, and I expect him to maintain his consistent form. His success throughout the 2019–2020 cycle was most deserving of a candidates' seat and his Speed Chess Championship match against Magnus Carlsen in 2020 proved that he has the nerves to compete with the world champion." - @2Ke21-0

Although our most detailed response was from a @antisunechess who thought Nepo would win. Not a bad reasoning, not going to lie.

"beeg yoshi. BEEG BEEG YOSHI" - @antisunechess

Something that was extremely surprising that the fan-favorite was actually Fabiano Caruana which shocked me. Fabiano is more of a serious and quiet player yet he was chosen as the fan-favorite. I thought everyone would immediately vote for Anish Giri since he's such a cool dude. MVL came in third for the fan-favorite vote.

Nobody voted for Alekseenko, #FeelsBadMan. So there it is, the Candidate's predictions and overview. Personally, I think Nepo will win, I don't really have a solid prediction but hopefully, you have your own prediction that you can share in the comments. I hope you learned more about the players or if you have never even heard of the Candidates Tournament, now you know what it is! Thanks for reading, and adios.

Just a 13-year-old blogger from San Diego who wants to share my knowledge and opinions on the hot topics in chess. I started playing chess at 7 and I have a peak USCF rating of 2007. Other than chess I enjoy soccer, basketball, geoguessr, cubing, and video editing. 

My Most Viewed Blogs:

The Rise of Alireza Firouzja (10K Views)

The Genius & Craze of Bobby Fischer (5K Views)

The Dark Side of Online Chess (4K Views)

If you enjoy my blogs then you're probably enjoy: