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Caruana To Play His 4th Candidates: 'I Don't Actually Look At The Prize Fund'
Fabiano Caruana is about to start his fourth Candidates Tournament. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Caruana To Play His 4th Candidates: 'I Don't Actually Look At The Prize Fund'

PeterDoggers
| 29 | Chess Event Coverage

More than any other chess event, the FIDE Candidates Tournament, which starts on Friday in Madrid is a winner-takes-all tournament. Finishing first, and only first, means facing World Champion Magnus Carlsen in a match. GM Fabiano Caruana, who attended the opening press conference on Wednesday afternoon, said he doesn't look at the prize fund and considers anything that isn't first place a disappointment.

The full press conference video.

Sitting next to FIDE's managing director and Candidates tournament director Dana Reizniece-Ozola, FIDE's chief marketing and communications officer David Llada, and the Deputy Minister of Sports for the regional government of Comunidad de Madrid Alberto Tome Gonzalez, Caruana was the only chess player at the press conference. When the highly experienced chess journalist Leontxo Garcia pointed out that in no other sport would seven of the eight contestants be absent in such a situation, Reizniece-Ozola wholeheartedly agreed but also explained that FIDE had preferred to give them some rest.

It was all the more applaudable that Caruana attended, being presented as some sort of local player. Around 2004, he spent some time training in Spain, and his parents have lived in the country for two years. As he pointed out, it is the country he visited the most outside the U.S., the first time 21 years ago at the World U10 Championship in Oropesa del Mar.

David Llada Fabiano Caruana
FIDE's David Llada (left) with Fabiano Caruana just before the press conference. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

'The highest tension I've ever felt in my life'

Although not the oldest (that is GM Teimour Radjabov at 35, nine months older than GM Hikaru Nakamura, still 34), 29-year-old Caruana is, in a way, the most experienced participant in this Candidates. He is the only player to have played it three times before. Asked to explain to Spanish reporters new to chess what it's like to play a Candidates, he said:

"I think that the tension of this tournament is only really one upped by the world championship match. For me, that was probably the highest tension I've ever felt in my life because, of course, although chess is a game, it still feels massively important when you're in the midst of it.

"I think the most important thing to understand is that all the players here, from their childhood, they've had one dream which is to become world champion. So everyone here is working as hard as possible, not just in the last year since they qualified for the tournament, but in the last 20 years. Pretty much their entire life has been devoted to chess and to this moment of winning this tournament and qualifying for the match. And even that is not the final step, of course, because even after winning this tournament you still have the last and hardest battle.

"That explains the massive difficulty of this tournament and the tension just comes with that. It accumulates, it starts from the first game, and it gradually progresses, and that's why I think the final games of this tournament is usually where the difference is made, where it shows who can handle the stress and tension best, because all the players here are quite similar in strength, I would say, or very close. We usually see it, in past Candidates tournaments, that the most important moments and the way the winner is decided is in the last few games and the last few days of this tournament."

Taking into account that basically only first place counts here, Chess.com's Mike Klein asked whether that may lead to any changes in the style of play. Caruana said that's not really the case, and it's more about the general approach of a long and tough tournament:

"The best approach is probably to be patient and not to panic if you don't start winning games right off the bat. You don't know when your chance in this tournament will come. It's 14 rounds. You can start badly and still have a good chance; you can start well and things fall apart."

Fabiano Caruana Candidates 2022 press conference
Caruana: "The best approach is probably to be patient." Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Winner takes all

Reizniece-Ozola pointed out that the tournament's prize fund of 500,000 euros will be distributed in a new way with only three places for the final standings (48,000 euros for first place, 36,000 euros for second place, and 24,000 euros for third place). In addition, players will also receive 3,500 euros for every half-point they score. Caruana agreed that formats to encourage decisive results can work at other events, but that it will have little effect in this particular tournament:

"I think many tournaments have adopted systems that encourage more decisive results. We've seen the football system adopted in some tournaments. We've seen in Norway Chess this armageddon tiebreaker at the end of draws, but in this tournament there's only one motivation, which is to win and qualify for the match.

"I don't actually look at the prize fund in this tournament. I didn't know what it was until you mentioned it because anything that isn't first place to me would be considered a disappointment. But normally speaking, for tournaments, of course, money is a motivator, and players will try to fight for more money so a system which encourages more decisive results makes sense."

Facing Carlsen, or not?

It might be another winner-takes-all event, or it might not be. The world champion's remarks about perhaps not defending his title was a big topic at the press conference, and Caruana was asked whether it makes a difference to him that, this time around, second place could potentially be enough for a spot in the match.

"I don't really buy into what Magnus says, although he usually speaks his mind and speaks honestly. Just to give it some context, he said that he is not certain to play the next world championship match, depending on his opponent. I don't really know what that means, and I didn't give it much consideration. And also maybe it's based on his feelings at the moment, but those feelings could change. If I were in his position, there's no way that I would not take up the challenge, regardless of who wins the Candidates and qualifies.

"To me, a world championship match is a unique challenge in itself, and I would look forward to it. I understand it's a bit different because he's been in that spot more than anyone in modern chess. But to me, I look at this tournament as still only a first place will qualify. [Second place] could be a lucky break for one player, but not something to aim for."

It would be highly disappointing for the chess world if Carlsen does not defend his title, and Reizniece-Ozola went so far as to say that the world champion would be showing a lack of respect. In her view, if Carlsen decides not to play, he should not use the argument that the challenger is not strong or interesting enough:

"One of the things that chess teaches us is the respect for your opponent. I believe that he is the person who has to demonstrate to the world that we always have respect for our opponent. If somebody has been going through all the pre-selection stages and has won the qualification rounds, namely this Candidates Tournament, then he deserves to play the match against the strongest player in the world, which is Magnus Carlsen today."

Dana Reizniece-Ozola press conference
Dana Reizniece-Ozola speaking at the press conference. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Firouzja

One other player was discussed in detail: GM Alireza Firouzja, the 18-year-old Iranian-French prodigy who became the youngest player in history to break the 2800-rating barrier. Shortly before the press conference, he checked out the playing hall (an 80-square-meter area, too small for spectators, in the beautiful Palacio Santona) with his father Hamidreza, who asked a variety of questions about details such as the bathrooms, the lighting, and whether the carpets are thick enough to prevent noise from wood creaking when the players walk.

The sensitivity to the playing conditions reminds of GM Bobby Fischer, the American prodigy who, for more than half a century, was the youngest-ever player to participate in a Candidates tournament—he was 16 years, five months, and 29 days at the start of the 1959 edition in Yugoslavia. Carlsen broke the record in 2013 by two days, while Firouzja is now the third-youngest ever at 18 years, 11 months, and 364 days. He will turn 19 on the day of the second round.

Is Firouzja mature enough to win? Caruana's take:

"It's hard to say. Of course, he's not a very experienced player. He is super gifted, he is super strong, but he hasn't played in this event before. It is a different event from the ones he's played in. But the first time I played the Candidates, I was also not very experienced, and I got very close to winning it. With some things maybe going my way, a bit differently, then I would have won it on my first try. So I don't think it's impossible for a first-timer to potentially win the tournament. I think he's also quite smart in his approach to chess, how he prepares. He has a team, he takes things seriously, so I would say: of course, he has chances, for sure.

"I think his ascent to the world number-two position was also a little bit of momentum. I don't think it fully conveyed his level compared to the other players in the world. I don't think that he was at a higher level than other players in the world of the top players. But momentum also carries you very far. I've experienced this myself and I think many players have.

"We've seen periods when one player has this push and goes to let's say 2820 or 2830, and many players in this tournament, for example, Nakamura, at some point reached this 2820 level and around that same time also players who aren't playing the tournament, but [Alexander] Grischuk and [Anish] Giri and Wesley [So], many players had that push to the number-two position, to this very high level and then there was some, let's say adjustment. But it shows also that every player in this tournament is capable of playing at that level, so if they have it at the right moment, if they have it right now, then they can win. That's the most important thing: that the player also has this bit of momentum and luck on their side which is necessary to win this tournament."

The FIDE Candidates Tournament starts on Friday at 15:00 CEST (9 a.m. New York, 6 a.m. Pacific) in Madrid. All 1,100 tickets were sold in just 80 minutes. FIDE expects to have about two million online spectators and another million via coverage on the Chinese CCTV channel, which also covered the previous Candidates Tournament.

How to watch the 2022 Candidates Tournament
Coverage begins on June 17 at 6 a.m. Pacific, 9 a.m. Eastern, and 15:00 Central Europe. You can watch the 2022 Candidates live on Chess.com/TV and on our Twitch, or catch all our live broadcasts on YouTube.com/ChesscomLive. You can follow the games LIVE here on our events platform.
FIDE Candidates 2022 - round 1


Guess The Result Contest

Be sure to compete in our Guess The Result contest before the start of the game for a chance to win $2,500! Every day during the Candidates Tournament, you can guess the result of the game on our Events page. Just go to the Games tab of our dedicated Candidates page and make your best guess for a chance to win $2,500!


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