Chess Terms
Candidates Tournament

Candidates Tournament

Candidates Tournament? Candidates for what? Let’s find out all about the Candidates Tournament and its importance in the world championship cycle!

Here is what you need to know about the Candidates Tournament:


What Is The Candidates Tournament?

The Candidates Tournament is the final event in the World Championship cycle before the World Championship match itself. It is the second most important tournament in the World Championship cycle, as the winner of the Candidates Tournament plays the reigning world champion in the championship match. FIDE has organized the World Championship cycle since 1948 and the Candidates Tournament since 1950. Since 2013, the Candidates Tournament has occurred every two years.

Candidates Tournament
The playing hall for the 2020 Candidates Tournament. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Why Is The Candidates Tournament Important?

The Candidates Tournament is important because it selects the challenger for the World Championship match. Multiple tournaments are part of the World Championship cycle, but the real point of all of them is to qualify for the Candidates Tournament. The FIDE Chess.com Grand Swiss tournament is an excellent example of a celebrated top-level event whose main purpose is to award a spot in the Candidates Tournament.

Candidates Tournament
The winner of the 2019 FIDE Chess.com Grand Swiss tournament, GM Wang Hao, earned a spot in the 2020 Candidates Tournament. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

How To Qualify For The Candidates Tournament

The Candidates Tournament is an eight-player, double round-robin event. The ways that the eight players are selected for the Candidates Tournament are currently:

  • One "wild card" selection is normally picked by the tournament organizer (although specific criteria must be met for the selection). 
  • The top two finishers of the FIDE World Cup qualify for the Candidates Tournament.
  • The top two finishers of the FIDE Grand Prix qualify for the Candidates Tournament.
  • The Winner of the FIDE Grand Swiss tournament qualifies for the Candidates Tournament.
  • The player with the highest average rating for the year qualifies for the Candidates Tournament.
  • The runner-up in the previous World Championship match qualifies for the Candidates Tournament. 
Candidates Tournament
Fabiano Caruana qualified for the 2020 Candidates Tournament because he finished as the runner-up in the 2018 World Championship match. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Candidates Tournament History

FIDE first started overseeing the World Championship in 1948. The candidates process has changed many times throughout the years, with different time periods between World Championship cycles and different formats to select the challenger. Between 1950 and 1962 a round-robin tournament was used to select the challenger, and the championship cycle lasted three years.

The first Candidates Tournament was held in 1950 in Budapest where GMs David Bronstein and Isaac Boleslavsky tied for first place. Bronstein then won a match against Boleslavsky,and then drew the world championship match with GM Mikhail Botvinnik (who retained his title). Bronstein wrote a famous book on the 1953 Candidates tournament, which is still considered a classic today. GM Vassily Smyslov, who won the 1953 Candidates Tournament, also drew his world championship match with Botvinnik. Smyslov won the next Candidates Tournament in 1956 and then defeated Botvinnik in the 1957 World Championship (although Botvinnik won their 1958 rematch to regain his chess crown).

candidates tournament
Bronstein wrote a famous book on the 1953 Candidates Tournament. Photo: Amazon.

The next winner of the Candidates Tournament was GM Mikhail Tal, who defeated Botvinnik in the 1960 World Championship match. History repeated itself again when Botvinnik won the rematch against Tal in 1961. GM Tigran Petrosian was the victor in the 1962 Candidates Tournament. He defeated Botvinnik in the 1963 World Championship match, and Botvinnik stepped away from the championship cycle. 

After the 1962 Candidates Tournament, the challenger was selected by winning or placing high in Interzonal tournaments and then winning the knockout Candidates matches. 

Eight-player, double-round robin Candidates Tournaments were restored only in modern times. The 2013 Candidates Tournament in London was particularly dramatic and historic. In a two-horse race for first place between GMs Magnus Carlsen and Vladimir Kramnik, the two were tied when they both lost their final-round game. Carlsen was declared the winner on the second tiebreak (number of wins) and went on to defeat GM Viswanathan Anand later that year.

Carlsen successfully defended his title against Anand in 2014, against GM Sergey Karjakin in 2016, and against GM Fabiano Caruana in 2018.

The 2020 Candidates Tournament started in March 2020 with the following GMs playing: Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Ian Nepomniachtchi, Fabiano Caruana (the challenger in 2018), Anish Giri, Wang Hao, Alexander Grischuk, Ding Liren, and Kirill Alekseenko. The first seven rounds were played before the second half of the Candidates Tournament was postponed on March 26, 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia's travel restrictions. The tournament resumed on April 19, 2021, and concluded on April 27, 2021.

GM Ian Nepomniachtchi won the tournament and will face Carlsen for the world championship in November-December 2021.

2020/21 Candidates Tournament Final Standings

# Fed Name Rtg Perf 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Pts
1 Ian Nepomniachtchi 2774 2849 ½½ 10 ½½ ½1 11 8.5/14
2 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 2767 2824 ½½ ½0 ½0 ½1 ½1 8.0/14
3 Anish Giri 2763 2799 ½½ ½1 ½1 ½0 10 ½1 7.5/14
4 Fabiano Caruana 2842 2789 ½½ ½1 ½0 ½½ ½1 7.5/14
5 Ding Liren 2805 2769 01 ½0 ½1 ½1 7.0/14
6 Alexander Grischuk 2777 2773 ½½ ½1 ½1 ½½ ½0 ½0 ½½ 7.0/14
7 Kirill Alekseenko 2698 2708 ½0 ½0 01 ½0 ½1 ½½ 5.5/14
8 Wang Hao 2762 2674 00 ½0 ½0 ½0 ½½ ½½ 5.0/14

(Tiebreaks: 1. Mutual score, 2. Number of wins, 3. Sonneborn-Berger.)

The 2021 World Chess Championship between Carlsen and Nepomniachtchi will take place from November 24-December 16, 2021.

Magnus Carlsen, Ian Nepomniachtchi
The winner of the 2020/21 Candidates Tournament, Ian Nepomniachtchi, will face Magnus Carlsen in the 2021 World Chess Championship.

Conclusion

You now know what the Candidates Tournament is, why it is important, how to qualify for the Candidates Tournament, and more! Head over to the top players page to find out more about the Candidates Tournament participants.