FIDE Candidates 2022 Kicks off in Madrid

@Cynosure, @Konstantinos07Chess

credits: Maria Emelianova / FIDE

The Candidates Tournament kicks off in Madrid, with the opening ceremony taking place at the Palacio de Santona on June 16th, 17:00 UTC, and the first round to be played on June 17th, 13:00 UTC.

Other than the 500,000€ prize fund distributed amongst the eight players, the winner of the Candidates Tournament also qualifies to play a match against the World Champion - Magnus Carlsen, to determine who is worthy of the World Champion crown. Carlsen has won five World Championships to date, but has suggested he may not defend it again - although it seems that defending against Firouzja or Liren would be more likely to coax him to defend for a sixth time.

Lichess will be covering the games daily, with PGNs of the games broadcast. In addition, we’ll be producing article recaps, a selection of annotated games by GM Nijat Abasov, and daily video recaps by WGM-elect Jesse February.

The participants

The 8 players competing for the right to challenge Magnus in the World Championship Match are:

  • Ian Nepomniachtchi as the runner-up of the previous World Championship match;
  • Teimour Radjabov who was offered a wildcard by FIDE after him withdrawing from the previous Candidates Tournament due to the pandemic situation; 
  • Jan-Krzysztof Duda as the winner of the 2021 World Cup; 
  • Alireza Firouzja and Fabiano Caruana for finishing first and second respectively in FIDE Grand Swiss Tournament 2021; 
  • Hikaru Nakamura and Richard Rapport as the winner and runner up, respectively, of the FIDE Grand Prix 2022;
  • Ding Liren received the last available spot due to having the highest rating as of the May 2022 FIDE rating list (excluding the reigning champion, Magnus Carlsen). He replaced Sergey Karjakin, who received a six month ban from the FIDE Ethics and Disciplinary Commission on March 21, 2022, and was subsequently disqualified from the Candidates. 

This Candidates Tournament will be the 2nd for Ian Nepomniachtchi, Hikaru Nakamura, and Ding Liren, the 3rd for Teimour Radjabov (not counting his 2020 withdrawal)  and the 4th for Fabiano Caruana, with Nepomniachtchi and Caruana having won it once. 

So far, Smyslov is the only player to win the Candidates tournament two consecutive times (in a double round robin format - other players have achieved it while the knockout format was used). Nepomniachtchi has the opportunity to be the second to achieve it - we have to wait to see if he will succeed. 

credits: Maria Emelianova / FIDE

Predictions and chances

Using head to head data and Elo calculators, it’s possible to determine what the statistics predict about who is most likely to win. Depending on the specific model used, the conclusions are that Ding Liren or Fabiano Caruana are considered to be the favourites to win the event (both somewhere between 21% - 30% chances), followed by Firouzja at between 14% - 21% chances. Roughly 5 - 10% behind Firouzja come Duda and Nepomniactchi, with Nakamura, Radjabov and Rapport bringing up the rear.

Reality is of course harder to predict than what numbers suggest, so we’d suggest not reading too deeply into what the statistics imply. Further, there are several unknowns - and human factors - surrounding the players. Any of these additional factors could tilt the Candidates into one of the players' hands:

  • Ding Liren came off an impressive 28 classical games in 28 days to meet a minimum game requirement, but with qualifying into the tournament so last minute it could be possible his preparation has suffered. Liren also seemed to be less active than the other players in the Candidates, even during the pandemic, so perhaps has some more rust to shake off. 
  • Fabiano Caruana is not new to the Candidates, having played in it three times already - so nerves definitely won’t be as much of an issue for him as the other players. But in many ways, Caruana still seems to be re-finding himself and his style after his separation from long-time coach and second, Rustam Kasimdzhanov. 
  • Alireza Firouzja has had a historic rating climb, culminating in becoming the youngest ever player to break into the 2800 club. Firouzja hasn’t played much since that historic achievement, focusing entirely on preparing for the Candidates. Only time will tell if that has made him rusty, or even sharper. It’s also worth noting that Firouzja has historically struggled to overcome Caruana, with no wins against him (+0 =4 -2) - but on the other hand, almost considers Duda free points with four wins against him in five encounters (+4 =1 -0).
  • Jan-Krzysztof Duda had a formidable World Cup and in March this year made the finals of the Champions Chess Tour, losing only against Carlsen. But there are some questions about how he may perform in a double round robin event (as opposed to knockout like the World Cup and Champions Chess Tour) against very elite competition. Duda has 26 total games against every other Candidate in the tournament. 
  • Ian Nepomniachtchi will have had searching questions regarding his stamina and choice of seconds (other elite players, contracted to help another player prepare) after his devastating result in the 2021 World Championship match. At the same time, he’s had a year to build up his stamina, learn from his mistakes, and form a new team. If Nepomniachtchi is in form, he’s a brilliant player as his Candidates 2020 results show.
  • Hikaru Nakamura has blasted back into elite level chess after a two year hiatus where he became a streaming and influencer phenom. He’s notched up two 2850+ performances in quick succession. It seems he has security, stability and peace of mind to focus on chess now - but equally, he could have new competing priorities at play - like worrying about how much streamer time he’s missing out on! If he does qualify, historically Carlsen has been Nakamura’s kryptonite, with only one loss across 41 encounters (+14 =26 -1 in Carlsen’s favour).
  • Richard Rapport has long been known for exciting, creative chess - but he’s had to rein it in a little to see his rating and potential soar. Considered to be a little weaker than many other players in the field at opening preparation, it’s possible he could be outfoxed early on in games. The Hungarian’s wry sense of humour also has some questioning his self-belief, but don’t be fooled - nobody can make it to, and maintain their place in the top 10 rating lists without unshakeable motivation.
  • Teimour Radjabov was the youngest Grandmaster in history when he gained the title in 2001, and over his lifetime achieved lofty heights. But, his results and form over the last few years has looked lackluster for this level of competition, and he recently had quite a bad Norway Chess tournament. It’s possible he was saving his prep and passion for the Candidates - but it’s also possible out of all the players in the field, he’s struggling most with motivation.  

If it goes to tiebreaks, Firouzja and Nakamura are known to be most comfortable with faster time controls. Rapport, Duda and Nepomniachtchi are also all strong in rapid and blitz - although Duda is current European Rapid Champion, and has multiple strong recent results in blitz and rapid time controls. 

Caruana has frequently been cited as faster time controls being one of his weaknesses, but following his loss to Carlsen in the 2018 World Championships on rapid tiebreaks, he has significantly improved his strength in faster time controls. Ding Liren is strong on paper - but given his inactivity he has dropped off the active rating lists and is currently a bit of an unknown quantity. Radjabov seems to be weaker when compared to this field in faster time controls. 

The schedule

RoundDate and time in UTC
Opening CeremonyJune 16th, 17:00
Round 1June 17th, 13:00
Round 2June 18th, 13:00
Round 3June 19th, 13:00
Round 4June 21st, 13:00
Round 5June 22nd, 13:00
Round 6June 23rd, 13:00
Round 7June 25th, 13:00
Round 8June 26th, 13:00
Round 9June 27th, 13:00
Round 10June 29th, 13:00
Round 11June 30th, 13:00
Round 12July 1st, 13:00
Round 13July 3rd, 13:00
Round 14July 4th, 13:00
TiebreaksJuly 5th, 13:00

The format

The Candidates Tournament is a double round-robin tournament; The players receive 120 minutes for the first 40 moves, followed by 60 minutes for the next 20 moves and 15 minutes for the rest of the game, plus a 30 seconds increment starting from move 61. June 20th, June 24th, June 28th and July 2nd will be rest days.

In case of a tie for the first place, tiebreaks will be played as following:

Stage 1

  • If two players are tied, a two-game match between them will be played, with a time control of 15+10 (15 minutes plus a 10 seconds increment per move), and the colours determined by a drawing of lots.
  • In the moderately unlikely event of between three and six players being tied, a round robin tournament will be played between the tied players, with a time control of 15+10 (15 minutes plus a 10 seconds increment per move).
  • In the probably very unlikely event of seven or all eight players being tied, a round robin tournament will be played between the tied players, with a time control of 10+5 (10 minutes plus a 5 seconds increment per move).

Stage 2 (to be played only if there’s a tie after stage 1)

  • If two players are tied, a two-game match between them will be played, with a time control of 3+2 (3 minutes plus a 2 seconds increment per move), and the colours determined by a drawing of lots.
  • If more than two players are tied, a round robin tournament will be played between the tied players, with a time control of 3+2 (3 minutes plus a 2 seconds increment per move).

Stage 3 (to be played only if there’s a tie after stage 2)

  • A knockout tournament is to be held. Each match will consist of one game with a time control of 3+2 (3 minutes plus a 2 seconds increment per move) and the colours determined by a drawing of lots. If more than two players are tied, the brackets will be determined by a drawing of lots.
  • In case the game is drawn, another game with the same time control and colours reversed will be played. This procedure will be followed until there’s a decisive result.

Whom are you rooting for in FIDE Candidates 2022? Who do you think that will be the next challenger to face Magnus Carlsen in the World Championship Match? We are waiting to read in the comments!