The chess world is preparing for the return of the FIDE Candidates Tournament, which resumes on Monday 19 April, in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg.
Little did we suspect that when my friend and colleague, Leon Watson, wrote about the impending start of the tournament back in February 2020, we would get to April 2021 and still be at the halfway stage. It was very difficult to predict just what sort of impact the current emergency would have on the world.
Of course, a chess tournament is a minor matter compared to what else has been happening around the world over the course of the last 14 months. However, the return of the Candidates tournament will bring top-level chess, entertainment and a very welcome distraction from everything else. It will also bring forth a challenger for Magnus Carlsen and the title of World Chess Champion.
Leon gave an excellent pre-tournament summary of the players and how they became a Candidate in his earlier post and I will quote it here:
- Fabiano Caruana (USA, 2842) – qualified as the Challenger of the World Championship match 2018
- Teimour Radjabov (AZE, 2765) – qualified as the winner of the FIDE World Cup 2019
- Ding Liren (CHN, 2805) – qualified as the finalist of the FIDE World Cup 2019
- Wang Hao (CHN, 2758) – qualified as the winner of the FIDE Grand Swiss Tournament 2019
- Alexander Grischuk (RUS, 2777) – qualified as the winner of the FIDE Grand Prix 2019
- Ian Nepomniachtchi (RUS, 2774) – qualified as one of two top finishers in the FIDE Grand Prix 2019
- Anish Giri (NED, 2763) – qualified by rating as the player with the highest average rating for 12 rating periods from February 2019 to January 2020
- Kirill Alekseenko (RUS, 2704) – was given a wild card by the organizers
Leon also highlighted Fabiano Caruana as the favourite to win the tournament, followed by Ding Liren.
Needless to say, a lot has happened since then. Teimour Radjabov withdrew from the tournament before play started and he was replaced by Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. Radjabov’s case is unusual and we have certainly not heard the last of the story.
The State of Play
Here is a timely reminder of the current state of play.
It is clear to see that Ding Liren did not have a successful start to the tournament. Three defeats from seven games will surely have ended his chances of becoming the next challenger for the title.
Ian Nepomniachtchi has won the most games, but the defeat to his co-leader is keeping him from being the firm favourite. Super-sub Maxime Vachier-Lagrave stands well, but his form since the tournament was placed on hiatus has been patchy at best.
Fabiano Caruana has not been anywhere near as active during the online chess revolution. Presumably he has been preparing very deeply, driven by the desire to become the title challenger for the second consecutive World Championship cycle. It was a close match in 2018; all 12 match games between Carlsen and Caruana ended in draws and Carlsen retained his title thanks to the tie-break games.
Incidentally, we recall the thoughts of Anish Giri on the Candidates from our Chessable interview:
The 2020 Candidates tournament took an enforced break due to the current emergency. Should the tournament have even started under the circumstances?
In hindsight it is easy to say, but at that point in time, I am sure these decisions were not simple.
Did the situation have any impact on the way you played?
It must have, but I blame my bad start on other factors and towards the end of the second half I had caught some speed and played a lot better.
How do you feel about continuing a tournament many months after it started?
It will be odd, but the times are very special, in general.
Special times, indeed.
The Pairings for Round Eight
We already know the schedule for the second half of the tournament and here are the pairings for round eight.
Everything can change after this round. Caruana and Giri will be hoping to land significant blows against the two leaders in order to blast everything wide open again. It is a big moment; if Vachier-Lagrave and Nepomniachtchi at least avoid losing then it will be a significant step for their respective journeys.
Here are the thoughts of Vachier-Lagrave, as we count down the days until the tournament resumes.
Further Information and Live Coverage
For further information on the event, head for the official FIDE Candidates Tournament website.
Go to chess24 for the best live coverage of the games, with a commentary team including the World Champion himself, Magnus Carlsen.