The best of the best begin to face off tomorrow, Friday, June 17th at the Palace of Santoña in Madrid, Spain. The winner of this tournament will face off against the reigning World Champion, Magnus Carlsen, should he decide to defend his title.
Carlsen has stated that he is unlikely to play a sixth championship match unless young rising star Alireza Firouzja is to win the tournament. This means that we could see a World Championship without Carlsen for the first time in a decade if Firouzja does not win the candidates. In this case, the top two qualifiers of this double round-robin tournament would face off.
To commemorate the most anticipated tournament in competitive chess this year, Chessable has launched a Chess Candidates 2022 course for PRO users. The course features grandmaster walkthroughs of the best games of each round, puzzles from games, statistical breakdowns of each player’s chances, plus much more. It is a great way to immerse yourself in the most exciting tournament of the year. The course includes video presentation by Chessable author and Grandmaster Anish Giri.
There will be eight players competing in the tournament. There is quite a mix here of some usual contenders, underdogs, and remarkable comeback stories. Who exactly are the eight players set to fight for the top spot?
Alireza Firouzja (2793 Elo)
Carlsen has stated that Firouzja is the only player he would face to defend his title, so all eyes are on him with many hoping for him to win the candidates. Turning just 19 on day two of the candidates, Firouzja is very much a rising star, being the #1 player in France and #3 in the world. Firouzja is also the youngest player to break the 2800-rating threshold, beating Carlsen’s record by five months. Many see Firouzja as Carlsen’s heir when he finally retires.
Ding Liren (2806 Elo)
Ding Liren is currently the World #2, and the only player besides Carlsen with a rating over 2800. He is a many-time Chinese Chess Champion, and has qualified for the Candidates twice previously; both by winning Runner-up at the World Cup. Other impressive performances include winning the Sinquefield Cup 2019 by defeating Carlsen in the playoffs and subsequently winning the Grand Chess Tour Finals that year
Ian Nepomniachtchi (2766 Elo)
Currently Ranked World #7, we’re all familiar with Ian Nepomniachtchi as his World Championship Match against Carlsen, delayed by the pandemic, feels like just yesterday. Nepo is just a few months older than Carlsen; they grew up competing in the same junior circuit, alongside Caruana. Outside of chess, he’s also known for his interest in video games – notably playing semi-pro in Dota, and quite good at Hearthstone as well.
Fabiano Caruana (2783 Elo)
Fabiano Caruana is the only player in the field to have played in three previous Candidates Tournaments. Caruana challenged Carlsen in the 2018 World Championship. In that tournament, there were 12 consecutive draws, a first in history, before Carlsen beat Caruana in tiebreaks. He also has the highest peak rating by far of any other candidate. Will his consistency and experience be the most relevant factor?
Caruana is a renowned opening theoretician with an uncanny knack for opponent-specific prep. You might say this trait uniquely favors Caruana in a round-robin event such as this, and even for the World Championship Match itself. In the 2020 Candidates Tournament, he scored two wins and two losses, scoring poorly against the lower-seeded Candidates – Wang Hao and Alekseenko. If he can turn those losses into wins, or even draws, he will surely be the favorite to win this time around.
Hikaru Nakamura (2760 Elo)
With well over 1 million subs, GMHikaru is second only to GothamChess in terms of subscriber count, but Nakamura wasn’t always in the digital spotlight. He grew up playing at the Marshall Chess Club in New York and was quickly recognized as a prodigy with extreme potential when he beat Bobby Fischer’s record for youngest American to become Grandmaster. He achieved the title at age 15 and 79 days, ahead of Fischer by 3 months. His first of many US Championships came in 2005, and in the years that followed, his ascent into the ranks of the world’s elite was steady. His 2011 appearance in the Tata Steel A group in Wijk Aan Zee was undoubtedly one of his most impressive performances, winning clear first in a field with Magnus Carlsen, Viswanathan Anand, Vladimir Kramnik, Levon Aronian, and several other world-class players, with a performance rating of 2879. Garry Kasparov, whom Nakamura trained with briefly, called it the best American tournament victory for more than 100 years.
The pandemic resulted in a tenfold growth of his Twitch channel in the early months, followed by joining TSM (Team Solo-Mid), among the first of many chess streamers to have joined an e-sports organization thereafter. Nakamura’s natural ability in speed chess, and sometimes blindfolded speed chess, is now on full display all while managing to converse with chat in an entertaining and humorous way. From the end of 2019 until just recently, he was inactive in classical chess, prioritizing his online growth.
Jan Krysztof Duda (2750 Elo)
At age 24, Polish #1, Jan-Krzysztof Duda is the second-youngest Candidate next to Firouzja, and he has something to prove.
There is considerable promise for Duda’s odds in a match vs. the World Champion, as he has scored multiple notable victories under pressure against him in the past. His first victory vs. Carlsen took place in the 2020 Lindores Abbey Rapid Chess Challenge (Online). More significantly, in Norway Chess 2020, Duda ended Carlsen’s unbeaten streak of over 800 days and 125 games, and of course, he toppled Carlsen in the mini-match they played in the Semi-Finals of the World Cup last year.
Currently sitting just outside the top 10, Has Duda reached his plateau, or will his upwards trajectory continue through the Candidates tournament? Many consider the end of Duda’s story to be yet unwritten, and he is certainly unafraid of Carlsen. Keep an eye on him!
Richard Rapport (2764 Elo)
Richárd Rapport, Hungary’s youngest ever Grandmaster, is a crowd favorite and for good reason – he brings to the table his unique flavor of creative, exciting chess as well as a very down-to-earth, friendly attitude. The chess world has taken notice of his surge into the World’s Top 10 (currently on #8, although he was as high as #5 recently), and has fallen in love with his relatable & emotional approach to the game.
Teimour Radjabov (2753 Elo)
Yet another child prodigy, Radjabov enjoyed a meteoric rise beginning from 2001 at age 14 when he became the world’s youngest Grandmaster in history. Two years later he collected the scalps of Garry Kasparov, Vishy Anand, and Ruslan Ponomariov; all former world champions. These were some of his greatest chess memories. Over the years, he has led the Azerbaijan team to several European Team Chess Championships, not to mention his individual accolades. He has historically had a fantastic showing in the Tata Steel A-group, tying for first in 2007 and finishing among the top places in many subsequent years.
This tournament should shape up to be one of the most exciting in years, so make sure to check it out live at Chess24 (15:00 CET / 9:00 a.m. US Eastern) and get the Chessable Chess Candidates 2022 course. In addition, Chessable is offering a massive sale on its courses to ring in the tournament.
All in all, this tournament will not disappoint; Firouzja’s rising talent, Rapport’s fireworks on the board, Nakamura’s triumphant return to classical chess, and star-studded veterans like Caruana and Liren looking to flex their skills, it is impossible not to find something to love about the 2022 FIDE Candidates Tournament.