Congratulations to Ian Nepomniachtchi for winning the so-called 202x FIDE Candidates Tournament!
The Candidates Tournament featured eight of the strongest grandmasters in the world in a double round robin. The winner of the Candidates goes on to challenge the world champion. Winning with a score of 8.5/14, Nepo will face Magnus Carlsen in November 2021.
The reason this year’s Candidates Tournament was nicknamed “202x” is because, like all things in the world, it was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The tournament started in March 2020 in Yekaterinburg, Russia and was suspended at the halfway mark when the pandemic took hold.
At the halfway point, French grandmaster Maxime Vachier-Lagrave was in the lead. MVL was a replacement for Azeri GM Teimour Radjabov, who had refused to participate because of concerns over COVID-19. Other competitors in the tournament included Nepomniachtchi, Fabiano Caruana and Anish Giri, Alexander Grischuk, Chinese GMs Ding Liren and Wang Hao and the young Russian GM Kirill Alekseenko (who entered on a wildcard).
The tournament resumed on April 19 2021, with all participants observing strict COVID guidelines. There were many fantastic games played (including an incredible round eight victory by Caruana over MVL.)
MVL has had a tough time of it over the last year, failing to perform well in the rapid-timed online Champions Chess Tour. Meanwhile, Nepo played very strongly in the second half of the Candidates, overtaking MVL and maintaining a lead over Anish Giri by the end of the 13th round. This guaranteed Nepo a win regardless of the results of round 14 as he had a 1.5/0.5 record against Giri. (Head-to-head performance is used as a first tiebreak in the Candidates.)
Ding Liren defeated Nepo in the final round, with Giri losing to Alekseenko, and MVL beating Wang Hao. With this the final standings were:
Ian Nepomniachtchi: 8.5/14
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave: 8/14
Anish Giri and Fabiano Caruana: 7.5/14
Ding Liren and Alexander Grischuk: 7/14
Kirill Alekseenko: 5.5/14
Wang Hao: 5/14
After his lacklustre performance, Wang Hao announced his retirement from professional chess. Meanwhile Nepomniachtchi will begin preparing for his world championship match in November and December, and we will have many months to practise spelling his name correctly!
Many consider Nepo as perhaps the strongest contender for the World Chess Championship, as he is the only candidate who has a winning record against Magnus Carlsen (+4 -1 =6) in classically-timed games.