Try, Try Again: Nepo Wins The 2022 Candidates Tournament

Ian Nepomniachtchi has done it again, winning the Candidates Tournament for a second time in a row.

The double round robin tournament featured eight of the top players in the world, all vying for the right to challenge the current world champion, Magnus Carlsen.

As we’ve reported previously, FIDE banned Sergey Karjakin from official play for six months, making him ineligible to compete in the Candidates, despite his having qualified. Karjakin was banned from play for his outspoken—and outrageous—support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

FIDE’s rules state that the next player on the rating list, not already qualified to compete, would be invited to fill in a vacant spot. This put the spotlight on Ding Liren, but not in an easy way.

Because of COVID travel restrictions in China and abroad, Ding had not had the opportunity to compete much for several years. FIDE requires that a player have at least thirty rated games in the past year in order to be considered an active player. In order to be eligible for the Candidates, Ding had to play over two dozen games in very short order, which he managed to do with a series of hastily-organized tournaments and matches.

During this flurry of games, Ding reminded us of what a strong player he is, reclaiming the #2 rating slot from Grand Swiss winner Alireza Firouzja, who slipped to third.

The other players in the tournament were the winners of various strong tournaments throughout the previous year:

Jan-Krzysztof Duda, winner of the World Cup;

Hikaru Nakamura and Richard Rapport, winner and runner-up in the FIDE Grand Prix;

Fabiano Caruana, runner-up in the Grand Swiss;

Teimour Radjabov, who was given a wildcard berth in the tournament. (Radjabov had qualified for the 2020 Candidates, but withdrew because of his concerns regarding the pandemic. A week after the tournament began, FIDE postponed its continuation, and Radjabov requested to be reinstated. FIDE could not do this, but agreed to grant him the wildcard in 2022.)

The format of the tournament is a double round robin, meaning that each player faces each other two times, once playing white, once playing black.

All eyes were on Alireza Firouzja, the young prodigy from Iran, now playing under the French flag. His rise through the ranks has been meteoric, and Carlsen had said that he would be unlikely to defend his title unless the challenger were Firouzja.

Under FIDE rules, if Carlsen decided to not defend his title, the winner and runner-up in the Candidates would compete for the world championship.

Firouzja had a disappointing performance in his first Candidates, scoring 6/14. We should be keeping an eye out for him in future years.

The acknowledged world blitz champion and famed chess streamer, Hikaru Nakamura, has surprised the chess world over the past year. Naka had played very little classical chess over the past few years, and his fondness for blitz is legendary. (Many players decry blitz as something that injures your ability to play “serious” chess well.)

But Hikaru surprised by winning the FIDE Grand Prix and thereby qualifying for the Candidates. And then, as the games went on, he was competing for the lead!

As the tournament reached its end, Nepo pulled out of reach of all other competitors in round thirteen, securing his win. But it was still a question who would claim second place—a question made all the more important by Carlsen’s ambivalence about defending his title.

For reasons that are confusing, Nakamura accepted a draw in his final game, when a win might have forced a playoff for second place. Many thought that he could have fought harder and possibly won that game.

So it all came down to Ding’s final game, which he won, claiming second place with 8/14, followed by Nakamura and Radjabov, who scored 7.5/14.

Now Nepomnaichtchi is going to his second World Championship in a row, and Ding Liren, Karjakin’s replacement, has impressed the world with his prowess by taking second place.

The final standings of the Candidates Tournament were:

  1. Ian Nepomniachtchi (8.5/14)
  2. Ding Liren (8/14)
  3. Teimour Radjabov (7.5/14)
  4. Hikaru Nakamura (7.5/14)
  5. Fabiano Caruana (6.5/14)
  6. Alireza Firouzja (6/14)
  7. Jan-Krzystof Dud (5.5/14)
  8. Richard Rapport (5.5/14)


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