Who will play the 2020 Candidates?

by Conrad Schormann
10/4/2019 – Fabiano Caruana is already qualified for the Candidates Tournament 2020 and Ding Liren too de facto. They should now be joined by two World Cup finalists. Instead, the situation is less clear. Anish Giri is banking on a rating spot freed up by Ding's new qualification. Radjabov is also in, if he wants it, but that is very much an open question. CONRAD SCHORMANN explains. | Photos: FIDE

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Republished with kind permission of perlenvombodensee.de

Giri's dilemma

As soon as Ding Liren reached the final of the World Cup, Anish Giri withdrew his participation in the Grand Swiss. He most likely does not want to risk his qualification for the Candidates Tournament.

In Khanty-Mansiysk, Anish Giri did not make it past the third round. One finalist, Ding, had assured a rating qualification already. The other, Teimour Radjabov, is a 'maybe' candidate at best. The Azeri does not consider himself a professional any more, and he says he will not compete in Yekaterinburg next year. With a repertoire full of forced lines, and an 80 percent drawing rate, the former wonder boy Teimour Radjabov's silent ascent, has just returned him to the world's top ten.


Teimour Radjabov at the World Cup | Photo: FIDE

Caruana was of course the first 2020 candidate since he earned a spot automatically by reaching the World Championship match in 2018. In the course of 2019 it emerged that, given his consistently high rating of over 2800, Ding Liren would be the second. Had it been just about the Candidates Tournament, Ding would not have had to play the World Cup at all.

Upon reaching the semi-finals there, he met his compatriot Yu Yangyi. Immediately theories sprang up that now one Chinese could pave the way for the other towards the World Championship match — if Ding would lose the World Cup semi-final he would make Yu a candidate as well. Taking the speculation further, if we're fearing collusion, Yu would be able to throw two points Ding's way in the Candidates, which would most likely be enough to win the tournament and challenge Magnus Carlsen.

Yu and Ding

The all-Chinese semi-final dual could have lead to both being in the Candidates | Photo: FIDE

The impeccable sportsman in the World Cup, put an end to such speculation. But the fact that such speculation could even come up remains unfortunate. Who does not remember Bobby Fischer and the Soviets?

Semi-finals more important than the final

There is no word from FIDE so far on how to avoid a conundrum like this in future World Cups. One proposal to arrange the bracket to avoid matches between compatriots in the semi-final. On the subject or format tweaks, why not to play four classical games in the semi-finals and two in the final (instead of the converse)?. Both proposals make sense considering the semi-final is the most crucial stage for Candidates qualification.

Ding is now considered a Candidates qualifier via World Cup which takes precedence over rating. As a result, the rating spot has been freed up. It will go to Anish Giri unless Maxime Vachier-Lagrave gains 27 Elo until November, which is extremely unlikely.


When is his turn? There's still a chance we'll see MVL compete in a Candidates Tournament.

The alternative, that Anish Giri experiences a massive rating loss in the coming weeks is now out of the question. Skipping the Grand Swiss in October is a precautionary measure to maintain his rating lead on MVL.

If Radjabov withdraws MVL would be in

Vachier-Lagrave's loss in the semis was mourned not only in France. A chess fan could hardly begrudge the Frenchman's eagerness to go home, after a near-meaningless match for third place. But he's not out of the candidate's contestant race yet either. If Teimour Radjabov drops out of the Candidates Tournament, it would open a backdoor for MVL. According to regulations (PDF), the player with the best average Elo from February 2019 to January 2020 gets the spot. That would be MVL (ahead of Shakhriyar Mamedyarov), and he also has a shot at qualifying via the Grand Prix. The next edition in Hamburg begin on November 5th. MVL won't play in the Grand Swiss on the Isle of Man, where the winner also gets a spot.

Last but not least, there might be hope for a wildcard place in the Candidates Tournament. However, given that the tournament is to be held in Russia, a Russian candidate can be expected. And it's not a simple choice. If one goes by rating, Ian Nepomniachtchi would be the first contender. If it comes down to Kremlin favour, there's a case to be made for Sergey Karjakin. In either case, Alexander Grischuk would be left on the sidelines.

Conrad Schormann, skilled newspaper editor, runs an agency for editing and communication in Überlingen, at Lake Constance. But he lacks time to play chess which is partly due to the fact that he very much likes to write about it, for Chessbase, in the Reddit chess forum, or for his chess teaching blog Perlen vom Bodensee...


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