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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Hugo_Amsterdam Hugo_Amsterdam 10/8/2019 11:27
It is very unlikely that Karjakin will meet any of the requirements for being nominated for the wildcard. See paragraph F of the qualification rules.
NMcrazyim5 NMcrazyim5 10/6/2019 04:28
I really hope MVL gets his chance in the candidates.
calvinamari calvinamari 10/6/2019 04:25
The rules are the rules, but if I were one of the other candidates, or Magnus for that matter, I would be relieved if MVL really ends up being excluded. He seems far more dangerous a contender than Giri.

I have a hard time seeing Radjabov taking a pass on the one event where the participation alone is meaningful in the annals of chess history.
Gaedel1 Gaedel1 10/5/2019 11:39
Caruana the only American? No Wesley So or Hikaru Nakamura?
Jeh Jeh 10/5/2019 10:46
Anand can still qualify by winning the FIDE Grand Swiss, but that's it.
Raymond Labelle Raymond Labelle 10/5/2019 05:29
There seems to be a curse on MVL. MVL is probably the only player who was consistently in the top 10 for so long who never had a shot at the candidates.

Many times he came so close but lost a place by dust pieces - on rating - another time by an Armageddon on World Cup. That's from memory - I do not remember if there were other very close opportunities.

Would not the new rules here applying for the first time, replacing the second player by rating by the winner of the new Grand Swiss, MVL would have qualified under that rule. But it just so happened that the rules changed this time.

I really hope he makes it with the Grand Prix, he has a true chance but it is not done. I really not wish him an heartbreaking close 3rd place. If that would happen, I think the guy would deserve to be the wildcard for the nex Candidates.

In an interview after winning the World Cup (after the publication of this article), Teimour announced that he will prepare for the Candidates "in a relaxing manner". So, MVL will not benefit from a voluntary non-participation to the Candidates by Teimour..
ulyssesganesh ulyssesganesh 10/5/2019 12:17
any chance for vishy for the candidates!?????
tom_70 tom_70 10/4/2019 11:55
Kramnik had his day, just like Anand. We need new players in there. I would love to see Ding Liren win it all and go on to challenge Carlsen.
Lilloso Lilloso 10/4/2019 11:20
I dont'see any reason for this "wildcard place" which favours russian players and spoils the whole system. And T. Radjabov fully deserved his qualification, having beaten S. Mamedyarov, MVL and Ding Liren in the world cup.
Arminio12 Arminio12 10/4/2019 11:11
"If it comes down to Kremlin favour, there's a case to be made for Sergey Karjakin."

I think not. The wikipedia page about the “World Chess Championship 2020” appears to exclude Karjakin as a potential wild card nominee. It says: “This player (i.e. the nominee) must participate in at least two of the three qualifying tournaments (World Cup, Grand Swiss and Grand Prix), and be either the highest non-qualifier in the World Cup, Grand Swiss or Grand Prix, or in the top 10 by average rating from February 2019 to January 2020.” It then adds the potential wild card nominees, based on a list of currently non-qualified top 10 players by average rating: Mamedyarov, Nepomniachtchi, Grischuk and So.
If all that is correct, there is very little chance for Karjakin to be picked as the wild card player. He is not among the top 10 players by average rating and he has failed to do well (enough) in both World Cup (eliminated in 3rd round) and Grand Prix (only 1 point with only 1 leg to go). His only remaining chance is the Grand Swiss, either by winning it (or being the highest placed finisher apart from Carlsen/Caruana) and qualifying directly or by being the highest non-qualified player and therefore eligible to be picked as wild card player. Unless Karjakin grabs his last chance with both hands, the first Russian contender will be Nepomniachtchi and the second will be Grischuk. Or vice versa.
Magic_Knight Magic_Knight 10/4/2019 09:00
Would love seeing Kramnik play in this super tournament. He retired too soon, in my opinion.
Daniel Miller Daniel Miller 10/4/2019 07:17
I believe many people would much rather have Radjabov, MVL, Nepo, or Grischuk in the Candidates than Karyakin, or Giri. The financial support for a MVL-Carlsen or Grischuk- Carlsen WC match would triple either Karyakin-Carlsen or Giri- Carlsen
amarpan amarpan 10/4/2019 05:42
perhaps get Kramnik out of retirement by giving him the wild card again?