The Candidates during halftime

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
2/19/2021 – Due to the worldwide crisis, the Candidates Tournament was interrupted exactly halfway through after seven rounds had been played on 26 March 2020. The second half of the event will resume 389 days later. We take a look at the performances of the eight participants during the last 11 months. | Photo: Lennart Ootes / FIDE

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An unprecedented hiatus

The much anticipated 2020 edition of the Candidates Tournament kicked off amid controversies, with Teimour Radjabov declining to participate due to the worldwide health crisis. Although FIDE tried to keep the tournament going until the end, it was inevitable to interrupt the event after seven rounds.

Much can be discussed regarding the socio-political circumstances surrounding the tournament, but we should not forget that the main goal of the event is to decide who will be the fourth player to challenge Magnus Carlsen in the next World Championship match — Vishy Anand, Sergey Karjakin and Fabiano Caruana have already failed to dethrone the Norwegian. 

How did the participants perform while waiting for the second half of such an important tournament? Let us recap the results achieved by the eight Candidates in the last 11 months.

Fabiano Caruana, Ian Nepomniachtchi

A typical pose of Nepomniachtchi’s during the first half | Photo: Lennart Ootes / FIDE

Ian Nepomniachtchi

  Format Score Place
Magnus Carlsen Invitational Online, rapid and blitz 8/21 5th
Nations Cup Online, teams, rapid 2/8 4th
Play for Russia Online, blitz 5/14 7th
Chessable Masters Online, rapid and blitz 5½/10 KO in the SF
Legends of Chess Online, rapid and blitz 20/27 Runner-up
Chess Olympiad Online, teams, rapid 6½/8 Runner-up
St. Louis Rapid & Blitz Online, rapid and blitz 13/27 6th
Razuvaev Memorial Online, blitz 5/7 3rd
Skilling Open Online, rapid and blitz 8½/15 KO in the SF
Russian Superfinal Classical 7½/11 Winner
Airthings Masters Online, rapid and blitz 6/11 KO in the QF
Opera Euro Rapid Online, rapid and blitz 7/15 11th

‘Nepo’ was the most active of all the Candidates, having participated in 12 tournaments throughout the year. His one appearance in a classical event was very successful as he won the Russian National Championship in December, finishing with a remarkable 7½/11 score after winning 5 games and losing to Daniil Dubov.

The Russian star obtained mixed results in online tournaments, with his last appearance — at the Opera Euro Rapid — being rather disappointing. He, nevertheless, finished second in the Legends of Chess tournament and obtained an impressive 6½/8 in the Online Olympiad.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

MVL Format Score Place
Magnus Carlsen Invitational Online, rapid and blitz 6/21 8th
Nations Cup Online, teams, rapid 5½/10 3rd
Clutch Chess International Online, blitz, KO 5/18 KO in the QF
Chessable Masters Online, rapid and blitz 3½/10 6th
Chess 9LX Online, rapid, Chess960 4/9 6th
Bundesliga Classical, teams 4/5 Winner
Skilling Open Online, rapid and blitz 8/15 KO in the QF
Airthings Masters Online, rapid and blitz 5/11 3rd
Tata Steel Chess Classical 5/13 11th
Opera Euro Rapid Online, rapid and blitz 8½/15 4th

For the most part it has not been a good year for Vachier-Lagrave, as he has not obtained great results in the online series of tournaments. However, he did have a strong performance in classical chess at the German League, scoring 4/5 points for Baden-Baden.

The Frenchman also played in Wijk aan Zee, where he had a subpar 5/13 performance.  As pointed out by Fiona Steil-Antoni, however, Sergey Karjakin and Fabiano Caruana both qualified to face Carlsen in a World Championship match after having disappointing showings in Wijk aan Zee. Only time will tell if the story repeats itself.

Fabiano Caruana

Fabi Format Score Place
Magnus Carlsen Invitational Online, rapid and blitz 13/21 KO in the SF
Nations Cup Online, teams, rapid 7½/9 Runner-up
Clutch Chess Showdown Online, blitz, KO 24/36 Runner-up
Clutch Chess International Online, blitz, KO 28½/54 Runner-up
Chessable Masters Online, rapid and blitz 5/10 KO in the QF
Chess 9LX Online, rapid, Chess960 5½/10 3rd
Bundesliga Classical, teams 3/5 Winner
Altibox Norway Chess Classical, blitz 15½/30 4th
Tata Steel Chess Classical 8/13 3rd

The latest challenger for the world title has played more classical chess than any of the Candidates, as he played in the Bundesliga, the Altibox Norway Chess tournament and the Tata Steel Chess event. The American obtained good results consistently in over-the-board competitions.

In the online world, Caruana has also been consistent, with his 7½/9 at the inaugural Nations Cup a remarkable achievement.

Anish Giri

Giri Format Score Place
Magnus Carlsen Invitational Online, rapid and blitz 7/21 6th
Nations Cup Online, teams, rapid 1/4 3rd
Chessable Masters Online, rapid and blitz 6/10 Runner-up
Legends of Chess Online, rapid and blitz 18/27 KO in the SF
Skilling Open Online, rapid and blitz 8/15 KO in the QF
Danzhou Masters Rapid 7½/14 3rd
Airthings Masters Online, rapid and blitz 4½/11 11th
Tata Steel Chess Classical 8½/13 Runner-up
Opera Euro Rapid Online, rapid and blitz 9½/15 KO in the QF

Although he was not as consistent as Caruana or as active as Nepomniachtchi, Giri will enter the second half of the Candidates with perhaps the strongest momentum. The Dutchman’s showing in Wijk was very impressive, as he only failed to win the tournament in tiebreaks against his compatriot Jorden van Foreest.

Furthermore, Giri has also shown brilliant play at times in the series of elite online tournaments, getting to beat Carlsen a couple of times throughout the year. 

Alexander Grischuk

Grischuk Format Score Place
Play for Russia Online, blitz 8/14 Winner
Steinitz Memorial Online, blitz 7/18 10th
Lindores Abbey Rapid Online, rapid 5½/11 9th
Clutch Chess International Online, blitz, KO 8/18 KO in the QF
Chessable Masters Online, rapid and blitz 5/10 KO in the QF
Chess Olympiad Online, teams, rapid 4/7 Runner-up
St. Louis Rapid & Blitz Online, rapid and blitz 18½/27 4th
Danzhou Masters Rapid 7½/14 3rd
Airthings Masters Online, rapid and blitz 5/11 10th
Opera Euro Rapid Online, rapid and blitz 6½/15 14th

None of the remaining Candidates — excluding the four mentioned above — have played classical chess since March last year. Grischuk, particularly, has mostly played blitz, and has not obtained good results of late.

His best performances were seen at the “Play for Russia” charity tournament and at the Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz event.

Wang Hao

Wang Hao Format Score Place
Nations Cup Online, teams, rapid 2½/6 Winner
Danzhou Masters Rapid 5½/14 7th

Unless we are missing some Chinese tournament we are not aware about, Wang Hao has only played in the Nations Cup and in the Danzhou Masters tournament. The Chinese grandmaster did not have good performances in these events.

Ding Liren

Ding Liren Format Score Place
Magnus Carlsen Invitational Online, rapid and blitz 15/21 KO in the SF
Nations Cup Online, teams, rapid 6/9 Winner
Lindores Abbey Rapid Online, rapid 6/11 KO in the SF
Chessable Masters Online, rapid and blitz 5½/10 KO in the SF
Legends of Chess Online, rapid and blitz 9/27 8th
MCT Finals Online, rapid and blitz 7/19 KO in the SF
Chess Olympiad Online, teams, rapid 5/7 KO in Prelims
Skilling Open Online, rapid and blitz 7½/15 11th
Danzhou Masters Rapid 8½/14 7th
Opera Euro Rapid Online, rapid and blitz 5/15 16th

Except for the Danzhou Masters — when the Chinese representatives played online all together from a hotel — Ding has only played tournaments from home during the last 11 months. In Danzhou, China’s top player finished in second place with 8½/14 points — curiously, Ding defeated all three fellow Candidates participating in that event, Giri, Grischuk and Wang.

Regarding the two series organized by the Play Magnus Group, the inaugural Magnus Carlsen Tour was much more successful for Ding, who was knocked out in the semifinals in 4 out of 5 events. 

Kirill Alekseenko

Kirill Alekseenko Format Score Place
Moscow vs. Saint Petersburg Online, blitz 2/2 ?

The lowest-rated Candidate is also the one that has been the least active during the hiatus. According to our database, Alekseenko has played plenty of “Titled Tuesday” blitz tournaments on chess.com and a couple of games in a Moscow v Saint Petersburg online match, but nothing more.

Before the 2020 Candidates Tournament began, Alekseenko was interviewed by the sports.ru website. According to an English translation of that interview, Alekseenko said, “I am satisfied with the role of a ‘dark horse’ in this tournament, no one expects great results from me and there is no additional pressure”.

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Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.
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Daniel Quigley Daniel Quigley 2/23/2021 03:32
Nice charts above, but a fifth column designating the dates of the events would have been appreciated.
Atterdag Atterdag 2/22/2021 02:03
It would be interesting to compare Carlsen's results with these candidates. He played below his usual strength in Wijk and lost (barely, though) to W. So in the Opera online tournament. Still, my guess is, he has done better the past year than any of the candidates.

With half the tournament still to be played, anything can happen. I don't think MVL will be able to own his lead till the end, but even if he came out the winner, I don't think he would stand a chance against Carlsen. Statistically, Carlsen has been clearly superior, and let's not forget, MVL has not even been able to qualify for the Candidates the last two times. He is a sympathetic, popular player, for sure, but objectively spoken he is not the most dangerous opponent to Carlsen among this lot.
qiqiangzhu qiqiangzhu 2/21/2021 06:24
389 days later is which date?
TheBowtieClub TheBowtieClub 2/20/2021 03:41
Many of the online events were played at an inconvenient time for Ding (past midnight) due to timezone, so he probably played below his actual level in some of those events.
IntensityInsanity IntensityInsanity 2/20/2021 07:27
Enjoyed this article. Keep em coming! 👍
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