Fighting for the last two spots in the Candidates

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
2/3/2022 – The Candidates Tournament is scheduled to take place in Madrid later this year, and there are only two spots still up for grabs, with these two qualifiers set to be decided at the FIDE Grand Prix Series. The first leg of the series kicks off tomorrow in Berlin, only three days after FIDE announced that Ding Liren and Dmitry Andreikin will not make it to the German capital — Radoslaw Wojtaszek and Andrey Esipenko are their replacements.

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Ding and Andreikin cannot make it to Berlin

Three days before the start of the Grand Prix in Berlin, the International Chess Federation announced that two players had been replaced due to “visa and health issues”:

FIDE has named two replacements for the first leg of the Grand Prix after receiving last-minute information that two players will not be able to compete in the tournament that starts in Berlin on February 3 due to visa and health issues. GMs Ding Liren and Dmitry Andreikin will be replaced by GMs Andrey Esipenko and Radoslaw Wojtaszek.

FIDE Grand Prix 2022As the announcement shows, the replaced players will only miss the first event of the series, which means Ding will participate in the Belgrade leg (starting on February 28), while Andreikin will play at the final leg, which will also take place in Berlin (starting on March 21).

Or at least that is the plan. For a player of Ding’s calibre, surely the main motivation to play the series is to qualify to the Candidates Tournament, and playing in only one event makes it practically impossible for him to reach that goal.

Nonetheless, each tournament offers a prize pool of 150,000 Euros, and it will be difficult for these elite players to find a similarly strong over-the-board tournament in such short notice.

For chess fans all around the world, and especially for those hailing from China, it is surely unfortunate to see Ding missing his last chance to reach the Candidates. The 29-year-old from Wenzhou is the third highest-rated player in the world, and has proven in the past to be a difficult opponent for world champion Magnus Carlsen.

At this point, it is worth noting that previous Candidates Tournaments included qualification spots for players with the highest rating averages in a predetermined period. While this criterion was removed from the regulations, though, the wildcard spot was kept, and FIDE has already given that spot to Teimour Radjabov — in the official press release, FIDE did not use the word ‘wildcard’, instead awarding the spot ‘to the winner of the 2019 World Cup’.

However, as Peter Heine Nielsen mentioned in another tweet, it is still possible for other players to withdraw from either the second or third leg, as visa-related difficulties are not likely to be fully solved in the short term. So, for example, if someone retires from the third leg, Ding might take his place and get to play two events as planned. Of course, the same can be said about Andreikin — and, for that matter, about replacements Esipenko and Wojtaszek. 

Ding Liren

Ding Liren | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Many potential qualifiers

It is all but impossible to predict who will get the last two spots to the Candidates Tournament, scheduled to take place in Madrid later this year. Moreover, it is difficult to even talk about who are the favourites. Perhaps the only somewhat reliable predictor is rating, but if we go by that criterion alone we would be leaving the likes of Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave out of the top two — and we know they are capable of giving any player in the world a run for their money!

The strong 24-player lineup, in fact, includes no fewer than nine players who have already tried their hand in previous editions of the Candidates. Besides the aforementioned Mamedyarov and MVL, Ding, Anish Giri, Wesley So, Levon Aronian, Alexander Grischuk, Hikaru Nakamura, Dmitry Andreikin and, of course, Alexei Shirov all know how it feels to be one step away from facing the world champion — Shirov even beat Vladimir Kramnik at the 1998 Candidates final match, but never got to face Garry Kasparov.

Notably, with the quick ascent of ever younger rising stars, some of the players mentioned above might feel this is one of their last chances to qualify to a match for the World Championship — usually a chess player’s ultimate goal.

Anish Giri

Anish Giri | Photo: Amruta Mokal

And we have not even mentioned Richard Rapport, who at 25 has both the energy of the youth and enough experience to deal with the pressure of such gruelling events. Furthermore, the Hungarian recently — in October 2021 — achieved his highest-ever rating (2770 points) in an official monthly list.

If we consider the remaining players to be underdogs, the ‘favourites’ have plenty to worry about regarding their ‘easiest’ opponents, with the likes of Leinier Dominguez, Nikita Vitiugov, Vidit Gujrathi and Daniil Dubov in the mix.

The suspense will be over in two months’ time, as the final event of the series will come to an end on April 4. For now, we can focus on the first leg, though, which kicks off on Friday at Unter den Linden in Berlin.

Below we present the updated list of players, including the late replacements.

Pool A 

  1. Alexander Grischuk (Russia), 2764
  2. Hikaru Nakamura, (USA), 2736 
  3. Andrey Esipenko (Russia), 2714* 
  4. Etienne Bacrot (France), 2642 

Pool B 

  1. Radoslaw Wojtaszek (Poland), 2686*
  2. Richard Rapport (Hungary), 2763 
  3. Vladimir Fedoseev (Russia), 2704 
  4. Grigoriy Oparin (Russia), 2681 

Pool C

  1. Levon Aronian (USA), 2772 
  2. Vidit Gujrathi (India), 2727 
  3. Daniil Dubov (Russia), 2720 
  4. Vincent Keymer (Germany), 2664 

Pool D

  1. Wesley So (USA), 2772 
  2. Leinier Dominguez (USA), 2752 
  3. Pentala Harikrishna (India), 2717
  4. Alexei Shirov (Spain), 2704

Find more details about the tournament here...

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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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