The road to the Candidates 2018

by Macauley Peterson
9/13/2017 – Checking in on World Championship candidates qualification, the twists and turns that have already occurred and are still to come as the drama mounts and the pool of players shrinks. For many potential candidates the World Cup is the only possible route to qualification, but some have multiple paths to follow. Will Mamedyarov and Caruana stay on track despite being eliminated from the World Cup? Who else can join Sergey Karjakin to attempt to overthrow Magnus Carlsen next year? | Player drawings:

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FIDE Candidates to be held in Berlin

On Monday, World Chess, the organiser of the World Championship cycle and the commercial partner of FIDE, announced the dates and host city for the 2018 Candidates Tournament: Berlin, March 10-28. It will be an eight-player double round-robin (14 games), with the winner moving on to contest the World Championship in a match against Magnus Carlsen, the following November.

According to the World Chess press release, the tournament will take place in "Central Berlin" — although the venue is not mentioned — and represents a first for chess in the city. Previously the 2015 World Blitz and Rapid Championship was held at "BOLLE Meierei", a former dairy company in the Moabit neighborhood, but never a Candidates Tournament.

“[Chess] is immensely popular in this country, and we are very pleased to hold the tournament in Berlin and offer German fans a chance to witness this tournament live for the first time! We are also developing custom commentary and experiences in German for [the] local audience,” says Ilya Merenzon, CEO of World Chess.

Who's in, who's likely, and who'll be missing out?

Of the eight participants, only one is known: Sergey Karjakin of Russia, who was knocked out of the World Cup, but still automatically qualifies for the Candidates as the most recent World Championship challenger.


Karjakin's spot in the 2018 Candidates was earned in the March 2016 edition of the same

Each passing day brings us closer to knowing the identities of the remaining seven. Karjakin will be joined by the following (in order of when we'll know them):

  • The winner and runner-up of the ongoing World Cup in Tbilisi
  • The top two finishers in the World Chess Grand Prix Series
  • The two players with the highest averge 2017 ratings
  • A wild card choice

Sounds simple enough, right?

But — and this is key — the list above is also the order of priority for qualification, in case someone qualifies via multiple criteria. So, for example, if Wesley So were to have the highest average rating, after reaching the finals of the World Cup, then he would get in through the latter, and a rating spot would go to the next highest.

Let's break down the current status of possible candidates:

1. World Cup

As of now (and we'll keep this list updated over the coming weeks) the following grandmasters remain:
(Note: Consecutive names are paired with each other.)

  • Bu Xiangzhi
  • Peter Svidler
  • Maxime Vachier-Lagrave
  • Alexander Grischuk
  • Vassily Ivanchuk
  • Anish Giri
  • Levon Aronian
  • Daniil Dubov
  • Wesley So
  • Baadur Jobava
  • Vladimir Fedoseev
  • Maxim Rodshtein
  • Evgeniy Najer
  • Richárd Rapport
  • Wang Hao
  • Ding Liren

​2. Grand Prix

The Grand Prix is a series of four tournaments, of which three have already been played. Twenty-four players are in the series, with each player participating in three of the four.

Of the top five scorers, two — Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Grischuk — have already played in the first three events. But the rest have still one tournament remaining (November 16–27, in Palma, on the Spanish island of Majorca), and could theoretically overtake the leaders.

Players leading Grand Prix

Mamedyarov, Grischuk, Radjabov, and Ding have good chances | Source:

Here are the current standings:

Points are scored based on the place a player finishes in each tournament, with the top five places awarding points as follows:

Place Grand Prix Points
1st 170
2nd 140
3rd 110
4th 90
5th 80

Therefore, Radjabov must finish in clear 3rd place or better to surpass Grischuk. Ding more or less must do the same, but since points are split, and he trails Radjabov by a point, it's a little complicated. For instance, if these two finish tied for 3rd-4th, they each earn 100 points. Radjabov would win the series outright, but Ding would tie for second with Mamedyarov at 340, and so the second qualification spot would be decided by tiebreak criteria. The first two tiebreaks are:

  • Number of actual game result points scored in the three tournaments entered
  • Number of games played with black

Mamedyarov has scored 16 game points, and Ding currently stands at 11, so he would need to score 5 or more in Palma. But if Ding scores 5 and ties, he wins on number of games with black, since Mamedyarov has played just twelve black games, while Ding already has played nine (so he will reach thirteen in Palma for sure). However this all may be moot: judging from the results of the first three tournaments, it's likely that Ding would need to score 5½, to accumulate enough Grand Prix points.

Vachier-Lagrave's task is tougher still; he needs either clear 2nd, or a tie for 1st (preferrably with no more than two others!) to wrack up enough Grand Prix points to ensure qualification.


Vachier-Lagrave during his third round tiebreak | Photo: Anastasia Karlovich,

Hikaru Nakamura has virtually no chance. Aside from almost certainly needing to score clear 1st in Palma, he would also have to rely on Radjabov, Ding, and Vachier-Lagrave all finishing poorly, and, he would absolutely need Grischuk to win the World Cup (and thereby vacate his top spot in the Grand Prix). That's a bit ironic considering that there's no love lost between these two.

[Update, September 14: Grischuk was eliminated in the fourth round tiebreak, therefore Nakamura's only chance is a Wild Card spot.]

Even if Grischuk is knocked out, he would still have a good chance to remain in second place in the Grand Prix, although if any of his pursuers passes him, then he's out. It's fairly likely we'll see Mamedyarov in the Candidates.

3. Rating

According to the regulations:

For the purpose of deciding the 2 rated player qualifiers, the average from the following twelve FIDE rating lists will be used: the sum of all 12 monthly lists starting from 1st January 2017 to 1st December 2017 divided by 12.

Only two of Fabiano Caruana, Wesley So, and Vladimir Kramnik are likely to qualify on rating, but the race is extremely close, with only a single point separating their average ratings as of today. Martin Bennedik is tracking this day-by-day:

SoWith So still playing in Tbilisi, anything can happen. Caruana and Kramnik are both expected to play in next month's Isle of Man open tournament, which will affect their November and December numbers. Of course both players will now be rooting for So to win the World Cup, as they would then be assured a rating qualification spot.

There is a very slim chance for Vachier-Lagrave (in fourth place) to make it by rating, but now that Caruana and Kramnik have been eliminated, he would have to go on a massive winning streak for the rest of the year.

It's worth pointing out that the World Cup has in fact seen a huge rating transfer away from the elite players (see Of the top 20, only Svidler's rating has gone up. Everybody else has watched his rating leak away including Caruana (-5.2), Kramnik (-9.2), and Vachier-Lagrave (-7.8, but still playing).

4. Wild card

This remains a mystery. The idea of a wild card (or "organiser nominee") was once a kind of incentive for interested sponsors (public or private) to be involved in the Candidates funding. But now it seems to be up to the discretion of Agon / World Chess, and whether the announcement of Berlin has any impact on the pool of choices is unclear.

What is certain is that the potential wild card pick must hit a rating of at least 2725 on any 2017 FIDE list to be eligible. That reduces the pool to around 33 or so players (the year's not over yet), including all other possible candidates above.

Status quo

Like the Grand Prix series, the Candidates will be sponsored by EG Capital Advisors, an international asset management company, as "Official Partner"; Kaspersky Lab as World Chess and FIDE "Official Cybersecurity Partner"; S.T. Dupont as "Official Writing Instrument"; and Isklar as "Official Water".

World Chess logoThe Agon press release notes, the Candidates Tournament "will be broadcasted [sic] exclusively on and on media partners’ sites", implying that their efforts to discourage websites from independently relaying the moves of the live games will continue. The legal theory underlying the exclusivity claim for displaying live moves has been rejected four times in court proceedings in Moscow and New York.

One interesting new development is that the prize of €420,000, will be suplemented by 10% of the pay-per-view revenues from the event, with digital subscriptions expected to go on sale as early as October 4th.

Pay-per-view tickets will include, according to the press release, "German and English commentary, advanced analytics, behind-the-scenes footage, options to choose camera angles, and more, costing $15 altogether."

So, keep an eye on the official website for details in early October. The organization is not known for sticking to pre-announced dates — for instance, on June 7th, it was announced that the host city for the World Championship match itself would be revealed "in June of 2017". Nearly three months later, it remains unknown.

Part of the East Side Gallery, the longest preserved stretch of the Berlin wall | Photo: Max Avdeev / World Chess

Full Candidates Tournament schedule

March 9 Friday – Opening Ceremony
March 10 Saturday – Round 1
March 11 Sunday – Round 2
March 12 Monday – Round 3
March 13 Tuesday – Rest Day
March 14 Wednesday – Round 4
March 15 Thursday – Round 5
March 16 Friday – Round 6
March 17 Saturday – Rest Day
March 18 Sunday – Round 7

March 19 Monday – Round 8
March 20 Tuesday – Round 9
March 21 Wednesday – Rest Day
March 22 Thursday – Round 10
March 23 Friday – Round 11
March 24 Saturday – Round 12
March 25 Sunday – Rest Day
March 26 Monday – Round 13
March 27 Tuesday – Round 14/Closing Ceremony
March 28 Wednesday – Tie Breaks/Closing Ceremony

Update — September 21:

Karjakin, Aronian, Ding are in and the road just got a bit clearer:

Road to Candidates

Vachier-Lagrave and Radjabov have chances in the Grand Prix, Kramnik, Caruana and So fight for two rating spots | Graphic: Macauley Peterson; Player drawings:


Macauley served as the Editor in Chief of ChessBase News from July 2017 to March 2020. He is the producer of The Full English Breakfast chess podcast, and was an Associate Producer of the 2016 feature documentary, Magnus.

srinivas104 srinivas104 10/20/2017 07:31
expecting candidates for 2018 are SK,LA,Ding,Sakriyar mahamdrav,MVL,FB,Nakamura(wild),SO
xujiayu xujiayu 9/21/2017 07:18
I came to see just to see if Chessbase was quick to update the list right after the Aronian-MVL armageddon game. You did. Great job :D
lajosarpad lajosarpad 9/16/2017 01:41

My suggestion was not invoking randomness. You would be right if there was no randomness already and I would propose to add randomness, but since there is a wildcard slot, we already have randomness. Compared to this randomness, which is subjective, since it is the choice of humans, having their own interests and preferences, a totally random choice would be an improvement assuming we consider eliminating potential biases to be an improvement. If there was no wildcard slot, then I would not come up with my idea, as the system would be fair. But since the choice is not done based on relative achievement in comparison to other candidates, but based on the choice of a human being. A Russian would tend to prefer a Russian to fill that wildcard slot and, if the Russian intends to avoid accusations, he/she will nominate a non-Russian. Either way, the choice will not be objective. Instead of subjective randomness, we could have a system with objective randomness. I am convinced that a random choice among the players is an improvement in comparison of our current system where we have randomness, but dependent on subjective criteria. And if we think that the wildcard player has earned the right to play, then a randomly chosen top player would have the same merit, but without controversies and decisions lacking transparency. Also, if a player would be considerably weaker than the others and therefore unworthy of becoming a challenger, then - since he is weaker - he would not win the tournament and would not become a Challenger.
Resistance Resistance 9/14/2017 09:56
We all like Candidates Tournaments, for they bring together those who have shown the best chess throughout the year. That players have had to pass through several tests in order to prove themselves worthy of the Candidates, is the best guarantee that you'll have the best of the best playing against each other to decide the next challenger for the world champion.

That's why arguments invoking pity (melante) or randomness (lajosarpad) as valid criteria to decide one of the spots at the Candidates, are contrary to the spirit of this series of tournaments whose main object consist of producing a challenger for the world champion. Nobody cares about Hou's gender, race, clothing preferences, style of play or favorite color: if she is STRONG enough to pass unscathed through the many tests, then she will be welcomed with open arms in the corresponding Candidates Tournament (--the tournament that brings together the best, STRONGEST of the year--).

If there is to be a wildcard for the Candidates, then the wisest thing that could be done with it is to pick someone as worthwhile as possible for such an elite tournament. As of today, the likes of Vachier-Lagrave (1st at Saint Louis), Aronian (1st at Norwaw), So (1st at Wijk), Ding (1st at Moscow), among other players (and strong results) that I might be forgetting, are much more suited as wildcards to this year's Candidates than some woman whose only merit for being included in it would consist of her gender (?), or some random player from the rest of the Top 100 whose only reason for being there would be that there was no reason for him being there (?).
Mr TambourineMan Mr TambourineMan 9/14/2017 01:49
Hey folks Agon Company decides the Wild card not the germans.
Queenslander Queenslander 9/14/2017 01:18
Give the wildcard to Aronian already
weerogue weerogue 9/14/2017 11:56
Also, might be fun to go the whole hog and sketch out a likely Candidates tournament now, which the author has the good sense and restraint not to do. I order in what I consider to be from most to least likely:


Pretty Likely:
So (Ratings, if not World Cup)
Caruana and/or Kramnik (Ratings)
Mamedyarov (GP)

Decent shot:
Ding Liren (World Cup or GP)
Grischuk (World Cup or GP)
Radjabov (GP, also had previous Wildcard)
MVL (World Cup or GP)

Outside chance:
Svidler (World Cup, where he has twice(!) previously qualified and also has had previous Wildcard)
Aronian (World Cup, which he has previously won and also had previous Wildcard)
Ivanchuk (World Cup, where he has previously qualified)
Anand (Wildcard - Berlin ties and never previously been eligible for one, so could be a promoter's favourite (legend, fanbase, etc))

If I had to pick most probable 8: Karjakin, So, Kramnik, Mamedyarov, Ding, Grischuk, MVL, Aronian
If I had my way I'd love to see Kramnik, Ivanchuk, Aronian and Svidler there.

What do people think?
Anyone outside these guys getting in?
Who's most likely?

Either way, like the last two double round-robin Candidates, it's gonna be a pretty awesome tournament.
Thomas Richter Thomas Richter 9/14/2017 10:27
@alizator: Kramnik had overtaken So in the Elo race, or maybe So had "undertaken" Kramnik after So's bad result at the Sinquefield Cup - in the "projection" that assumes no further rating changes until the end of the qualifying period.
@melante: At least I do not "rejoice" that Hou Yifan isn't eligible for a wildcard spot, I merely consider her unworthy by objective criteria - as unworthy as any male who never even crossed 2700. It's (more than) enough that Hou Yifan got a wildcard for the GP series. Judit Polgar had qualified for the San Luis WCh tournament - by merit (rating) rather than sex.
@weerogue: One could interpret the order of priority also by how many players have a chance to qualify via this path: 128 players did qualify for the World Cup, many more, in theory anyone (also amateurs via e.g. the European championship) could have qualified. The GP series is more selective already at the start. The Elo race is limited to a few players. From the very start (January 2017), three players - Caruana, Kramnik and So in this order at the time - had the best chances [So having pretty good chances wasn't clear about half a year earlier]. Vachier-Lagrave was then next in line - still chances with consistently great results in 2017. While Aronian's chances are still small/negligble, they improved considerably since January when he was world #9. For example, Svidler doesn't have any chances via Elo, but did have a chance via the GP series and still does have a chance at the World Cup.
In a way, the Elo spots could be considered the last chance for those that can't qualify via dedicated events - be it because they fail, be it because they don't (bother to) play the GP series.
weerogue weerogue 9/14/2017 09:36
I agree with previous comments that this was a very useful, clear and 'scientific' look at the objective status of the Candidates qualification.
It surprises me how often chess fans are unaware of the requirements and criteria regarding things like tiebreaks and qualification and this will certainly go some way to helping fans understand the 'lay of the land' for this WC cycle - so, thank you.

An observation from me: in what I would deem a rare showing of good taste / common sense, and perhaps contrary to how it first appears, it turns out that by having the World Cup and Grand Prix 'take priority' in terms of determining how a person who fulfills two (or more) criteria ultimately qualifies, this actually means that, in order of legitimacy, FIDE are effectively saying the Ratings Criteria is more legitimate than the Grand Prix as a means of selecting participants and the Grand Prix is more legitimate than the World Cup.
One way to see this in practice is that, if So qualifies via the World Cup and Ratings, the 'extra spot' is filled from the Ratings Criteria, not the World Cup - i.e. FIDE are happy to class his qualification as coming from the 'more random, potentially less legitimate' World Cup in order to take an extra person from the 'more stable, potentially more legitimate' Ratings criteria.
I (can't believe I'm saying this, but I) actually agree with FIDE here and... think this makes sense!!!
lajosarpad lajosarpad 9/14/2017 09:27
Wildcard is always a subjective choice, it solves a problem of putting a guy in line who seems to deserve it. I would prefer to eliminate such subjectivity while giving hope to the players. A totally random choice from the top 100 players who failed to qualify by other means would make sense. If the picked person is weaker than the others, then we will have at least a decisive game in most of the rounds and if he is strong, then the level of the tournament would increase.
melante melante 9/14/2017 05:31
@ Petrarlsen

I perfectly agree with you and that's exactly the point: the female world championship is so irrelevant and meaningless that the strongest players don't even care about it anymore. Having such a rule in place would motivate the whole female chess scene to grow and the actual strongest players to participate, legitimising the title.

It also saddens me to read comments of people rejoicing because Hou Yifan lacks ~50 points to be eligible for a wild card... that shows exactly the typical misogynistic attitude our sport should get rid of once and for all if we want to grow further and stop being considered a "nerdy boys club". Actually, I think the real discrimination is to pick a top GM over another only because one has a stronger "sponsor".
Raymond Labelle Raymond Labelle 9/14/2017 02:12
Live ratings (rounded to the unit), September 13: So: 2785, Caruana: 2794, Kramnik: 2794.

So is 9 points behind - if he is now close to Caruana and Kramnik (average of FIDE past months of 2017 ratings), he will have to fill the gap from October to December in calculating the average of the twelve months of the year 2017.

In the World Cup, you often have draws (or even lose) against lower-rated players in Classical time. For example, MVL, still playing, lost 8 rating points as of today. Grishuk lost 3.

If So gets out of Jobava (which is far from certain), he will be playing the winner of Fedoosev and Rhodstein +-2700 - if equal in Classic...

If So does not qualify through the World Cup, and if Kramnik and/or Caruana do not lose enough points (from So's point of view), hard to qualify by rating points.

So's fans should wish him a finalist position in the World Cup. As explained in the article, the fans will temporarily include Kramnik and Caruana, who most likely would then qualify through rating.

But in an open tournament (Isle of Mann, coming, to which Kramnik and Caruana will participate), catastrophes (from the victims' point of view) are possible...
tafit tafit 9/14/2017 12:57
Hou Yifan as a partecipant doesn't make sense, she is not even top 60 in the rating list. It would be discrimination.
alizator alizator 9/13/2017 08:30
I have some comments on the affirmation : "Breaking news: So overtakes Kramnik in average rating" So overtakes Kramnik since february The first month is the only one when Kramnik has a better average than So.
ember7 ember7 9/13/2017 06:47
Thankfully Hou Yifan doesn't qualify as a wildcard candidate. The cucks in Germany would definitely have nominated her.
Mark S Mark S 9/13/2017 06:44
I agree truthadjustr, I like the vivid report on this and the sketch of players alone gives a good glimpse on who are the possible qualifiers for candidates. Thanks for this clear article.
Mark S Mark S 9/13/2017 06:42
If a single website has exclusive rights for the live games during Candidates, then the site better be sure that it can handle worldwide web traffic and can ward off possible online DDoS attacks. I hope this will be secured considering Kaspersky is one of the major sponsors during the candidates match.
truthadjustr truthadjustr 9/13/2017 06:42
This is a very professionally written summary. Very clear, no drama, direct to the point and unambiguous. Hope to read more coverage report from the same writer.
anonimous anonimous 9/13/2017 06:17
The wild card may be sort of a necessity to find sponsors for the Candidates: as the World Champion is not playing, it can be hard to find sponsors and interest the press otherwise.
Moreover, the 2725+ requirement is reasonable imho. In fact, I would raise it a bit, or maybe move from 2725 in any rating list to "top 25 in any rating list" - they are probably quite similar requirements, but the latter is more stable and less subject to rating inflation.

As for the wild card, remember that the last Candidates tournament was held in Russia and yet the wild card was Aronian, not Kramnik, perhaps because the main man behind the sponsor had Armenian origins. I think it's hard to guess who the wild card could be - especially since we don't know who qualified yet - but I'd be surprised if it's someone other than the people mentioned in this article. It's probably going to be someone among Caruana, So, Kramnik, Aronian, MVL - I think Nakamura has few to no chances for the wild card: rating-wise he's too behind, there are already going to be US players in the Candidates and the sponsors do not seem to be affiliated with US chess.
Lionbyte Lionbyte 9/13/2017 03:36
I dont like the idea of a Wild Card player determined by the opinions and discretion of the organizers. This seems like its only tampering with World Championship match, to me. Ought these things ONLY be determined by tournament results and perhaps also top rating average. But for the organizers to interfere by inserting their own nominee just seems like interference and undue influence on the result of the tournament and perhaps even the WC match.
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 9/13/2017 03:24
@ melante : "(...) to the current female world champion"

Not with the "part-time" present knock-out system. Ushenina was the Women World Champion, this with a rating of 2500 or so ; such a player wouldn't be an ideal participant for the Candidates, in my opinion. Keeping the same idea, it would be possible to chose the Women World n° 1 player ; with the present Women World Championship system, it would give better results, in my opinion.
Thomas Richter Thomas Richter 9/13/2017 03:23
@TMMM: The most logical choice seems to be Aronian, who lived in a place called Berlin for many years and his parents still live there. Next in line might rather be Anand, who has long-term ties (e.g. a home away from home) with Germany and speaks fluent German. But this assumes that "the Germans" can choose, or that those in charge consider possible preferences of German chess fans. With sponsorship apparently mainly from Russia, Kramnik might have the best chances - or if he qualifies, another (together with Karjakin at least third) Russian.
As to chances via the GP Series, I would disagree with Macauley. Grischuk himself considered his qualifying chances rather small - he'll only manage if three players fail to do what they need to do in the final event. To some extent, this is also the case for Mamedyarov. For Vachier-Lagrave, it may rather be an advantage that he knows exactly what's required: shared first (clear second can't be planned) in the final event. Ding Liren and Radjabov can play it a bit safe, but not too safe and might get such "fine-tuning" wrong.
melante melante 9/13/2017 02:08
Instead of the "wildcard" I think it would be a good idea, in future, to assign the last available place in the Candidates to the current female world champion :)
TMMM TMMM 9/13/2017 01:56
There are no German players 2725+, so the wildcard will really be a wildcard. Maybe due to his many participations in prestigious German events, Kramnik has a good chance of getting it, in case he doesn't qualify otherwise. Does anyone else have any thoughts who the Germans would choose as a wildcard?