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Will the Coronavirus mar the 'youngest' Candidates tournament ever?

by Ishaan Bansal - 24/02/2020

With an average age of just 28.5 years, the Candidates tournament 2020 is going to be a cracker of an event. Eight players will fight it out against each other to determine the worthy challenger for Magnus Carlsen. While Fabiano Caruana and Ding Liren are clearly the favourites, one cannot discount Alexander Grischuk, Anish Giri and Ian Nepomniachtchi. At the same time we have three dark horses in the form of Radjabov, Wang Hao and Alekseenko. With less than a month to go for the event (begins on 15th of March), the player's preparations would be in full swing. But there are many twists in the plot, even before the event has begun - most notably the Coronavirus which is jeopardizing the participation of the Chinese players. We bring you a detailed preview of the Candidates 2020.

The eight men who will fight it out for the right to challenge Magnus Carlsen | Photo: FIDE

The big event of the year Candidates Tournament 2020 is going to be held from March 15- April 5 at Yekaterinburg, Russia. Unarguably, one of the most anticipated chess events of 2020, a lot of eyes will be on the championship that will decide the next challenger to the World Champion Magnus Carlsen.

S. No Name Rating World Rank
1 Fabiano Caruana 2842 2
2 Ding Liren 2805 3
3 Alexander Grischuk 2777 4
4 Ian Nepomniachtchi 2774 5
5 Teimour Radjabov 2765 9
6 Anish Giri 2763 11
7 Wang Hao 2762 12
8 Kirill Alekseenko 2698 39

In anticipation of the event, we bring you some interesting facts about the candidates tournament 2020 and tell you what to expect from the event:

Is it weaker than the previous candidates?

The average rating of this year’s candidates is 2773 (based on live ratings on 24th February), lower than the average rating in previous years except 2014. Does it mean this year’s candidates are not as strong as before? 

The rating average of the last five Candidates 

Not really. Averages can be really deceptive sometimes. Kirill Alekseenko is the surprise entrant with a rating of 2698 who is driving down the average. And it was Dmitri Andreikin (Rated 2709) back in 2014 who was the reason for low rating average back then. Apart from that, this year’s field is no less of a stronger field than any other year. Five of the top ten and four of the top five players are participating in the event.

 

Besides, we shouldn’t be confusing Alekseenko’s rating with his actual strength which is definitely much higher. The young Russian has had an amazing run in 2019, almost eliminating Ding Liren from the FIDE World Cup and finishing third in Grand Swiss ahead of Carlsen which helped him qualify him for the wild card. He might not be the favourite to win the championship, but we can certainly count on him to cause some big upsets.

Ever since he has received the wild card entry, Alekseenko is in the chess news in a big way! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Alekseenko’s selection has come under quite some scrutiny. He was selected by organizer’s wild-card, while players like MVL and Levon Aronian couldn’t make the cut. The jury is still out on whether the wild-card is fair or not. Interestingly however, Alekseenko himself seems to be against the idea of wild-cards and believes that it should be abolished. But now that he is in the fray, we can expect him to come well prepared.

Youngest Candidates Tournament

With an average age of 28.5, this year could possibly be the youngest candidates tournament ever. This is first time in the last four candidates that not even a single veteran 40+ player is playing in the championship. Alexander Grischuk at 36 is the oldest among the participants, while Alekseenko is the youngest at 22. While Kramnik and Anand like experience will be missed in this year’s candidates, can we expect more energy and craziness on the board? We can only wait and hope to see what the young guns bring to the championship.

Will the youth provide much higher fire power?!

Coronavirus challenge

The coronavirus outbreak in China has claimed over 2000 lives worldwide. Chinese public life has come to a standstill with events being cancelled or postponed. Would it impact the participation of the two Chinese players Ding Liren and Wang Hao? Russian authorities it seems have put in place strict precautionary measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus so much so that the Consul General from China Cui Shaochun had to be quarantined for 14 days on his arrival at Yekaterinburg.

 

According to FIDE statement on twitter, while an email communication has been sent out to the Chinese players asking about their health and travel arrangements, it’s not clear if the players can be asked to go through a 14 day quarantine period. Even if the players don’t have trouble reaching Russia, it seems that their preparation plans with their teams in China have already taken a hit. Hopefully, Coronavirus will not become a major hurdle in Chinese players participation in the Candidates.

Clarification on FIDE website on 19th of February about temporary suspension of the Chinese entering Russia due coronavirus outbreak

Who’s the favourite?

It feels as if Caruana and Ding Liren are the favourites to win the Candidates 2020 | Photo: Norway Chess

The million-dollar question is of course who’s the favourite to win the championship. World No. 2 Caruana Fabiano with a rating of 2842 and the recent victory in Tata Steel in his bag looks like the favourite to take home the Candidates title. Recently Ding Liren has got the better of Magnus Carlsen on several occasions and is surely the biggest competitor to Caruana for winning the title. However, in a diverse set of field with solid players like Anish Giri and Wang Hao and enterprising players like Grischuk, Nepomniachtchi and Radjabov, the title could really could go to anyone.

While it is not easy to get a glimpse of what the preparation for such a tournament is like, Anish Giri has been kind enough to share snippets of the same on his Instagram Account | Photo: Anish's instagram

While making prediction about the favourites to win might be bit of an overstretch but we can be sure that with such a lineup, viewers are in for a treat. Who is your favourite? Let us know in the comments section below!

More details about the Candidates

1. Format: As in the past, the event will be an 8-player double round robin, where every player plays against others twice, once with each colour.

2. Time control is “slow classical”, with 100 minutes for 40 moves, 50 minutes for the next 20, then 15 minutes to the end of the game, with a 30-second increment per move from move 1.

3. Prize fund is 500,000 euros.

4. If any player declines the invitation, the next player on the rating list Maxime Vachier-Lagrave would take his place.

5. Tie-breaks: 1) head-to-head score among tied players, 2) total number of wins, 3) Sonneborn–Berger score (SB), 4) tie-break games.

6. Rest days: There will be a rest day after every three rounds. The last rest day will be after round 12 and the remaining last two rounds will be played after it.

7. The World Championship Match that will be held later in the year will consist of 14 rounds, in place of 12. 

About the author:

Ishaan Bansal is a final year Economics undergraduate student at Ashoka University, Sonipat. A chess lover, with an Elo of 1905, Ishaan has been the Punjab state champion for 8 times. He also loves speed cubing and holds the Official World Cube Association event’s best 3x3x3 cube average of 15.49 and single solve of 13.46 seconds.


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