Despite the recent cancellation of countless chess tournaments around the world due to coronavirus, one of the most important competitions of the year is currently underway.
The 2020 FIDE Candidates tournament kicked off in Yekaterinburg, Russia, on Tuesday and will determine the next challenger for the World Championship.
Through April 4, eight of the world’s top players will compete over the course of 14 rounds in a double round-robin format. The eventual winner will earn the right to play Magnus Carlsen at the world championship later this year.
The Candidates may in fact be a rare global competition not canceled this month. In this article, we will break down some of the major aspects of the event and interesting storylines to look for.
Just a couple of weeks prior to the start of the event, a change was announced to the players list: grandmaster Teimour Radjabov of Azerbaijan, who qualified by winning the 2019 World Cup, announced that he would be dropping out of the Candidates.
Radjabov cited concerns surrounding coronavirus as his reason for withdrawing. If readers would like to learn more, Chess.com provided highly informative coverage of this unfortunate situation. It includes Radjabov’s full statement and FIDE’s response.
As a result, Maxime Vachier Lagrave (known as "MVL") of France serves as the replacement. With such short notice, MVL had just over a week to prepare for what may be the most important tournament of his life.
In a statement on his website, MVL expressed a mix of surprise and gratitude:
"I didn’t expect anyone to withdraw at all, especially so close to the event. Obviously, I’m delighted to have this opportunity, even if that’s not how I originally wanted to qualify."
St. Louis resident and GM Fabiano Caruana will be the top seed as the No. 2-ranked player in the world.
While the favorite to win the Candidates can be (and will be) hotly debated, there is a consensus that the top two seeds, GM Fabiano Caruana and GM Ding Liren (of China), are the frontrunners.
In an interview on the St. Louis Chess Club's broadcast from last month, legendary World Chess Champion and GM Garry Kasparov definitively expressed his thoughts on the favorites:
"I think Caruana and Ding are huge favorites. You need a natural disaster for one of them not to win."
After falling to GM Magnus Carlsen in an incredibly hard-fought 2018 World Championship match, Caruana is surely hungry for a second chance at dethroning the Norweigan superstar. Caruana won the 2018 Candidates with a score of 9/14 and will likely need a similar performance this year to clinch first.
With a large percentage of the global population staying home over the coming weeks, it is gratifying that we’re living in a golden age of digital chess content. There will be a multitude of ways to follow this monumental event. Full tournament details can be found on FIDE’s website.
Since 8 a.m. Tuesday, the St. Louis Chess Club has been hosting daily commentary featuring GMs Yasser Seirawan, Maurice Ashley and Alejandro Ramirez as part of Today in Chess. Additionally, a number of major platforms and channels will provide chess fans with enlightening content throughout the event.
Eric Rosen is an international master and a Webster University graduate with a B.A. in Interactive Digital Media and a member of the St. Louis Chess Club, a partner of St. Louis Public Radio.
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