Ian Nepomniachtchi win the 2022 Candidates Tournament

Ian Nepomniachtchi win the 2022 Candidates Tournament

The 2022 Candidates Tournament wrapped up in Madrid, Spain on July 4. Ian Nepomniachtchi of Russia won the event with a round to spare with a phenomenal score of 9.5/14. This victory secures his second consecutive World Championship match against Magnus Carlsen; Nepomniachtchi was the victor of the 2020-2021 Candidates Tournament but lost the World Championship match to Carlen in November last year. 

 

Ian Nepomniachtchi with the winner's trophy

Photo by Stev Bonhage for FIDE


The Candidates Tournament is always an exciting one as only the first place matters. The players go through various qualifying events to earn a spot in this prestigious event for a shot to challenge the World Champion’s crown. Since Magnus Carlsen made the statement beforehand that he has no interest in defending his title in yet another match unless his opponent is from the new generation, there were talks about the importance of finishing second. If Carlsen declines to play the match, the top two finishers of the Candidates Tournament will battle it out for the World Championship title. However, it seemed as though the players did not believe that Carlsen would willingly give up his title and thus it remained a bloody battle for first place.


The format was an 8 player round robin: which means everyone plays everyone twice, once with the white pieces and once with the black pieces. The 14-round tournament is a long grind that requires good preparation, patience, stamina and good nerves. I wrote about the players and format in my previous post. 


The 2022 edition can be summarized in two parts. In the first half, it was a two-horse race between Ian Nepomniactchi and the American Fabiano Caruana, the two winners of the previous two Candidates Tournaments. The two Grandmasters were playing great chess with Nepomniachtchi half a point ahead of Caruana and 1.5 points ahead of the rest of the field. 


The turning point came in round 7. Caruana won a long game, which should have put him in a tie for first place. In an unprecedented turn of events, Nepomniachtchi’s opponent, Richard Rapport of Hungary, decided to enter some murky waters instead of repeating and ending the game in a draw against the obviously well-prepared Nepomniachtchi. He was severely punished for this decision; the quick and easy victory left the Russian on top of the standings.

Fabiano Caruana

Photo by Stev Bonhage for FIDE


Caruana was clearly distraught by this turn of events which gifted his opponent an easy win and was quoted saying that he felt “sort of sick”, calling it one of the most shocking games he’s seen from a top player in a long time. It’s possible that it was the combination of this result and his own energy draining long games that sent him into a downward spiral. Caruana lost the very next game, scoring 1.5 points in the next 7 games and finishing in the second half of the standings.


Caruana’s poor result in the second half allowed 5-time US Champion and popular streamer Hikaru Nakamura and Ding Liren of China to fight it out for second place, with a slight hope of a shot at the World Championship title. In the final round, Ding secured the second place finish by defeating Nakamura. 

 

Hikaru Nakamura 

Photo by Stev Bonhage for FIDE

The World Championship match is scheduled for “early 2023”, with no exact details given. There are rumors that Carlsen is negotiating with FIDE to come up with a favorable format, but nothing has been confirmed. The fate of the World Championship title remains unknown as of right now.

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