Before the World Cup it was clear that Fabiano Caruana and Ding Liren had already qualified for the Candidates Tournament 2020. They should now be joined by the two World Cup finalists, so in early October four of the eight candidates would be known.
Instead, there are three. The World Cup has led to the curious result that with Anish Giri a candidate was found who didn’t make it past the third round. The one finalist, Ding Liren, had been a candidate already. The other, Teimour Radjabov, is a shaky candidate at best. The Azeri doesn’t consider himself a professional anymore, and he says that he does not yet know whether he will compete in Yekaterinburg next year.
Caruana has been the first 2020 candidate since losing the World Championship match 2018. In the course of 2019 it emerged that, given his consistently high rating of 2,800+, Ding Liren would be the second. Had it been only about the Candidates Tournament, Ding would not have had to play the World Cup.
When he reached the semi-finals there, he met his compatriot Yu Yangyi. Immediately theories sprang up that now one Chinese could pave the way for the other towards the World Championship match in late 2020. Ding would have had to lose the World Cup semi-final in order to make Yu a candidate as well. In the Candidates Tournament, Yu would be able to let Ding score two points, which would most likely be enough for Ding to win the tournament and challenge Magnus Carlsen.
The impeccable sportsman Ding defeated the impeccable sportsman Yu in the semifinals of the World Cup, the end of such speculation. But the fact remains that the match-up was unfortunate, otherwise such speculation wouldn’t have come up. And who does not remember Bobby Fischer and the Soviets?
Semi-finals more important than the final
There was no word from FIDE so far on avoiding a constellation like that in future World Cups. The proposal to recompose the semi-finals in such cases to avoid matches between compatriots is as unanswered as the proposal to play four classic games in the semi-finals and two in the final. Both proposals make sense given a tournament in which the semi-final is the most crucial stage.
Ding’s is now considered a Candidates qualifier via World Cup, not via rating. As a result, the rating spot has been cleared. It will go to Anish Giri – unless Maxime Vachier-Lagrave wins 27 Elo until November. Which is extremely unlikely.
The alternative chance that Anish Giri experiences a massive rating loss in the coming weeks is no longer existent. As soon as Ding reached the final of the World Cup, Giri withdrew his participation in the Grand Swiss in October on the Isle of Man: a precautionary measure to preserve his rating lead on MVL most likely.
If Radjabov withdrew MVL would be in
MVL’s loss in the semis was mourned not only in France. If the chess fan base could put a player into the Candidates, it would be the Frenchman, who now has to play the meaningless match for third place at the World Cup. But he’s not out of the Candidates’ contestant race either.
If Teimour Radjabov cancelled the Candidates Tournament, a backdoor for MVL would open. According to regulations, the player with the best average elo of the past months gets the spot. That would be MVL, who also may qualify via Grand Prix. In order to do that he will have to deliver an excellent performance in the Hamburg Grand Prix beginning November 5th. MVL does not play in the Grand Swiss on the Isle of Man, whose winner also gets a spot.
Last but not least, there might be hope for the wildcard for the Candidates Tournament. However, it is foreseeable that for a candidate tournament in Russia, a Russian will get it. That, too, will be a tricky business. If it goes by rating, Ian Nepomniachtchi would be the first contender for a place in the elite field. If it comes to Kremlin proximity, it would be the turn of Sergey Karjakin. And if it’s up to who the fans want to see compete (and give interviews!), Alexander Grischuk would be without competition.