Peter Zhdanov
22 June 2022

Who Do You Think Will Win the Candidates Tournament?

Image courtesy of FIDE

Chess fans all over the world are closely following the Candidates Tournament that is currently underway in Madrid, Spain. Apart from who is going to emerge the winner, the main plot is whether Magnus Carlsen will be defending his chess crown or not.

That being said, former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik, who commentates on the event on the Levitov Chess channel on YouTube, was skeptical of the players’ chances in a WCC match against Magnus. He was shocked by the candidates’ endgame technique, rating it from “average” to “poor”, whereas Carlsen’s skills in that area he regards to be “fantastic”.  

By occasionally keeping an eye on the broadcast, I realized there is nothing new under the sun regarding the kibitzers’ reactions. Many of them tend to overdramatize the outcome of a single game or even its course. For instance, when Fabi and Nepo won in the first round, it produced plenty of speculations about a Carlsen vs. Caruana or a Carlsen vs. Nepomniachtchi rematch, as if that single game was a good predictor of the outcome of the whole tournament.

Despite having a much longer history, the Candidate tournaments have been played out under the current “double round-robin, 8 players” since 2013. Let’s look at this issue from a historical perspective and see whether the results of the first round robin offer a good chance of predicting who the winner will be in the end.

Here is the data:

Magnus Carlsen and Vladimir Kramnik drew both of their games at the Candidates in 2013.

What are the most notable takeaways from the table?

·        In all five events, the eventual winner was at least co-leading the tournament after the first half.

·        There was only one tie for first. In 2013, between two chess titans ­− Magnus Carlsen and Vladimir Kramnik.

·        Former world #2 Levon Aronian has a remarkable record of sharing the lead thrice (!) after the first half of the Candidates and not getting a single shot at the ultimate chess title.

·        To win the Candidates, one is typically expected to score 4.5-5 points in the first seven games.

·        In four tournaments out of five, the winner scored 8.5/14. Fabiano Caruana is the only exception, earning a remarkable 9 points in 2018.

Of course, it’s too early to make calls at this stage, but so far, Ian Nepomniachtchi (3.5 points out of 5) and Fabiano Caruana (3 points) have a fair chance to score 4.5-5 points out of seven. Also, there is a slim possibility that someone from the large pack of players at the 50% mark (Jan-Krzysztof Duda, Richard Rapport, Hikaru Nakamura) might pull off an impressive streak of wins and achieve the coveted result.

Who do you think is the favorite to win the whole thing? And who are you rooting for?

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