We’re just three days away now from arguably the biggest show in town, with the Fide Candidates Tournament set to get underway in Madrid, Spain – and one of eight players will win the right to the biggest prize in chess, the chance to “Face the King” by challenging Magnus Carlsen in a World Chess Championship Match in 2023.
The fateful eight in Madrid battling it out in the demanding double round-robin (all play all) for the right to challenge Carlsen are (in rating order): Ding Liren (China), Alireza Firouzja (France), Fabiano Caruana (USA), Ian Nepomniachtchi (Fide/Russia), Richard Rapport (Hungary), Hikaru Nakamura (USA), Teimour Radjabov (Azerbaijan) and Jan-Krzysztof Duda (Poland).
The Fide Candidates Tournament will run 16 June to 5 July 2022 (with the Opening ceremony on 16 June and the opening round on 17 June) in the Palacio de Santoña in the centre of the Spanish capital, Madrid. There’s a €500,000 prize fund on offer, with €48,000 for first place and an additional €3,500 for each half point scored.
The drawing of lots to decide the pairings was made ahead of schedule in Abu Dhabi at the end of April. Starting numbers (and qualification route) are: 1. Duda (World Cup winner); 2. Ding Liren (Rating); 3. Caruana (Grand Swiss runner-up); 4. Radjabov (Wildcard); 5. Firouzja (Grand Swiss winner); 6. Nakamura (Grand Prix winner); 7. Nepomniachtchi (Defeated 2021 title challenger); 8. Rapport (Grand Prix runner-up).
The Round 1 Pairings therefore are:
Duda v Rapport
Ding Liren v Nepomniachtchi
Caruana v Nakamura
Radjabov v Firouzja
The full pairings for every round can be located at the official site by clicking here.
Carlsen, with his potential challenger yet to emerge, possibly started the psychological mind-games very early by revealing late last year that he may decline to go through the ordeal of preparing for and playing another World Championship match — at least unless the Candidates is won by a player who inspires him. That player he singled-out was 18-year-old Alireza Firouzja, the big Gen-Z hopeful.
“Chess is just so damn hard,” said Carlsen after winning his fourth successive Norway Chess title in Stavanger last weekend. Certainly the reigning world champion didn’t quite have it all his own way in the anniversary 10th edition of the tournament on his own turf – and it almost turned against him going down the homestretch with a shock match-loss to his fellow countryman, Aryan Tari.
GM Aryan Tari – GM Magnus Carlsen
10th Norway Chess | Armageddon, (7.2)
1.e4 b6 Back in the days of Queen Victoria, in the mid-to-late nineteenth century, it was the quintessential English theologian, the Reverend John Owen (1827-91), who introduced the Queen’s Fianchetto opening for Black into serious chess praxis. 2.d4 Bb7 3.Nc3 d6 Carlsen is trying to ‘mix it’ a little to confuse his opponent, as the Owen Defence proper would have seen 3…e6 4.Nf3 Bb4 etc. But with the armageddon scenario giving White more clock-time, though Black having draw odds, Carlsen has a solid position and early doors want to make his opponent use up some of his extra clock-time. 4.f4 A bold and right call from Tari. If he’d played 4.Nf3, Carlsen might well have gone directly into a Hippopotamus Defence with …e6, …g6, …Bg7 followed by …Ne7 and …Nd7 etc. Carlsen can still play the Hippo, but with 4.f4 it is more dangerous for Black. 4…Nd7 5.Nf3 e6 6.Bd3 c5 7.0-0 cxd4 8.Nxd4 Ngf6 9.Qe2 a6 10.a4 Be7 From the Owen Defence, the game has now transposed into an Open Sicilian Scheveningen/Hedgehog set-up. 11.Bd2 0-0 12.Kh1 A common motif in the Scheveningen/Hedgehog, just removing the king out of the potentially problematic long a7-g1 diagonal. 12…Nc5 13.Rae1 d5 It’s a tad too early for this – more usual in the Sicilian Hedgehog is 13…Rc8 – but only needing to draw, Carlsen continues to push the envelope to further eat into his opponent’s clock-time. 14.e5 Nfe4 15.f5! Tari is not going to be intimidated by Carlsen! 15…Bg5 16.Bxg5 Qxg5 17.Rf3 But this is too adventurous! The armageddon scenario probably swayed Tari here, but I have to concur with the engine that White should have gone for 17.Bxe4! Nxe4 18.fxe6 Qxe5 19.exf7+ Rxf7 20.Rxf7 Kxf7 21.Nf3! Qh5 22.Qe3! and Black’s king looks vulnerable and his queenside pawns very loose. 17…exf5 18.Rxf5 Qh6?! Safer looked 18…Qe7 19.Qe3 Rae8 as it’s difficult for White to orchestrate a breakthrough on the kingside with the blockade on e4 and the weak e5 pawn. 19.Rh5 Qg6 20.Nf5 Carlsen is practically living on the edge here. 20…Rae8 21.Bxe4 dxe4 22.Nd6 Rxe5!? The radical solution to that big ‘octopus’ knight on d6 – but the correct call, as this is probably Carlsen only hope of saving the game now. 23.Rxe5 Qxd6 We’ve seen Carlsen successfully defend much worse than this! 24.Rf5 g6 The all-too-human move – but our Silicon Overlords want to go for 24…Qd7 but after 25.Qf2! things start to get a bit sticky for Black, who has to play 25…a5 just to defend b6, and now 26.Rd1 Qe6 27.Qf4 and White is in total control. 25.Rd1 Qe6 26.Rff1 Qe5 White has the upper-hand – but Carlsen has all ingredients here to stage yet another great escape. 27.Qe3 a5 Otherwise 28.a5 bxa5 29.Nd5! is awkward for Black to have to meet. 28.Kg1 Re8 29.Rf2 f5 30.g3 Kg7 31.Nb5! The knight heading to d6 gives Carlsen a headache. 31…Re7 32.b3 Ne6 33.Nd6 Ba6 34.c4 Nc5? Carlsen hopes he’s going to tie Tari down by targeting the b3-pawn – but the world champion’s countryman has other ideas! 35.Nxf5+!! [see diagram] Tari can’t believe his luck, as this stunning sacrifice over-looked by Carlsen proves deadly. 35…gxf5 36.Qg5+ Kh8 37.Rxf5 1-0 Carlsen resigns with no way to prevent the back-rank rook mates on d8 or f8, as 37…Nd7 will see 38.Rxd7! Qa1+ 39.Kg2 Qb2+ 40.Kh3 and the king escapes the checks.