Fireworks at the Candidates as Nepo and Fabi Fight for First

Otis Adams
Felix Mettimieir/Unsplash

The Candidates, the tournament which pits the strongest chess players in the world against one another to find the challenger for the world champion, has completed six rounds.

Grandmasters Ian Nepomniachtchi and Fabiano Caruana have not relinquished the top two spots since the first round, though the other six candidates have shuffled position since then.

Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura, likely the most famous player at the FIDE Candidates, recovered quickly after a first-round loss to countryman Fabiano Caruana. Nakamura secured his only win so far in round 2 against the grandmaster from Azerbaijan, Teimour Radjabov.

Only two rounds of the six so far played have ended in all draws as this year’s Candidates has seen six decisive games. 

Decisive Games
1. Ding — Nepomniachtchi 0–1 (1st round)
2. Caruana — Nakamura 1–0 (1st round)
3. Nakamura — Radjabov 1–0 (2nd round)
4. Nepomniachtchi — Firoujza 1–0 (4th round)
5. Firouzja — Caruana 0–1 (6th round)
6. Nepomniachtchi — Duda 1–0 (6th round)

Experience proves a vital quality once again in the Candidates. Caruana and Nepomniachtchi are the only players competing this year who have previously won the most elite tournament in the world of chess and currently hold the top two spots, separated by half a point.

All the players have a rest day on June 24 but will resume on June 25. Afterward, the double round robin will swing around for rematches of the first seven rounds, colors switched.

First with 4.5 points: Ian Nepomniachtchi — FIDE (2766) — Nepo clings to first place as he plays under the FIDE flag due to FIDE’s stance against Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine along with Russia’s history of corruption in international sports. Nepo, who won the previous Candidates, might be seeking redemption and a second chance against the world champion Magnus Carlsen. In the most recent World Championship Match, Nepo put up a fight until a grueling game played midway during the match. Afterward, Carlsen returned undaunted as Nepo seemed exhausted. Carlsen went on to defend his title against Nepo, overwhelming the challenger with a four-point lead.

In this year’s Candidates, Nepo has dominated most of the field with three wins and three draws. In round 7 he will have black against Rapport.

Second with 4.0 points: Fabiano Caruana — USA (2783) — Fabi shared first with Nepo after the first round and this tie held until round 4 when Fabi drew against Ding as Nepo defeated Firoujza. Fabi has two wins, versus Nakamura and Firoujza, and four draws. In round 7 he will face Radjabov for the first time in the tournament before starting his rematches in round 8 with opposite colors.

Fabi proved to be Magnus Carlsen’s closest rival in their match for the world championship in 2018 as he and the world champion drew 12 straight games. Due to the format designed for brevity, Carlsen managed a lead only in the quicker time controls used for tiebreaks.

Third (tied) with 3.0 points: Richard Rapport — HUN (2764) — Rapport has held his ground with six draws. He will have white against the leader Nepo in the next round.

Third (tied) with 3.0 points: Hikaru Nakamura — USA (2760) — Naka fell to Fabi in round 1 but regrouped to beat Radjabov in round 2. His four other games have drawn and in round 7 he will face Duda while commanding the black pieces.

Fifth (tied) with 2.5 points: Jan-Krzysztof Duda — POL (2750) — Duda held his position with draws until suffering a loss against Nepo in round 6. He will have a day to rest before white against the American, Nakamura.

Fifth (tied) with 2.5 points: Teimour Radjabov — AZE (2753) — Radjabov joins the logjam in the middle of the field having all draws, except for a loss against Nakamura. He will have to face Caruana with black after the day off.

Fifth (tied) with 2.5 points: Ding Liren — CHN (2806) — Ding, Kasparov’s bet to win the tournament, faced a surprising setback in round 1 as he lost to Nepo. Ding is the only player in the Candidates to currently hold a FIDE rating above 2800, though he is still seeking his first win in the tournament. He seems to have settled in after the first-round loss, managing five draws since. He will have white against the struggling young Firoujza in round 7.

Eighth with 2.0 points: Alireza Firouzja — FRA (2793) — At 18, Firouzja is the youngest player at the Candidates. Though he is expected to play for the world championship someday after having thrilled fans by briefly rocketing to number 2 in the world by rating, Firoujza will need astonishing results in the second half to win anything but experience among this elite and seasoned field in 2022. He has suffered losses from the two leaders, Nepo and Fabi, but held draws against the others. The pressure persists in round 7, when he will have black against the second-highest rated player in the world, Ding Liren.

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Author of Lavatory Reader #1: This Road, now available on Amazon. Otis Adams is the author of three books and has won two dozen awards for his screenplays and short fiction. He writes regularly on and can be contacted at

Columbia, MO

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