After a more than 1-year break, the Candidates finally resume. This break did change many things, especially mentally. And that is why I think none of the two leaders at halftime will win!
In this article, I will express my personal views, mostly based on the psychological aspect of the one-year break.
Let’s start with my prediction of the Winner: Caruana. Without the break, I would not have given him higher chance than 20% to win the event. But with every day passing, he seemed like a more likely Winner to me. If I had to, I would bet on him now. Why?
- The 1-point difference between the leaders takes the pressure off him
While in 2020 he was the (clear) favorite, now he can let MVL and Nepomniachtchi handle the pressure. Nobody will blame him for not winning. He has everything to win and nothing to lose.
- He will get another Chance
Caruana has cemented his position as World Number 2. There is no doubt that he still has lots of good years ahead of him. Qualification for the Candidates in 2023 seems to be no problem for him. So there is no feeling of “now or never”.
- He is used to taking Risks
Caruana is nearly the only player in the field that can create chances with both colors, without changing his approach. In 2020 he was ready to go for a crazy line in the Slav against Ding. He did it in Round 3 with 1,5/2. It is clear he did not have to and simply feels he can outplay anybody, also with black. While it backfired then, this experience will serve him if he needs it now.
- He is on a path to improvement
What impresses me most about him, is that he really seems to understand he is on the way to steady improvement. Particular results seem to affect him less than other players. With this mindset, his nerves will hold better than if he puts all emphasis on the result only.
Last but definitely not least, he has experience. He was super close in 2016 and won in 2018. For the first time, in 2021 he will be White in the last game. This feels like luxury, as he had black in both 2016 and 2018.
This above list sounds maybe pretty one-sided. Surely, I might look like an idiot if Caruana overpresses in Round 8 and loses with White against MVL. Some of you might also say: “Caruana can have a nice psychological situation, but it is not in his hands”. So let’s focus on the Leaders for a moment.
He was in great shape in 2020. Only because of a very dubious opening choice in the 7th game against MVL he “only” scored +2. Some might think it was good that the tournament was stopped after such a game. I think differently.
- He had 1 year to regret his opening against MVL
Surely did he think back how differently things would be if he had drawn the game. Not a good place to be in psychologically.
- Everything to lose
After leading the tournament from Round 1, it would feel like a big miss if he did not win. Thinking over a year about this doesn’t make it better…
- Stylistic Problems
Nepo has a super dynamic and risky style. Bringing a lead over time does not suit his style too much. I am super curious about which Opening choices he will take. Objectively his choice with the French Winawer was bad, although it worked somehow. I don’t think he gets away with something like that again.
After many years of failing to qualify for the Candiates, he got his spot last second for Radjabov. The short notice probably helped his nerves stay calm. There was no time to think about the result. Just prepare and play. But now, going into the second half as a Co-Leader this changed. As Nepo, he has a lot to lose.
- Feels like once in a lifetime chance
He failed to qualify several times for the Candidates. It is not clear if he will indeed qualify for 2023. So this feels like the one and only shot.
- Expectable Openings
If he stays true to his Grunfeld and Najdorf, he will be an easy target. Yes, the openings are sound and very good. But in 2020, nobody had too much time to prepare against his things. Now everybody will have great ideas ready. And changing openings for the most important 7 games of your career can also backfire badly.
- Horrible Wijk An Zee
His performance in Wijk was absolutely terrifying. Yes, it doesn’t have to mean something but is certainly not a pleasant experience before such an important tournament.
Beware Of The Chasing Pack
Giri, Grischuk, and Wang are in the chasing pack with Caruana at 50% and thus one point behind the Leaders. Caruana is the strongest of those, that’s why I picked him as my Winner. But any of them has a shot to win it all.
I am very curious to see the approach of those three players. It seems like only first place counts, so at some point, they will start to take more risks. That not only increases their chances but also the chances of their opponents. So, even if none of them manages to catch the leaders, their games will surely have a big impact on the tournament.
This is even more true for the two players on 2.5/7: Ding & Alekseenko. In order to win they have to score at least +4, probably even +5 out of 7. It will be curious to see if they (especially Ding as one of the pre-tournament favorites) will go all out and risk it from the beginning. If the risk backfires, it would give the chasing pack and leaders more chances to win games.
Match Against Carlsen
To finish it off, a short preview of what awaits the winner. The World Championship Match will take place from 24 November – 16 December 2021 in Dubai.
Caruana showed in 2018 that he is a serious contender for the title in a Match against Magnus. I would give him the highest chance with around 35%. For all the other players I think their chances would be very limited. I simply do not see them putting up a big fight and would give them a 25% or less chance of winning the title.
Anyway, I am super curious to see the spectacle unfold soon enough! I will be watching, although I am also playing on the exact same dates as the Candidates. If you are fed up with super deep preparation and simply want to see some fighting chess, you can watch the action of the Swiss Qualifier for the FIDE World Cup.
And now you tell me: who do you think will win and who are you rooting for to win? Curious to hear your picks!