Ding Liren Back To World #2, Plans To Reach 30 Rated Games Needed For Candidates

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GM Ding Liren started a 12-game tournament in Hangzhou, China with three wins in two days, which brought him back to second place in the world rankings. According to the Chinese GM’s upcoming schedule, he will reach the 30 rated games that he needs in time to be eligible for the Candidates Tournament.

For 127 days, GM Alireza Firouzja was the second-highest rated player behind GM Magnus Carlsen after the French-Iranian grandmaster became the youngest player in history to break 2800, on November 21 last year. Today, Ding reclaimed that world number-two spot.

Ding Liren world number 2
Ding Liren is the world number two again. Image: 2700chess.

When GM Sergey Karjakin received his six-month ban from tournament play and lost his Candidates spot, it only seemed a theoretical possibility for Ding to take Karjakin’s place. According to the regulations, the highest-rated player in the FIDE May 2022 rating list will qualify for the Candidates as long as he has played 30 rated games in the last year. Due to pandemic-related travel restrictions, Ding only played four.

Playing 26 more rated games before the end of April seemed rather hard to do, but as it turns out, he is now very likely to do so. After the 12 games in Hangzhou, Ding will play a six-game match with GM Wei Yi between April 5 and 10, followed by 10 games in a qualifier event for the 2022 Asian Games between April 14 and 24. That makes a total of 28 games, two more than needed, and a week ahead of that May rating list. FIDE confirmed to Chess.com that games up to and including April 28 can be rated in the list published on May 1.

The Hangzhou tournament has a somewhat odd format: a quadruple round-robin, with double rounds on four of the eight playing days. There are only three other players, all having under-2600 ratings, and Ding will be playing them all four times. Here are the games so far—it should be noted that Ding was in trouble in the first game:

Ding’s heavy schedule, including an event with double rounds, seems perfectly orchestrated by the Chinese federation to make him reach the Candidates, and so it might leave a bad taste in the mouth of some other top players. For instance, GM Levon Aronian and GM Wesley So, and to a lesser extent GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and GM Anish Giri, are currently fighting for a spot in the FIDE Grand Prix but would have that rating spot as a possible second option. Now, that option seems gone.

In an interview during the third leg of the Grand Prix, five days ago, Giri said (without knowing yet about the many games Ding would play): “I don’t see any logic why that is happening. If you already removed the rating spot for, like, one and a half years, I no longer paid attention to my rating because the rating spot was gone. Now, somehow, instead of giving, for example, an extra spot to the Grand Prix, suddenly the rating spot is back. I don’t see the logic behind this.”

Suddenly the rating spot is back. I don’t see the logic behind this.
—Anish Giri

At the same time, the Chinese Chess Association can hardly be blamed for supporting their top player. Other chess federations probably would have done the same.

Ding actually reaching those 30 rated games in time can be seen as some kind of poetic justice. He missed out on the FIDE Grand Prix due to visa issues and, also in 2021, he could not play much over-the-board chess, presumably because of travel restrictions as well.

And indeed, from a pure chess perspective, having a Candidates Tournament without the world’s number-three player (now the number-two player again!), who recently beat Carlsen in the Charity Cup’s preliminaries, would be a shame.

Carlsen’s second GM Peter Heine Nielsen felt that way as he tweeted the following, when Ding’s visa issues became apparent:

The world champion himself also feels that way, as he said in an interview three days ago: “I think he’s clearly the best player who is not in the Candidates at the moment—except for me, maybe—but whether that means that he deserves it, that’s a lot harder to say, really.”

I think he’s clearly the best player who is not in the Candidates at the moment.
—Magnus Carlsen

The Candidates Tournament takes place June 16-July 7, 2022, in Madrid, Spain. The winner earns the right to challenge Carlsen for the next world championship, tentatively scheduled for the first half of 2023.

Five candidates are known: apart from Firouzja, the winner of the 2021 FIDE Chess.com Grand Swiss, they are GMs Fabiano Caruana (runner-up of the Grand Swiss), Jan-Krzysztof Duda (winner of the 2021 FIDE World Cup), Ian Nepomniachtchi (runner-up of the 2021 FIDE World Championship), and Teimour Radjabov (given a spot from the last edition).

Two players will qualify from the FIDE Grand Prix, with GM Richard Rapport having almost certainly taken one of those two spots. As long as Ding doesn’t lose 20 rating points in the next month—the difference with Aronian right now—his name will be added to the list of candidates.



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