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Gukesh Leads Candidates Before Last Round, Tan Needs Only A Draw In Women's
A teenager leads the world's most important tournament. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Gukesh Leads Candidates Before Last Round, Tan Needs Only A Draw In Women's

AnthonyLevin
| 97 | Chess Event Coverage

17-year-old GM Gukesh Dommaraju has taken the sole lead of the 2024 FIDE Candidates Tournament with one round to go after exacting revenge against GM Alireza Firouzja in round 13. GMs Ian Nepomniachtchi and Hikaru Nakamura made a draw to stay a half-point behind, while GM Fabiano Caruana joined them after defeating GM Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu. The top four players are still in contention to win.

For the 12th round out of 13 so far, GM Tan Zhongyi leads the 2024 FIDE Women's Candidates Tournament. GM Lei Tingjie is the only player in touching distance, but is now a full point behind after losing against GM-elect Vaishali Rameshbabu in this round's only decisive game. Tan is one draw away from playing her next world championship match.

The final round will be on Sunday, April 21, starting at 2:30 p.m. ET / 20:30 CEST / 12:00 a.m. IST. If needed, tiebreaks will be on Monday at the same time.

Standings - Candidates

Standings - Women's Candidates


Candidates: Indian 17-year-old Leads World's Most Important Tournament

As FM Mike Klein pointed out, it is the first time in six years—and three Candidates Tournaments—that we have a sole leader in the Candidates whose name is not Nepomniachtchi. Before the tournament, not one of the prognosticators predicted the youngest participant to win it all at the age of 17, but now he is the most likely to do it.

Gukesh is the third-youngest candidate in history, after GM Magnus Carlsen (age 16) and GM Bobby Fischer (also 16). After this round, he's also once again India's number-one and the world number-six. Never in history has a teenager won the Candidates or become the undisputed world champion. (GM Ruslan Ponomariov won the knockout FIDE World Championship title as an 18-year-old in 2002, when GM Vladimir Kramnik was considered the champion by most of the chess world.)

Player Live Odds After Round 13
Gukesh Dommaraju 56.7%
Hikaru Nakamura 24.0%
Fabiano Caruana 14.0%
Ian Nepomniachtchi 5.3%
Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu 0.0%
Vidit Gujrathi 0.0%
Alireza Firouzja 0.0%
Nijat Abasov 0.0%

A win against Firouzja must have tasted twice as sweet as any other victory. Not only does it bring Gukesh closer to the coveted world title, but it's also payback for their encounter in round seven, when Gukesh had a better position but lost because he had little time. He would have taken the sole lead in that round too, if he had won.

Was this the most important win of his career? No, he told Klein: "It's an important win for sure, but I wouldn't say it's the most important one." 

Firouzja seemed to win the opening battle with an ...a5 Ba7 idea in the Italian Opening, one that reminded commentator GM Anish Giri of an exceptional 2015 Carlsen-Aronian game that Black won. In fact, it was Firouzja who had a dangerous initiative in the middlegame with a kingside pawn storm.

Firouzja had no reason to be unhappy with the opening. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Gukesh neutralized the attack before receiving 30 more minutes on move 40, and it was five moves later that Firouzja offered a dubious queen trade, after thinking for about one minute. "[45...]Qg6? gave away any hopes of counterplay," said Gukesh and he was "very happy" to see it. The engine already says the position is lost.

GM Rafael Leitao explains the level-headed conversion in the endgame, a game that may turn out to be a traffic stop on the road to the world title.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a calmer teenager with this much at stake. Asked at the press conference about whether he's getting excited now that he's so close to winning, he said: "I've been eager and excited the same way from the first round... In general, my mental state has been the same."

His game plan against Nakamura, who must win with White tomorrow against him? "I guess I'll go with the same strategy and play a good game." A draw would be a decent result for the Indian GM at this stage, guaranteeing him at least tiebreaks.

The man of the hour. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

He also shared, insightfully, that his youth can be a strength: "Considering my age, you could say lack of experience, but there are also some advantages. Like, such a long tournament, it's easier to be focused at my age." The youngster also said he plays sports almost every day—tennis being his favorite—and regularly practices yoga, which surely helps with stamina.

Such a long tournament, it's easier to be focused at my age.

—Gukesh Dommaraju

On to our next critical game, an encounter between former co-leaders: Nepomniachtchi-Nakamura. It turned out to be a quick draw, though there were a few intricate moments in the relatively short game.

Nakamura came with the first surprise with 5...Nge7!?, an offbeat line in the Ruy Lopez, to get an original game. But the sideline backfired; after 14...d5? 15.exd5 Qxd5 16.Ne4 Qd8, Nepomniachtchi called it a "pleasant position out of the opening." He also admitted, "Shamefully, I looked at this [opening line], I think, before one of the games here" but "I couldn't [remember] the moves."

17.Bc2? from Nepomniachtchi, a "soft move" according to Giri, let Nakamura off the hook, even though Nepomniachtchi maintained that it was a "principled move" after the game. Nakamura found the necessary 17...f5! and the game soon ended in a draw. Neither player wanted to risk more.

There was a bit of confusion over whether the players repeated three or four times before shaking hands. The position first appeared on 22...c5, but because White had en passant available in that case, it didn't count as part of the repetition.

Nepomniachtchi's last white game. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Nakamura told Klein about the opening: "I was kind of surprised actually that Ian just played the Spanish... I felt like this was his big chance." Considering Nepomniachtchi will have Black in round 14 against Caruana, perhaps a walk on the wild side in this game could have paid off. We'll never know.

You can listen to Nakamura's thoughts in his video recap here:

Caruana has won two of his last three games to keep hope alive. GM Daniel Naroditsky put this result in dramatic, but not far-fetched, terms: "Chess history might be written on the back of this game." Caruana is one more win away from reaching tiebreaks, the best-case scenario for him.

Chess history might be written on the back of this game.

—Daniel Naroditsky 

Chess history in the making? Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

In a Sicilian Rossolimo, Caruana said that White would have been slightly better if Praggnanandhaa had played 15.Rb1, but 15.Qh3? was "a terrible mistake because I just got everything basically a tempo up." Facing a one-sided attack, the Indian grandmaster sacrificed an exchange out of necessity. Though the engine confirms the position is defensible, in practice it proved too difficult a task.

Although Caruana was self-critical of trading queens with 43.Qh5!?, a move the commentators struggled to assess, he broke through on the queenside and it worked out.

We have a peculiar situation where both Caruana and Nepomniachtchi must play for a win in the final round. Caruana told Klein: "It's pretty unusual... I can't think of a must-win [situation] for both players. That's really weird, and of course second doesn't mean so much here."

... of course second doesn't mean so much here.

—Fabiano Caruana

Vidit-Abasov was the one game that wouldn't impact the tournament winner and was also the first game to end. It was a Petroff and ended in threefold repetition.

One round left for this tournament to end for Vidit and Abasov. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

The tournament couldn't end more theatrically, with all four players in contention facing off against each other. Nakamura is in a must-win game against Gukesh, who will guarantee tiebreaks with a draw and win the tournament if he wins. We should expect a bloodbath in Caruana-Nepomniachtchi as both players need to win—anything less doesn't cut it.

Naroditsky put it best: "Tomorrow will be unmissable no matter where you are. At work, in bed, in your car (please drive safe), with friends, alone, on a plane, on the moon, you cannot miss the final round of the Candidates tomorrow." It happens to overlap with this author's birthday, and it'll be his (voluntary) pleasure to cover this momentous event as the chess tectonics continue to shift.

Tomorrow will be unmissable no matter where you are.

—Daniel Naroditsky

Women's Candidates: Stars Align For Tan

Tan has lost only one game in the entire tournament, and besides that blip in round eight she's always been in the lead. She is almost certainly going to win the tournament, deservingly. And even if we see a massive surprise in Lei rising from the ashes, the women's world championship is guaranteed to remain in Chinese hands for another cycle.

Player Live Odds After Round 13
Tan Zhongyi 98.0%
Lei Tingjie 2.0%
Aleksandra Goryachkina 0.0%
Humpy Koneru 0.0%
Kateryna Lagno 0.0%
Nurgyul Salimova 0.0%
Anna Muzychuk 0.0%
R Vaishali 0.0%

While she won't become a world champion this time around, Vaishali will leave Toronto self-assured. After losing four games in a row, she's now gone on to win (!) four games consecutively against the world's best women.

In an Alapin-like Sicilian, Vaishali got an opening advantage but let it go with 23.Nh4? as they got low on time. "She was already fine, but okay I kept playing and I felt I should be having a slight edge," said Vaishali after this. Ultimately, Lei collapsed in the queen endgame with one faulty move 67...Kf7??, when perpetual check was just on the horizon. Vaishali traded into a winning king and pawn endgame.

A tough loss for Lei, who's theoretically still in contention to win. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

In what was earlier a nightmarish tournament, Vaishali is now fighting for third place—not that it means anything. "I stopped checking standings because at some point I was in last, for most of the time... I am just enjoying [it and] I have to play well tomorrow."

I stopped checking standings because at some point I was in last...

—Vaishali Rameshbabu

The other three games were draws, though GM Kateryna Lagno failed to convert an extra piece against IM Nurgyul Salimova.

Lagno was visibly upset with the game in her interview afterward, even though she admitted it was "not important" since she has no chance of winning the tournament. "Of course, I was totally winning, but once again after the 40th move I started making mistakes, so I can blame only myself."

It would have been a nice win: equalizing against the Catalan with Black, mustering an attack out of what was an equal position, and ultimately winning a piece in the endgame. The tragedy in chess is that the whole is a sum of its parts, and one oversight negates all those hours of toil. 

Tan vs. GM Aleksandra Goryachkina was the marquee matchup, but it ended in a quick draw after an early queen trade and a symmetrical pawn structure in the Queen's Gambit Accepted. It's a welcome result for the Chinese grandmaster, who put a stop to any further surprises after round eight.

A comfortable result for Tan, the end of the line for Goryachkina. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

GM Humpy Koneru vs. GM Anna Muzychuk was a solid Queen's Gambit Declined where Black equalized comfortably. Muzychuk damaged the white pawn structure with 17...Bxf3, but it was a weakness in appearance only. The players ultimately settled for a perpetual check in the queen endgame. 

Smiles before the game. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

So that leaves us with one more day. The only scenario in which we have tiebreaks is if Lei wins her game and Tan loses hers. Any other combination of results means we will congratulate Tan on her long and successful journey. 

You can watch video recaps of the Candidates in our playlist below (click here).

How to watch?
You can watch the 2024 FIDE Candidates Tournament on Chess24's YouTube and Twitch, and the 2024 Women's FIDE Candidates on Chess.com's YouTube and Twitch. The games can also be followed from our Events Page.

The live broadcast was hosted by GMs Anish Giri, Robert Hess, Daniel Naroditsky, and IM Levy Rozman.

The live broadcast was hosted by GM David Howell and WGM Jennifer Shahade.

The FIDE Candidates Tournaments are among the most important FIDE events of the year. Players compete for the right to play in the next FIDE World Championship match against current World Chess Champions GMs Ding Liren and Ju Wenjun.


Daily coverage:

Previews:

AnthonyLevin
NM Anthony Levin

NM Anthony Levin caught the chess bug at the "late" age of 18 and never turned back. He earned his national master title in 2021, actually the night before his first day of work at Chess.com.

Anthony, who also earned his Master's in teaching English in 2018, taught English and chess in New York schools for five years and strives to make chess content accessible and enjoyable for people of all ages. At Chess.com, he writes news articles and manages social media for chess24.

Email:  anthony.levin@chess.com

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