The Race To Toronto: Who Will Qualify For The Candidates Tournament?

The Race To Toronto: Who Will Qualify For The Candidates Tournament?

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Six out of eight players are confirmed for the 2024 FIDE Candidates tournament, but the race is still on for the remaining two spots. Here's the status less than six weeks before we get to know the complete field.

GMs Ian Nepomniachtchi, Hikaru Nakamura, Vidit Gujrathi, Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu and Fabiano Caruana can already book their tickets to the 2024 FIDE Candidates tournament which will take place in Toronto, Canada in April, while GM Nijat Abasov is also expected to make it unless GM Magnus Carlsen has a sudden change of heart. The winner gets a lucrative shot at challenging the reigning world champion, GM Ding Liren, for the title later the same year.

But the chess world is eagerly awaiting who gets the remaining two spots. Four grandmasters are still in the race for one place through the FIDE Circuit, which is determined by results in eligible tournaments: GMs Anish Giri, Wesley So, Gukesh Dommaraju, and Arjun Erigaisi.

The last spot goes to the highest-placed player on the January 2024 FIDE rating list, where GM Alireza Firouzja is currently ahead by nine points among those not already qualified, despite dropping 14 points in the FIDE Grand Swiss.

Firouzja On Candidates: "Not A Big Deal If I Don't Make It"

In a new interview with the Saint Louis Chess Club, the Iranian-born Frenchman was asked about qualifying for the Candidates and his motivation further.

"If I really cared 100 percent about the Candidates, I would've played in Baku [editor's note: at the FIDE World Cup]. Now that I have a chance, I will try to use it. But if I don't make it, it's not the biggest deal for me. The Candidates is also a very difficult tournament, just one player out of eight very good players [makes it]," Firouzja said.

The 20-year-old had a poor run in the 2022 FIDE Candidates, finishing only sixth with 6/14. He doesn't seem to mind if he misses a chance to qualify for 2024.

"In general I want to improve my chess, and I don't really think much about the Candidates spot. But now that I have the last tournament and the last chance, it's stupid to not care. In general it would be good to get the spot, but I will not try everything," Firouzja added.

He says he prefers to overtake Carlsen and get the number one rating spot rather than fight for the world championship title. "The rating is very important. Magnus is the best player in the world, but he is not the world champion. It means rating is also very important. The number one ranking is a good thing, and I would also like to achieve that. But it's a difficult task."

Favorite To Qualify Through Circuit: GM Anish Giri

The traditional Sinquefield Cup begins in Saint Louis on Tuesday and will have a major impact on the FIDE Circuit. In Saint Louis, Firouzja is joined by Giri, who has a slight lead for the Circuit spot.

"I have not too much to lose, in a sense," Giri told the Saint Louis Chess Club. "There is still a lot to play for, but I am in a good position."

The battle between the Dutch number one and So, who is just 5.5 points behind, will also be of particular interest in St. Louis.

"So could pass Giri's current score and take over the lead (with a good chance of it being for good) with a first or second place finish," chess statistician Tai Pruce-Zimmerman tells

He maintains ChessNumbers on X/Twitter, an account dedicated to tracking statistics in top-level chess, and follows the Candidates race closely for

"However, Giri can improve his current score with any top-five finish. Any such result, even sole fifth place, would be enough that So could only pass him by winning the event. Second would no longer be enough. And if Giri can finish second or third, he'll retain the Circuit lead even if So wins."

"If any of these scenarios happen where Giri improves his score and/or So passes him, that player is extremely likely to borderline clinch the Circuit with that value, unless it's a very minor improvement (like Wesley finishes second, or Giri finishes 5th)," he says.

Another player who is very much in the race is Gukesh, who was recently confirmed for the London Chess Classic, starting December 1. 

"If neither So or Giri come out of Saint Louis with higher scores than what Giri has now, then Gukesh could take pole position by winning London," Pruce-Zimmerman says.

Anish Giri has good chances to qualify for this third Candidates tournament. Photo: Maria Emelianova.
Anish Giri has a good chance of qualifying for this third Candidates tournament. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

A victory there would give the Indian youngster 17.7 points, while he needs 17.03 to catch Giri's current mark. Pruce-Zimmerman thinks Giri likely needs to finish within the top five in the Sinquefield Cup to make London irrelevant. commentator and GM Robert Hess is eagerly following the race and thinks it's mainly a three-horse race between Giri, Firouzja, and So.

"Giri won three extremely important games to close out the Grand Swiss and claim the Circuit lead. Not only that, but by gaining 11 Elo with those three wins, he's now within striking distance of overtaking Firouzja by rating. Wesley is quietly waiting for them to slip up, and the 10-point rating gap that separates him and Firouzja can be completely closed if he wins their Sinquefield Cup matchup. There's so much at stake in that one event," Hess says, and sums up:

"Overall, Giri has great chances given he is in the lead for one path and competitive for a second."

World Rapid Championship: The Last Chance

Another key event for the Circuit is the World Rapid Championship, which was recently confirmed to take place in Uzbekistan during the usual Christmas dates. The event could also have an impact on the Circuit as first place is expected to be worth around 21 to 21.5 points, while second place is between 16.8 and 17.2 points.

The complete field has not yet been announced, but So has never taken part in that event since it started taking place during Christmas, way back in 2016. That means the Sinquefield Cup could be his last chance.

The live ratings before Sinquefield Cup begins. Photo: Screenshot
The live ratings before Sinquefield Cup begins. Photo: Screenshot

Another player still within range is Erigaisi, who could catch Giri's current mark with 21.04 points. However, he will need to become the World Rapid Champion for that to happen. The last player with a hint of Circuit hope is GM Nodirbek Abdusattorov. Pruce-Zimmerman sums up:

"He cannot catch Giri with one event, but 32.15 points over two events would be enough. It's possible to grab 12-14 points by winning a relatively obscure open (in the sense of no super-GMs other than the winner), so if he can find the right event to enter and he wins it, he could then add himself to the list of players with a chance to catch Giri's current mark with a World Rapid win."

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