Mai 18, 2024

FIDE Candidates: Race for first wide open as second half begins

After the rest day, the second half of the FIDE Candidates kicked off on April 13. Today, we had two distinguished guests making the ceremonial first moves. Michael Hyatt, a Canadian tech entrepreneur, started the game between the two American players, Hikaru Nakamura and Fabiano Caruana. Jose Antonio Carrillo, FIDE Continental President for Americas, made the first move for the leader of the women’s tournament, Tan Zhongyi, in her game against compatriot Lei Tingjie.  

All of the games in Round 8 started off at a slower pace. Eight solid opening lines promised a day full of positional maneuvering and complex long-term plans. However, even a calm day without tactical fireworks treated us to several important results that had a great impact on the overall standings.

 In the FIDE Women’s Candidates Tournament, Lei Tingjie took down the leader, Tan Zhongyi, avenging her loss in the first round. Tan turned down a move repetition on move 21 and instead chose to deviate with 21. f4 – a choice that Lei criticized at the press conference. Lei, playing with the black pieces, felt optimistic about her position after this, as Black’s game plan became smooth sailing. At move 36, White had an interesting resource to fight for equality by sacrificing a piece with 36. Bxf5.

However, Tan was low on time and did not go for it, opting for 36. Bg2. Lei confessed that she saw this opportunity but „did not take it seriously.“ Soon, White was on the ropes, with all the pieces back playing defense, and Lei finished the game off with a direct attack on the white king. With Goryachkina’s game against Lagno finishing in a draw, we now have Tan, Lei, and Goryachkina in a three-way tie at the top. 

Humpy Koneru won her first game against Vaishali, a bittersweet result as she defeated her compatriot. However, Vaishali had good drawing chances at certain points of the game. „I started making all the mistakes once I got a good position,“ said Koneru. „Black was going completely fine and my extra exchange did not matter. At one point, I even started liking my opponent’s position.“ Vaishali erred again and allowed White’s passed pawns to advance with 56. d6 and 58. e5, and her position was lost after that.  

Anna Muzychuk was on the verge of losing against Nurgyul Salimova but managed to escape with a draw.

In the FIDE Candidates Tournament, the race for first place is wide open once again. Gukesh D won against Vidit Santosh Gujrathi in a surprisingly lopsided game. With the black pieces, Gukesh capitalized on several inaccuracies from his opponent and now re-joins Nepomniachtchi as the tournament’s co-leader. 

„Coming back into the joint lead feels good, but I am just happy that I played a good game,“ said Gukesh. „I was not expecting this game to go so well.“ The game ended in a spectacular attack, with the white king ending up on g5. Vidit resigned one move before checkmate was about to appear on the board. 

White capitulated facing 39. Kxh5 Qxh3# 0-1

Ian Nepomniachtchi, playing with White against Nijat Abasov, tried to squeeze water from a stone in an objectively drawn endgame and even managed to win a pawn. However, the position remained equal; Abasov defended well, and the game ended in a draw. After the game, the winner of the previous two Candidates was visibly disappointed. He was sure he had better chances in the game, but Abasov defended accurately.  

In a key battle between the two American players, Hikaru Nakamura, having White, outplayed Fabiano Caruana. Nakamura pointed out that the pressure of playing for the coveted spot at the top probably had a negative impact on Caruana, as Fabiano made questionable choices in the opening and failed to find the best continuations at multiple points of the game. 

„I had this feeling that Fabiano was under some pressure because maybe Nepo was going to win his game and be on +3. It feels like it’s starting to get away,“ said Nakamura. „The big moment was when Fabiano completely underestimated 25. Re3 because, not to sound like a poker player, Fabiano had a tell, just like he did in the first game. As soon as I played 25. Re3, his eyes got a little bit big. I could tell he missed that.“ 

After a couple of moves, the position became very difficult to play for Black from a human perspective, as White’s initiative was building up naturally. The game ended with a spectacular combination, one that was clearly overlooked by Caruana:

33…b5?? 34. Ne7+ Kh8 35. Nd5!  1-0

Praggnanandhaa drew against Firouzja in the calmest game of the round and now shares third place with Nakamura, trailing the joint leaders Nepomniachtchi and Gukesh by half a point. 

The ninth round of the event will commence on the 14th of April at 14:30 EDT (Toronto).

Standings after Round 8:

Open:

1-2. Gukesh, Nepomniachtchi – 5
3-4. Nakamura, Praggnanandhaa – 4½
5. Caruana – 4½
6. Vidit – 3½
7. Firouzja – 3
8. Abasov – 2½

Women’s:

1-3. Goryachkina, Lei, Tan  – 5
4. Lagno – 4½
5-6. Koneur, Salimova – 3½
7. A. Muzychuk – 3
8. Vaishali – 2½

Round 9 pairings:

Open

Vidit – Nakamura
Gukesh – Praggnanandhaa
Firouzja – Nepomniachtchi
Abasov – Caruana

Women’s:

Koneru – Lagno
Vaishali – Tan
Lei – Salimova
A. Muzychuk – Goryachkina

Written by WGM Anna Burtasova

Photos: Michal Walusza and Maria Emelianova/Chess.com

Official website: candidates2024.fide.com/