Mai 21, 2024

FIDE Candidates: Gukesh D and Tan Zhongyi are the World Championship Challengers

The 2024 FIDE Candidates has concluded. Gukesh D and Tan Zhongyi are the Challengers for the World Championship. 17-year-old Indian prodigy Gukesh is the youngest World Chess Championship Challenger in history. He will face World Champion Ding Liren in the match at the end of this year, while Tan Zhongyi will play with her compatriot Ju Wenjun in the Women’s Championship matchup. 

With four players vying for the top spot heading into the final round, the exciting climax made the 2024 edition of the FIDE Candidates Tournament one of the most suspense-filled Candidates tournaments in history.

Gukesh D needed not to lose against Hikaru Nakamura with the black pieces to secure at least joint first, and he rose to the challenge admirably.

Gukesh caught Hikaru Nakamura off-guard in the opening, swiftly achieving an equal position. Magnus Carlsen, the world’s top-rated chess player, provided live commentary on one of the streams and praised Gukesh’s 11…b4 move: „I love what Gukesh has done. It’s something I haven’t seen before.“ By the 20th move, Gukesh had gained a pawn, but the position in the game was drawish. Nakamura never really risked losing, and both players logically drew the game. 

The tournament’s destiny was in the matchup between Fabiano Caruana and Ian Nepomniachtchi, who were both in a must-win situation. If either side won, they would have joined Gukesh in the lead and played a tiebreak for first place on the following day.

This nerve-wracking game had every chess fan feeling a rollercoaster of emotions. Caruana and Nepomniachtchi quickly navigated into a complex position where victory, defeat, or a draw were all plausible outcomes. 

Caruana, playing with White, managed to get a completely winning position, and it looked like the tournament outcome would be decided by a playoff. However, the American player first allowed some counterplay with 39. Bh7?! (instead of 39. Bc2 or Bf5 offering Black no chances) 39…Rxg5!

and then blundered on the 41st move (41. Ka1 instead of 41. Ka2), allowing Nepomniachtchi a path to a draw. 

However, a few moves later, Nepomniachtchi returned the favour: 

His move 44…Nb3 meant that White was winning again. Instead, Ian had to play 44…Ka6 to keep the position equal. 

On move 59, Caruana erred again, letting his advantage slip. Nepomniachtchi returned the favour a couple of moves later, and White got a winning position again. The final blunder happened on move 66. 

White could have wrapped it up with 66. Qe8+ Ka6 67. Qe2+ Nd3 68. Qxh2 as Black has no perpetual. Sadly for him, Caruana was the one to make the final mistake 66. Qc6+? and after 66…Ka6 67. Re7 Qf1 it was equal again with no more chances for White. 

Finally, on the 109th move of this excruciating game, the players agreed to a draw, making Gukesh the clear winner of the FIDE Candidates Tournament. At the start of the post-game press conference, Caruana criticized himself, remarking „I feel like an idiot.“ Later, going through the game, Caruana was murmuring „but it’s amazing not to win this position…“

At the tournament’s conclusion, Gukesh commented joyfully, „I am so relieved and so happy. Following this crazy game [Caruana-Nepomniachtchi], I was completely emotional. Now I am feeling quite good.“

From the players tied for second place, the Sonneborn-Berger tiebreak puts Hikaru Nakamura in second place and Ian Nepomniachtchi in third, with Caruana finishing fourth. 

Tan Zhongyi, the leader of the FIDE Women’s Candidates Tournament, needed merely a draw to secure her triumph. Facing Anna Muzychuk with the black pieces, Tan ventured into a sharp line of the Sicilian Defense. It was evident she was playing according to her preparation, as by move 15, she was already 5 minutes ahead of her clock. On move 16, with 45 minutes down on her clock, Anna Muzychuk made a dubious move 16. Qd3, and Tan started thinking for the first time in the game.

She found the best continuation and obtained a solid advantage, but sadly, she did not manage to convert it to a full point. The game ended in a draw, which was a fine result for Tan Zhongyi, who claimed the overall victory and became the next Challenger for the Women’s World Championship title. 

The runner-up going into the last round, Lei Tingjie, was playing with White against Humpy Koneru. Lei entered a sharp and complex position, with White being a pawn down but with enough compensation in piece activity. On move 23, Lei played one of the most beautiful moves of the whole tournament.

The Chinese GM sacrificed her queen with 23. Qxa5! for an attack on the centralized black king. Black was forced to return the queen as the combination unfolded. When the dust settled, Black up an exchange in the endgame, but White had compensation with the greater activity. However, Lei made a mistake with 31. Rxe6, instead of pushing her passed pawn forward with 31. d7.

After that, Black’s king became very active on the queenside, the powerful d6 pawn fell, and Koneru’s position became a winning one – a disappointing finish for Lei Tingjie. As a result of this loss, she was pushed down to third place in the standings, while her opponent Humpy Koneru, who started slowly in the FIDE Women’s Candidates Tournament, played a great second half of the event to finish second.

Vaishali R won her fifth game in a row, this time against Kateryna Lagno, to also share second place on points; the tiebreak criteria puts her in fourth place. Vaishali, who finally found her momentum, is surely one of the players who’s unhappy that the tournament is over! 

Final Standings after Round 14:

Open:

1. Gukesh – 9
2. Nakamura – 8½
3. Nepomniachtchi – 8½
4. Caruana – 8½
5. Praggnanandhaa – 7
6. Vidit – 6
7. Firouzja – 5
8. Abasov – 3½

Women’s:

1. Tan – 9
2. Koneru – 7½
3. Lei – 7½
4. Vaishali – 7½
5. Goryachkina – 7
7. Salimova – 5½
8. A. Muzychuk – 5½

Written by WGM Anna Burtasova

Photos: Michal Walusza and Maria Emelianova/Chess.com

Official website: candidates2024.fide.com/