Who will win the 2024 Candidates Tournament?

by Johannes Fischer
3/24/2024 – The most important tournament of the year begins on April 3 in Toronto, Canada: the Candidates Tournament. Eight participants, 14 rounds, the winner plays for the World Championship. Two of the eight participants have already won one or more Candidates Tournaments, four have already played one or more Candidates Tournaments, the youngest candidate is 17, the oldest is 36 years old. But who will win? | Photos: Official website / FIDE

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"Predictions are difficult, especially when they concern the future," is a well-known saying attributed to such diverse personalities as the author George Bernard Shaw, the former English Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the physicist Nils Bohr and the American baseball player Yogi Berra. This often quoted, seemingly simple wisdom naturally also applies to chess tournaments, although the Elo rating can at least be used to determine a nominal favourite.

But despite all the problems with predictions and the unpredictable future, it is simply fun to speculate about the possible winners of upcoming sporting events, and such mind games also provide a good opportunity to get in the mood for these events. So here is an overview of the eight participants in the Candidates Tournament in Toronto and their chances of winning the tournament.

The following list is organised according to the live ratings that the participants in the Candidates Tournament had at the end of March, as these figures are likely to be close to the ratings with which the players will start the tournament at the beginning of April.

The participants

Fabiano Caruana - Elo 2803

The rating favourite in the Candidates Tournament is Fabiano Caruana, the current world number 2 and currently the only player apart from Carlsen with a rating above 2800. But it's not just the Elo rating that speaks in Caruana's favour. The 31-year-old American has enormous experience and is already playing his fifth Candidates Tournament in Toronto. In 2018, he won the Candidates Tournament and was therefore allowed to play against Carlsen for the World Championship in November 2018. In this World Championship match, both Caruana and Carlsen had good winning chances on more than one occasion, but all 14 games of the match, which were played with a classical time control, ended in draws. In the subsequent rapid chess tiebreak, Carlsen clearly prevailed 3-0.

Nevertheless, Caruana knows how to win a Candidates Tournament, and he knows that he can win a Candidates Tournament. He can also look back on a very successful 2023, in which he went from success to success. In May, he won the Superbet Chess Classic tournament in Bucharest and at the World Cup, which ended in August, he finished third — although he lost in the semifinals to Praggnanandhaa, who is also taking part in Toronto. But later in 2023, Caruana went on to win the US Championship, the Sinquefield Cup and the Grand Chess Tour.

In other words, the trend is in Caruana's favour, and if he manages to maintain the good form he showed in 2023, he has a good chance of winning the Candidates Tournament for a second time and playing for the World Championship for a second time.

And there's something else in Caruana's favour: as he himself has admitted, his defeat to Carlsen in the 2018 World Championship match plunged him into a crisis. He seems to have overcome this and, in numerous interviews and on the podcast C-Squared, which he runs together with his second Cristian Chirila, he always makes a calm, confident and self-assured impression. This mental stability could give him an advantage at crucial moments in the Candidates Tournament.

Hikaru Nakamura - Elo 2789

Hikaru Nakamura, the number 2 seed and the oldest participant in the tournament at the age of 36, also appears very mentally stable. As he likes to emphasise in interviews, Nakamura no longer sees himself as a chess professional who earns his money with tournaments, but as a chess streamer. Nakamura is extremely successful in this respect. His stream channel GMHikaru currently (March 2024) has 2.27 million subscribers on YouTube and enjoys unbroken popularity.

Thanks to his income as a streamer, Nakamura is no longer dependent on good tournament results and can therefore, as he says himself, play freely and carefree in the few classicl tournaments in which he takes part. This relaxed attitude led to a series of successes in 2023. Nakamura won the Norway Chess Tournament and came second in the Grand Swiss Tournament, increasing his rating from 2768 in January 2023 to 2789 in March 2024.

Nakamura also has a lot of experience, of course. He became grandmaster in 2003 at the age of 15 years and 79 days, breaking Bobby Fischer's record as the youngest American grandmaster of all time. In 2010, Nakamura made it into the top ten for the first time, and since then he has played and won numerous top tournaments.

In addition, Nakamura is regarded as an outstanding blitz and bullet specialist and has practised playing under stress in hundreds of thousands of online blitz games. But despite the enormous amount of online games he has already played, he seems to be eager and highly motivated in every new blitz game. This will to win, and this passion, could also help him succeed in Toronto. Furthermore, Nakamura is regarded as one of the toughest and most tenacious defenders in the world, and these defensive skills could help the American in Toronto if it turns out in one or two games that he is theoretically not quite as well-prepared as his rivals due to his work as a streamer.

Toronto is Nakamura's third Candidates Tournament. On his debut in Moscow in 2016, he finished in a disappointing seventh place; on his second attempt, at the 2022 Candidates Tournament in Madrid, he came fourth. But if he had won or drawn against Ding Liren in the last round there, he — and not Ding Liren — would have finished second in Madrid and played Ian Nepomniachtchi, the winner of the 2022 Candidates Tournament, for the World Championship, since Carlsen famously decided not to defend his title.

As the second seed, Nakamura has a good nominal chance of winning in Toronto. He showed that he sees himself primarily as a streamer at the Candidates Tournament in Madrid 2022, where he commentated on all 14 games after each round on his streaming channel, providing a highlight of the tournament and also of chess commentary. Perhaps Nakamura will also be streaming in Toronto, and then we'll see whether his dual role as a candidate and streamer will inspire him or be a burden in this important tournament.

Alireza Firouzja - Elo 2760

Alireza Firouzja is regarded as one of the greatest chess talents of recent years. He was born on 18 June 2003 in Babol, Iran, and was already Iranian champion at the age of 12. He became a grandmaster at 14 and at the age of 18 years and 166 days became the youngest player ever to break the 2800 Elo mark, breaking the record set by Magnus Carlsen, who achieved this at the age of 18 years and 336 days.

In 2019, Firouzja left Iran with his family and settled in France, and since July 2021 he has been playing for France and is a French citizen. 2021 was also a good year for Firouzja in chess terms: in November 2021 he won the Grand Swiss Tournament with 8 out of 11 and with this victory qualified for the 2022 Candidates Tournament. Firouzja also impressed immediately afterwards at the European Team Championship: he scored 8 points from 9 games (+8, =2) on the top board and thus helped France to the silver medal at this European Team Championship (gold went to Ukraine). At the same time, these two top results in a row catapulted Firouzja to second place in the world rankings, where he remained from December 2021 to April 2022.

Firouzja went into the 2022 Candidates Tournament as one of the favourites, but the tournament was disappointing for the young grandmaster: with 6 points from 14 games, Firouzja finished in sixth place and was far from the form he had shown at the Grand Swiss and the European Team Championship.

From November 2022 to May 2023, Firouzja then took a break from classical chess and did not play a single rated game for seven consecutive months, sparking speculation about Firouzja's chess ambitions and future chess career. Speculation that was fuelled by the news that he had been studying fashion design in Paris since May 2023.

But at the end of 2023, Firouzja dispelled any doubts about his ambition. In order to qualify for the 2024 Candidates Tournament with the help of hisrating, Firouzja played against four players with a comparatively low rating in a tournament organised especially for him in December in order to gain Elo points through supposedly "easy" victories and thus overtake Wesley So, who was ahead of him in the world rankings at the time. This dubious method of gaining Elo points caused controversy in the chess world, and FIDE threatened to strip Firouzja of the points he had won in this tournament. But Firouzja did not give up: instead of taking part in the World Rapid and Blitz Championships in Samarkand, he played in a small, open event in Rouen at the end of 2023 in order to win the Elo points he needed to qualify for the Candidates Tournament. And he succeeded: Firouzja won the tournament with 7 out of 7 and thus secured qualification for the 2024 Candidates Tournament at literally the last minute.

If Firouzja finds his best form in Toronto and avoids the mistakes he made in the 2022 Candidates Tournament, he could win the 2024 Candidates Tournament. He has the necessary experience, the necessary playing strength and obviously also the necessary motivation.

Ian Nepomniachtchi - Elo 2758

Ian Nepomniachtchi plays particularly well when he's on a roll. The 33-year-old Russian is on a roll in Candidates tournaments: in April 2021 he won the Candidates Tournament in Yekaterinburg, which had been split into two parts due to the Covid pandemic and had started in March 2020. After this victory, Nepomniachtchi played Carlsen for the World Championship in November and December 2021. The first five games of the match were a battle of equals, but then Nepomniachtchi lost the dramatic sixth game in a difficult endgame. It was the longest game ever played at the World Championships and "Nepo" never recovered from this bitter defeat as the competition progressed. In the following five games, he made a series of simple mistakes that led to three bitter defeats. He managed a draw in two games, but the match still ended prematurely in Carlsen's favour with a score of 7½-3½.

However, in the next Candidates Tournament in Madrid 2022, "Nepo" was again in impressive form and won unbeaten with 9½ out of 14, putting him a full 1½ points ahead of Ding Liren, who finished second in the tournament and was allowed to play Nepomniachtchi for the World Championship, as Carlsen had decided not to defend his title.

The World Championship match between Ding and Nepomniachtchi was dramatic: Nepomniachtchi took the lead three times, Ding equalised three times until the score was finally 7-7 after 14 games and the new World Champion had to be decided in a four-game tiebreak match. Ding won this by the narrowest of margins, 2½-1½, to become Carlsen's successor and the 17th world champion in chess history.

Nepomniachtchi didn't play much in 2023 and didn't achieve any notable successes in major tournaments, although he did lose 35 rating points between January 2023 and March 2024 (in January 2023 he was just below the 2800 mark with a rating of 2793, in March 2024 he was far from it with a rating of 2758). However, as the loser of the 2022 World Championship match, Nepomniachtchi automatically qualified for the Candidates Tournament. Whether he can regain his old form in Toronto and continue his winning streak in the Candidates Tournament remains to be seen. Should Nepomniachtchi win in Toronto, he would be the only player in the history of chess to have won three Candidates Tournaments.

Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu - Elo 2747

The rating development of the 18-year-old Indian grandmaster Praggnanandhaa "Pragg" Rameshbabhu was completely different to that of "Nepo". He started 2023 with a rating of 2684, but then went from strength to strength to reach 2747.1 points in the March live list, up 63 points from January 2023. If this upward trend continues in the Candidates Tournament, then "Pragg" could indeed spring a surprise and become the youngest player in chess history to win a Candidates Tournament.

Gukesh Dommaraju - Elo 2742

As young as "Pragg" is, his compatriot Gukesh Dommaraju is even younger and, at 17, the youngest participant in the Candidates Tournament. He was born on 29 May 2006 and will celebrate his 18th birthday one month after the end of the Candidates Tournament on 22 April. Nevertheless, Gukesh is not the youngest contestant of all time. The record holder here is once again Carlsen, who qualified for the Candidates shortly after his 15th birthday on 30 November by finishing tenth at the World Cup in December 2005. The second-youngest candidate of all time is Bobby Fischer, who was 15 years and 6 months old when he qualified for the 1959 Candidates by finishing sixth at the Interzonal in Portoroz.

Like Praggnanandhaa, Gukesh also had a successful year in 2023, recording a rating increase, albeit smaller than that of his compatriot. Gukesh started 2023 with an Elo rating of 2725, and his current live rating is 2742.7. After the 2023 World Cup, Gukesh even managed to break the 2750 barrier, becoming the youngest player ever to do so.

Now, you might think that 18-year-old Praggnanandhaa and 17-year-old Gukesh are both too young to win a Candidates Tournament. However, talented chess players have been becoming grandmasters earlier and earlier in recent years, so it could be that the winners of the Candidates Tournaments are also getting younger and younger.

Mikhail Tal won the 1959 Candidates Tournament in Portoroz at the age of 22 and Garry Kasparov was 21 when he played his first match in the 1984 Candidates final on 10 March 1984 against 63-year-old Vassily Smyslov, whom he defeated 8½-4½. Two long World Championship matches against Anatoly Karpov later, Kasparov became the youngest world champion of all time in 1985 at the age of 22 years and 6 months.

Like the other players in the Candidates Tournament, Gukesh has the talent, the motivation and ultimately the experience to win the tournament. And he showed what he is already capable of at the 2022 Chess Olympiad in Chennai, where he started on board 1 with 8 out of 8 and ultimately finished the tournament with 9 out of 11 and a performance of 2867.

Vidit Gujrathi - Elo 2727

Born on 24 October 1994, Vidit Gujrathi is the third Indian in the Candidates Tournament, albeit more than ten years older than Praggnanandhaa and Gukesh. With a current (mid-March) live rating of 2727.1, he is ranked seventh in the seeding list and thus nominally only has an outside chance in Toronto. In addition, Vidit was completely out of form in his last appearance before the Candidates Tournament, the Chess Festival in Prague: with 3 out of 9, he ended up in tenth (last) place. His Indian rivals fared better: Praggnanandhaa finished second to fourth in Prague with 5 out of 9, 1½ points behind tournament winner Nodirbek Abdusattorov, and Gukesh scored 4½ out of 9.

However, we know from the theatre that a bad dress rehearsal is a good omen for the premiere. Vidit showed how this works in practice at the Grand Swiss Tournament 2023, where he qualified for the Candidates Tournament: he started the tournament with a loss in the first round, but then took 7 wins and 3 draws from the next ten games to win the tournament with a commanding 8½/11.

Nijat Abasov - Elo 2632

The absolute outsider in the field is the Azerbaijani grandmaster Nijat Abasov, who was born in 1995 and is currently ranked 110th in the world with an Elo rating of 2632. Abasov started the 2023 World Cup in 69th place in the seeding list, but surprisingly finished fourth and made it into the Candidates Tournament because World Cup winner Carlsen did not want to play in the Candidates Tournament. After the World Cup, Abasov reached 2679, but since then, he's dropped 47 Elo points — which is not the only indication that he'll have a tough time in Toronto.


If you look at the numerous successes of this year's candidates, you can say that seven of the eight participants in the Candidates Tournament in Toronto have a more or less good chance of winning the tournament. In terms of rating and experience, Caruana is the favourite, but of course, the rating favourite does not always win in such strong, balanced and prestigious tournaments. A lot depends on the form, mental stability, the start to the tournament and, last but not least, a little bit of luck. In terms of mental stability, Nakamura and perhaps also Vidit, who has been strengthened by regular meditation, could have an advantage. And as for the three youngest players in the field — Gukesh, Praggnanandhaa and Firouzja — with a little luck and the vigour and confidence of youth, all three could win the tournament. But as mentioned above, such predictions all have their pitfalls. What seems certain, however, is that the 2024 Candidates Tournament will be an exciting, combative chess celebration.

What do you think?



Johannes Fischer was born in 1963 in Hamburg and studied English and German literature in Frankfurt. He now lives as a writer and translator in Nürnberg. He is a FIDE-Master and regularly writes for KARL, a German chess magazine focusing on the links between culture and chess. On his own blog he regularly publishes notes on "Film, Literature and Chess".
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gar7 gar7 4/3/2024 01:19
I would like to see Anna Muzychuk win the women & Hikaru Nakamura win the mens Candidates
lajosarpad lajosarpad 3/27/2024 11:27
@Masquer the chess world cup is a series of short matches and in the WC cycle it determines two participants of the Candidates Tournament, which are the two top finishers who did not qualify otherwise. Reaching the result Abasov did is extremely impressive and I think he is a worthy member of the Candidates tournament.


R1: He was not paired with anyone
R2: Abdusattorov 0.5 - Sanal (2585) 1.5


R1: He was not paired with anyone
R2: Can (2570) 1.5 - So 2.5
R3: Moussard (2654) 2.5 - So 3.5
R4: Sarana (2685) 1.5 - So 0.5


R1: Abasov 2 - Makoto (2312) 0
R2: Abasov 2.5 - Fressinet (2652) 1.5
R3: Giri (2775) 3.5 - Abasov 4.5
R4: Abasov 2.5 - Svidler (2688) 1.5
R5: Abasov 2 - Salem (2661) 0
R6: Abasov 1.5 - Vidit (2719) 0.5
R7: Carlsen (2835) 1.5 - Abasov 0.5
For third place: Abasov 1 - Caruana (2782) 3

So, how did Abdusattorov and So fare in comparison to Abasov? They did not even have to play in the first round. Abasov played a single match and lost against a 2585 player, so he's off the table. And So? Played 3 matches against < 2700 players, won two of them and lost one of them, he lost his only decisive classical game. And Abasov? He has passed through Fressinet, Giri, Svidler, Salem, Vidit. Yes, he lost two matches, but those matches were played against Carlsen (top rated and world champion for a decade) and Caruana (former challenger). Let's not forget that he only lost against Caruana on tie-breaks. So, he is much more worthy to be a candidate in view of the World Cup than Abdusattorov or So.
arzi arzi 3/27/2024 06:53
Vidmar, who is Carlson? Some popular swede popsinger?
gwrtheyrn gwrtheyrn 3/26/2024 04:37
Commenter Masquer mentions a 'poor qualification format.' I think he's right about that, but I suspect that any qualification system will occasionally exclude the worthy & include some less so. Look at Leonid Stein's history in FIDE qualifiers.

Nowadays, FIDE have a tough task in getting their act together, when the strongest player in the world apparently wants nothing to do with their system!
Masquer Masquer 3/26/2024 03:39
A poor qualification format has allowed a much weaker player to reach such a prestigious and important event. The World Cup is too much of a crap shoot to allow the 4th place finisher (someone who has lost 2 matches) to reach the Candidates. In the meantime, vastly superior players like Wesley So and Nodirbek Abdusattorov have to sit and watch.
FIDE have to get their act together.
johnfmichael johnfmichael 3/25/2024 05:54
I have a lot of critical commentary I would like to add to these comments, but instead I will simply say good luck to all of the participants. Personally, I'll be rooting for Nakamura.
Vidmar Vidmar 3/25/2024 03:41
If Nodirbek was included, it would be a dream tournament. Only tainted by Firouzja getting in by playing weak tournaments. Even so, he's my choice to win. Fabi lost me when he took a draw vrs Nepo in a good position in
the last Candidates'. Would Fischer (or Kasparov or Carlson) have agreed to that draw ?! )) hardly
And Nepo-Ding rematch ?! Yuk
arzi arzi 3/25/2024 08:41
1. Caru 2.Naka 3. Nepo

One of these three will play against Ding Liren. Naka is the best with the blitz format and Nepo plays well in all different formats. Caru is the thougest with his nerves.
gwrtheyrn gwrtheyrn 3/25/2024 02:46
Nodirbek Abdusattorov would probably have been my pick if he were in this Candidates. He's shown that he has absolutely first-rate nerves, even if some others may be better at pure Chess.
lajosarpad lajosarpad 3/24/2024 11:57
It would be fun to see a Nepo - Ding rematch
Jacob woge Jacob woge 3/24/2024 11:02
That seems to add up to more than 100% ?
lbtr74aao lbtr74aao 3/24/2024 10:19
Candidates Tournament 2024 Winner Odds Probability
Fabiano Caruana 6/4 40.0%
Ian Nepomniachtchi4/1 20.0%
Alireza Firouzja 5/1 16.7%
Hikaru Nakamura 6/1 14.3%
D Gukesh 7/1 12.5%