Gukesh, Firouzja and Humpy make it to the Candidates

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
1/1/2024 – We are three months away from the start of the Candidates Tournaments in Toronto. With no more rated classical games in the December-2023 period, we got the names of the two players who got the rating spot in the open and women’s sections — Alireza Firouzja and Humpy Koneru (pictured), respectively. The 2023 edition of the FIDE Circuit has also finished, with Gukesh grabbing the Candidates spot by finishing in second place, since Fabiano Caruana — the winner of the Circuit — was already qualified via the FIDE World Cup. | Photo: FIDE / Lennart Ootes

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Two simultaneous, top-notch competitions

This year, the open and women’s sections of the Candidates Tournament will take place concurrently. The winner of the open will get the right to face Ding Liren in the next match for the world title, while the winner of the women’s section will get to challenge Ju Wenjun.

Toronto will host the top-notch double round-robins on April 3-25. The event will be sponsored by the Scheinberg family, as part of a long-term collaboration agreement with FIDE. It will be the first time that the Candidates Tournament will be held in North America.

Now that 2023 has come to an end, we already know the names of all 16 players who qualified to the events, with a last-minute race seen in the fight to get the rating spot and the FIDE Circuit spot in the open section.

Open: Firouzja and Gukesh deliver

Amid some controversy, the players who still had chances to reach the Candidates made big efforts to obtain the two last Candidates’ spots in December.

In the FIDE Circuit race, Gukesh made the most of the chance provided by Indian organizers, as he scored 4½/7 points to win the Chennai Masters and overtake Anish Giri in the Circuit leaderboard. Giri and Arjun Erigaisi could have surpassed Gukesh in the World Rapid and Blitz Championships, but failed to achieve the results needed to do so.

Gukesh did not finish first in the Circuit, but the winner of the series, Fabiano Caruana, had already qualified to the Candidates by getting third place in the FIDE World Cup.

Meanwhile, the race to get the rating spot went down to the wire, with Leinier Domínguez and Alireza Firouzja registering to play in open tournaments looking to surpass Wesley So in the official ratings list for January 2024.

After Firouzja failed to score 6/6 in a hastily organized series of matches in Chartres, FIDE suddenly changed the procedure to register official tournaments, preventing more last-minute events from showing up in the calendar.

The change in regulations, however, did not prevent Firouzja from withdrawing from the World Rapid and Blitz Championships and registering to play in a Swiss open in Rouen, France. The bold attempt to get the necessary rating points while facing much lower-rated opponents worked out marvellously, as the 20-year-old scored 7/7 and indeed overtook So in the live ratings list (even if FIDE decides not to rate the series of matches in Chartres).

With the last two names confirmed, this is the list of participants for the Candidates:

  1. Ian Nepomniachtchi, as the latest challenger for the world title
  2. Magnus Carlsen, as the winner of the World Cup (*)
  3. Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu, as the runner-up in the World Cup
  4. Fabiano Caruana, for his third place in the World Cup
  5. Vidit Gujrathi, as the winner of the Grand Swiss
  6. Hikaru Nakamura, as the runner-up in the Grand Swiss
  7. Dommaraju Gukesh, for his performance in the FIDE Circuit tournaments
  8. Alireza Firouzja, as the (nonqualified) player with the highest rating in January 2024

(*) Carlsen, who decided not to defend his world title in the previous match for the crown, declared that he does not plan to participate in the Candidates. According to the regulations, if the Norwegian indeed withdraws, his spot will go to the remaining World Cup semifinalist: Nijat Abasov from Azerbaijan.

Women’s: Humpy expectedly gets the rating spot

It will be nice to see the Women’s Candidates Tournament taking place alongside the open event. This is both a fine initiative to promote the women’s cycle and a nice addition in terms of entertainment value — i.e. with eight games being played daily instead of four, it is almost certain that at least a couple will be hard-fought, sharp struggles.

Unlike in the open, only one spot was left to be decided in December: the rating spot. Predictably, Indian star Humpy Koneru qualified, as she had a 44-point advantage over Mariya Muzychuk, the highest-rated player not already qualified to the Candidates.

Not counting Hou Yifan — who is semi-retired — and world champion Ju Wenjun, the six highest-rated players from the January ranking will be playing the Candidates.

The remaining participants will be Nurgyul Salimova, who over-performed in the World Cup, and Vaishali Rameshbabu, who qualified thanks to her remarkable performance in the Grand Swiss. Notably, Vaishali and her brother Praggnanandhaa, the first-ever brother-sister grandmaster duo, will both be playing in Toronto!

So this is the final lineup for the Women’s Candidates Tournament:

  1. Lei Tingjie, as the latest challenger for the world title
  2. Kateryna Lagno, as the winner of the 2022-23 Women’s Grand Prix
  3. Aleksandra Goryachkina, as the runner-up in the 2022-23 Women’s Grand Prix
  4. Nurgyul Salimova, as the runner-up in the World Cup (*)
  5. Anna Muzychuk, for her third place in the World Cup
  6. Vaishali Rameshbabu, as the winner of the Women’s Grand Swiss
  7. Tan Zhongyi, for her third place in the Women’s Grand Swiss (**)
  8. Humpy Koneru, as the (nonqualified) player with the highest rating in January 2024

(*) Note that the winner of the World Cup is not included in this list. Aleksandra Goryachkina, who emerged victorious in Baku, was already qualified via the Women’s Grand Prix.

(**) Anna Muzychuk finished second in the Women’s Grand Swiss, but had already qualified in the World Cup.

Attack like a Super Grandmaster

In this Fritztrainer: “Attack like a Super GM” with Gukesh we touch upon all aspects of his play, with special emphasis on how you can become a better attacking player.

Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.
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