Malcolm Pein on the Candidates

by Malcolm Pein
5/2/2024 – "We held the magazine to await the outcome of the Candidates," writes the Executive Editor of CHESS Magazine, London. 17-year-old Dommaraju Gukesh became the youngest world title challenger in the history of the game, and will take on Ding Liren later this year in the first ever all-Asian match for the world title. Malcolm has analysed a couple of games from the Candidates.

ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024 ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024

It is the program of choice for anyone who loves the game and wants to know more about it. Start your personal success story with ChessBase and enjoy the game even more.


We held the magazine to await the outcome of the Candidates. The tournament was decided late into the night UK time when after over six hours of play, Fabiano Caruana could not convert a winning position against Ian Nepomniachtchi in order to force a playoff and so 17-year-old Dommaraju Gukesh became the youngest world title challenger in the history of the game. Gukesh will take on Ding Liren later this year in the first ever all-Asian match for the world title. I’m pleased to report that Ding described himself as “the favourite in Classical chess” when asked about the upcoming match, so perhaps he is recovering better from Long Covid, which, I understand, has been the main reason for his poor performances since becoming champion.

It does feel like a new era is upon us. It was only yesterday that I attended The Memorial Beer and Blitz at the iconic Kings Head pub in Bayswater, west London, sponsored by GM David Norwood and where nine-year-old Supratit Banerjee was beating GMs. Someone came up to me and said: “Supratit has just beaten x and y” (names withheld to protect the innocen) and I said, “And so he should!” As I write, Bodhana Sivanandan, 9, is on 2/3 at the European Individual and has faced three established titled players who compete for Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Gukesh was perhaps the least fancied of the Indian trio who qualified for the eight-player double-rounder at Toronto, but a glance at the crosstable shows he bested both his compatriots. Hikaru Nakamura’s two defeats at the hands of Vidit Gujrathi stand out too. Nakamura played brilliantly otherwise and even managed to do his nightly video round-ups to keep his fans happy. He inflicted on Fabiano Caruana his sole defeat as both Americans came agonisingly close. The last round was set up perfectly: Nakamura 8/13 vs Gukesh 8½/13 and Caruana 8/13 vs Nepomniachtchi 8/13.

Gukesh produced some superb preparation to defuse Nakamura’s attacking intent:

11...b4! The point is 12 axb4 Nc6! and the knight gets to b4 controlling the key d5-square. If 13 b5 axb5 14 Qxb5? Nb4 15 Qe2 Qc7!! prepares ....Ba6 and Black is better. After 12 Ìe4 bxa3 Black was fine and Nakamura’s pawn sacrifice only led to him struggling to hold an endgame.

Gukesh’s TPR at Toronto was close to 2850 and he shot up ten places to world number six. The excitement in India is already building.

It’s certainly been a meteoric rise. According to chess historian Olimpiu Urcan, in August 2021 Gukesh, then 15, was ranked 311 in the world. A year later he was 38th, and last August he entered the top ten for the first time. He only qualified for the Candidates at the last gasp, winning a hastily organised tournament in Chennai at the end of December after a failure at the London Chess Classic. This took him to the top of the FIDE Circuit.

Gukesh was a pleasure to have at the LCC, a true gentleman at 17, and he made a wonderful impression on everyone he met at the closing dinner. I hope Toronto ends the debate on the Candidates format. It was a tremendous tournament, as was London 2013 which will never be matched for sheer drama I suspect. I look forward to a great world title match.

We’ll cover the nerve jangling Caruana-Nepomniachtchi game in the next issue. Afterwards both were naturally visibly deflated. Nepomniachtchi said: “I’m very sorry.” Caruana replied, “My fault”.

Caruana was always chasing qualification after this defeat. Hikaru Nakamura really has dominated his rival in Classical encounters, winning the last three: the 2022 Madrid Candidates in an Open Lopez, Norway Chess 2023 in a Two Knights Defence, and at the FIDE Grand Swiss in a Scotch Four Knights. He did it again, in another 1 e4 e5 opening, outplaying the world number two in what I would call a Slow Ruy Lopez. This was brilliantly played by the full-time chess streamer who rather revelled in his interview persona of a part-time player who doesn’t care too much. In his nightly video summary after this game he said: “I just want to play good chess and see where the chips will land.”

The psychology of this game was interesting. Nakamura was keenly aware of the fact that Caruana was half a point behind Ian Nepomniachtchi, who was White against the backmarker and outsider Nijat Abasov. Nakamura thought this might make Caruana keener than he might normally be with Black to make the game interesting.

Click on the notation to get a replay board with engine assistance.

Had Nepomniachtchi qualified, this would have been a key win. The Russian must have done a lot of work on the Berlin Endgame for his two world title matches and uncorked a novelty which probably won him the game in practice, even if the move does not remotely threaten the viability of Black’s set-up.

I had hoped that the younger players Vaishali Rameshbabu, Praggnanandhaa’s sister, and Nurgyul Salimova would break through at the Women’s Candidates, but the Chinese maintained their dominance as Tan Zhongyi goes through to play Ju Wenjun, six years after their first match which the holder won narrowly 5½-4½.

Vaishali actually won more games, five in all, than Tan, but lost four and finished in a highly creditable tie for second with her established compatriot Koneru Humpy and another former title challenger, Lei Tingjie.

Special offers from CHESS Magazine

Fabien Libiszewski: Master the Kalashnikov Sicilian
PC-DVD; running time: 5 hours, 7 minutes
RRP £30.95 SUBSCRIBERS £27.85

Opening Encyclopaedia 2024
ChessBase PC-DVD
RRP £135.00 SUBSCRIBERS £121.50

Luis Engel: Uncovering the Anti-Sicilians!
A dynamic grandmaster repertoire against 1.e4 Vol.3
PC-DVD; running time: 4 hours, 45 minutes
RRP £34.95 SUBSCRIBERS £31.45

Order your ChessBase products from CHESS Magazine here

CHESS cover

About CHESS Magazine

The above editorial is reproduced from Chess Magazine May/2024, with kind permission.

CHESS Magazine was established in 1935 by B.H. Wood who ran it for over fifty years. It is published each month by the London Chess Centre and is edited by IM Richard Palliser and Matt Read.

The Executive Editor is Malcolm Pein, who organises the London Chess Classic.

CHESS is mailed to subscribers in over 50 countries. You can subscribe from Europe and Asia at a specially discounted rate for first timers, or subscribe from North America.

Malcolm Pein is the CEO of Chess in Schools and Communities, organiser of the London Chess Classic, Managing Director of Chess and Bridge Ltd, the publisher of CHESS Magazine, and chess correspondent for the Daily Telegraph.
Discussion and Feedback Submit your feedback to the editors