On the way to Toronto: Candidates’ performances in Wijk aan Zee

by Thorsten Cmiel
2/21/2024 – The road to Toronto for the 2024 Candidates Tournament is getting shorter and shorter. Some of the candidates were active in Wijk aan Zee. Thorsten Cmiel took a look at their games. Who is in good form and who is struggling? | Photos: Jurriaan Hoefsmit & Lennart Ootes – Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2024

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Mixed results

The 2024 Tata Steel Masters in Wijk aan Zee once again offered a great chess spectacle. This year, the main focus was on the return of the World Champion, Ding Liren, and the five candidates from Toronto. Ding did not have a good tournament overall, and in the second half he was a shadow of his former self. The candidates had mixed results.

The results of the candidates are mainly statements to the other players that will participate in the Toronto event: Alireza Firouzja lost three black games in a row during the tournament and equalised with his white games. It appears that he held back his opening preparation with Black in the Netherlands. Against Gukesh and Praggnanandhaa, he was ultimately lucky in getting two draws.

Ian Nepomniachtchi cannot be satisfied with his final fifty-percent score. Vidit only lost to Wei Yi in the final round and had no serious difficulties in any of the first twelve rounds. Pragg can be satisfied with twelve of his thirteen games.

The table of candidates in the direct comparison sees Gukesh and Vidit at the top. However, the two Indians had the white pieces in three games, while Nepo and Pragg played three times with the black pieces.

Candidates’ direct-encounter results | Created on ChessBase 17

Gukesh seems to be in the best form a few months before the 8-player tournament. In his games against Firouzja and Pragg, he could have scored more than two half points. Let us have a closer look at what happened in the games between the three youngsters. Curiously, these games took place in the three final rounds.

Ian Nepomniachtchi, Dommaraju Gukesh

Dommaraju Gukesh beat Ian Nepomniachtchi in round 5 | Photo: Tata Steel Chess Tournament / Lennart Ootes

Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu

Praggnanandhaa in round 12 | Photo: Tata Steel Chess Tournament / Lennart Ootes

Alireza Firouzja

The ever-stylish Alireza Firouzja | Photo: Tata Steel Chess Tournament / Lennart Ootes

The conclusion of the games played between the candidates in Wijk aan Zee should be that Gukesh is a force to be reckoned with.

Praggnanandhaa, like Vidit, seems to want to play a controlled offence. Except for the game against Gukesh, Pragg’s play was almost flawless. After the game against the other boy from Chennai, however, Pragg was disappointed and spoke of a game in which none of his moves made sense. A day later, Gukesh talked about the draw against Pragg very calmly.

In the end, Gukesh achieved a strong result with a plus-four score. The Indian only lost to Wei Yi in the final of the blitz tiebreakers. Firouzja, Pragg and Vidit all obtained plus-two scores. Each of the three players can be somewhat satisfied.

Firouzja managed five victories with three defeats. This high number of victories was topped by Gukesh, who had two defeats at the start of the tournament — and six wins. Just like Nodirbek Abdusattorov from Uzbekistan, who is not the focus of this report.

All candidates’ games - Tata Steel Masters

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Thorsten Cmiel is FIDE Master, lives in Cologne and Milano and works as a freelance finance journalist.
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