Race for the Candidates: Four places still up for grabs

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
10/25/2023 – The Candidates Tournament and the Women’s Candidates Tournament will be played simultaneously next year in Toronto. Four spots are still up for grabs in the open event, while three participants remain to be decided among the women. In both cases, two spots will be decided in the upcoming Grand Swiss tournaments. Let us recap who already qualified, and who are the frontrunners to get the remaining spots. | Pictured: Elite grandmasters apparently discussing a position during the Grand Swiss opening ceremony. | Photo: Anna Shtourman

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Looking for Ding’s challenger

The 2022-23 World Championship cycle came to an end in April, with Ding Liren beating Ian Nepomniachtchi to become the new king of classical chess. Since then, the Chinese ace has only played one classical tournament, while the race to become the next challenger has carried on rather intensely, with players fighting to get either direct spots (via the World Cup) or long-term performance-based spots (via rating or via the FIDE Circuit).

For now, four players have already qualified to the 2024 edition of 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

(*) 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 semi-finalist: Nijat Abasov from Azerbaijan.

The remaining four spots will be given to the winner and runner-up of the Grand Swiss, the player with the highest score on the FIDE Circuit, and the player with the highest rating in the January 2024 world ranking (provided he has played at least four classical tournaments eligible to be part of the FIDE Circuit).

Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu

Praggnanandhaa signing autographs for (even) younger fans at the end of the FIDE World Cup in Baku | Photo: Anna Shtourman

Grand Swiss

The top two players in the final standings of the Grand Swiss will qualify to the Candidates. In the 2021 edition of the event, 108 players participated, with Alireza Firouzja winning the tournament outright, and Fabiano Caruana edging Grigoriy Oparin on tiebreaks after both tied for second place a half point behind the winner.

This year, a total of 114 players have registered to participate.

Top seed Fabiano Caruana is already qualified, while the next four highest-rated players will need to consider both their chances to get one of the top two spots in the final standings and their performance relative to their colleagues fighting for the long-term qualification paths — i.e. going all-in at critical points might not always be the best idea.

These four players are Hikaru Nakamura, Alireza Firouzja, Anish Giri and Dommaraju Gukesh.

While it is obvious that Nakamura and Firouzja need to keep a close eye on their ratings as they are the currently frontrunners in the rating race, the cases of Gukesh and Giri have to do with their standings on the FIDE Circuit, where they are currently in first and third place, respectively.

Meanwhile, a number of very strong grandmasters are likely to go all-in if they are hunting the leader(s) with a few rounds to go, as that might be their last chance to reach the Candidates. The likes of Richard Rapport, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Jan-Krzysztof Duda, Levon Aronian, and Nodirbek Abdusattorov, among many others, belong to this group.

According to the tournament regulations, the first tiebreak criterion for players with the same number of points is the Average Rating of Opponents Cut 1 (AROC 1), which means the rating of a player’s lowest-rated opponent is discarded in the calculation.

Hikaru Nakamura

Hikaru Nakamura during the 2022 Candidates Tournament in Madrid | Photo: Stev Bonhage

Three spots left to be decided in the Women’s Candidates

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.

In this case, the players are fighting to become Ju Wenjun’s challenger, who defeated her friend and compatriot Lei Tingjie in a 12-game match for the world crown back in July.

Unlike in the open, only three Candidates’ spots are left to be decided in the women’s cycle. The players already qualified are:

  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

(*) 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.

Nurgyul Salimova

Nurgyul Salimova reached the final of the Women’s World Cup | Photo: Stev Bonhage

Similarly to the open event, two spots will be granted in the Women’s Grand Swiss and, since there is no Women’s FIDE Circuit, the eighth spot will be given to the highest-rated woman player in the January 2024 ranking. In this case, the condition to be eligible for the rating spot is to have played at least 30 classical rated games in 2023.

A total of 50 players registered to participate in the Women’s Grand Swiss.

Much like Fabiano Caruana, the top seed in the women’s event, Aleksandra Goryachkina, is already qualified. However, unlike in the open, almost all the remaining favourites (except Anna Muzychuk) will need to end among the top two in the standings to reach the Candidates, since Humpy Koneru — who will not be playing — is very likely to get the rating spot.

Needing the top two spots to qualify to the Candidates are Alexandra Kosteniuk, Mariya Muzychuk, Tan Zhongyi, Polina Shuvalova, Harika Dronavalli, Elisabeth Paehtz and Nino Batsiashvili among others.

A number of young stars, surely capable of having an exceptional run in a single event, are also in the mix: Vaishali Rameshbabu, Divya Deshmukh, Eline Roebers and Alice Lee stand out in this group.

Divya Deshmukh

Divya Deshmukh recently won the Tata Steel India rapid tournament, despite entering the event as a late-replacement and as the lowest-rated participant | Photo: Vivek Sohani


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.