International Chess Federation
Friday, 12 Apr 2024 02:29
FIDE Candidates: Nepomniachtchi and Tan lead at the halfway point

The unpredictable Toronto weather had no mercy on the players and spectators in Round 7 of the Candidates. The summer-like sunny day that the participants were treated to on the previous day transformed into a heavy downpour before the start of the games. Unlike the weather, it was a calmer day in the tournament, with only three games ending with decisive results. 

Gukesh D, the tournament’s co-leader, suffered a painful loss at the hands of Alireza Firouzja. Playing with White, Gukesh was up a pawn and pressing his opponent, when he miscalculated and went for 27…Nxf2, a piece sacrifice that he thought was winning. The tables turned when Firouzja found a great defensive resource with 31. Qb3, completely equalizing. 

The Frenchman called himself lucky multiple times at the press conference because all the lines worked well for him. Black found himself down a piece, but his queenside passed pawns proved to be sufficient counterplay. However, in the time scramble, Gukesh made another grave mistake with 36…Kh7, and his position quickly collapsed soon after. With all cameras focusing on the players, the dramatic and intense finale of this game, which was the last one to finish, was the highlight of the tournament’s broadcast.

During the post-mortem, Firouzja confessed that because he no longer has anything to lose in the tournament, he will continue to play double-edged chess, hoping to generate more winning chances for himself.

Hikaru Nakamura and Ian Nepomniachtchi blitzed out over 20 moves in a sharp line of the Petrov Defence, before Nepomniachtchi thought for 17 minutes on 22…Nd7. Nakamura also went for a 17-minute think before responding with 23. Nef3, and from there, both players were on their own. 

The game never seriously deviated from equality but featured a spectacular combination which involved the sacrifice of two pieces (26…Bxg3 followed by 27…Nf4+) and led to an imbalance rarely seen in chess: a queen for Nepomniachtchi for Nakamura’s rook and two knights. Their draw – though the logical outcome – does not do justice to the excitement that this game produced. Due to Gukesh’s loss, we now see Nepomniachtchi going into the second rest day on 4.5 points as the sole leader in the FIDE Candidates Tournament. 

The game featuring Praggnanandhaa R and Fabiano Caruana was a much calmer affair and ended in a draw. Both players are trailing the leader by half a point. 

Vidit Santosh Gujrathi had good chances against Nijat Abasov but, unfortunately, did not find the most critical continuation of his kingside attack. 

After 41. gxh4, Vidit could have brought the rook into the attack with 41…Rh7, which promised very good chances for Black. After 41…g4, the continuation in the game, Abasov got a chance to regroup and defend. The game ended in a draw. 

In the FIDE Women’s Candidates Tournament, yesterday’s fierce battles transformed into calmer ones today, with three games ending in draws. Aleksandra Goryachkina, playing with White, did not manage to pose serious problems to the tournament’s leader, Tan Zhongyi. 

Kateryna Lagno was putting pressure on Nurgyul Salimova with the White pieces, but Black defended well, and the draw was quickly agreed upon. “I sacrificed this pawn (16. Nxc4); I knew this idea, of course. I was sure I was fine, but when I castled and played 16…f6, I had other possibilities, too, so it was quite messy for me. I saw many possibilities and was not exactly sure which one to choose. The way I played led me to a draw, so maybe it was good,” said Salimova after the game. 

At the halfway point of the tournament, Anna Muzychuk and Humpy Koneru, both of whom find themselves at the bottom of the standings, also made a draw. They are going to recharge their batteries during tomorrow’s free day, hoping for a better second half of the tournament. 

Lei Tingjie was the only winner of the day in the FIDE Women’s Candidates. She played a lopsided game against Vaishali R, scoring a second consecutive win. 

“I think the game was very complicated, and at some point in the opening, I was a little worse,” shared Lei after the game. “Later on, the position was very strange with those four knights in the center. Generally, I think this game was not so good.”

With this win, Lei climbed to joint third place alongside Lagno and is now half a point behind Goryachkina in second place. Tan Zhongyi, on five points, remains the sole leader of the event going into the second rest day. 

With the first half of the FIDE Candidates behind us, the tournament will continue with Round 8 on Saturday. The players will now meet each other once again with the colours reversed from their first matches.

The eighth round of the event will commence on the 13th of April at 14:30 EDT (Toronto). 

Standings after Round 7:


1. Nepomniachtchi – 4½
2-4. Caruana, Gukesh, Praggnanandhaa – 4
5-6. Vidit, Nakamura – 3½
7. Firouzja – 2½
8. Abasov – 2


1. Tan Zhongyi – 5
2. Goryachkina – 4½
3-4. Lagno, Lei – 4
5. Salimova – 3
6-8. Vaishali, Koneru, A. Muzychuk – 2½

Round 8 pairings:


Nakamura - Caruana
Nepomniachtchi - Abasov
Praggnanandhaa - Firouzja
Vidit - Gukesh


Lagno - Goryachkina
Salimova – A. Muzychuk
Tan - Lei
Koneru - Vaishali

Written by WGM Anna Burtasova

Photos: Michal Walusza and Maria Emelianova/

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