Candidates 2024: Standings Shake-Up After Almost Six Hours in Round Five

Tuesday was a day of escapes for players in both sections of the Candidates Tournament. Miraculous saves by GM Fabiano Caruana against GM Vidit Gujrathi in the Candidates and by GM Lei Tingjie against GM Kateryna Lagno in the Women’s Candidates were matched only by game-losing blunders in the two decisive games of the day, played by GM Alireza Firouzja against GM Hikaru Nakamura and GM Gukesh D. against GM Nijat Abasov. All in all, an exciting round that did not significantly change the standings – Gukesh and GM Ian Nepomniachtchi vie for pole position, while GM Tan Zhongyi continues to hold a half-point lead in the women’s section.



Initially, the most exciting matchup portended to be GM Praggnanandhaa R. versus Nepomniachtchi (the game between the players with the longest names in the tournament – a true annotator’s nightmare!). Praggnanandhaa has shown a taste for preparing extremely sharp lines thus far, and did not disappoint, playing an enterprising pawn sacrifice to meet Nepomniachtchi’s Petroff.


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Praggnanandhaa has proven to be a dangerous "chef" in this tournament, cooking up a number of testing opening surprises already (Photo courtesy Michal Walusza/FIDE)


For the most part, Nepomniachtchi defended well, but one careless move gave Praggnanandhaa the chance to force a position that was objectively (but not at all obviously) winning.


Nepomniachtchi was not pleased with the unpleasant defensive task he faced during the game. (First photo courtesy Michal Walusza/FIDE. All other photos courtesy Maria Emelianova/


As it turned out, both players had misevaluated the resulting position during the game. Praggnanandhaa blinked, steered the game towards an endgame, and did not manage anything more than a draw.



Caruana, the pre-tournament favorite of many, was put under serious pressure by Vidit after failing to equalize in a Sicilian Rossolimo (notably, already Caruana’s second Rossolimo of the tournament). But in a winning position, possibly wary of the looming time scramble, the Indian star chose to force a draw. A clear missed opportunity.


Left: Gukesh and Abasov reached a challenging queen-and-pawn endgame that Abasov was unable to hold (Photo courtesy Michal Walusza/FIDE). A victorious Gukesh (pictured leaving the playing hall with commentator, former world champion, and countryman GM Vishwanathan Anand) now joins Nepomniachtchi in the lead (Photos courtesy Maria Emelianova/


Gukesh confidently outplayed Abasov in the early middlegame, but let his opponent off the hook multiple times during the conversion. Ultimately, the game recalled Tartakower’s famous quote: “the winner of the game is the player who makes the next-to-last mistake.” Gukesh’s win was assured only by a blunder at the beginning of a queen endgame – on move 83.

The game of the day, however, was the intense struggle between Firouzja and Nakamura. In an objectively equal position, Firouzja several times refused to simplify the position and continued to aim for victory.


In such a grueling game, it's often hard to tell who the winner was until the press conference! (Photos courtesy Maria Emelianova/


As so often happens in such cases, the only player defeated by Firouzja in the end was…himself:



After five rounds, it’s still difficult to choose a clear favorite, as no one player has separated themselves from the pack, either in terms of quality of play or in terms of results. Today’s round showed that none of the players are invulnerable, and I think significant changes in the standings are still to come.


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Courtesy FIDE


The two leaders have the white pieces today, with Gukesh facing off against Nakamura and Nepomniachtchi against Caruana. Facing such strong players, it will be interesting to see if either leader pushes for a win, and if either challenger even lets them escape with a quick draw if they try.



All four games were drawn in the Women’s section, although once again this was no fault of the players, as only one game (GM Humpy Koneru versus GM Aleksandra Goryachkina) stayed close to equality throughout.


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Goryachkina is taking the "solid" approach to the tournament, having won one game and given up no other chances (Photo courtesy Michal Walusza/FIDE)


Tournament leader GM Tan Zhongyi was unable to extend her lead after impressive defense from Bulgaria’s IM Nurgyul Salimova.


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Salimova has proven up to the challenge of defending against the top seeds (Photo courtesy Michal Walusza/FIDE)


After surviving a shaky opening, Salimova set up a light-square blockade and saved the game with ease:



GM-Elect Vaishali Rameshbabu misplayed a slightly better middlegame against GM Anna Muzychuk and got into some trouble, but was able to hold a draw after Muzychuk missed her chances in an endgame full of intriguing fortress motifs:



Facing Goryachkina’s solid Queen’s Gambit Accepted, Humpy went for an early endgame line that, despite outward appearances, is not without its venom. However, Goryachkina showed herself to be well-prepared and equalized without any problems. Later, it was only Black that had chances to press, but Humpy defended adequately and made a draw.


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Despite letting Salimova off the hook after a shaky opening today, Tan still leads the field after five rounds (Photo courtesy Michal Walusza/FIDE)


Finally, Lei Tingjie survived a major scare against Lagno. After losing her way in a promising middlegame, Lei obtained a hopeless position and was saved only by the unpredictable magic of the time scramble. A relief for the Chinese grandmaster, who remains in shared last place with Humpy and Muzychuk.


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Courtesy FIDE


Tan plays white against Muzychuk in an interesting game. Muzychuk has not been able to convert, but is playing as well as anybody in this event and could be a tough match-up for Tan. Goryachkina has a FIDE Women's World Cup finals rematch against Salimova. Both of their classical games in that match were drawn, although Goryachkina won in rapid.


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