Candidates 2024: Women's Section Takes Center Stage in Round Six

The second round of the 2024 FIDE Candidates Tournament saw four decisive results in the Open section. Today was the Women's Candidates Tournament's turn to deliver four victors. Without further ado:



Nothing today could match the excitement of Round 6 of the Women’s Candidates: all games were decisive, with three out of four being won by Black! The standings at the top remained unchanged — GM Tan Zhongyi still leads, a half point ahead of GM Aleksandra Goryachkina and a full point ahead of GM Kateryna Lagno — but the games certainly did not disappoint.

Rather than show the complete games, I have chosen to focus on a few key moments from the round:


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Goryachkina prepares for victory with the black pieces against Salimova, but still trails Tan (in the background) by one game (Photo courtesy Maria Emelianova/


IM Nurgyul Salimova was slowly outplayed by Goryachkina; the game transformed into a Carlsbad structure early on, where White’s queenside prospects were damaged by the inclusion of the moves a2-a4 and … a6-a5. In the end, Salimova was unable to hold a worse endgame after missing several chances to switch to active defense:





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Lagno joins Tan and Goryachkina as the third player with a positive score after six games (Photo courtesy Maria Emelianova/


GM-Elect Vaishali Rameshbabu sidestepped GM Lagno’s Marshall Attack, but Lagno won in style anyway with a blistering attack:



Out of a seemingly quiet Colle System, Tan Zhongyi built up a powerful attack against GM Anna Muzychuk, but faltered at the finish line – one miscalculation just before time control nearly threw away the win.


Tan Muzychuk
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Tan's brilliant attacking game against Muzychuk almost got away from her at the end, but ultimately just produced a more exciting game (Photo courtesy Michal Walusza/FIDE)


However, in severe time pressure, Muzychuk failed to punish her opponent’s mistake and Tan finished off the game as if nothing had happened:



GM Lei Tingjie chose the King’s Indian Defense against GM Humpy Koneru and equalized with ease. For a while, the game seemed to be heading towards a draw, but time pressure struck again: on move 37, with merely seconds left on her clock, Humpy blundered the game away. And some say that classical chess is boring!




The leaders finally face off, with Goryachkina taking the white pieces against Tan, who still leads by a half-point. Lagno — the only other candidate on a “plus score” — takes white against Salimova, which could present an opportunity for her to once again inch closer to the top of the standings.  



In the Open section, the clear highlight of the round was GM Alireza Firouzja’s stunning loss at the hands of GM Vidit Gujrathi. After choosing a rare line of the Sicilian Richter-Rauzer, Firouzja mixed up something in his preparation and managed to obtain a lost position after merely 15 moves.


Vidit Firouzja
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Vidit (L) was winning out of the opening after Firouzja's Classical Sicilian went horribly wrong (Photo courtesy Michal Walusza/FIDE)


I cannot recall a game in a recent Candidates tournament going so badly wrong so quickly before, with the possible exception of Firouzja’s own game against GM Ian Nepomniachtchi in Round 11 of the 2022 Candidates. To Vidit’s credit, he exploited his opponent’s mistakes with immaculate precision and converted the advantage mercilessly.



This is Firouzja’s second loss in a row and his third in just six rounds. He remains winless and his play has been marked by consistent inconsistency. The brutal truth is that it is becoming harder and harder to ignore the critics who question whether Firouzja is a deserving candidate, given his method of qualification and disastrous result so far. Hopefully, he can rebound and at least transform a terrible performance into a mediocre one, however unlikely such prospects may currently seem.

The result comes as a huge relief for Vidit, who lost two games back-to-back earlier in the tournament and then spoiled a winning position against GM Fabiano Caruana in the fifth round. Returning to an even score, Vidit remains in definite contention and his combative play has surely won him many fans.


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Praggnanandhaa has displayed incredible preparation so far in this event, and is currently tied for third with Caruana only a half-point behind the co-leaders (Photo courtesy Maria Emelianova/


The other winner of the day was GM Praggnanandhaa R., who won a chaotic game against tail-ender GM Nijat Abasov:



Several times in this game, after fighting back to achieve an equal or unclear position, Abasov ruined his efforts with one hasty move. This issue has repeated itself throughout the tournament and will need to be fixed if he is to improve his score.


Abasov and Salimova
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Salimova (R) revealed after her successful World Cup that she had been trailing with fellow surprise qualifier Abasov (L), and the two are seen here with Abasov's second, GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, trailing behind (Photo courtesy Michal Walusza/FIDE)


For his part, Praggnanandhaa has come back strong after an early loss to GM Gukesh D., and now finds himself just half-a-point behind the leaders. At this same time, his missed chances in concrete positions (for example, against Gukesh and Nepomniachtchi) are worrying.


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Nagalakshmi, the mother of Vaishali and Praggnanandhaa, had a mixed day as her children went one-and-one. Interestingly, it was the first round of the tournament where the siblings' games produced different results. (Photo courtesy Michael Walusza/FIDE)


Speaking of the leaders, Nepomniachtchi and Gukesh both preferred to make solid draws today rather than play seriously for a win. In the case of Gukesh, this was borne out of necessity: he was unable to obtain an advantage against yet another one of GM Nakamura’s opening surprises, the Hyper-Accelerated Dragon.


Fabi Nepo
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The most interesting moment of Caruana's game against Nepomniachtchi (Photo courtesy Maria Emelianova/


But Nepomniachtchi showed no ambition whatsoever, taking Caruana into well-trodden paths of the Scotch Game and agreeing to a draw in less than two hours of play. Whether this strategy will work remains to be seen – after all, Nepomniachtchi still has to play Caruana with the black pieces in the second half of the tournament.




All eyes will be on the Americans, as both Nakamura and Caruana have the white pieces, against Nepomniachtchi and Praggnandhaa, respectively. But with Firouzja suffering consecutive defeats and Gukesh still in a share of the lead, their game could be the most impactful for the standings (although Firouzja at least will have the white pieces).


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