Candidates Qualifications Taking Shape as Sinquefield Cup Enters Final Two Rounds

Update (11/30/2023): An announcement by FIDE later in the day on November 29 announced that Dominguez would have to play one more standard rated tournament outside of the U.S. to be eligible for the Candidates.  

American GMs Fabiano Caruana and Leinier Dominguez lead the Sinquefield Cup with 4/6 scores and two rounds to play in the final event of the 2023 Grand Chess Tour.

It has been an exciting couple of days at the Saint Louis Chess Club, with Caruana uncorking back-to-back wins over French GM Alireza Firouzja and fellow American GM Wesley So, respectively, and Dominguez keeping up with wins over Dutch GM Anish Giri and Romanian GM Richard Rapport.

Before these shake-ups, So was the first player to score a win (in round four, over Rapport) and the first to score a second win (in round six, over fellow American GM Levon Aronian). But his loss to Caruana leaves him a half-point behind the leaders with two rounds (and only one game) to go.

Due to Polish GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda’s withdrawal, the tournament consists of eight games per player instead of nine, with players rotating through the ‘bye’ round. This means So’s score is 4/7, with his ‘bye’ round slated for tomorrow after playing the white pieces against Russian GM Ian Nepomniachtchi later today.




Before moving onto the games, it’s worth pausing on the tournament’s ramifications for the final two 2024 FIDE Candidates Tournament spots. As per the regulations for the 2023-2024 tournament cycle, one spot will be awarded to the player with the highest rating on the official January 2024 FIDE ratings list, and another to the winner of the 2023 FIDE Circuit.

Nepomniachtchi has already qualified as the 2023 FIDE World Championship runner-up, and GMs Vidit Gujrathi and Hikaru Nakamura qualified from the Grand Swiss. The other three already-decided spots came from the 2023 FIDE World Cup, won by GM Magnus Carlsen. Also qualifying were GM Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu and Caruana. Carlsen is expected to decline his invitation, in which place his spot will go to the fourth-place finisher of the World Cup: Bulgarian GM Nijat Abasov.

This is important, as it means the top five players on the live rating list are ineligible for the Candidates’ rating spot. Currently, four of the remaining five players in the top 10 are competing in the Sinquefield Cup. So is ranked sixth, clinging onto a 0.4-point lead over Dominguez and Firouzja less than six points behind Dominguez and Giri close behind.


Dominguez So
Image Caption
Leinier Dominguez (L) has two chances to overtake Wesley So (R) on the ratings list. Their fifth round encounter (pictured here) ended peacefully. (courtesy Crystal Fuller/SLCC)


Dominguez has the white pieces against French GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave today and the black pieces tomorrow against Aronian. A strong finish (or a So loss today to Nepomniachtchi) could shake up the standings. Firouzja has the bye today, while Giri still has games against Caruana today and Nepomniachtchi tomorrow.

None of these players are slated to play in major classical tournaments —such as the London Chess Classic or Gashimov Memorial —in December, meaning this is their final push up the rating ladder.

This just leaves the 2023 FIDE Circuit spot for discussion. In broad strokes, Circuit points are awarded based on results in sufficiently strong tournaments, with each player’s top five finishes counting towards their Circuit score. An interesting wrinkle is that rapid and blitz events can count towards Circuit points, albeit with reduced weights. In other words, even though none of the players ranked six through 10th are playing another classically rated Circuit tournament this year, the 2023 FIDE World Rapid and Blitz Championships in Samarkand, Kazakhstan will offer an opportunity for last-minute leap-frogging in the standings.

Currently, Caruana boasts a remarkable lead in the Circuit with 105.23 points, over 20 points ahead Giri, who is in second with 84.31 points. Close behind are Indian GM Gukesh D (79.50) and So (78.84). Gukesh’s placement here is important, as he is playing in both the London Chess Classic and Gashimov Memorial later this month, meaning he will have two chances to improve on his standings before Samarkand.

This also means So could conceivably fall behind Dominguez in the ratings and still qualify from the Circuit spot either with a strong performance in one of the Samarkand events or a strong finish in St. Louis today. With some highly unofficial back-of-the-envelope calculations, it looks like a third-place finish would not be enough to move So ahead of Giri in the standings, while a tie for first most likely would (depending on tiebreaks).

One quirk: Giri might not be highly motivated to play for a win in his game against Caruana today, as a Caruana loss would bump So up the standings and make it easier for him to overtake Giri on the Circuit leaderboard.

As should be apparent, nothing is settled for either of the remaining Candidates spots. So is the only player who is still highly in contention for both spots. Dominguez and Firouzja are closest to him on the rating list, but a number of other classical tournaments could shake up the standings. So will need a strong finish to overtake Giri for the Circuit spot, but with both the World Rapid and World Blitz counting for Circuit points, it is too early to write anyone off.

In much simpler calculations, Caruana has already won the 2023 Grand Chess Tour, even with two rounds remaining in the Tour’s final event.



Stay tuned for annotated games after the tournament. For now, here is Dominguez’s fascinating victory over Rapport, which turned on one critical decision about how to resolve the tension:



Games begin at 1:00 p.m. CST and can be followed live on and with commentary on Twitch with commentary from GM Peter Svidler, GM Yasser Seirawan and IM Jovanka Houska.