Clear Leaders Emerge as Candidates Reach Midpoint

The players have finally reached the halfway point of the event. After today’s rest day, round eight resumes tomorrow at 1:30 p.m. CDT, with the players picking up the second leg of the Double Round Robin event. All players will play each other in the same order, with colors reversed. 


Nepo lurks
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A picture that sums up the tournament: Firouzja from behind as Gukesh plays well but Nepo looms large in the background (Photo courtesy Michal Walusza/FIDE)



GM Alireza Firouzja came back roaring in the seventh round of the 2024 FIDE Candidates Tournament, avenging two straight losses by winning a fighting game against GM Gukesh D. This is Gukesh’s first loss of the tournament, which knocks him out of shared first place.

Any notion that Firouzja was aiming for a quiet position was quickly dispelled, as he sharpened the game with an early rush of the h-pawn and soon followed with a rook lift. Later, in characteristic style, he sacrificed a pawn in a position where it was still possible to play positionally. For some time, it seemed that Firouzja would end up with the worst of it. However, at the critical moment, when push came to shove and flags were about to fall, Firouzja acted decisively, finding a series of precise moves and delivering forced mate just as the players reached time control:



After yesterday’s round, many spectators, including me, were prepared to count Firouzja out. We were all proven wrong. Perhaps with this lucky break and the wind now in his sails, the young star will be able to mount a comeback.


If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the annotations of Nakamura and Nepomniachtchi's game could be millions of words long (Photos courtesy Michal Walusza/FIDE)


The other critical game of the round was GM Hikaru Nakamura against GM Ian Nepomniachtchi. In a Petroff, Nakamura out-prepared the leader, reaching a highly imbalanced middlegame with an extra hour on the clock. However, Nepomniachtchi successfully navigated the treacherous waters and made a draw. An impressive game by Nepomniachtchi, who managed to hold his own while playing entirely on Nakamura’s territory.



GM Praggnanandhaa R. surprised GM Fabiano Caruana with the French Defense and equalized easily. In fact, it initially seemed that Caruana might be in some danger, but the World #2 defended accurately, and a draw was agreed right after time control.

For the first time in this tournament, GM Nijat Abasov showed some ambition as White, but was outplayed in a complex middlegame by GM Vidit Gujrathi. However, Vidit missed a significant chance on move 41 and the game ended in a draw.


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Courtesy FIDE


At the event’s half-way point, Ian Nepomniachtchi is in sole possession of first place with a “plus-two” score. However, three players — Gukesh, Caruana, and Praggnanandhaa — are just half-a-point behind. Up to this point, Nepomniachtchi has clearly been playing the best chess of anyone in the tournament, but there are two warning signs: firstly, he escaped only narrowly in his last two games with the black pieces (both in the Petroff), and he needs to find a way to maintain his form in the second half as fatigue begins to set in.



Only one game was decisive in the Women’s Candidates – GM Lei Tingjie won her second game in a row at the expense of GM-Elect Vaishali Rameshbabu, for whom it was her second consecutive loss.


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Call it a comeback! Lei has won two games in a row and is now tied for third in the standings (Photo courtesy Michal Walusza/FIDE)


Lei gained no advantage in the opening, but Vaishali gradually lost the thread, fell into time trouble, and succumbed to the pressure:



The other games were drawn uneventfully. GM Aleksandra Goryachkina, in second place, had White against the leader, GM Tan Zhongyi, but was unable to seriously pressure her opponent.

IM Nurgyul Salimova once again showed her strong defensive skills; her resourceful play enabled her to escape with a draw in a difficult endgame against GM Kateryna Lagno.

Facing GM Anna Muzychuk with Black, GM Humpy Koneru accepted a structural disadvantage in the Cozio Variation of the Ruy Lopez but found a concrete way to equalize. The game quickly simplified to a drawn rook endgame.

As a result, Tan preserves her half-point lead and can be pleased with the course of the tournament so far. It will be interesting to see what the second half brings!


Courtesy FIDE


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