Gukesh, Tan Win FIDE Candidates Tournaments on Dramatic Final Day

For the better part of Sunday's last-round games in Toronto, at least one of the 2024 FIDE Candidates events appeared headed to a playoff match. Instead, both challengers were determined in regulation.

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A victorious Gukesh celebrates a nerve-wracking end to the tournament of his life (so far) (Photo courtesy Michal Walusza/FIDE)


India's GM Gukesh D. (who turns 18 next month) will be history's youngest challenger, while China's GM Tan Zhongyi will seek to reclaim her title from GM Ju Wenjun (who defeated Tan in their 2018 match). 

Today's annotations once again come from WGM Gulrukhbegim "Begim" Tokhirjonova, who gets into the mindset of the players and their decisions in these consequential games.



The job for the two Americans in the hunt were clear: if GM Hikaru Nakamura beat Gukesh with the white pieces, he at least ties for first. If GM Fabiano Caruana beat GM Ian Nepomniachtchi with the white pieces, he ties for first unless Gukesh wins. There was no scenario where either American player could force their way into a playoff without winning their respective game. 

Nakamura has made a habit out of taking his opponents out of book early this tournament, and seemed prepared to do so after attempting to surprise Gukesh with his very first move.


Photos courtesy Michal Walusza/FIDE


Instead, it was Gukesh who eschewed any well-known theory, and quickly led Nakamura into a position where he had absolutely no winning chances. Nakamura pushed for several hours, but the disappointing result was inevitable due to Gukesh's great preparation and steely nerves.


Photos courtesy Michal Walusza/FIDE



The result in Nakamura's game was good news for both Caruana and Nepomniachtchi, as either could tie with Gukesh with a win in their head-to-head match-up. Nepomniachtchi was up to the task from the start, meeting Caruana's opening with an aggressive continuation where he seemed more familiar with the ensuing dynamics. 


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Fabiano Caruana had multiple opportunities to take Gukesh to a playoff (Photo courtesy Michal Walusza/FIDE)


Then, a couple impatient moves from "Nepo" (which continue to be his unfortunate trademark during critical games) handed a serious initiative to Caruana. From there, "Fabi" showed what makes him such a dangerous player, finding crystal-clear plans to improve his pieces on the open board while minimizing his opponent's possibility for counterplay. With every move, Caruana seemed closer to cashing in, just as long as he could make the time control. 


The many emotions of Nepo (Photos courtesy Michal Walusza/FIDE)


With only one minute (and no increment before move 40!) to reach the time control, however, Nepomniachtchi lashed out with one surprising resource that Caruana had not anticipated. He managed to get to the bonus time, only to slip up and quickly let Nepomniachtchi back into the game. What unfolded over the next three hours (!) and 69 (!) moves was some of the tensest, most complicated, and outright captivating chess in recent memory.



At long last, the players had to accept reality: it's a draw, and they both join Nakamura in a tie for second, a half-point behind Gukesh. 


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Courtesy FIDE


In a much-appreciated quirk, the four players still in contention were paired against each other, making the other two match-ups "meaningless" in at least one sense. GMs Alireza Firouzja and Vidit Gujrathi seemed to agree with this assessment, playing a quick "Berlin draw" and shaking hands in under twenty minutes.


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Praggnanandhaa finished a solid event in style, and will almost certainly be a mainstay in future Candidates tournaments (Photo courtesy Michal Walusza/FIDE)


GM Nijat Abasov might have also wanted to end a difficult tournament quickly, but GM Praggnanandhaa R. was in no hurry. Besides, he'd have to wait for his sister's game to end anyways, so why not push for one more win?



With his win, "Pragg" finished in clear fifth with an even score of 7/14. As a note, the majority of the prize fund is determined by the players' scores, with 3,500 euros awarded to each player in the Open for each half-point scored, so Pragg's win netted him a cool 49,00 Euros.  

For first place, Gukesh won the 48,000 euro prize in addition to 63,000 euros for his 9/14 score. Nakamura officially finished second on tiebreaks (and Nepomniachtchi third), but Caruana joins them in splitting the second- and third- place prize bonuses to the tune of 20,000 each, on top of the 59,500 euros each won for the 8½/14 scores. 



Tan entered the day with a full-point lead over GM Lei Tingjie and nobody else to worry about. Needing only a draw with the black pieces, many players would turn to a trusty Petroff against 1. e4. Instead, Tan chose a rare variation of the Sicilian, leaving broadcasters flummoxed. 


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Revenge! Tan Zhongyi will get a rematch with Ju Wenjun six years after losing her title in their first encounter (Photo courtesy Michal Walusza/FIDE)


Her gamble of playing a risky opening paid off, as GM Anna Muzychuk was unable to find the right way to apply pressure and quickly conceded any advantage. 



With Tan's draw, it no longer mattered whether Lei won her game, which was a shame only because Lei came prepared with the most stunning novelty of the whole event.


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Lei Tingjie – Humpy Koneru was overshadowed by other games that had more impact on the standings, but was easily one of the most fascinating games of the entire event (Photo courtesy Michal Walusza/FIDE)


Out of deep preparation in the opening, Lei was at one point down a queen and a pawn for a knight, and yet had the objectively better position. Unfortunately, she went on to spoil a fantastic piece of preparation in her rush to capitalize on the outside chance of catching Tan. 



With her 9/14 score, Tan has earned her rematch with Ju six years after initially ceding the title. In something of a comeback, GM Humpy Koneru's resilient win over Lei propelled her into a three-way tie for second place on 7½/14, and second place on tiebreaks ahead of Lei and GM-Elect Vaishali Rameshbabu.


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Courtesy FIDE


With the prize fund being exactly half of the Open section's, Tan earned 24,000 euros for first plus 31,500 euros as a score bonus. The three players tied for second each earned 10,000 euros for their share of the second- and third-place prizes, along with 26,250 euros apiece as score bonuses. 


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Perhaps the only player who wishes the Candidates was still a Quadruple Round Robin! (Photo courtesy Michal Walusza/FIDE)


Vaishali's presence in this tie for second is especially remarkable as it was the culmination of her run of five consecutive victories to end the tournament. She overcame a furious onslaught from GM Kateryna Lagno and won out from there:



This left Lagno in sixth place with 6½/14, a half-point behind her countrywoman GM Aleksandra Goryachkina, who finished on an even score after failing to convert a promising position against IM Nurgyul Salimova:



Salimova showed impressive defense throughout the event, even though she came close to producing more offense several times (including in a near-miss against Tan) and despite being the event's lowest-rated player, she still finished ahead of GM Anna Muzychuk on tiebreaks. 


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