Vidit, Vaishali Win Grand Swiss: Nakamura Through to Candidates


The 2023 FIDE Grand Swiss and Women’s Grand Swiss concluded on Sunday, November 5, after 11 rounds of competition in Douglas, Isle of Man. The result was a double-“V” victory for India, with GM Vidit Gujraithi and IM Vaishali Rameshbabu winning the Open and Women’s tournaments respectively, each with scores of 8½/11.

Both results could be considered moderate upsets, with Vidit entering the field as the 15th-highest-rated player, and Vaishali the 12th. That said, both results could also be considered inevitable: the 29-year-old Vidit was an inch away from reaching the semifinals of the 2023 World Cup earlier this year, and the 22-year-old Vaishali already entered the tournament rated higher than half of the 16 grandmasters in her section. She also leaves the tournament just three points shy of the 2500-rating needed for her own GM title, according to the unofficial live ratings.


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Vidit (R) qualified for the Candidates by winning the 2023 FIDE Grand Swiss alongside his countrywoman, Vaishali Rameshbabu (more on her below) (courtesy Anna Shtourman/FIDE)


While most competitors take a “if you’re not first, you’re last,” mindset to tournaments, the Grand Swisses are something of an exception in that each section offers two spots in the 2024 FIDE Candidates/Women’s Candidates tournaments. After serious jockeying for position in the final rounds, American GM Hikaru Nakamura ended up claiming clear second with 8/11 and booking his spot.

The situation for the Women’s Candidates was a bit more complicated: Ukrainian GM Anna Muzychuk finished clear second on 8/11 as well, but had already qualified for the Women’s Candidates with her third-place finish in the World Cup. Chinese GM Tan Zhongyi and Mongolian IM Munguntuul Batkhuyag tied for third with 7½/11, and Tan qualified with the higher tiebreaks.

The result was bittersweet for the 36-year-old Batkhuyag, who entered the tournament seeded 40th out of 50 players, yet finished just short of an improbable Candidates qualification. Nevertheless, going undefeated — with two of her four wins coming against GMs Harika Dronavalli and Elina Danielian — was a remarkable result, as captured by the 2570 performance rating and 30-point rating gain for the 2366-rated player.


Round-by-round: Open

Headed into the eighth round, 11 players trailed Vidit by a half-point, including both Nakamura and Caruana. With Vidit drawing Nakamura in round eight, three players were able to catch Vidit in the standings. It did not look like Caruana would be able to break through against Bacrot, but a major endgame misevaluation changed things:



Thursday also saw a quality win for fellow American Sam Sevian, who upset third-seeded GM Alireza Firouzja en route to a 2700 performance rating based on his 6½/11 performance.



With Vidit drawing again — this time against Russian GM Andrey Esipenko — three more players were able to join the tie for first, including Nakamura. Here’s his fine technical win over Bulgarian GM Ivan Cheparinov:



One noteworthy game on round ten was between Dutch GM Anish Giri and American GM Hans Niemann. While Niemann lost this game, it was a highly entertaining back-and-forth struggle, indicative of Niemann’s combative form. Giri was still out of contention for qualification, but managed to ride the momentum into playing a bit of a spoiler round against Espienko the next day, as well:



But Saturday’s biggest showdown was between Caruana and Nakamura, with Nakamura once again surprising Caruana with deep preparation in an off-beat open game. Caruana’s errors were almost imperceptible, but his position was dead lost well before move 30:



Unfortunately for Nakamura, two of his co-leaders also played decisive games, with Vidit breaking his drawing streak with a win over Romanian GM Bogdan-Daniel Deac and Esipenko defeating Iranian GM Parham Maghsoodloo. This meant three players led with 7½/10 headed into the last round, and neither Vidit nor Esipenko had already qualified for the candidates.


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Nakamura after qualifying for the Candidates in the 2023 FIDE Grand Swiss (courtesy Anna Shtourman/FIDE)


But as things shook out, Espienko pushed too hard against Giri and ended up losing his game, meaning that Nakamura needed only a draw against Indian GM Arjun Erigaisi in order to secure a candidates spot. Nakamura delivered, allowing Vidit to claim clear first with his win over Serbian GM Alexander Predke.  Full standings available here.


Round-by-round: Women

Vaishali led after seven rounds along with Bulgarian GM Antoaneta Stefanova and Anna Muzychuk, and all three players drew their eight-round games. This allowed Tan to jump up the standings with a win over Russian GM Alexandra Goryachkina that should have everyone excited for rematches in the Candidates:



Several other IMs were jockeying to join Vaishali and Bulgarian IM Nurgyul Salimova to become a shocking third non-GM to qualify for the Candidates, with the clash between Russian IMs Polina Shuvalova and Leya Garifullina being impactful for the standings as the latter managed to join the pack of chasers with this nice victory:



Round nine saw Vaishali separate herself from the pack with a nice win over Stefanova that will be seen in a future Wednesday Workout.



With Anna Muzychuk drawing her game, Tan was able to catch her in a tie for second thanks to a win over French IM Sophie Milliet. The ninth round also saw a highlight for the sole American in the competition: FM Alice Lee.



While a tough tournament for Lee on the whole, she managed to bounce back with two wins and two draws in her final four games.

In the penultimate round, things could have easily started to get dull. Vaishali and Tan were paired on the top board, with both vying for the coveted Candidates spot. Would we see a quick handshake? Anybody familiar with either player already knows the answer! Instead, Tan came out swinging with a combative line of the Classical Sicilian, and Vaishali was able to punish her structural deficiencies to hold onto her tournament lead and put Tan’s chances of qualifying in danger.



Anna Muzychuk also won her tenth-round game, as did Batkhuyag, putting them a half-point and a full-point behind Vaishali, respectively. But Since Muzychuk had already qualified, this meant that the second spot was well within Batkhuyag’s grasp… except for the fact that she would have to play Vaishali in the final round!


Mongolian IM Munguntuul Batkhuyag had a fantastic performance, tying for third (courtesy Anna Shtourman/FIDE)


With their game ending peacefully, this meant that the players who trailed Batkhuyag by a half-point, including Tan, could catch her with a win. Indeed, Tan would have better tiebreaks, and claim the qualification spot if she could do it. Her opponent, Azerbaijani GM Gunay Mammadzada, did Tan a favor in playing a combative Sicilian despite being out of contention for a qualification spot. In the ensuing three-result game, Tan came out on top:



With drama down to the final games (Stefanova could have caught Tan with a win, but was unable to do so in one of the last games to finish), the Women’s Grand Swiss proved to be an excellent opportunity for a number of players to make a name for themselves. Full standings available here.


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(courtesy Anna Shtourman/FIDE)