Candidates chess | Nakamura or Caruana are favourites, while no one in front among women

Candidates chess | Nakamura or Caruana are favourites, while no one in front among women

Indian challengers: Praggnanandhaa has been working hard on increasing his risk-taking, Gukesh has a tactical style and therefore has more decisive results, Gujrathi’s recent achievements show he has reached a new peak while Humpy and Vaishali will hope to make it count.
| Photo Credit: FIDE

The Candidates tournament is always an eagerly anticipated one. All the world’s best players compete fiercely to qualify to fight for the right to challenge the defending world champions — Ding Liren in the open section and Ju Wenjun in the women’s section this time.

This year, in Toronto, both the men’s and the women’s Candidates events are being held simultaneously. Both are eight-player double-round robin events.

The men’s field splits evenly into two groups. Four of the players have played in the candidates previously, while the other four are competing for the first time in this event.

Fabiano Caruana was the dominant player in 2023; he took unshared first place both in Bucharest and in St. Louis and has been impressive throughout.

Hikaru Nakamura also had a sensational year, though he does not play as much. He is ruthless in grabbing any opportunities that come his way. He demonstrated this by winning Norway Chess and qualifying in the Grand Swiss. Ian Nepomniachtchi hasn’t fully recovered from his defeat in the world championship against Liren last year. His play since then has been fairly subdued. Alireza Firouzja is enormously talented and can be a danger to anyone, but both Ian and Alireza struggle with unpredictable form.

Since the Candidates tournament favours stability as much as ability, I lean towards Nakamura or Caruana as favourites.

Among the four players who are competing in the Candidates for the first time are three Indians. The chess world is very excited to see how they will fare. Their leap in strength in the last year and a half has been spectacular.

R. Praggnanandhaa has a classical dependable style but has recently been working hard on increasing his aggression and risk-taking.

D. Gukesh has an aggressive tactical style and therefore has more decisive results. He has shown a lot of maturity in dealing with setbacks and goings-on. His long journey to qualify for the candidates via the FIDE Circuit is a good example of this.

Vidit Gujrathi is the oldest of the Indian candidates. His recent achievements show that he has reached a new peak. He has gained in confidence but can be vulnerable when success is near (World Rapid and Tata Steel 24). Abasov is the clear underdog. He will be the one everyone tries to beat, and therein lies his opportunity as well.

All the newcomers will face tension and pressure that they are not accustomed to.

Amongst the women, six of them have experience at the highest levels, even though none of them has experience in this specific double-round robin format.

Tan Zhongyi was the World champion and the World rapid champion, while Lei Tingjie, Aleksandra Goryachkina, Kateryna Lagno, Anna Muzychuk, and Koneru Humpy have all been losing finalists in the World Championship.

Muzychuk and Lagno have been World Rapid and Blitz champions as well. Humpy won the World Rapid in 2019 and narrowly missed winning it again in 2023. She plays fewer events nowadays, but she is able to compete at the highest levels and keep her strength.

Goryachkina won the FIDE World Cup last year. From their performances, I am unable to pick a favourite amongst these six players. The two first-timers here are R. Vaishali and Nurgyul Salimova, who are also the two youngest participants.

Vaishali won the Grand Swiss last year and achieved the title of Grandmaster as well, leaving only Salimova without that title in the Candidates. Just like their male counterparts, their excitement can compensate for their lack of experience.

Vaishali can enjoy a historic moment together with her brother Praggnanandhaa as the first brother-sister pair in the Candidates!

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