Candidates 2024: An exciting challenger hunt on the cards

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The Candidates Tournament is always eagerly awaited. All the best players in the world compete fiercely to qualify for the right to challenge the defending world champions – Ding Liren in the open category and Xu Wenjun in the women’s category.

This year, in Toronto, events for both male and female candidates are being held simultaneously. Both are eight-player double-round robin events.

The men’s territory splits evenly into two groups. Four of these players have played in Candidates before, while the other four are competing in the competition for the first time.

Fabiano Caruana was a key player in 2023; He took first place in both Bucharest and St. Louis without sharing and was impressive throughout.

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Hikaru Nakamura has also had a sensational year, even though he doesn’t play as much. He is ruthless in seizing any opportunity that comes his way. He demonstrated this by winning Norway Chess and qualifying at the Grand Swiss.

Ian Nepomniachtchi has not fully recovered from his defeat against Ding Liren at last year’s World Championships. Since then his game has been quite slow.

Alireza Firozha is extremely talented and can be a threat to anyone, but both Ian and Alireza unexpectedly struggle.

Since the Candidates Tournament favors ability as well as consistency, I lean toward Nakamura or Caruana as favorites.

Three of the four players competing for the first time in the Candidates are Indians. The chess world is very excited to see how he will fare. His leap in strength over the last year and a half has been spectacular.

Praggnanandhaa’s style is classically reliable but recently he has been working hard on increasing his aggression and risk-taking ability.

Gukesh’s tactical style is aggressive and hence his results are more decisive. He has shown great maturity in dealing with setbacks and developments. His long journey to qualify for the candidates through the FIDE circuit is a good example of this.

Ding Liren is the reigning world champion in the open category. , Photo Credit: Lennart Utes

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Ding Liren is the reigning world champion in the open category. , Photo Credit: Lennart Utes

Vidit is the oldest among the Indian candidates. His recent achievements show that he has reached a new peak. His confidence has increased but he can become weak when success is near (World Rapid and Tata Steel 24). Abbasov is a clear underdog. He will be someone everyone will try to defeat and therein lies his opportunity.

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

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

Tan Zhongyi was the reigning World Champion and World Rapid Champion, while Lei Tingjie, Alexandra Goryachkina, Katarina Lagno, Anna Muzychuk and Koneru Humpy are all losing finalists at the World Championship.

Muzychuk and Lagno have also been world rapid and blitz champions. Humpy won the World Rapid in 2019 and missed out on winning it again in 2023. She plays fewer events these days, but she is able to compete at the highest level and maintain her strength.

Alexandra Goryachkina won the FIDE World Cup last year. Based on their performances, I am unable to select a favorite player among these six players. The two first-time contestants are Vaishali and Nurgyul Salimova, who are also the two youngest contestants.

Vaishali won the Grand Swiss last year and also got the title of Grandmaster, leaving only Salimova among the candidates not to get the title. Like their male counterparts, their enthusiasm can compensate for their lack of experience.

Vaishali can enjoy a historic moment with her brother Praggnanandha as the first brother-sister duo in Candidates!

I am confident that the 2024 Candidates Tournament will not disappoint in intensity or excitement.


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