FIDE Candidates 2024: Nakamura, Caruana, Nepomniachtchi provide tough challenge to Indian contenders

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The flavor of the candidates in Toronto may be more Indian, but the two Americans look to be the strongest contenders along with a Russian who has won the last two editions of the tournament.

R. Praggnanand, D. Gukesh and Vidit Gujarati have ensured that India has a strong presence – Koneru Humpy and R. Vaishali has not been mentioned at all. But he is facing very strong opposition.

Americans Fabiano Caruana and Hikaru Nakamura should be most people’s favourites. And Russia’s Ian Nepomniachtchi cannot be ignored.

To win the tournament and thus earn the right to challenge Ding Liren for the World Chess Championship, the Indians will have to find ways to outwit their formidable opponents.

Caruana and Nakamura have long been among the best players in the world. Caruana is second in the world behind five-time world champion Magnus Carlsen who vacated the title, paving the way for a world title match between Ding and Nepomniachtchi last year.

Caruana is the player to beat in Toronto. With 2804 ELO points, he is just 26 points behind Carlsen, the world’s strongest player of all time. Caruana’s highest rating was 2844 and apart from Carlsen (2882), only one other player has been rated higher – Garry Kasparov (2851).

Caruana and Nakamura have long been among the best players in the world. , Photo Credit: Crystal Fuller

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Caruana and Nakamura have long been among the best players in the world. , Photo Credit: Crystal Fuller

Caruana is also a former winner of Candidates. He won it in 2018 and faced Carlsen for the World Championships later that year. After all 12 games (classical format) were drawn, he lost in the tiebreaker (rapid). In fact, Caruana even had the opportunity to challenge Carlsen at the 2016 World Championships: he finished second to Sergei Karjakin in the Candidates that year.

Caruana, who became world number 2 for the first time in 2014, has consistently performed well. He has a strong game and no obvious weaknesses. Carlsen has actually said that he is the second best player in the world.

Nakamura may not be as consistent as Caruana in classical chess, but he has also been one of the world’s top talents for a long time. And he has been a beast at speed chess.

Apart from formats with less time control, he also enjoys playing Fischer Random Chess, a format in which he won the world title in 2022. Of course, he is a formidable presence in classical chess, in which he is ranked third in the world. Behind Carlsen and Caruana with 2789 points.

He became world No. 2 in 2015 and the year before that, when FIDE began publishing ratings for chess rapid and blitz variations, he was world No. 1 on both lists.

Nakamura, who is also an extremely popular streamer, will definitely be a player that all of his competitors in Toronto will be wary of. “He has very good chances,” says veteran Indian grandmaster Praveen Thipsay.

“I think Caruana has the game best suited to win tournaments like Candidates with its double round-robin format. I would be surprised if any candidate other than Caruana or Nakamura wins this time. “They both look like the best players on the field.”

If you want to bet on someone other than the talented American pair, there’s Nepomniachtchi, who are playing under the FIDE flag due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He has already fought in two world title matches (against Carlsen in 2021, and again against Ding last year).

Defending Champion: Ian Nepomniachtchi is expected to mount a strong challenge for his third consecutive Candidates title.

defending champion: Ian Nepomniachtchi is expected to challenge for his third consecutive Candidates title. , Photo Credit: Harry Gillen

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defending champion: Ian Nepomniachtchi is expected to challenge for his third consecutive Candidates title. , Photo Credit: Harry Gillen

Nepomniachtchi, ranked seventh in the world, is the winner of the last two Candidates Tournaments. He won the 2020–21 Candidates Tournament, which was interrupted due to COVID-19, and again in 2022, when he remained unbeaten, 1.5 points ahead of second-place Ding. Ding later got a chance to play for the world title after Carlsen decided not to defend his crown.

So Nepomniachtchi clearly knows a thing or two about winning the Candidates Tournament. It is expected that he will present a tough challenge for the third consecutive Candidates title.

Iranian-born French talent Alireza Firozha may not be as experienced or successful as Nepomniachtchi in Candidates, but he is an exciting young talent.

Carlsen had in fact said that he would defend his world title only if Firouzja emerged as a candidate in 2022.

However, the teenager could only finish sixth in a field of eight at that Candidates Tournament. The world number 6 would like to perform better this time.

The defending champion is Lei Tingjie of China.

The defending champion is Lei Tingjie of China. , Photo Credit: Steve Bonehage

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The defending champion is Lei Tingjie of China. , Photo Credit: Steve Bonehage

The women’s section seems more open. Hampi certainly has his chances, while his younger compatriot Vaishali has shown remarkable improvement recently.

Reigning Candidates champion Lei Tingjie, who lost to compatriot Xu Wenjun at last year’s World Championships, is one of the main contenders. The other Chinese in the field, Tan Zhongyi, is a former world champion.

Russia’s Alexandra Goryachkina is the highest-ranked female player in Toronto with a rating of 2553.

Other Russians, Kateryna Lagno and Ukraine’s Anna Muzychuk, are also experienced campaigners.

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