Candidates Round 11: Nepomniachtchi, Tan Regain Sole Lead, Nakamura Beats Praggnanandhaa

Round 11 of the 2024 FIDE Candidates Tournament featured three decisive games out of a possible four. GM Ian Nepomniachtchi won the longest game of the round with Black against GM Vidit Gujrathi, again taking the sole lead. A half-point behind him are GM Hikaru Nakamura, who took down GM Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu, also with Black, and GM Gukesh Dommaraju, who made a draw with GM Fabiano Caruana. The third decisive game was GM Alireza Firouzja‘s miniature win against GM Nijat Abasov.

The 2024 FIDE Women’s Candidates Tournament looks to now be a two-horse race, after another three decisive results. GM Tan Zhongyi is the sole leader again after defeating GM Kateryna Lagno. GM Lei Tingjie is a half-point behind, after escaping a lost position against GM Anna Muzychuk. Top seed GM Aleksandra Goryachkina is virtually out of the running after losing to GM-elect Vaishali Rameshbabu.

Round 12 will be on Thursday, April 18, starting at 2:30 p.m. ET / 20:30 CEST / 12:00 a.m. IST.

Standings – Candidates

Standings – Women’s Candidates


With 19 wins in total, this Candidates Tournament is the most decisive event through 11 rounds in history (dating to this format starting in 2013). Somewhat surprisingly, with such a close race, our statistics team says there is a 2/3 chance we won’t get tiebreaks and we’ll have an outright winner. Nepomniachtchi, across three Candidates, has always been at least in shared first.

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The rest day before this round coincidentally lined up with Chess.com’s Titled Tuesday. Several of the candidates participated, including Nakamura (finishing first in the late tournament), GM Fabiano Caruana (second), Firouzja (10th), and Vidit (38th).

Nakamura won his 69th Titled Tuesday and also finished third in the early tournament. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

What used to be sacrilegious, unthinkable—playing blitz during such an important event—has now become a pastime. Firouzja explained in his interview: “It keeps me sharp and keeps me thinking about chess.” While it worked out for Nakamura and Firouzja, the same cannot be said for Vidit. Nepomniachtchi didn’t participate and is doing more than okay in the tournament as well.

Candidates: Nakamura Scores Big, Nepomniachtchi Scores Bigger

There were three decisive games in this bloody round. While Nepomniachtchi, Gukesh, and Nakamura are the likeliest to win, Caruana, a point behind the leader, is still in the mix.

According to our live odds, Nepomniachtchi is the favorite to win the tournament, with Nakamura in second.

Caruana made the only draw of the day, against Gukesh. He explained: “I had a slightly worse position throughout the game, so I can’t really be upset. The main thing was that if I lose, I’m pretty much completely out of it… I still have two Whites in the last three games.”

… if I lose, I’m pretty much completely out of it.

—Fabiano Caruana

Gukesh, who before this round was predicted to be the most likely winner of the tournament, achieved an advantageous position in the Queen’s Gambit, but the committal 27.fxg5 initiated mass trades. White won a pawn, but Black got away with a perpetual check.

Nepomniachtchi won the last game of the round and arguably the most critical. In this tournament overall, he seems to stay a half-step ahead of his peers at every turn. Just as Vidit won both of his games against Nakamura, Nepomniachtchi has now defeated Vidit in both of their games as well.

After an early queen trade in the Petroff Defense, Vidit had two opportunities to win the game. But with little time as they approached move 40, when they would receive 30 more minutes, he was unable to realize them.

Vidit’s hopes of winning the tournament are over. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

The first one was 34.h5!, to which Nepomniachtchi responded: “I expected this, but okay, at this point I already missed a lot of things and I got a little tilted.” The second and last chance was 37.Nxd5 (or 37.Bc1), something Nepomniachtchi missed.

In the very complicated endgame that followed, Nepomniachtchi seemed to be pressing, and he finally broke through with 59.Ka3?! Rb4! 60.Nb2+ Kd2—after which “I actually did not see how to make a draw for him” (Nepomniachtchi). GM Rafael Leitao breaks down the Game of the Day below.

Nakamura pulled the very first surprise against Praggnanandhaa as early as move three of the Queen’s Gambit, with the Krause Variation. In fact, he later said: “I had the surprise ready from the start of the tournament and, actually, I chose not to play it against Abasov because I thought it’s too drawish.”

I had the surprise ready from the start of the tournament.

—Hikaru Nakamura

Praggnanandhaa regretted not looking at the line with his second, GM Peter Svidler: “We just discussed it verbally, but I should have looked at it.”

Praggnanandhaa thought for 10 minutes before going for the main line, but “missed this 16…Ra6 completely.” The endgame was equal, but the Indian grandmaster said on 19.Bxc6, “I started to play for a win, which is a horrible decision.”

One wrong decision has historic implications at the Candidates Tournament. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Although he saw easier draws earlier, after 24…g6, Praggnanandhaa said, “I couldn’t see what I’m supposed to do.” And after 29.Ke3? (both players missed 29.Ke1!!), the five-time U.S. champion switched from attacking the king to ultimately trapping a knight and winning the game.

You can listen to Nakamura’s thoughts about the game below.

Firouzja-Abasov won’t have an impact on the tournament winner, but it was a strong showing for the French number-one after suffering his fourth loss in the last round.

Firouzja started 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.b3, just as he did against Nepomniachtchi in round nine. He explained to FM Mike Klein: “[Abasov] is very well-prepared at this tournament, so it’s the same strategy against Nepo because they’re playing the Petroff… [1.]e4 e5 Petroff is already dead.”

It led to an advantage in his last game with this opening, and it led to a 24-move win in this one after a single, decisive mistake by the Azerbaijani grandmaster, 15…e5?? 16.Nc4!. What Abasov said he missed was that after 16…f6 17.Rd5! and his intended 17…Be6, his queen gets trapped. It was a game of one blunder, and Firouzja showed no mercy.

The 20-year-old talent confirmed that he’s not going to quit chess after all, telling Klein: “In my streams, if you watch my blitz, also a thousand times I’ve said it. It’s a saying.” He added: “It’s a tough event, of course…but it’s a good experience, I mean, you learn.”

It’s a tough event, of course…but it’s a good experience, I mean, you learn.

—Alireza Firouzja

Although he won’t win the tournament, his performance will influence who does. In the remaining rounds, he’ll play Nakamura (round 12), Gukesh (round 13), and Vidit (round 14).

2.b3 worked wonders for Firouzja in two games. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

There are three rounds left in this marathon and every board matters. After scoring his victory with Black, Nepomniachtchi will have White in his next game against Praggnanandhaa. Nakamura will look to score against Firouzja, and Gukesh may need to do the same with Black against Abasov to stay in the running. Caruana is, more or less, in must-win territory against Vidit if he’s to catch up.

Women’s Candidates: Two Chinese Grandmasters Stay On Top

Just like in the Candidates Tournament, there were three decisive games and one draw. But even the draw in Lei-Muzychuk was a hair’s breadth from being our fourth decisive game.

Tan is getting close to the finish line, and she’s a heavy favorite, unsurprisingly, to win the entire tournament according to our live odds.

Lei won four of her previous five games, and having the white pieces against Muzychuk looked like a good pairing on paper. The Ukrainian grandmaster is the only player to not have won a game yet, though she’d gotten several winning positions.

Lei was the last challenger for the women’s world championship title. Can she do it again? Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

With 18.Qc1!?, Lei sacrificed a pawn and then a bishop for a direct assault on the enemy king. In fact, she had a chance to win the game with 22.Kh2!!, a Kasparovian “king tuck,” and a sequence of moves so brilliant it’s hard to believe it could have occurred in a real game. But after Lei missed that chance, it was Muzychuk who deftly converted an advantage, reached an endgame with two extra bishops… and ultimately allowed a perpetual check.

Another heartbreaking mishap for Muzychuk who just can’t seem to bring home a full point. But it’s a much-needed save for Lei, who is a half-point short of the leader.

Even despite Lei’s great escape, Tan is still the favorite to win the tournament. Lei wasn’t too perturbed about this: “It’s a good thing because if one of us can become the first then the world champion title can, you know, stay in China. So for me, it’s a good thing for Chinese chess.”

If one of us can become the first then the world champion title can, you know, stay in China.

—Lei Tingjie

About whether she feels pressure to play for the win, she said: “When I get in front of the board, and I just follow my heart, I can play normal chess. When I played 18.Qc1, I’m not like, oh, I’m going to play a crazy game. It’s normal.” If her chess lately can be described as “normal,” a normal performance in the next three rounds could take her pretty far.

Tan-Lagno started slowly, with a double fianchetto system from White, but nerves were clearly visible in this game as both players made game-changing mistakes. As the saying goes, “The winner of the game is the player who makes the next-to-last mistake.”

The first crack in Lagno’s armor was 13.e5?, which could have blundered a pawn objectively, but Tan thought for seven minutes and missed the chance. On move 27, a single mistake from Tan, 27.Rc5?, could have been brutally refuted with 27…f4!!, but that was missed too.

Two moves later, 28…Bxb3?? from Lagno was the last mistake, played in time trouble. After many moves, she was left a pawn down and with a checkmated king.

The leader keeps on leading. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Goryachkina, who has been a half-point behind the leader for virtually the entire tournament, is now two points behind. Barring meltdowns from both the Chinese grandmasters, she is unlikely to win the event—though she will have Black against Tan in round 13.

Vaishali played an Alapin Sicilian to perfection, and Goryachkina essentially self-destructed by declining a few offers at a threefold repetition—understandably. Vaishali’s decisive attack ended after 40.Bxg7?, however, and Black was equal again for a long time, all the way into the queen endgame. Vaishali seized one opportunity to win in study-like fashion.

64…d4? 65.Qe5!! will surely make it into the puzzle books. Vaishali allowed a discovered check then finally won with an underpromotion to a knight.

Vaishali has no hopes of winning the tournament, on 4.5 points, but a win is still a win, especially against the top seed!

Like mother, like daughter. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

IM Nurgyul Salimova defeated GM Humpy Koneru in round four, but the Indian grandmaster returned the favor in round 11. In a Slav Defense, Black sacrificed a pawn for sufficient compensation, but after one inaccurate move, 20…Rcf8?, saw all that compensation evaporate. Humpy converted the extra pawn while allowing zero shenanigans.

Salimova finds herself in last place with four points, while Humpy is on 5.5, two points behind the leader.

A difficult tournament for the sole international master. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

At this moment, it looks like just a question of which Chinese GM will win. Will it be Tan or Lei? Both will have the black pieces in round 12. If Lagno or Salimova can both win their games, it may no longer be a two-horse race, but that’s also a tall order.

You can watch video recaps of the Candidates in our playlist below (click here).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=videoseries

How to watch?
You can watch the 2024 FIDE Candidates Tournament on Chess24’s YouTube and Twitch, and the 2024 Women’s FIDE Candidates on Chess.com’s YouTube and Twitch. The games can also be followed from our Events Page.

The FIDE Candidates Tournaments are among the most important FIDE events of the year. Players compete for the right to play in the next FIDE World Championship match against current World Chess Champions GMs Ding Liren and Ju Wenjun.


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