Candidates Round 12: Nakamura Scores Hat Trick, Joins 3-Way Lead With Nepomniachtchi, Gukesh

We have three co-leaders at the  2024 FIDE Candidates Tournament with two rounds to go: GM Ian Nepomniachtchi, GM Hikaru Nakamura, and GM Gukesh Dommaraju. Nakamura scored the hat trick against GM Alireza Firouzja, and Gukesh defeated GM Nijat Abasov, to catch Nepomniachtchi, who made the one draw of the round against GM Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu. GM Fabiano Caruana is just a half-point behind them, after defeating GM Vidit Gujrathi

Three draws in the 2024 FIDE Women’s Candidates Tournament don’t tell the whole story. GM Tan Zhongyi continues to lead after surviving a lost position against IM Nurgyul Salimova, with GM Lei Tingjie a half-point behind after failing to put away a winning position against GM Kateryna Lagno. After losing four games in a row, GM-elect Vaishali Rameshbabu has now won for the third straight time, against GM Anna Muzychuk, in the only decisive game. 

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After the final rest day, round 13 will be on Saturday, April 20, starting at 2:30 p.m. ET / 20:30 CEST / 12:00 a.m. IST.

Standings – Candidates

Standings – Women’s Candidates


Candidates: Nepomniachtchi Can’t Shake off Nakamura, Gukesh, And Caruana

There are two rounds left and four players are in the running to win the Candidates Tournament for the right to play World Champion Ding Liren. After the last round, Nakamura for the first time has the best odds of winning the tournament.

There’s another fact that also bodes well for Nakamura at the moment. Since 2013, the winner of every Candidates has had the most number of wins in the tournament. After 12 rounds, Nakamura has five wins, Gukesh has four, and Nepomniachtchi and Caruana have three. We’ll know by the end of the weekend (or Monday tiebreaks) how that shakes out.

Player Live Odds After Round 12
Hikaru Nakamura 40.6%
Gukesh Dommaraju 28.5%
Ian Nepomniachtchi 23.2%
Fabiano Caruana 7.7%
Alireza Firouzja 0.0%
Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu 0.0%
Vidit Gujrathi 0.0%
Nijat Abasov 0.0%

Statistics aside, the tournament is wide open and all four players have a realistic shot at winning it. Let’s jump into the games.

The first game to end was Nepomniachtchi-Praggnanandhaa, where the two-time world championship challenger opted for the Exchange French with White. Both players were happy to leave theory early with 5…Nge7 6.a3, but neither side made true progress in the symmetrical position. Nothing lost, nothing gained—a draw.

The peaceful result officially knocked Praggnanandhaa out of the running and also allowed the chasing pack to draw nearer. Three decisive games ensured that would happen.

Praggnanandhaa is out of contention. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Nakamura-Firouzja was the second Exchange French of the day, but one that was much more dynamic. Nakamura dictated the direction of the game with 6.c5 Be7 7.Qa4+, and in the middlegame he sacrificed a pawn, later saying about the position after 16.0-0: “This is probably the critical moment of the game. Either White’s much better or Black’s completely fine.”

In a complicated middlegame, Firouzja erroneously grabbed a rook for two minor pieces with 21…Nxe1? and was swiftly outplayed, but he got a second chance at life after Nakamura’s 34.Be1?. Firouzja himself pointed out a mating attack that Nakamura missed starting with 34.Rc7+.

And just as it seemed Firouzja would slip out with a draw, one move after he received 30 more minutes he played the losing move 41…g5??. Nakamura went on to win a game that nearly escaped his control.

A critical game for Nakamura. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

At the press conference, Nakamura was asked which factor he thinks will decide the tournament winner. He answered: “It’s probably just experience. Between Fabiano, myself, and Ian, we just have so much experience. All three of us are used to this situation to some degree… but it’s gonna be exciting.” It should be noted that Gukesh hadn’t yet won by the time he said this.

All three of us are used to this situation to some degree.

—Hikaru Nakamura

You can listen to Nakamura’s analysis in the video below.

Just as he did in round 10, Caruana completed the “American Renaissance” by following up on Nakamura’s victory with one of his own, against Vidit.

Caruana played the Italian Opening and said that after 20.c4! he was “very happy” with his position. “I have an enduring advantage. His queenside pawns are weak… [and] he’s a bit passive.”

Caruana is not likely to win, but he’s still kicking. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Vidit dubiously ran his king into the center of the board and blundered the move 34.Rd5!, according to Caruana, but he could have had compensation if he ran his king back to the kingside. In the game, Vidit’s king tried to find shelter on the queenside—and shelter it did not find.

GM Rafael Leitao annotates the Game of the Day in more detail below.

Asked about his competitors outscoring him, Caruana replied: “It’s not something I worry about because I can’t control it. I messed up some things earlier in the tournament. I lost to Hikaru, and that’s something to regret, but at this point I can only try to catch up and we’ll see. At least I won!”

I lost to Hikaru, and that’s something to regret, but at this point I can only try to catch up and we’ll see. At least I won!

—Fabiano Caruana

Which factor will determine the winner of the tournament, according to Caruana? “Definitely nerves… and you will need some luck most likely, because you can’t win games if your opponents play perfectly.”

In terms of opening play, Abasov-Gukesh was the most entertaining game of the day. Although Abasov lost four previous games in the tournament, he hadn’t lost a single one with the white pieces before this round.

So how do you win with Black against a well-prepared, strong grandmaster who wants to draw? One approach is to do something creative in the opening, like this:

GM Anish Giri actually pointed out that Carlsen had played a similar idea, but in a different opening, against Nakamura in 2023.  The opening led to a unique position where Gukesh said by move 22: “White has some activity, but Black is positionally doing very well. I have this dark-squared outpost and the pawn on c3 is weak.”

The Indian teenager ultimately traded queens, won a pawn in the endgame, and converted even though his opponent had enough compensation at first. That’s the short of it, while you can see more details, also with his comments, below:

According to Gukesh, which factor will now determine the tournament winner? “Whoever plays good chess in the last two rounds and manages to remain focused, I think that person will have a pretty good chance.”

Whoever plays good chess in the last two rounds and manages to remain focused, I think that person will have a pretty good chance.

—Gukesh Dommaraju

At the end of the press conference, Gukesh was asked if he has any words for his fellow countrymen, Praggnanandhaa and Vidit, who will have to wait another two years for their next potential Candidates. He responded earnestly, if not a little coldly: “Well, it’s an individual tournament and the only person I care about is myself, so yeah, not really.”

If there isn’t an outright winner by Sunday’s end, we will have tiebreaks on Monday. If there are two players in first place, they will play a two-game match with a 15+10 time control. If there are more than two players, they will play a single round-robin with the same time control. After that, if still tied, they’ll move on to two-game matches of 3+2 blitz, followed by further blitz games until a decisive result.

See the pairings for the final two rounds below.

Round 13:

    • Nepomniachtchi –  Nakamura
    • Praggnanandhaa – Caruana
    • Vidit – Abasov
    • Gukesh – Firouzja

Round 14:

    • Nakamura – Gukesh
    • Firouzja – Vidit
    • Abasov – Praggnanandhaa
    • Caruana – Nepomniachtchi

Women’s Candidates: Nothing Goes According To Plan, Except That Tan Leads

The live odds in this tournament are much simpler than in the other after 12 rounds. The winner is almost certain to be either Tan or Lei, and it will most likely be Tan. Either way, we would have a Chinese women’s world champion, as defending champion GM Ju Wenjun is a countrywoman of the two leading players.

Player Live Odds After Round 12
Tan Zhongyi 73.0%
Lei Tingjie 26.9%
Aleksandra Goryachkina <0.1%
Kateryna Lagno <0.1%
Humpy Koneru <0.1%
Nurgyul Salimova 0.0%
Anna Muzychuk 0.0%
R Vaishali 0.0%

It’s fair to say that just about every game in round 12, except for Vaishali’s, ended “not as it was supposed to,” so to speak. Salimova should have defeated Tan, Lei should have won against Lagno, and GM Humpy Koneru could have won against GM Aleksandra Goryachkina—but instead we had three draws. Let’s investigate the twists and turns of fate.

Salimova-Tan was the most relevant game for the tournament standings, and the Bulgarian international master was centimeters away from winning one of the best games of her career. GM Daniel Naroditsky, on the broadcast, called the game a “Karpovian masterpiece.”

Neither player looks too happy with the handshake. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

From an English Opening, Salimova achieved a mobile kingside majority while her opponent struggled to push her own pawns on the queenside. She made it look easy; she just pushed those pawns up the board, and the pressure provoked weaknesses.

Tan said: “Today in the opening… I probably should have played more active…. I almost wanted to give up, but when she played 43.f6?! instead of g6, I felt that I still have some hope.” That didn’t yet spoil victory, but with seven minutes against 32, Salimova’s 50.Bxf7?? forfeited hours of toil into a totally drawn position. It’s not about chess understanding—this was nerves.

What’s the magic behind surviving lost positions? Tan shared: “When I’m really worse, I feel light about the situation because in that case you give the choice to your opponent and you just try your best.”

When I’m really worse, I feel light about the situation.

—Tan Zhongyi

Had Tan lost this game, Lei was likely to overtake her in the standings, with great momentum going into the final rounds. But fate had a different plan for her game too.

Lei survived a lost position against Muzychuk on the previous day, and she experienced the other side of the coin in round 12. She was unable to finish off a winning attack against Lagno.

Another surprise in Lagno-Lei. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

We saw an exciting French Defense, in a line often used by GM Arjun Erigaisi in blitz, where Black ultimately castled queenside. After 14.Nf3? Bc6, Black’s “bad French bishop” transformed into a stalwart attacking piece. Lei did everything right: doubling White’s pawns, storming the barricades with her own pawns, removing the defender of the kingside on g3—and she had to find the only move, 26…Qb6!, to cap off a one-sided game.

One miss, 26.Nf3?, allowed White to slip into equality despite her naked-looking king. It ended in perpetual check.

Lei wasn’t too upset about the result after the game, considering karma blessed her in the last round. She told Klein: “I didn’t win today maybe because I saved yesterday’s game. So if you change your mind… it’s even!”

I didn’t win today maybe because I saved yesterday’s game.

—Lei Tingjie

It’s hard not to feel sympathy for Muzychuk in this tournament. While Vaishali had a terrible string of four losses, she’s come back from it with three straight wins. But Muzychuk never quite had that recovery, and she’s been unable to win a single game across 12 rounds—despite getting plenty of winning positions.

In this game, Muzychuk sacrificed an exchange out of the opening, clearly an attempt to break out of the bad spell she’s been having. In an extremely complicated middlegame, after 42.Qf2? Muzychuk’s minor pieces turned out to be overextended and under-supported.

Vaishali commented: “I started with a lucky win against Salimova. I was completely lost, somehow I managed to swindle that, and the last two days have been good games, so I’m very happy with that.”

Muzychuk’s in last place with Salimova on 4.5/12. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Vaishali and her brother, Praggnanandhaa, are one of the strongest sibling pairs ever in chess and the first to play together in the Candidates. When asked if they work together on chess, she shared: “We discuss a lot about chess and I try to steal his openings, I guess” and, “Whenever I get up from the board, the first board I check is Pragg’s game… I think the same with him also.”

Whenever I get up from the board, the first board I check is Pragg’s game.

—Vaishali Rameshbabu

Goryachkina-Humpy was the first game to end, and only on move 25, but it wasn’t for a lack of fighting. Curiously, Humpy played an early …h6 move, just as Gukesh did in his game in the same round, though in a completely different opening.

Goryachkina sacrificed a pawn, and by the time she regained it she was worse. Humpy had 25 minutes but was unable to find the powerful 22…Bd8!! (you also have to also see 23…Ra6! for it to work) to win on the spot. Instead, the game ended with a threefold repetition.

For Goryachkina, she’s stopped the bleeding after two straight losses, though dreams of the world championship title will have to wait. Humpy started the first half of the tournament with no wins and two losses, but she’s now on 50 percent after a stronger second half.

A complicated Catalan ends in peace. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

The pairings for the last two rounds are below.

Round 13:

    • Salimova – Lagno
    • Tan – Goryachkina
    • Humpy –  Muzychuk
    • Vaishali – Lei

Round 14:

    • Lagno – Vaishali 
    • Lei – Humpy
    • Muzychuk – Tan
    • Goryachkina – Salimova

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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