Candidates Round 7: Firouzja Knocks Gukesh Out Of 1st, Nepomniachtchi Leads

At the halfway mark of the 2024 FIDE Candidates Tournament, GM Ian Nepomniachtchi is back in the sole lead. In round seven, he survived over 20 moves of preparation from GM Hikaru Nakamura to make the draw.

GM Gukesh Dommaraju came close to winning and entering the sole lead himself, but in time trouble he suffered a heartbreaking loss against GM Alireza Firouzja. GM Fabiano Caruana vs. GM Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu and GM Nijat Abasov vs. GM Vidit Gujrathi ended in draws.

For the seventh consecutive round, the sole leader of the 2024 FIDE Women’s Candidates remains the same: GM Tan Zhongyi. There was one decisive result, after GM-elect Vaishali Rameshbabu blundered in time trouble and lost against GM Lei Tingjie.

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

Standings – Candidates

Standings – Women’s Candidates


Every winner of the last six Candidates Tournaments was leading at the halfway stage. This year, Nepomniachtchi leads at the halfway point for the third time in a row. In a little more than one week, we will know if history will repeat itself.

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Year Player(s) in Lead Score
2022 Nepomniachtchi 5.5/7
2020 Vachier-Lagrave, Nepomniachtchi 4.5/7
2018 Caruana 5/7
2016 Karjakin, Aronian 4.5/7
2014 Anand, Aronian 4.5/7
2013 Carlsen, Aronian 5/7

Candidates: Heartbreak For Gukesh, Fortune For Nepomniachtchi

Nakamura, who trailed the leaders by a point and was hungry for victory, put Nepomniachtchi’s Petroff Defense to the test by playing over 20 moves of preparation where he grabbed a rook in the corner. Nakamura told FM Mike Klein it was actually a line he had prepared two years ago, not specifically for Nepomniachtchi, but: “When I saw how shaky Ian was against Pragg in a game that he probably should have lost [in round five], I felt like trying to do something similar in a very deep line.”

When I saw how shaky Ian was against Pragg in a game that he probably should have lost [in round five], I felt like trying to do something similar.

—Hikaru Nakamura

Nakamura dusts off his opening lines from two years ago. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Leko, who’d worked as Nepomniachtchi’s second in the past, shared: “It was one of the lines that I was expecting Magnus Carlsen in the world championship to be testing Ian, and of course we had to be ready for it.” Indeed, in the press conference, Nepomniachtchi stated that he’d had all this prepared since 2021.

It was one of the lines that I was expecting Magnus Carlsen in the world championship to be testing Ian.

—Peter Leko

It was a “memory test,” in Nakamura’s words, and the tournament co-leader passed it. Even at the end, Nakamura admitted he missed 26…Bxg3!!, saying “I’m quite lucky actually not to be losing” after that.

The sole leader was sober in his assessment of the event so far: “Score-wise, it’s okay, of course, but I think I had a lot of questionable positions… It’s good I managed not to lose any games and then also reached the rest day. That’s very pleasing.”

Score-wise, it’s okay, of course, but I think I had a lot of questionable positions.

—Ian Nepomniachtchi

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

Firouzja notoriously played over 300 bullet games at the last Candidates Tournament the night before his game against Nepomniachtchi. He went on to lose and the Russian grandmaster won the tournament three rounds later.

After suffering his third defeat and essentially losing hope of winning this tournament, Firouzja started this morning with 10 blitz games. Against Iranian FM Artin Ashraf, he won four games and lost six. While some may have criticized this decision at the start of the day, a little blitz practice seemed to pay off in the time scramble against Gukesh.

The blitz games paid off. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Under pressure, the French number-one had just nine minutes to play 18 moves before more time would be added on move 40. He was also a pawn down for no compensation. After Gukesh blitzed out 27…Nxf2, he said: “I thought Nxf2 and I’m lost but suddenly out of nowhere there is 31.Qb3!. It’s just so lucky, Qb3. I was ready to take on c5 and just resign.”

I was ready to take on c5 and just resign.

—Alireza Firouzja

37.Nd7 is also very lucky here,” said Firouzja about the end of the game, and this was the very move, which introduced some checkmates, that caused Gukesh to collapse. GM Rafael Leitao analyzes the shocking turnaround below.

A stone-faced Gukesh responded: “I think a rest day is nice. I will have some time to recover and hopefully I’ll be able to play better.” He’s still just a half-point behind the leader, even though that’s not where he planned to be before this round.

Firouzja, on the other hand, took his low score optimistically: “Now I have nothing to lose… I have to win all of the games basically!”

The other two games were even affairs that reached the logical conclusion, a draw.

Caruana and Praggnanandhaa were and still are just a half-point behind the tournament leader. The Indian grandmaster, who knocked Caruana out of the 2023 World Cup in rapid tiebreaks, shocked the commentators by playing the French Defense.

But Caruana clarified in his interview with Klein: “The French these days is a way in which you can try to equalize on the spot… it’s very forcing in general.” He added: “Pragg knew the line very well, unfortunately for me, and I didn’t know it as well. So I didn’t really get anything from the opening.”

Caruana also compared this year’s Candidates to the last one: “I was +3 then, Ian was +4. The emotions were somewhat different and now there’s a few more players in the race, I think. Two years ago, clearly Ian was leading from start to finish and this time it’s wide open.”

Two years ago, clearly Ian was leading from start to finish and this time it’s wide open.

—Fabiano Caruana

A different tournament, a different Caruana? Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Vidit had a great shot at defeating the tournament’s lowest seed with the black pieces and jumping into the pack of players a half-point behind the leader. He summed the whole game up himself:

After the opening, I played this move …h5, which was not so good… but he misplayed terribly after that. Once I got my counterplay with …f5, I thought I’m just winning, but he defended well there and I’m not sure where I missed a win or if there was a win.

“Once I got my counterplay with …f5, I thought I’m just winning.” Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

He did have a winning advantage, and he let the final chance slip on move 41, just after he received 30 more minutes to think. He explained: “I thought after 41…g4? I was winning” and “I just completely overlooked the sequence which happened in the game.” Abasov found a forced sequence to trade all the pieces. Instead, 41…Rh7!, a move Vidit did consider, would have won the game.

After a rest day, the players will face the same opponents from round one but with colors reversed.

Nepomniachtchi will look to extend his lead with the white pieces against Abasov. Nakamura has won his last three white games against Caruana in classical chess and will be looking to make it four. In addition, Praggnanandhaa should try to score with White against an out-of-form Firouzja, and the all-Indian Vidit vs. Gukesh—well, what more can one ask for?

Women’s Candidates: Lei Sends Vaishali Into 3-Way Tie For Last Place

The only decisive game came at the expense of Vaishali, who with a second consecutive loss joins GMs Anna Muzychuk and Humpy Koneru at the bottom of the standings.

It was a complicated middlegame where we saw a rare “horse cube,” one that Lei herself called “very strange” in the interview.

In fact, Lei gave Vaishali one chance for survival after she missed what could have been the move of the tournament, 29.Qxd5!!, a queen sacrifice. Two moves later, with about two minutes for the next 10 moves, Vaishali had to take the queen for two rooks, but the time trouble proved to be too much. After the natural 31…Rxd8?? she succumbed to a one-sided attack on the dark squares.

Lei vs. Vaishali. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

“Generally, I think this game was not so good,” Lei said candidly after the game. It’s two wins in a row for her now and she’s a point behind the leader. “After this game, I kind of released some pressure… [but] for the next parts, I will not think about the result to be honest. I should be focused every game.”

I will not think about the result, to be honest. I should be focused every game.

—Lei Tingjie

All the other games ended in draws.

GM Aleksandra Goryachkina vs. Tan promised to be an exciting clash between second and first place, but the tournament leader gave the number-one seed absolutely no chances in a Queen’s Gambit Declined. They reached a hanging pawns position, but ultimately traded down to peace.

Tan has been unstoppable in the first half. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Third-place GM Kateryna Lagno played her first-ever classical game against the only IM in the field, Nurgyul Salimova, but wasn’t able to bring home the full point. The Bulgarian fighter came well-prepared with 11…a6!N to neutralize the opening and White didn’t have any significant chances after that.

Salimova neutralized the opening. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

For Muzychuk, a draw against Humpy may have stopped the bleeding from yesterday’s loss, but both of them are still 2.5 points behind the tournament leader. It will take several wins in a row for them to catch up at this point.

A tough tournament for Muzychuk and Humpy. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Like Salimova, Humpy played the Cozio Defense with Black and equalized comfortably. They reached a heavy-piece endgame by move 20 and mass trades brought the game to an end 20 moves later.

Like in the other tournament, the pairings repeat from round one but with colors reversed. Lei will have Black against the tournament leader, but she should be confident after scoring two consecutive victories. Another major pairing will be Lagno vs. Goryachkina; a decisive result on that board would dispel one of Tan’s closest pursuers.

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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