FIDE Candidates 8: Nakamura Leapfrogs Caruana, Gukesh Re-enters Shared Lead With Nepomniachtchi

Round eight of the 2024 FIDE Candidates Tournament saw two winners and a significant change in the standings. GM Hikaru Nakamura defeated GM Fabiano Caruana in the all-American matchup, while GM Gukesh Dommaraju also beat his countryman GM Vidit Gujrathi. GM Ian Nepomniachtchi now shares the lead with Gukesh with five points after making a draw against GM Nijat Abasov.

The 2024 FIDE Women’s Candidates has been blown wide open after GM Lei Tingjie, with the black pieces, defeated the tournament leader, GM Tan Zhongyi. Lei, Tan, and GM Aleksandra Goryachkina all share first with five points.

Round nine will be on Sunday, April 14, starting at 2:30 p.m. ET / 20:30 CEST / 12:00 a.m. IST.

Standings – Candidates

Standings – Women’s Candidates


After a rest day, the players returned to play the first round of the second half of the tournament. As part of the double round-robin format, their opponents were the same from round one but with colors reversed.

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Leading a tournament comes with its own set of problems. On the one hand, the onus is on the chasing pack to win their games, but on the other hand, it takes just a single loss for the leader in the second half, or even too many draws, to lose control. For Nepomniachtchi, with the white pieces against the tournament’s lowest seed, the question must have been: how hard do I push?

Against the Petroff Defense, the tournament leader achieved an attacking position with an isolated pawn—the kind of position that he thrives in. But, as GM Daniel Naroditsky would say by the end of the game, “Abasov found every money move” to make his first draw with Black.

Abasov found every money move.

—Daniel Naroditsky

Abasov pondering those money moves. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

22…Nc3! was the beginning of a convincing defense, and Nepomniachtchi even said that after 23.Re3 Bxc4 “This looks totally lost [for Black],” but in fact every tactic worked out for his opponent. The world number-five said he could have tried to press harder in the endgame, for example with 42.h4, but that Black should objectively hold—which he did.

Gukesh lost a heartbreaking game against GM Alireza Firouzja in round seven, squandering an advantage in time trouble and even going on to lose. But in an exclusive Chess.com video with GM Viswanathan Anand and other top Indian players, Gukesh was the only player to say that he prefers to lose (if he has to lose) right before a rest day.

After winning, he said “Coming back into the joint lead, it’s good, but I’m just happy that I played a good game and I came back to the shape that I’m supposed to be in.”

I’m just happy that I played a good game and I came back to the shape that I’m supposed to be in.

—Gukesh Dommaraju

Gukesh beat Vidit with the black pieces. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Vidit’s time management was reason to worry from the outset. As early as move four in the Italian Opening, he was down 20 minutes on the clock. By 11…Be6, Gukesh said, “I’m already fully equalized here,” and after 12.b5 Nb8 “I was already quite optimistic. And I slowly started to outplay him.” He went on to crash through on the a-file, and Vidit resigned one move before checkmate.

GM Rafael Leitao analyzes the Game of the Day below.

The all-American derby, Nakamura-Caruana, ended just seconds after that game, with Caruana blundering a tactic in an already very tough position.

Nakamura has won his last four classical games with the white pieces against Caruana. In the 2022 Candidates Tournament, he won in round eight, then the next year in the final round of Norway Chess 2023 and in the penultimate round of the 2023 FIDE Grand Swiss. He earned his fourth victory in round eight of this Candidates.

The all-American clash. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

At the press conference, Nakamura commented on Caruana’s time usage in the opening: “I had this feeling that he prepared something else [more aggressive] and then he probably got talked out of it and told to be solid or something like this.” That is, it felt like Caruana hadn’t decided on whether to play for the win or the draw.

Speaking to FM Mike Klein, Nakamura mentioned: “I had a feeling that Fabiano was going to try to keep the game going,” pointing to the moves 14…Nf6 and 15…Bxd4 as an example. “The critical moment was after this [25.]Re3 move, he used like 20+ minutes and I think it’s because he missed this [25…]Nf4 [26.]h4, which happened in the game actually.”

Running dangerously low on time, Caruana was unable to navigate the complications, and even resigned immediately after blundering a tactic in the end.

“There’s no pressure on me. I’m playing for fun,” said Nakamura at the press conference. “I’ve said this pretty much every tournament I’ve played since the FIDE Grand Prix. My goal is to not make a fool of myself… and then after that to see how I play and go from there.” You can watch his full recap video below:

There’s no pressure on me. I’m playing for fun.

—Hikaru Nakamura

Firouzja, who at the bottom of the scoreboard said he has “nothing to lose” after round seven, employed the Taimanov Sicilian with Black against Praggnanandhaa. His novelty 10…Ne7N didn’t impress the computer, but it did remind GM Anish Giri of some games by the legendary GM Judit Polgar.

Praggnanandhaa’s best chance for an advantage seemed to be 12.b3, but after 12.c3, as played in the game, Black was able to break in the center with 16…d5! and trade down after that.

No chances in round eight for Praggnanandhaa. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Nepomniachtchi will defend with Black against Firouzja in the next round, while his co-leader Gukesh will face yet another countryman in Praggnanandhaa. Nakamura might roll the dice against an injured Vidit, while Caruana will hope to bounce back into the fray with a win over Abasov.

Women’s Candidates: Lei Wins 3rd Straight Game

After losing to Tan in round one with the white pieces, Lei scored her third victory in a row, against that same opponent. The result will surely come as a relief to all the other players, who have been chasing Tan since round one.

The game Tan-Lei started as a London System, and the level game could have ended in a quick draw by threefold repetition around move 20. It was Tan who thought for nearly 20 minutes and rejected the repetition with 21.f4?!. Lei said: “To be honest, I think it’s a mistake because the pawn structure is quite strange for White…. Maybe she thought this position still had a lot of interesting ideas. For me, I think my position is actually very safe.”

Lei was skeptical about 21.f4?!. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Over the moves that followed, Tan made unproductive bishop moves with less than 10 minutes on the clock—and Lei’s steady hand brought home a nice positional victory.

After losing the first round of the tournament, Lei is now in a three-way tie for the lead. She said: “I think now I started the next part [of the tournament]. So, for me, I think this game is like totally a brand new start for me.”

So, for me, I think this game is like totally a brand new start for me.

—Lei Tingjie

GM-elect Vaishali Rameshbabu suffered her fourth defeat in the tournament and her third in a row, against her countrywoman GM Humpy Koneru, who scored her first victory. “I think after the opening I was completely better and she misplayed with the …e5 break and I got the exchange up by force,” Humpy summarized. “From there, I started making mistakes once I had a good position.”

Vaishali was outplayed in the opening and swiftly lost an exchange. But after several hesitant moves by Humpy, Vaishali managed to crawl her way back into the game from a lost position.

Just as she achieved a holdable endgame, with both players under a minute, Vaishali made her last mistake with 55.Rc4??.

Humpy is still a point and a half behind the leaders. “The way I’m playing, I just want to play without losing the rating,” she said. “That’s my motto after the two losses, I just want to save my rating.”

GM Kateryna Lagno vs. GM Aleksandra Goryachkina had the potential to be a fighting game, with the former trailing the leaders by a half point. Goryachkina employed the ambitious 6.Bc5 in the Ruy Lopez, but after following Dragnev-Mitsis 2023 for 17 moves and reaching an unusual pawn structure, neither player erred. The repetition at the end was an entertaining way to end the game.

Goryachkina joins the lead. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

IM Nurgyul Salimova vs. GM Anna Muzychuk was the longest game of the day, clocking out at 120 moves. In a Catalan Opening, the Bulgarian international master applied enough pressure to win the exchange, but with the miracle defense 34…Nd7! Muzychuk slipped out of a lost position. A frustrated Salimova went on to play the rook vs. knight endgame until the 50-move rule forced the game to end.

Edited on 4/14: Salimova had a single chance later on move 54 to trade into a winning pawn endgame, and after that was missed the game petered out.

After a tough loss, Tan will have the black pieces against someone who’s had a tougher tournament than anybody, Vaishali. Goryachkina will defend against Muzychuk, who’s only a half-point higher than Vaishali, and Lei will have White against Salimova. Humpy will have the white pieces against Lagno, who’s a half-point behind the leaders.

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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