FIDE Candidates 9: Vidit Beats Nakamura Again, Tan Back In Sole Lead

GMs Ian Nepomniachtchi and Gukesh Dommaraju continue to lead the 2024 FIDE Candidates Tournament after round nine. GM Vidit Gujrathi is the only player to win on Sunday, and he defeated GM Hikaru Nakamura for the second time.

GM Alireza Firouzja outplayed Nepomniachtchi after starting the game with the uncommon 2.b3, but the tournament co-leader defended yet another difficult position to a draw. The French number-one complained about the chief arbiter on Twitter/X after the game.

GM Tan Zhongyi defeated GM-elect Vaishali Rameshbabu in 21 moves to jump back into the pole position in the 2024 FIDE Women’s Candidates Tournament. All the other games ended in draws, leaving GMs Lei Tingjie and Aleksandra Goryachkina a half-point behind.

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Round 10 will be on Monday, April 15, starting at 2:30 p.m. ET / 20:30 CEST / 12:00 a.m. IST.

Standings – Candidates

Standings – Women’s Candidates


Candidates: Vidit Scores The Double vs. Nakamura

Nepomniachtchi is the only player in the tournament still to be undefeated. At the end of the broadcast, GM Judit Polgar said of his performance: “I can say that with Nepomniachtchi already defending his game versus Praggnanandhaa [in round five]…, I already then thought that probably he can be named the best defender in the world right now.” He survived another formidable challenge from Firouzja in this round.

[Nepomniachtchi] can be named the best defender in the world right now.

—Judit Polgar

Firouzja was facing an uphill battle against Nepomniachtchi. It’s been a rocky tournament for the French number-one, who’s only a half-point away from last place. On top of that, he had lost all three of his games against Nepomniachtchi across the last two Candidates Tournaments. Still, the 20-year-old has been playing with a newfound strength since his round-seven victory against Gukesh, and in this game he was pressing.

Firouzja against the new minister of defense. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Firouzja started with 1. Nf3 d5 2.b3—the first player in the tournament to deviate from 1.e4 or 1.d4 openings, but an unfazed Nepomniachtchi played quickly and confidently. By move 17, Nepomniachtchi had an hour and 20 minutes against Firouzja’s 40 minutes. But the prodigy already had gained an advantage by this point.

Firouzja said: “I think I was better for sure, but I don’t know if it was enough. For sure, I had a big chance.” He played a King’s Indian type of attack and even sacrificed the exchange on move 33 for a powerful-looking passed pawn, but it seems like Black did have a fortress after all.

After the game, Firouzja complained about “shameful action” by the chief arbiter, who approached him about his shoes early in the game. The prodigy, who also experienced an incident with another arbiter at Tata Steel Chess 2021, wrote: “This was a big distraction for me during the game and [I] completely lost my focus.”

FM Mike Klein interviewed Chief Arbiter Aris Marghetis, who said: “[Firouzja] had a very heavy footfall… it wasn’t [just] creaking. I don’t know what word to use; it was stompish, if you will.” Another player, GM Nijat Abasov, had complained to him about the noise, and so he asked Firouzja if he could “spread [his] walking area” or to consider wearing different, “softer” shoes the next round. Also: “One thing I did find interesting was that after this exchange, he walked more softly… [so] he was capable of walking more softly.”

Anyway, less about shoes and back to the chess.

With the black pieces, GM Vidit Gujrathi won his game against Nakamura in round two, but since then the American grandmaster had enjoyed a better tournament. After defeating GM Fabiano Caruana in the previous round, Nakamura was just a half-point short of the leaders—that is, before his second loss against Vidit.

It looked like Nakamura had found his form just before this game. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Nakamura made his intentions crystal clear from the opening when he played the double-edged 6…g5!? in the Italian Game: Let’s fight. But as the game got complicated, he criticized his own time management, especially when he slowed down to play 15…Nh5“It’s just so insane to use so much time…. I spent 30 minutes looking at different moves, and I think I picked the worst one… the moves become much easier for White; that’s the problem.”

From the engine’s perspective, there is actually nothing wrong with that move, and he was never much more than slightly worse for most of the game. It is the pawn grab 27…Nxe5??, which Nakamura called “just absurd,” that spun the game completely into Vidit’s hands. GM Rafael Leitao analyzes the Game of the Day below.

Both players are now on 4.5 points, a full point behind the leaders. But there are still five rounds left in the tournament—plenty of space for surprises.

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

With the black pieces, Gukesh won in round two against GM Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu. Since then, Gukesh has had the slightly better tournament, though his opponent has consistently been a half-point behind the leaders. GM Robert Hess put this matchup in the proper context: “This is a matchup for the ages—and the next few decades!”

This is a matchup for the ages—and the next few decades!

—Robert Hess

Two players we will get used to seeing. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Gukesh played the Delayed Exchange Variation of the Ruy Lopez, but with the very uncommon 7.c3, never before played by someone rated over 2500—though the position looks quite standard anyway. Both Indian grandmasters played it close to the chest, not taking many risks, and the game ended in a cagey draw.

It’s no harm or foul for either player, as Gukesh continues to share the lead and Praggnanandhaa is just a half-point behind.

Caruana suffered a tough break on the previous day when he lost against Nakamura and slid down to a full point from first place. He played Abasov in this round, and a win against the lowest seed would have gone a long way in helping him recover.

He never had more than a slight advantage after equalizing comfortably in the Queen’s Gambit with Black, but he could have perhaps pressed more after 19.c4?! from Abasov, committing a pawn to a light square. Caruana could also have cemented a second target with 19…a5! with a small edge, but after 19…Nc6?! the game transitioned into an opposite-color bishops endgame with four rooks, which ended in a draw.

Caruana observes the tournament co-leader’s game. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Round 10 features the clash of the two tournament co-leaders, Nepomniachtchi vs. Gukesh. Praggnanandhaa, who trails by half a point, will have White against the hot-off-a-win Vidit. Caruana will have his shot against the ever-unpredictable Firouzja, while Nakamura will have his against Abasov.

Women’s Candidates: Tan Is Back

Bouncing back from hardship is a quality every chess champion exhibits, and Tan showed that great tenacity by winning her game in round nine to regain the sole lead. The previous day, she had lost her first game against Lei.

“Today I wanted to play more solid, and I didn’t expect to have this chance,” said Tan. “She [Vaishali] chose to use an opening that she never played before. I’m not sure what she had prepared, but I avoided completely her preparation.”

Tan won a miniature in round nine. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Vaishali played an interesting novelty, 11.Ng5N, introducing some dangerous attacking ideas, but Tan neutralized them with natural moves. The game ended very suddenly; Vaishali blundered a pawn with 16.c4? and resigned on move 21.

“After yesterday’s loss, I really needed this win to regain my confidence,” said the tournament leader after the game. For eight of nine rounds now, she’s been in sole first. Meanwhile, it’s a fourth loss in a row for Vaishali, and there are still five rounds to go.

After yesterday’s loss, I really needed this win to regain my confidence.

—Tan Zhongyi

The rest of the games ended in draws, though there were some missed chances, especially for Goryachkina.

Despite the result, GM Anna Muzychuk vs. Goryachkina was a fascinating duel in the—yes—the Berlin Defense. But this endgame featured a piece sacrifice by White for several pawns. Goryachkina did have a win on the spot with 33…Nd8!, but when asked if she missed anything, she said: “It was difficult, especially because I didn’t have a lot of time and my opponent played very quickly…. Maybe I missed some moment, but I don’t know at the moment.”

She had 23 minutes against an hour and seven at that point.

Goryachkina has been just half a point short of the lead for most of the tournament, but she doesn’t seem too anxious about it: “So far, I play the way I can. I think I played really good. Unfortunately, it’s not enough because [Tan is] in front, but maybe in the future I will play even stronger.”

So far, I play the way I can.

—Aleksandra Goryachkina

Lei vs. IM Nurgyul Salimova started off with an exciting opening, with Lei employing the aggressive 5.Rg1 move against the Philidor Defense. 16.Rg4!? or 16.g6 could have put Black under great pressure, but after 16.Bd2?! Nf4 17.Qe5, the queens got traded and the players made no mistakes from there.

An interesting opening in Lei-Salimova. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

GM Humpy Koneru vs. GM Kateryna Lagno was the longest game of the round. From the Ragozin Variation of the Queen’s Gambit Declined, Lagno took on an isolated pawn. Ultimately, she had an extra pawn in the rook endgame, which she attempted to convert, but she was not able to provoke a mistake.

Just one win over nine rounds, but we can still smile! Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Tan will have the white pieces against Humpy, who started slow but scored her first win a round ago, on Monday. Goryachkina vs. Lei will be the other major game to follow, as both players are just a half-point behind the leader.

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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