FIDE Candidates 2024, Round 1: Draws dominate day one in Canada

The Candidates 2024 tournament witnessed an uneventful opening day as seven of the eight opening matches ended in a draw on Friday in Toronto, Canada.

Published : Apr 05, 2024 04:52 IST , New Delhi - 3 MINS READ

Praggnanandhaa and Firouzja in action on Round 1 of the Candidates tournament.
Praggnanandhaa and Firouzja in action on Round 1 of the Candidates tournament. | Photo Credit: Walusza Fotografia

Praggnanandhaa and Firouzja in action on Round 1 of the Candidates tournament. | Photo Credit: Walusza Fotografia

A look at the results, showing a draw on all four boards, could easily mislead one into assuming that there was a premium on excitement in the opening round of the FIDE Candidates 2024 in Toronto. Well, the truth was far from it.

Hard-fought battles, compatriots going for each other’s throats, some stubborn defence and more. Eventually, when the dust settled down on the battlefield, each player left The Grand Hall with some positives, getting off the mark being the biggest of them.

The pairings were designed in a way to ensure players from the same country played each other early in each half of the double round-robin format. That meant Vidit Gujrathi and D. Gukesh were involved in a fierce battle where no quarter was given, none asked for.

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On a day when top seed Fabiano Caruana missed his chances against fellow American and second seed Hikaru Nakamura, R. Praggnanandhaa proved equal to the much-acclaimed Alireza Firouzja. Lowest-rated Nijat Abasov gained some more respect for the way he dealt with two-time defending champion Ian Nepomniachtchi.

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Playing black, Vidit had Gukesh on the defensive after disfiguring his kingside pawn structure following a knight-trade. This meant Gukesh could not progress with the usual plan of castling on the kingside. Vidit did manage to bring up enough resources to force Gukesh to keep his king on the starting block even after the queenside pawns were off the board.

Gukesh claimed a central pawn on the 13th move, but Vidit’s position continued to appear sound.

However, on the 17th turn, Vidit came up with a strange bishop-offer on the kingside. Gukesh smartly opted to dislodge Vidit’s queen, and a three-fold repetition of moves followed that brought a rather premature end in just 21 moves. This game surely held the potential to offer much more.


Praggnanandhaa came out as an impressive performer against the higher-rated rival from France. Playing black, Praggnanandhaa went for the castled white king with his queen and rooks. Firzouja had no trouble summoning his resources to thwart the young Indian. Praggnanandhaa smartly sacrificed both knights to force a draw by perpetual checks.

AS IT HAPPENED | Chess Candidates 2024, Round 1 Highlights

Playing white, Caruana missed a winning continuation after Nakamura’s strange rook-offer on the 23rd move where he captured a pawn with an unprotected rook. Caruana found the right move by deciding not to capture the black rook but erred soon. Nakamura regained his composure and defended accurately to salvage half a point.

The Abasov-Nepomniachtchi battle witnessed a series of exchanges leading to a rook-pawn endgame. Here, the players repeated rook moves to end their contest, leaving the Russian feeling fine with a draw from the black pieces and Abasov pleased with an unbeaten start.

First-round results (Indians unless stated): D. Gukesh drew with Vidit Gujrathi in 21 moves in Tarrasch Defence; Alireza Firouzja (Fra) drew with R. Praggnanandhaa in 39 moves in Ruy Lopez Open; Fabiano Caruana (USA) drew with Hikaru Nakamura (USA) in 41 moves in Sicilian Defence; Nijat Abasov (Aze) drew with Ian Nepomniachtchi (FIDE) in 34 moves in Queen’s Gambit.

Second-round pairings: Praggnanandhaa-Gukesh; Nakamura-Vidit; Nepomniachtchi-Firouzja; Caruana-Abasov.

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