Candidates 2024: Thrilling finale awaits; Little to choose among the three leaders

One among the three leaders - D. Gukesh, Ian Nepomniachtchi and Hikaru Nakamura – could get the lone ticket to the World championship title match.

Published : Apr 20, 2024 19:21 IST , New Delhi - 3 MINS READ

 Indian GM D Gukesh in action.
Indian GM D Gukesh in action. | Photo Credit: PTI

Indian GM D Gukesh in action. | Photo Credit: PTI

As the race to become the challenger to the world crown reaches the middle of the home stretch, the three-man leaders’ bunch promises a thrilling finale to the FIDE Candidates 2024.

Not since Magnus Carlsen won the 2013 Candidates, such excitement has returned to the competition played to find the man to challenge the reigning World champion Ding Liren.

With two rounds remaining after Friday’s rest day, one among the three leaders - youngest competitor D. Gukesh, defending champion Ian Nepomniachtchi and second seed Hikaru Nakamura – could get the lone ticket to the World championship title match.

Fourth-placed top seed Fabiano Caruana, half a point behind the leaders, has an outside chance should he win the next two games to either tie for the title or emerge as an outright winner.

READ | Gukesh, Praggnanandhaa, Vidit, Vaishali, Humpy at FIDE Chess Candidates 2024: Round 13 - Schedule, pairing, colour

In case two or more players are tied for the title, rapid games will be resorted to find the winner.

As things stand, let’s take a look at the path of the three leaders in the last two rounds. Gukesh plays white against an off-form but unpredictable Alireza Firouzja, Nepomniachtchi has white against Nakamura before sitting behind the black pieces in the final round against Caruana. Nakamura and Gukesh face off in the final round, where the American gets to play white.

Caruana, having faced Indians in the previous two rounds, is drawn to play Praggnanandhaa next, that too, with black pieces before testing Nepomniachtchi in the final round.

Hikaru, despite his late charge, faces the toughest test as he is due to meet his two fellow joint leaders in the last two rounds.

Gukesh has the best chance since he plays a struggling Firouzja, and a victory could give his chances a huge boost. Nepomniachtchi cannot breathe easily since he has a desperate Caruana to contend with in the final round.

So far, Gukesh has emerged as the most impressive Indian on view, not because of his results but also for his display of temperament and tenacity.

The way he bounced back after the lone reverse to Firouzja to beat Vidit apart from his calculated assault on Abasov in the previous round, reflects how the youngster has dealt with the challenges. Armed with white pieces, Gukesh will look to avenge the seventh-round defeat but not become rash in his bid for a desperate victory when facing Firouzja.

Nepomniachtchi, looking good enough to draw the next two rounds, needs to win at least one of the two games, should Gukesh win his 13th round. Nakamura could be expected to avoid positional battles to avoid draws and win at least one of the remaining two games.

Caruana will have to be wary of Praggnanandhaa without looking too far ahead. Again, Caruana, with white against Nepomniachtchi and Nakamura, also with white against Gukesh, the final round face-offs could not have been better.

The other two boards will feature the bottom four players. The results of the Firouzja-Vidit and Abasov-Praggnanandhaa matches will not have a bearing on the race to find the champion.

13th round pairings (Indians unless stated): D. Gukesh (7.5)-Alireza Firouzja (Fra, 4.5); R. Praggnanandhaa (6)-Fabiano Caruana (USA, 7); Vidit Gujrathi (5)-Nijat Abasov (Aze, 3); Ian Nepomniachtchi (FIDE, 7.5)-Hikaru Nakamura (USA, 7.5);

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