Chess Candidates Tournament: Posh veterans and amazing young people compete in the chess Candidates Tournament to challenge Ding | Chess

After the resignation of the world title of the Norwegian Magnus Carlsen, and with his successor, the Chinese Liren Ding, in poor shape, the Candidates Tournament that begins this Thursday in Toronto (Canada) is more promising than ever for its eight gladiators. Three of them are very strong and experienced: the Americans Fabiano Caruana (31 years old) and Hikaru Nakamura (36), and the Russian Ian Niepómniashi (33). Three others, dazzling young people: the Frenchman Alireza Firouzja (20) and the Indians Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa (18) and Dommaraju Gukesh (19). And two whose victory would be very surprising: the also Indian Gujrathi Vidit (29) and the Azerbaijani Nijat Abásov (28). Psychological strength will have a lot of influence in a double-round league.

In principle, Caruana credits almost everything for winning the Candidates again, as he did in 2018, when Carlsen was only able to defeat him in the fast tiebreaker, after twelve draws in the slow games. He is 2nd on the world list now, and exhibiting a great moment of form, although still not as high as between 2014, when he had one of the best results in history in the Sinquefield Cup in San Luis (USA), with 8, 5 points in ten games, and the aforementioned 2018 World Cup. In addition, he usually accepts defeats well, an essential virtue to win a Candidates.

But there are strong reasons to maintain that he will only succeed in Toronto if he performs at his highest level. One of them is the motivation of Nakamura, whose immense talent was weighed down in his beginnings in the elite by his intense dedication to fast online games, and in recent years by his great success – which has made him a millionaire – as streamer. The economic and psychological security that this has given him has translated into a fervent desire for the enormous talent to sit on the chess throne. The consistency of his play in recent years has taken him to third place on the world list, although doubt remains as to whether he has enough psychological strength to win the tournament he has never won.

The lack of resilience – especially after a defeat – has always been Niepómniashi’s weak point. But he is the runner-up of the last two World Cups, against Carlsen in Dubai 2021 and Ding in Astana 2023. Contrary to the invasion of Ukraine, he continues to live in Russia, protected from Vladimir Putin by the millionaire president of the Russian Chess Federation, Andrei Filatov. Although his recent play does not dazzle (7th in the world), it must always be taken into account, especially as long as he remains undefeated.

Alireza Firouzja, at the Madrid 2022 Candidates Tournament, before his match against Ian Niepómniashi at the Santoña PalacePhoto Chess

The three young stars display a track record that includes them among the most amazing prodigies of all time. But it is no less true that all three are missing a boil. Carlsen himself even pointed out Firouzja (6th in the world now, after having been 2nd) as his main threat in 2021. But the Frenchman of Iranian origin could not win the Madrid Candidates 2022 due to lack of maturity, and then he took a very surprising decision, which undoubtedly hinders his talent: studying fashion design in Paris: “It is something very serious for me. I have taken a break to prepare and play the Candidates, but then I will return to my studies,” he told EL PAÍS last January in Wijk aan Zee (Netherlands). He is capable of winning everything and defeating everyone, but it is unlikely that a Candidate can be won without full dedication, much more than a parenthesis.

So is Gukesh (16th) if he plays as well as he did at the 2022 Chennai Chess Olympiad (India), but since then he has not shone at the same level. And it is true that the natural site of Praggnanandhaa (14th) – given its tremendous consistency in recent years – is among the top four, but it does not yet seem ready to surpass the other seven. Vidit (25th) is very tough, with enough strength to knock down anyone, but not enough to win the tournament. And it would be a major surprise if Abbasov repeats something comparable to his very surprising 4th place in the 2023 World Cup (he has qualified for the Candidates due to Carlsen’s resignation).

The regulations require that compatriots face each other in the first rounds to avoid speculation and suspicions of fixing in the last ones. So the pairings on Thursday’s opening day (2:30 p.m. in Toronto; 8:30 p.m. in Madrid; 12:30 p.m. in Mexico City; 3:30 p.m. in Buenos Aires) will be: Caruana-Nakamura; Abbasov-Niepomniashi; Firouzja-Praggnanandhaa; Gukesh-Vidit.

In parallel, the Candidates Tournament is being held to challenge the champion, Wenjun Ju, also Chinese, after the resignation (years ago) of her compatriot, and still number one, Yifan Hou. The main favorite is the Russian Alexandra Goriáchkina, 25 years old, 3rd in the world in the women’s list and 363rd in the mixed rankings. Also competing are 4th, Tingjie Lei (China, 27 years old), 5th, Humpy Koneru (India, 37), 6th, Kateryna Lagno (Russia, 34), 7th, Zhongyi Tan (China, 32), and 8th , Anna Muzychuk (Ukraine, 34). And Praggnanandhaa’s sister: Rameshbabu Vaishali (India, 22, 15th in the world). The Bulgarian Nurgyul Salímova (36th in the world, 20 years old) completes the list.

EL PAÍS will extensively cover the Toronto event, with at least one chronicle of each round and a commented game in the daily column.

to weekly newsletter ‘Wonderful play’, by Leontxo García

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