FIDE / Michal Walusza

Round 14: Gukesh and Zhongyi are officially the World Championship Challengers

TournamentChessOver the board
A historic finish to the FIDE Candidates, as 17 year old Indian prodigy becomes the youngest World Champion Challenger in history, and Zhongyi consolidated her lead to be the Women's Challenger.

In a day full of wild oscillating games and drama, the 17 year old Indian prodigy, Gukesh D, officially won the FIDE Candidates 2024 and will be facing the reigning World Champion, Ding Liren, to fight for the World Champion title later this year. Gukesh drew in his own game against Hikaru Nakamura, and for some time it looked as if the game would go to rapid tiebreaks, as Caruana had a winning position against Nepomniachtchi. Meanwhile, in the Women's Candidates Lei Tingjie played a spectacular and ambitions queen sacrifice for a knight, which ultimately was her downfall, while Tan Zhongyi had substantial chances against Muzychuk but a blunder held it to a draw.

As well as broadcasting the live games from the two tournaments, Lichess is providing a live stream for every day of the Candidates. Make sure to tune in to our Twitch or YouTube channels, with streams starting from 14:15 Toronto time (18:15 UTC).

We're also providing daily annotations on some of the games from GM Brandon Jacobson and IM / WGM Padmini Rout. The full study can be found here.


Round Recap - Open Section

The game between Nakamura and Gukesh was a must win for Nakamura, and a must draw for Gukesh — although he would prefer a win to cleanly prevent anyone from catching him. With the Queen’s gambit accepted played, the two players got into a position with an imbalance; Nakamura had an isolated d pawn, which he couldn’t really use in any way in his favour, and was later converted to another imbalance - Gukesh playing 19 Bxf3 and giving white the bishop pair advantage, in exchange for a material advantage. Nakamura was able to defend this position and get the material back, but not to achieve anything further. After a long fight with both players hoping to create something, the game ended in a draw, with a sanguine Nakamura losing his chance for the World Championship, and Gukesh still waiting for the result between Caruana and Nepomniachtchi.

Meanwhile, with both Caruana and Nepomniachtchi on 8 points, both were in a must-win position for a chance of forcing Gukesh to a rapid tie-break if he drew. After a cautious start, it swiftly fell into Caruana's favour, and it looked as if Caruana was certain to convert. But a surprise blunder allowed Nepomniactchi to find a drawing line, but a few moves later Nepomniachtchi blundered back and again it looked certain to be in Caruana's favour. Again, the unbelievable happened as Caruana was in time pressure, and perhaps pressure overall, and a blunder by Caruana made it a drawing position for Nepomniachtchi again. This time, Nepomniachtchi held the drew. The result meant neither player caught Gukesh, and ended Caruana's hopes in perhaps some of the most devastating fashion. A subdued Nepomniachtchi later apologised to Caruana in the press conference: "I'm sorry [for drawing]" he said, after agreeing the earlier position was simply winning for Caruana. "It's my own fault", a crestfallen Caruana quietly said.

Abasov, being out-rated by at least 100 Elo points by the other players, wasn’t able to find his pace in this Candidates Tournament, or score a win in the event, despite his impressive performance in the World Cup. Facing Praggnanandhaa with white for round 14, he decided to deploy the Fianchetto Variation against his opponent’s King’s Indian Defence setup. This is generally considered a very solid approach, and indeed, he managed to maintain a mostly equal middlegame. Praggnanandhaa however, was able to outplay Abasov in the resulting rook, queen and minor piece endgame, having a knight against his opponent’s bishop, and finish the tournament on a win - leaving Abasov in the last place with 3.5/14.

The game between Firoujza and Vidit, the players who had the most decisive games, until round 13, was a rather quick one; the quickest in the whole event. With Firoujza having had a rough tournament overall, but with quite a few good moments, and Vidit not managing to get his ideal performance, the two players did not have much to aim for, and the game ended in a quick draw within five minutes, by move 14.

Round Recap - Women's Section

Lei Tingjie undeniably had an impressive comeback and performance especially since round 6, with 3 consecutive wins and no losses, until round 13. If she wanted to win the event, she could hope only for one scenario: Her winning against Koneru, and Anna Muzychuk winning against Tan; then - and only then - the first place would be decided on tiebreaks. But, neither result came. Lei, in her game was never able to get a clear advantage against her opponent. In the middlegame, she chose to trap her queen, however it was not yet game over! With brilliant knight and rook manoeuvring, she prepared to sacrifice her queen for a knight, and she maintained chances of counterplay. After the sacrifice and following a combination of moves, the two players entered an endgame with Lei being an exchange down, which the engine found holdable. However doing this was absolutely not an easy task, and instead Koneru was able to reverse the fortunes and convert the point.

Tan, on the other hand, with the tournament situation formed after Round 13, needed only not to lose against Anna Muzychuk with white, in order to secure winning the Women’s Candidates and avoid tiebreaks. Tan, playing a Sicilian against her opponent, managed to get an advantage in the middlegame, creating a passed e-pawn and with better piece activity overall. The only issue with her position was her open king due to the ruined pawn structure around it. Anna Muzychuk managed to seize an opportunity for a perpetual check, due to this weakness and saved the draw. This missed opportunity was of little of no importance for Tan however; the draw was more than sufficient to secure the first place, regardless of the result between Lei and Koneru, and Tan Zhongyi can now be looking ahead for the Women’s World Championship match!

Vaishali, being one of the tournament’s underdogs, might had had a rough first half of the tournament, but she has been the positive upset of the tournament in both sections, in the second half - with her round 14 win against Lagno, she finished by her win streak to a historic 5 in a row! She also had the greatest number of victories amongst all players in Women’s Candidates. In their game, Lagno sacrificed a piece for two pawns, in order to expose her opponent’s king and create an attack, with Vaishali giving back the material at the right moment in the middlegame. Lagno didn’t manage to take advantage of her opponent’s weaker king, and after 28... Bxf2+! 29. Qxf2?!, Vaishali managed to convert her positional edge and material advantage into a fifth consecutive win. Her first half of the tournament and possibly the lack of experience, compared to the other participants - veterans in this kind of events, didn't let her realistically hope to claim the Challenger spot in the Women’s World Championship - but if she maintains her form she displayed in the 2nd half, she can absolutely hope so for the future!

Meanwhile, Goryachkina had a game against Salimova, an opportunity to increase her prize money and statistics, but not to win the tournament overall. Opting for a (rarely seen!) Philidor Defense, Goryachkina pushed hard but was unable to find any edge over an excellently defending Salimova. The game ultimately ended in a draw, but it was a fighting draw pushing to move 59; a strong defensive masterclass by Salimova.

Lichess is a charity and entirely free/libre open source software.
All operating costs, development, and content are funded solely by user donations.