Who will win the Candidates Tournament?

by clement

“Prognostications are difficult, especially when they concern the future”, goes a well-known saying. However, it’s fun to speculate on the possible winners of sporting events, which also allow spectators to prepare for the party ahead. Here, then, is a brief presentation of the eight contenders, with an idea of their chances of winning the tournament, from highest to lowest Elo.

Fabiano Caruana, Elo 2803 (2nd in the world), *30.07.1992

The only player with Carlsen to currently have an Elo above 2800, the American benefits from extraordinary experience, as he will be taking part in his fifth Candidates Tournament in Toronto, where he won the 2018 edition, which enabled him to face Magnus for the title of World Champion. In this match, the two finalists each came close to the title, but were unable to separate themselves before the tiebreaks in fast games, masterfully won by the Norwegian on a score of 3-0.

As it turned out, Caruana went from strength to strength in 2023. In May, he won the Superbet Chess Classic in Bucharest, then the No Castling Masters in Dormund, and finished third in the World Cup, losing in the semi-finals to another Toronto qualifier, Praggnanandhaa. In the same year, he also became US champion and Grand Chess Tour winner, including the Sinquefield Cup and Rapid Blitz in St. Louis.

Unlike his compatriot Nakamura, who will also be in Toronto, Caruana dared to try his hand at the American Cup, which took place in March – with a result that makes it hard to say whether the Italian-born player has maintained the form he showed in 2023.

There’s another point in Caruana’s favor: since his defeat in the 2018 World Championship, he’s acquired a strong psychological stability, which he hints at even in numerous interviews and in the podcast C-Squared which he manages with his second-in-command Cristian Chirila.

Hikaru Nakamura, Elo 2789 (3rd in the world), *09.12.1987

Hikaru Nakamura, seeded No. 2 and the oldest participant in the tournament (36), also appears to be psychologically stable. As he likes to emphasize in interviews, Nakamura no longer sees himself as a chess professional who earns his living playing in tournaments, but as a streamer who currently has 2.27 million subscribers on YouTube.

Thanks to the income generated by this activity, he is no longer dependent on good tournament results and can therefore, as he says himself, play freely and carefree in the few tournaments with classical thinking time in which he still participates, and usually with success. Last year, for example, he won the American Cup and the Norway Chess, and finished second in the Grand Swiss.

Nakamura is, of course, highly experienced. He became Grand Master in 2003, at the age of 15 years and 79 days, beating Bobby Fischer’s record as the youngest American GM of all time. By 2010, he had already broken into the top 10. A great blitz and bullet specialist, he’s a player who doesn’t seem to know stress, even if his famous – and painful – mimicry on the chessboard might suggest otherwise. In fact, it shows that, despite the unimaginable number of games Hikaru has played at the highest level, particularly online, he has retained the enthusiasm needed to win.

But before you can win, you also have to defend yourself. And in this area, Nakamura is also considered one of the most resilient players.

Toronto is the third Candidates Tournament for the American. On his 2016 debut in Moscow, he finished a disappointing 7th, and on his second attempt, in Madrid in 2022, he finished fourth after letting slip, in the final round against a certain Ding Liren, the final second place that would have qualified him, instead of the Chinese, for the World Championship match!

If he becomes the challenger, Nakamura will be able to take his revenge at the end of the year against Ding Liren, and, after Carlsen and Anand, restore the world crown to the Sagittarius sign!

Alireza Firouzja, Elo 2760, world n°6, *18.06.2003

Alireza Firouzja is considered one of the greatest chess talents of recent years. He was born on June 18, 2003 in Babol, Iran, and became champion of his home country at the age of 12. GM at 14, he became, at the age of 18 years and 166 days, the youngest player ever to break the 2800 Elo barrier, beating Magnus Carlsen’s record, who achieved the feat at the age of 18 years and 336 days.

In 2019, Firouzja and his family left Iran to settle in France, the country whose colors he has worn since July 2021. That same year, he won the Grand Swiss with 8 out of 11 points and qualified for the 2022 Candidates Tournament. Firouzja also impressed at the European Team Championships, scoring 8 points in 9 games (+8, =2) on the first board to help France to the silver medal. At the same time, these two consecutive top results propelled Firouzja into second place in the world rankings, where he remained from December 2021 to April 2022.

Presented as one of the favourites for the 2022 Candidates’ Tournament, things didn’t turn out so well for the Frenchman, who finished antepenultimate with a mere six points. From November 2022 to May 2023, Firouzja did not play a single Elo ranked game for seven consecutive months, triggering speculation about Firouzja’s ambitions and future chess career, reinforced by the announcement that he had been studying fashion design in Paris since May 2023.

At the end of 2023, Firouzja’s club did everything in its power to enable him to qualify for Toronto, sparking a controversy that died out because it was only partially successful. In the end, Firouzja earned the Elo points he needed to overtake Wesley So in the race for the highest Elo to qualify for the Candidates’ Tournament, playing in the lowly Open de Rouen.

If he wants to shine there, he’ll need to show more drive than he did at the start of the year in Wijk aan Zee.

Ian Nepomniachtchi, Elo 2758, 7th in the world, *14.07.1990

Ian Nepomniachtchi is regarded as a player who plays particularly well when he’s on a roll. In April 2021, he won the Candidates Tournament in Yekaterinburg, which had been split into two parts due to the covide affair and had started in March 2020 with an MVL in the lead. After this victory, Nepo was downgraded by Carlsen in the world championship match, not recovering from the bitter defeat suffered in the dramatic sixth game, the longest ever played at a world championship.

But at the next Candidates Tournament, in Madrid in 2022, the Russian, against all expectations, turned up in dazzling form, finishing on top of the podium with an impressive and won unbeaten with 9½ out of 14, beating runner-up Ding Liren by 1½ points!

The World Championship that was to have seen these two players go head-to-head, following Carlsen’s withdrawal, saw Nepo liquefy just as he seemed on the brink of conquering the crown. He was finally caught, and had to concede defeat in the final game of the fast-paced tiebreak.

In 2023, Nepomniachtchi didn’t play much and didn’t achieve any notable success in the major tournaments, nor did he shine in January at the Tata Steel. The Russian thus lost 35 Elo points between January 2023 and April 2024. Nepomniachtchi automatically qualified – but will no longer do so – as the loser of the World Championship final, and if he were to win in Toronto, he would become the first player in history to have won three Candidates’ Tournaments.

Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu, Elo 2747, 14th in the world, *10.08.2005

Bursting onto the scene at an online tournament in 2021, the Elo evolution of 18-year-old Indian Grandmaster Praggnanandhaa “Pragg” Rameshbabhu was very different from that of “Nepo”. He started 2023 with a 2684 Elo, but then rushed from success to success to reach 2747 points in the April list, an increase of 63 points on January 2023. If this trend continues at the Candidates’ Tournament, “Pragg” could spring a surprise and become the youngest player in history to win the Candidates’ Tournament. To do so, he would have to improve on his performance at the recent Prague Masters, where he brilliantly beat Nodirbek Abdusattorov.

Gukesh Dommaraju, Elo 2743, world no. 16, *29.05.2006

As young as “Pragg” is, his compatriot Gukesh Dommaraju is even younger. At 17 years of age – he will celebrate his 18th birthday a month after the Candidates Tournament ends – he is the youngest participant in the Toronto tournament. He is not, however, the youngest candidate ever. That record is once again held by Carlsen, who qualified for the Candidates’ Tournament shortly after his 15th birthday, finishing tenth at the December 2005 World Cup. The second oldest candidate of all time is Bobby Fischer, who was 15 years and 6 months old when he qualified for the 1959 tournament thanks to a sixth-place finish at the Portoroz Interzonal tournament.

Like Praggnanandhaa, Gukesh enjoyed a successful 2023 and recorded an increase in Elo, although not as great as that of his compatriot, Gukesh having in fact started 2023 with a ranking of already 2725 Elo. After the 2023 World Cup, he became the youngest player ever to break the 2750 Elo barrier.

Gukesh has the talent, the motivation and, despite his young age, already the experience to play for the win in the Toronto tournament. Didn’t he show what he was capable of, notably at the 2022 Chess Olympiad in Chennai, where he scored an incredible 8 out of 8 on the first board, before his ego got the better of him, much to the dismay of his team-mates? While he started the year well by finishing second in the Tata Steel, his results were less convincing in the recent Prague Masters.

Vidit Gujrathi, Elo 2727, 25th in the world, *24.10.1994

Vidit Gujrathi is the third Indian to qualify for the 2024 Candidates’ Tournament, but he’s more than ten years older than Praggnanandhaa and Gukesh. He appeared out of sorts in his last appearance at the Prague Masters just before the Candidates’ Tournament, finishing last with 3/9. However, it’s well known in the theater that a bad dress rehearsal bodes well for the premiere. Vidit showed how this works in practice at the Grand Swiss 2023, where he qualified for the Candidates’ Tournament. After all, he started the tournament with a defeat in the first round and went on to win the Grand Swiss with 8½/11, and the Gashimov Memorial immediately afterwards.

It’s a safe bet that regular practice of meditation allows Vidit to completely forget his recent setback and focus on the challenge of Toronto.

Nijat Abasov, Elo 2632, world n°114, *14.05.1995

Azerbaijani GM Nijat Abasov is the absolute outsider of the competition. With an Elo rating of 2632, he is currently ranked 114th in the world. At the 2023 World Cup, Abasov was No. 69 on the starting list, but this did not prevent him from surprisingly finishing 4th. This brilliant result enabled him to qualify for Toronto following Carlsen’s withdrawal. After the World Cup, Abasov had reached 2679 Elo; since then, he has lost 47 points. We can expect a tough April in Canada…


The Earth element is the big absentee in this tournament, where we have 3 Fire Signs (2* Leo, 1* Sagittarius), 3 Gemini (Air Sign) and 2 Water Signs (Cancer and Scorpio) – so 4 Mutable Signs (Gemini and Sagittarius), 3 Fixed Signs (Leo and Scorpio) and 1 Cardinal Sign (Cancer).

Among the chess champions sharing these Signs, we have:

  • for Sagittarius: Magnus Carlsen, Vishy Anand, Akiba Rubinstein, Jan Timman, Rustam Kazimzhanov
  • for Gemini: Anatoly Karpov, Tigran Petrosian, Nigel Short, Gata Kamsky, Peter Svidler
  • for Leo: Mikhail Botwinnik, Judit Polgar, Vugar Gashimov, Napoléon Bonaparte, Wang Hao
  • for Scorpio: José Raul Capablanca, Alexandre Alekhine, Mikhail Tal, Ding Liren, Aaron Nimzowitch
  • for Cancer: Vladimir Kramnik, Anish Giri, Alexei Shirov, Paul Morphy, Alexander Morozevich


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