FIDE Candidates: Praggnanandhaa enters as India’s best bet


Toronto: Teen sensation R Praggnanandhaa will enter as the favourite among the three Indian participants in the Candidates chess tournament that will get underway here from Wednesday to decide the challenger for the next world championship match.

After nearly 35 years as many as three Indians – Praggnanandhaa, D Gukesh and Vidit Gujrathi — have qualified for the most prestigious event of the year that has just eight participants.

According to an expert, India is the new Russia of the chess world, as in the past such dominance was only shown by Russian players.

Praggnanandhaa, 18, starts as the rating favourite among Indians and also as the favourite of the chess buffs even though the top bracket of the world feels that all the three Indian youngsters still need time to settle among the world elite.

Fearless and psychologically sound, Praggnandhaa will likely have the assistance of eight-time Russian champion Peter Svidler for the event. One cannot help but recall that during one of the world championships Indian grandmaster P Harikrishna had assisted Svidler in his quest to be the world champion.

While Svidler could be a game-changer, it will largely depend on Praggnandhaa’s form and how he adapts in this tough event, where the eight players will play each other twice.

At just 17 years, Gukesh is hailed as one of the finest talents around. The Indian is also the youngest participant in the fray and second youngest ever after Robert James Fischer – aka Bobby Fischer – to qualify for the elite event. Fischer was 16-year-old when he qualified in 1959.

That Fischer’s record lasted a whopping 65 years, goes to prove what it takes to be one of the candidates and if Gukesh wins it, he will be the youngest ever to compete for the World Championship title.

Vidit Gujrathi will have his task cut out and much will depend on his form. In his last outing, probably training his sights for the candidates, the Nasik-based player did not do well at the Prague masters and slipped considerably on the rating list also.

Praggnanandhaa was the first to qualify for the tournament by virtue of his silver medal performance in the last World Cup at Baku, Azerbaijan.

The Indian star went down to Magnus Carlsen in the final but since then has picked up a lot and has come around as a fierce.

Gujrathi made it thanks to a remarkable performance in the Grand Swiss tournament at Isle of Man, UK, last year. The Indian had displayed top form in the final stages of the tournament.

For Gukesh it was touch and go but the teenager displayed steely nerves to win a spot through the rating process by winning a GM tournament in Chennai last December.

The field however is diverse with a great mix of youth and experience.

American Fabiano Caruana starts as the top seed ahead of his compatriot Hikaru Nakamura. The 20-year-old Alireza Firouza of France is ranked third while twice challenger Ian Nepomniachtchi of Russia is the fourth seed.

Praggnanandhaa, Gukesh and Gujrathi follow these four in terms of FIDE ratings while Nijat Abasov of Azerbaijan is the last seed in the event.

The first round will commence on Thursday, at midnight IST. There will be four rest days in all. The winner not only gets to play the world championship match but will also become richer by 48000 Euros (roughly Rs. 45 lakh).


Road to the Candidates:

Ian Nepomniachtchi (2758) – qualified as the previous World Championship match runner-up.

R Praggnanandhaa (2747) – qualified as the 2023 World Cup runner-up.

Fabiano Caruana (USA, 2804) – qualified as the third-place finisher at the 2023 World Cup.

Nijat Abasov (AZE, 2632) – qualified as the fourth-place finisher at the 2023 World Cup after the winner, Magnus Carlsen, declined his right to participate.

Vidit Gujrathi (2747) – qualified as the 2023 Grand Swiss winner.

Hikaru Nakamura (USA, 2789) – qualified as the 2023 Grand Swiss runner-up.

Alireza Firouzja (FRA, 2760) – qualified as the best by rating on January 1, 2024.

D Gukesh (2747) – qualified as the 2023 FIDE Circuit winner.

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