Wide open: On the Candidates chess tournament in Toronto   

India has a strong contingent at the Candidates chess tournament  

Updated - April 05, 2024 02:02 pm IST

Published - April 05, 2024 12:10 am IST

Candidates is a familiar word in these times of a general election, but over the next three weeks, it will appear regularly on the sports pages of newspapers as well, across the world. The opening move of the Candidates chess tournament was made in Toronto late on Thursday (IST). It is the mind game’s biggest event of the year, and its winners — in the open and the women’s sections — will be eligible to compete for the World championship. China’s Ding Liren and Ju Wenjun are the reigning world champions. They, along with the rest of the chess world, will have their eyes set on the Canadian city to find out who will emerge as the challenger from among the men and women there. The country that will follow the tournament with the keenest interest could well be India. For, five out of the 16 contestants, eight each in either section, are Indians. R. Praggnanandhaa, D. Gukesh and Vidit Gujrathi are fighting it out in the open tournament, while Koneru Humpy and R. Vaishali are competing in the women’s tournament. Remember, only one Indian has played in this prestigious event (open) before — Viswanathan Anand, a five-time world champion, continues to be an inspiration. India’s conspicuous presence is a fair indication of how strong it has become in world chess. More proof is provided by the latest World rankings, in which the highest ranked Indian (No. 9), Arjun Erigaisi, is not even playing at the Candidates.

None of the Indians started as a favourite in the open event of the Candidates, though. Two Americans, Fabiano Caruana and Hikaru Nakamura, are the strongest players in Toronto. They are ranked second and third, behind Magnus Carlsen, who has opted out of the World championship cycle, citing a lack of motivation. Russian Ian Nepomniachtchi is another major contender, having won the tournament’s last two editions. Alireza Firouzja, the Iranian-born French player, is another player the Indian men have to be wary of. Praggnanandhaa and Gukesh are still in their teens, and this is likely to be only their first Candidates — they are more than capable of surprising the toughest of fields, as they showed at the Chess Olympiad and the World Cup. Koneru Humpy is by far the most experienced Indian in Toronto. A former World Rapid champion, she is one of the main contenders in the women’s tournament. Vaishali, Praggnanandhaa’s elder sister, is one of the world’s fastest improving female players. The women’s tournament, which features the former World champion Tan Zhongyi of China, looks more open.

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