British Chess Magazine – May 2024
English | 66 pages | pdf | 22.78 MB

A turning point in the
history of chess?

Even before it started, the 2024 FIDE Candidates tournament carried weighty historical implications
This was the first time in its seven decade history that the Candidates tournament was held on North American soil. It was also the first time that both the Open and the Women’s tournament were held side by side. The call of history was there for all to hear.
But nerves were jangling as the event could have been severely undermined by bureaucracy and border controls. Right up to the very start of the tournament it was uncertain whether the hosts – Canada – would issue visas to all the eligible players (particularly Indians, due to a political standoff between India and Canada). This was yet another example, if one were needed, of how high-level politics can enmesh international chess. As FIDE’s CEO Emil Sutovsky put it in his speech at the closing ceremony in Toronto – “it was a long, bumpy journey at times, but we are very proud that we managed to pull this event together”. Under the stewardship of Sutovsky and tournament director Pavel Tregubov, the Candidates tournament did take place with all eligible players competing and the event ran smoothly without a single issue of note.
Indeed, the event was a fine success for the chess world’s governing body, the International Chess Federation (FIDE).
Despite the tense backdrop of current international events, FIDE orchestrated the world’s premier chess tournament in Canada and even succeeded in eliciting a public endorsement from the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. In so doing FIDE also acknowledged its commitment to increasing the global and geographically spread of major chess events and sponsors, signalling a progressive shift and proactive mindset at the top level of the sport.
Holding the Women’s Candidates event simultaneously with the Open was an inspired move, increasing the visibility of women’s chess and helping put it on an equal footing with the male-dominated Open tournaments.

And what about the tournaments themselves?

In the chess equivalent of a Hollywood thriller, the outcome of the race in the Open tournament was anyone’s guess until the very last moment when 17-year-old Indian
prodigy Dommaraju Gukesh (born 29 May 2006 and referred to as Gukesh D) emerged victorious, becoming the youngest winner of the Candidates tournament since its inception in 1950. The previous youngest winner was Garry Kasparov at the age of 20. Gukesh’s victory was decided in an historic game in which he didn’t even play! The American Fabiano Caruana and Russian Ian Nepomniachtchi both had the fate of the tournament in their hands – they were paired in the last round and the winner would claim the title. In a nerve-wracking roller coaster of a game lasting 109 moves and six hours, neither emerged victorious and the eventual draw handed the crown to Gukesh. Gukesh’s achievement marks a significant milestone in the history of chess. It shows not only that the game is increasingly dominated by ever younger players, but it may also mark the arrival of a new era in which Indian players and India (the ancient birthplace of chess) become the new epicentre of the chess world. The signs are already clear – three out of eight players in the Open Candidates, and two out of eight in the Women’s competition, were from India.
The Indian presence was everywhere to be felt and seen in the Candidates – among the players, the volunteers and spectators. Each day before play got underway and every evening afterwards, large crowds mainly comprising Indians living in Canada squeezed in front of the playing hall, trying to get a photo or a glimpse of their stars. Such celebrity-style fandom is something modern chess has not seen since the days of Bobby Fischer. The Indian media provided huge coverage of the event, just like other top national sports in India such as cricket.
When he arrived home in the southern Indian city of Chennai at 3am(!), Gukesh was mobbed by media crews and fans at this early hour welcoming him back. Clearly, a new chess superstar from India
has burst upon the scene, with every chance of ranking alongside such Indian greats as Vishy Anand and (going back a century or so) the supremely talented Sultan Khan.
There would seem to be little reason to doubt that enthusiasm for and engagement with chess in India is likely to explode.
Events in Canada will also surely intensify the pivot in the chess world to the east. The pivot was also confirmed in the Women’s Candidates where the former World Champion from China, Tan Zhongyi, convincingly won first place followed closely by her compatriot Lei Tingjie. Once again, the Women’s World Champion title match will be contested between two Chinese players – defending Champion Ju Wenjun and Tan Zhongyi. While China’s dominance of women’s chess at top level continues for the moment, let us not forget that there are also many very strong and rising female players in India.
The 2024 FIDE Candidates tournament is poised to be seen in the annals of chess history as a watershed moment. The legacy is already clear – the choice of a new global location for the flagship event, the rise of a new Indian superstar, the parallel timing of the women’s event signalling gender inclusivity, and the dominance of ever younger chess champions. A new dawn for the game may truly be upon us.
We have dedicated this British Chess Magazine issue of BCM to the 2024 Candidates, to mark this spectacular chess event. We hope that you enjoy it, and we believe that the importance of this event will resonate for decades to come.

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