Grandmaster P Harikrishna was held to a draw by GM Vugar Gashimov of Azerbaijan in the fifth round of the 50th edition of Reggio Emilia International Chess tournament in Italy.
The draw with black was not a bad result for Harikrishna, who had to work hard to maintain parity in this keenly contested game against the latest Azerbaijani star.
The fifth round of the category-16 tournament had three out of five games ending decisively.
Zoltan Almasi of Hungary surged ahead in the tournament outplaying Mihail Marin of Romania, Dutch GM Sergei Tiviakov found a stronger customer in Ni Hua of China while David Navara of Czech Republic scored his first victory in the tournament at the expense of veteran Viktor Korchnoi of Switzerland.
The other game of the day between Michele Godena of Italy and Konstantin Landa of Russia ended in a draw.
With four rounds still to come in the 10-player round-robin tournament, top seed Almasi leads the field with 3.5 points, followed by Harikrishna, Ni Hua, Gashimov and Landa who have three points each.
It seems the battle for the title is only between these five as the remaining contestants are now a further point adrift.
For the record, sixth spot is shared by Tiviakov, Navara, Marin and Korchnoi on two points each while Godena is at the bottom of the table with just 1.5 points from five games.
Given his consistency in regular openings, Harikrishna's opponents are now trying to deceive him with irregular stuff quite early in the matches.
Gashimov was no exception as he went for a side variation in the Ruy Lopez that surprised Harikrishna. The queens got exchanged early and Harikrishna got a position akin to the Berlin Defense where he had a slight defect in pawn structure.
Gashimov had a good position for the major part of the game but could not find a way to improve his situation further as Harikrishna found adequate counterplay and the game was drawn after 52 moves.
Almasi gave a fine positional lesson to Marin who played the Open Ruy Lopez as black.
Getting control in the centre in the middle game, Almasi made excellent progress on the queenside after sacrificing a pawn and Marin's position deteriorated beyond repair. The game lasted 38 moves.
Ni Hua played the usual moves against Tiviakov in a Center Counter Defense where the former played black.
Attaining close to a level position in the middle game, Tiviakov was outplayed by Ni Hua with a king side attack.
In other games of the day, Navara got the better of Korchnoi in 36 moves of a French Defense game while Landa played out a draw in 26 moves against Godena.