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Gukesh back in joint-lead at Candidates chess

Source: PTI
April 14, 2024 12:29 IST
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With six rounds to go, Gukesh and Ian Nepomniachtchi lead the field with 5 points each. They are followed by Hikaru Nakamura and R Pragnanandhaa on 4.5 points.

Vidit Gujrathi and D Gukesh during their eighth round match in the Candidates chess tournament in Toronto on Friday.

IMAGE: Vidit Gujrathi and D Gukesh during their eighth round match in the Candidates chess tournament in Toronto on Friday. Photograph: FIDE

India's D Gukesh bounced back with a finely crafted game to outwit compatriot Vidit Gujrathi and regain his joint lead with Ian Nepomniachtchi of Russia after the eighth round in the Candidates chess tournament in Toronto on Friday.

On a day when R Praggnanandhaa played out a draw with Firouza Alireza of France, Hikaru Nakamura sealed his supremacy in the all-American duel against Fabiano Caruana to come back in to reckoning for top honours.


Overnight sole leader Nepomniachtchi faltered in the early stages to allow tailender Nijat Abasov to get away with an easy draw in the other game of the eight-player double round-robin event.

With six rounds still to come, Gukesh and Nepomniachtchi have 5 points apiece and they are followed by Nakamura and Pragnanandhaa on 4.5 points each.

Caruana is now sole fifth on four points. Gujrathi, on 3.5, comes in next ahead of Alireza on three points, while Abasov is still at the rear of the tables on 2.5 points.

Gukesh had his task cut out and went for a rare variation wherein he surprised Gujrathi as early as on move four. Gujrathi sank into a long thought and ended up losing around 20 minutes on the clock.

In the next few moves Gukesh equalized without much ado even as Gujrathi tried to make some headways on both flanks.

In the middle game, Gukesh seized control of the only open file and used his queen and rook for an absolute domination to penetrate. Vidit tried hard to resist but the pressure was quite unforgiving especially when he had less time.

The die was cast when Gukesh entered the eighth rank and it was a picturesque finish as white's king was taken for a walk before the checkmate became inevitable. The game lasted 38 moves.

"These kind of clean games are rare at this level, in the opening he did some inaccuracies and his position was unpleasant, I was in control, it was a nice game," Gukesh said, when asked if he was surprised how he won as black without much counterplay.

Praggnanadhaa could not achieve much with his white pieces. Alireza employed the Sicilian Taimanov and the Indian went for another variation that has not been tested very regularly at the top level.

However, for once, Alireza found the going easy and equalized without many problems, thanks to some timely breakthroughs on the queen side.

The players reached an equal endgame soon after the Queens got traded on the 30th move the result was never in doubt. The draw was agreed to ten move later.

Hikaru Nakamura stole the thunder and has clearly been a nemesis for world number two Caruana in the key encounters especially when the former had white pieces.

It had started in Norway chess tournament when Nakamura defeated Caruana in the last round to win and the trend had continued in the FIDE's Grand Swiss where he again won in the final round as white.

In the eighth round game, Nakamura, one point away from leaderboard, took his chances in the closed Ruy Lopez and was duly rewarded as Caruana went for some unwarranted complications after getting a level position in the middle game.

Caruana also ran short of time and missed out on a tactic in a difficult position. It was all over in just 35 moves.

Abasov has not been at his best but in this round the Azerbaijani secured his first half point with the black pieces. Nepomniachtchi transposed to an exchange French defense and the resulting position was just equal till the longest game of the day ended after 63 moves.

In the women's section, Koneru Humpy scored a victory over compatriot R Vaishali out of a Queen pawn game to jump to 3.5 points.

The course of the event changed a bit in this section as Tingjie Lei of China accounted for her Chinese team-mate Zhongyi Tan to through the event open. Zhongyi's domination was halted as Aleksandra Goryachkina of Russia and Lei joined her in the lead on five points out of a possible eight. 

Russian Kateryna Lagno is within striking distance of the three leaders on 4.5 points with Humpy and Nurgyul Salimova sharing the fifth spot on 3.5 points each.

Anna Muzychuk of Ukraine stands seventh on three points, while Vaishali is on the last spot remaining on 2.5 points.

Vaishali might have drawn but needed high level of accuracy in an exchange down endgame against Humpy. Known for her technical prowess, Humpy cashed-in on her chances and her pair of rooks eventually proved superior to Vaishali's Bishop and Rook.

The ninth round will see an all-important clash from the Indian perspective as Gukesh meets Praggnanandhaa in the men's section, while Gujrathi has to face the in-form Nakamura.


Round 8 (Indians unless specified): R Praggnanandhaa (4.5) drew with Firouza Alireza (Fra, 3); Vidit Gujrathi (3.5) lost to D Gukesh (5); Hikaru Nakamura (Usa, 4.5) beat Fabiano Caruana (Usa, 4); Ian Nepomniachtchi (Fid, 5) drew with Nijat Abasov (Aze, 2.5).

Women: Zhongyi Tan (5) lost to Tingjei Lei (Chn, 5); Koneru Humpy (3.5) beat R Vaishali (2.5); Nurgyul Salimova (Bul, 3.5) drew with Anna Muzychuk (Ukr, 3); Lagno Kateryna (Fid, 4.5) drew with Aleksandra Goryachkina (Fid, 5).

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