Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Candidates Chess: Gukesh holds Caruana; Gujrathi falters again


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TORONTO, April 8: Grandmaster D Gukesh did well to hold top-seeded American Fabiano Caruana to a draw but Vidit Gujrathi suffered another defeat at the hands of Ian Nepomniachtchi of Russia in the fourth round of the Candidates chess tournament now underway here.
On a day when R. Praggnanandhaa played out an uneventful draw with Hikaru Nakamura of the United States, Nijat Abasov of Azerbaijan fought hard to split the point with Firouzja Alireza of France to stay in contention in the eight-player double round-robin event that decides the challenger for the next world championship.
Nepomniachtchi became the first sole leader in the event on three points following his second victory with white pieces and he is now followed by Caruana and Gukesh on 2.5 points apiece. Praggnanandhaa is not far behind on two points holding the fourth spot while Gujrathi, Abasov, Alireza and Nakamura have an identical 1.5 points each.
In the women’s section, R Vaishali made sure her streak matches with that of younger sibling Praggnanandhaa and played out a draw with rating favourite Aleksandra Goryachkina of Russia but Koneru Humpy succumbed to her first defeat at the hands of lowest seed and youngest participant Nurgyul Salimova of Bulgaria. Zhongyi Tan maintained her sole lead on three points following a draw with Kateryna Lagno of Russia while Tingjie Lei of China signed peace with Anna Muzychuk of Ukraine.
With Tan in front, Goryachkina remains on her heels on 2.5 points and another half point adrift is the trio of Vaishali, Salimova and Lagno. Humpy slipped to joint sixth spot on 1.5 points along with Muzychuk and Lei.
Gukesh faced the in-vogue Italian opening as black against Caruana and the players battled it out in the main variation. Gukesh was under some pressure in the middle game but came up with a fine pawn sacrifice leading to trade of many pieces.
The ensuing endgame with Queen’s and pawns on board still gave Caruana some optical chances but the Indian remained on his guard for 72 moves to ensure the draw.
Gujrathi had won his second-round game using the Berlin defense against Nakamura so his choice of opening was quite predictable against Nepomniachtchi too.The Russian had some ideas in the topical endgame which gave a small advantage.
Gujrathi should have equalised but consistent pressure and a previous round loss against Praggnanandhaa probably took its toll as he slowly got outplayed in the endgame.
Nepomniachtchi marched his king deep into the heart of black’s position and when a heavy material loss became inevitable, Gujrathi called it a day.
Praggnanandhaa has been drawing praise and earning respect of his opponent with each passing round. Nakamura was no exception as he went for a safe version in another Italian opening of the day. The players reached a balanced middle game where the American was happy to make a draw as white in just 24 moves.
Abasov had to part with a pawn against Alireza in the middle game but his grit and determination came in handy as Alireza, despite trying hard and for long time, could only reach a drawn a drawn queen and pawns endgame.
Salimova, who proved her qualification here through the Women’s world cup, was no flash in the pan. Humpy faced the tougher side of the Bulgarian out of a Catalan opening as black.
The Indian took the game into unchartered territory early in the middle game by going for a Dutch defense-like setup but her bid to attack the queen side did not materialise.
Salimova was on top with some timely breakthroughs in the centre and after the trade of queens, won a couple of pawns to retain the advantage. Humpy had nothing working in her favour and it was all over in 62 moves.
Vaishali went for the Tarrasch defense against Goryachkina and clearly the Russian was under-prepared. As the middle game arrived, the pieces got traded in a heap and in rather quick time, the players reached a rook-and-pawns endgame with just three pawns each. The draw was a just result.
Lagno had her chances to score her first victory against Tan but failed to keep the momentum in her favour while Lei had to fight for a long time against Muzychuk before the peace was signed.The fifth round of the event will be played after the first rest day. Ten rounds still remain in the biggest event of the year. (PTI)


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