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Candidates: Gukesh downs Abasov to jump into joint lead

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TORONTO, April 10: Grandmaster D Gukesh grabbed a share of the lead alongside Russia’s Ian Nepomniachtchi by becoming the only Indian to post a win in the fifth round of the FIDE Candidates Chess Tournament, outwitting Azerbaijan’s Nijat Abasov in a hard-fought contest here.
With nine rounds still to come in the double round-robin event, the 17-year-old Gukesh and Nepomniachtchi share the top spot with 3.5 points and they are followed by top-seeded American Fabio Caruana half a point behind.
American Hikaru Nakamura was the other winner on the day against Firouza Alireza of France while Indian teen R Praggnanandhaa played out a draw with overnight sole leader Nepomniachtchi.
Vidit Gujrathi also put an end to his losses by settling for a draw with Caruana.
Praggnanandhaa and Nakamura share the fourth spot with 2.5 points followed closely by Gujrathi on two points. Alireza and Abasov share the last position on 1.5 points apiece.
In the Women’s competition, nothing changed in terms of standings with all the four games ending in draws.
Praggnanandhaa’s sister R Vaishali could not dent the defenses of Anna Muzychuk and Koneru Humpy recovered with a draw against Aleksandra Goryachkina of Russia.
Tournament leader Zhongyi Tan of China was held to a draw by the continuously improving Nurgyul Salimova of Bulgaria and Russian Kateryna Lagno signed peace with Tingjie Lei of China.
Tan remained in front following the drawing melee with 3.5 points in her kitty and Goryachkina inched up to 3 points to remain right behind the leader.
Lagno, Vaishali and Salimova shared the third spot with 2.5 points, half a point ahead of Humpy, Muzychuk and Lei.
Gukesh started off with the King pawn and faced the Petroff defense.
The Indian ensured a complex middle game and had an edge right till the time the players hit the first time control. However, on the 40th move, Gukesh erred and what seemed like a walk-in-the-park became a tough game, Abasov fought hard and was close to a draw by the 80th move but a blunder by the Azerbaijani on the 83rd cast the die decisively in Gukesh’s favour with an extra pawn in the queen and pawn endgame.
The game lasted 87 moves and went on for a marathon six hours.
Praggnanandhaa displayed his acumen for the complexities against Nepomniachtchi.
It was another petroff defense of the day wherein the Indian first sacrificed a pawn and followed it up with a brilliant knight sacrifice that left him with a scary advantage.
As things turned out, it was impossible to play like a machine in a clearly better position and once Praggnanandhaa traded the queens, the game was sealed towards a draw in the rook and pawn ending.
Gujrathi started off brilliantly with a victory over Nakamura in the second round, but after two losses, it was time to stay put against favourite Caruana.
Not failing in his objective, the Nasik-based player was solid and got his chances in the Rossolimo variation.
Caruana’s king was trapped in the middle and Gujrathi had to also find machine-like moves to force matters. With the clock ticking away, it was never easy and the end result was a draw through repetition.
Nakamura was also lucky against Alireza. A draw looked like a likely result in the ending but Alireza missed a simple tactic that gave the American a much-needed victory.
In the women’s section, Vaishali stood worse after a pawn sacrifice against Muzychuk in the Italian opening game as white.
She, however, kept herself in the game by keeping the position closed and in the end it was a draw.
Humpy did not get much as white against Goryachkina.
The middle game out of a Queen’s gambit did not have much spice and the game drifted in to an endgame with rook and minor pieces. Once the minor pieces were off the board, the players decided it was time to split the point. (PTI)

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