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Praggnanandhaa, Vidit score crucial victories; Gukesh continues in joint lead

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TORONTO, April 11: Grandmaster R Praggnanandhaa and Vidit Gujrathi scored crushing victories, while D Gukesh held on to the joint top spot with a draw in a brilliant sixth-round outing for the Indian men’s team at the Candidates Chess Tournament here.
Pragnanandhaa prevailed over Nijat Abasov of Azerbaijan, while Gujrathi got the better of Frenchman Alireza. Gukesh’s draw came against American Hikaru Nakamura.
With eight rounds still remaining, the 17-year-old Gukesh and Ian Nepomniachtchi continue to share the lead in the men’s section with four points each in their kitty.
Russian Nepomniachtchi, who is playing under the FIDE flag, played out a draw with top seeded American Fabiano Caruana.
There was disappointment for India in the women’s competition as R Vaishali suffered a reversal, losing to Kateryna Lagno of Russia. Vaishali, who is the elder sister of Praggnanandhaa, now has a lot of ground to cover if she has to come back in the tournament.
Koneru Humpy also lost, to Tingjie Lei of China, while Nurgyul Salimova of Bulgaria found her nemesis in Aleksandra Goryachkina of Russia.
Praggnanandhaa shares the third spot with Caruana on 3.5 points and Gujrathi is not far behind on the joint fifth spot alogside Nakamura with three points.
It was the end of the road for Alireza and Abasov who both are reeling with just 1.5 points close to the half-way stage in the biggest event of the year.
In the women’s section, Zhongyi Tan of China made another stride forward and scored a win over Anna Muzychuk of Ukraine.
With 4.5 points in her bag from six games, Tan seems to be running away in this section and the only threat comes from Goryachkina who is a half point behind.
Lagno stands third on 3.5 points, half a point ahead of Lei. Vaishali and Salimova remained on 2.5 points and surprisingly Humpy is at the bottom of the tables on two points with Muzychuk.
Praggnanandhaa started as a huge favourite against Abasov and did not disappoint his fans. The Tarrasch defense has found more than a few takers here in the event but on Thursday Praggnanandhaa was at his technical best.
The middle game saw the queens getting traded and the Indian had to find some real resources with his Knights doing a sort of tango.
Picking up the last remaining pawn on the queen side, Praggnanandhaa ensured he was faster in the race to make a new queen and after 45 moves it was all over for Abasov.
Looking at the volatility in the game, Praggnanandhaa said one needs to play well.
Gujrathi was at his best out of a Classical Sicilian too. The Sicilian Classical by Alireza did not pose much of a challenge as the Indian went for the Sozin variation as a surprise factor early in the opening.
The plan worked well as Alireza made an opening error and Gujrathi was on top from early stage.
The tactics were handled well by Gujrathi in the ensuing position as he won an exchange and pawn to romp home easily.
Gukesh got nothing as white against Nakamura, who employed the Sicilian defense.
The middle game was a semi-closed position wherein the pieces changed hands at regular intervals and in the end, the players were left with a rook and four pawns each in a theoretically drawn endgame.
Vaishali was up against the Marshall gambit which she declined. Lagno is an expert of the position and got her pieces rolling around the centre giving nothing away.
The Indian was surprised with a knight manoeuvre in the middle game and reacted poorly and it was all over too soon.
Humpy lost to Lei and this could well mean the end of the road for her unless she recovers very quickly. The King’s Indian defense by Lei gave a small advantage for Humpy but that did not last long once the endgame arrived.Lei was on auto-gear in the minor pieces ending as she gobbled up a couple of pawns and marshalled her pieces well.
The game lasted 48 moves. (PTI)

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