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Gukesh crushes Abasov to be back in joint lead; Pragg, Gujrathi out of contention

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Toronto, April 19: Teenaged Indian Grandmaster D Gukesh produced another fantastic performance to crash through the defences of Azerbaijan’s Nijat Abasov and regain a share of the lead but R Praggnanandhaa and Vidit Gujrathi bowed out of contention after the 12th round of the Candidates chess tournament here.
With American Hikaru Nakamura scoring a victory over Firouza Alireza of France, it is now a three-way lead at the top.
Gukesh and Nakamura joined overnight top-placed Ian Nepomniachtchi of Russia, who drew with Praggnanandhaa, on 7.5 points and these three are now followed by Fabiano Caruana of United States who is on seven points.
Praggnanandhaa is still fifth with six points with Gujrathi following him on five points. However, with just two rounds to come in the eight-player double round-robin tournament, it is almost impossible for the duo to finish on the podium. Alireza and Abasov fill up the rear of the table with 4.5 and three points respectively.
In the women’s section, the Chinese domination was cemented by Zhongyi Tan, who played out a draw with Nurgyul Salimova of Bulgaria.
Russian Kateryna Lagno was only able to squeeze half a point against another Chinese Tingjie Lei.
India’s Koneru Humpy did well to hold Aleksandra Goryachkina of Russia to a draw while R Vaishali scored her second straight victory at the expense of Anna Muzychuk of Ukraine.
With Tan on eight points, Lei is half a point behind. The trio of Humpy, Lagno and Goryachkina are a distant third on six points. Vaishali moved to 5.5 points to take the sixth spot, ahead of Salimova and Muzychuk.
The 17-year old Gukesh is only the second youngest in history to ever compete in a Candidates tournament and the last time someone younger played was way back in 1959 – when Bobby Fischer stormed into the chess world.
Black against Abasov and needing a victory desperately, the Indian did not disappoint in the Nimzo Indian defense game wherein the Azerbaijani was outwitted in all departments of the game.
Choosing side-variations wisely has been a hallmark of Gukesh’s strategy throughout the event and yet again, he came out on top.
Abasov may have thought he was better but as the game progressed into the middle game, Gukesh made some perfect manoeuvres to reach an endgame where white reeled under pressure with pawn weaknesses.
Gukesh won a pawn on the queen side and in the ensuing minor pieces endgame, his passed pawns were clearly superior. (PTI)

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