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

Teenaged Indian Grandmaster D Gukesh shines in Candidates chess tournament, while R. Praggnanandhaa and Vidit Gujrathi fall behind

April 19, 2024 02:41 pm | Updated 02:41 pm IST - Toronto

Grandmaster D. Gukesh of India and Grandmaster Nijat Abasov of Azerbaijan during their Round 5 match at the FIDE Candidates 2024 chess tournament, in Toronto, Canada, Tuesday, April 9, 2024.

Grandmaster D. Gukesh of India and Grandmaster Nijat Abasov of Azerbaijan during their Round 5 match at the FIDE Candidates 2024 chess tournament, in Toronto, Canada, Tuesday, April 9, 2024. | Photo Credit: PTI

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.

Candidates chess: Gukesh slips to tied 2nd after draw; losses for Pragg, Gujrathi

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.

Candidates Chess: Gukesh and Nepomniachtchi retain lead after agreeing to 40-move draw

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.

Nepomniachtchi has been handling the tournament smartly and almost without any risks.

Against Praggnanandhaa too, the Russian took no chances despite playing white. The French defense led to a level-playing field for both and with every piece exchange the position became simpler. It was a rook and pawns endgame on board which was a dead draw.

Gujrathi suffered another defeat in the event and lost to Caruana out of an Italian opening game where the latter played white.

Caruana got a good grip on the position in the middle game and gradually outplayed Gujrathi with some perfect calculation coupled with a well-formed strategy.

Nakamura was a class act yet again. It was another French exchange but this time Nakamura ensured complications on both flanks. The endgame was balanced but Alireza yet again blundered and found himself staring at a lost position.

Vaishali was the lone winner in the women's section. Muzychuk came up with an opening surprise in the open Ruy Lopez and Vaishali had to defend correctly.

The Ukrainian lacked the level of accuracy that was required.

Vaishali converted to a minor piece endgame in which her Bishop proved much better than Muzychuk's Knight. The game lasted 57 moves.

Humpy faced the Catalan opening as black against Goryachkina and had little trouble. Just out of the opening, the two players repeated moves and quickly signed peace.

Results round 12 (Indians unless specified):

Nijat Abasov (Aze, 3) lost to D Gukesh (7.5); Fabiano Caruana (Usa, 7) beat Vidit Gujrathi (5); l Ian Nepomniachthi (Fid, 7.5); drew with R Praggnanandhaa (6); Hikaru Nakamura (Usa, 7.5) beat Firouza Alireza (Fra, 4.5).

Women: Aleksandra Goryachkina (Fid, 6) drew with Koneru Humpy (6); Anna Muzychuk (4.5) lost to R Vaishali (5.5); Nurgyuaal Salimova (Bul, 4.5) drew with Zhongyi Tan (8); Kateryna Lagno (Fid, 6) drew with Tingjei Lei (Chn, 7.5).

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