Dramatic win makes Gukesh sole leader with a round to go

D Gukesh and Alireza Firouzja
D Gukesh and Alireza Firouzja (PC: FIDE_chess/X)

Surprise comes in different forms. D Gukesh unfurled a deadly plan in the garb of pretending to accept a draw offer in the penultimate round of the Candidates chess competition. His dramatic refusal to turn it down and clinical breaking down of Alireza Firouzja’s defence made him the sole leader of the open section with 8.5 points. If Gukesh holds onto the lead in the 14th and final round, he will win the right to challenge world champion Ding Liren of China.

Ian Nepomniachtchi, Hikaru Nakamura and Fabiano Caruana are following Gukesh on eight points. The last day will see the four title contenders taking on each other. While Gukesh faces Nakamura with black pieces, Caruana has white against Nepomniachtchi. A win will make Gukesh the first Indian after Viswanathan Anand to win the Candidates. Even a draw will suffice, if Caruana and Nepomniachtchi split the point. In case of a tie, there will be rapid and blitz tie-breakers.

R Vaishali made the day memorable for India by winning her fourth successive game in the women’s section. This is a remarkable comeback after four straight defeats. Vaishali beat second-placed Lei Tingjie with white pieces. This was her fifth win, which made her joint-third on 6.5 points with three others. Koneru Humpy is also on 6.5. Vaishali’s victory helped Tan Zhongyi stretch her lead to a full point. She can seal the title with a draw. Even a loss might do, if Lei doesn’t win.

The day belonged to Gukesh. Once fellow overnight co-leaders Nepomniachtchi and Nakamura settled for a draw, he got the chance to take sole possession of the lead. Playing with white against the player who had handed him his only defeat in the competition, the Indian found it difficult to make his way through black’s defence. Firouzja foiled Gukesh’s attempts with some accurate counter-play. Both players were aggressive and this made things exciting for viewers.

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R Vaishali and Lei Tingjie
R Vaishali and Lei Tingjie (PC: FIDE_chess/X)

Gukesh’s draw ‘dummy’ foxes Firouzja

Approaching the first time control, the players were equal and there was no obvious headway in sight. Firouzja sent a signal that he doesn’t mind a draw by starting to repeat moves. Gukesh’s response suggested he did not dislike the offer. After the time control, Gukesh took 15 minutes to make a move, which seemed in accordance with the plan for a draw. Firouzja went by that and repeated another move. With Gukesh about to make his 42nd move, everyone thought it would be the last of the game.

The youngest player in the competition then pulled a rabbit out of the hat and advanced his queen to an attacking position. The live commentators were stunned. Firouzja couldn’t believe it. After having planned something and seen his opponent in apparent concurrence, he was mentally prepared for a draw. It had already been a sapping affair, lasting over four hours. Gukesh’s decision to carry on meant Firouzja had to recharge, recollect his thoughts and start all over again.

Gukesh had used those 15 minutes to assess his position thoroughly. He started putting pressure on black. Drained after defusing forays for a long time and startled by the ‘dummy’, Firouzja made the mistake of exchanging queens after being lured into it. Commentators on ChessBase India’s live show were saying that exchange of pieces would favour Gukesh. This was tailor made for him. He found the best moves, won a pawn, blocked black’s ‘a’ pawn and passed his ‘b’ pawn to end the contest.

Round 13 results

Open Section

R Praggnanandhaa (6) lost to Fabiano Caruana (8)

Vidit Gujrathi (5.5) drew with Nijat Abasov (3.5)

D Gukesh (8.5) bt Alireza Firouzja (4.5)

Ian Nepomniachtchi (8) drew with Hikaru Nakamura (8)

Women’s Section

R Vaishali (6.5) bt Lei Tingjie (7.5)

Nurgyul Salimova (5) drew with Kateryna Lagno (6.5)

Tan Zhongyi (8.5) drew with Aleksandra Goryachkina (6.5)

Koneru Humpy (6.5) drew with Anna Muzychuk (5)

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