Gukesh is no ordinary candidate

D Gukesh and Fabiano Caruana
D Gukesh and Fabiano Caruana (PC: FIDE_chess/X)

He doesn’t make headlines for his flamboyant moves. Nor does his game contain any X factor. He is not heard or seen that often in the media either. Yet, in a landmark Candidates chess tournament for India, D Gukesh has been the best player in the country in the first four rounds.

The Chennai boy says he doesn’t feel pressure. Asked in a video interview on the official website of the International Chess Federation (FIDE), about how different it felt to be at the Candidates, the youngest player in the history of the competition replied it was like other competitions.

The 17-plus showed every ounce of that calmness in a hard-fought draw against World No. 2 Fabiano Caruana in the fourth round on Sunday. With 2.5 points, he is sharing the second spot with the American.

Ian Nepomniachtchi is half a point ahead, following a win over Vidit Gujrathi. R Praggnanandhaa is fourth, on two points after holding World No. 3 Hikaru Nakamura. Vidit is at the bottom with 1.5. All three Indians played with black pieces.

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Hikaru Nakamura and R Praggnanandhaa
Hikaru Nakamura and R Praggnanandhaa (PC: FIDE_chess/X)

In the women’s section, R Vaishali followed up her third-round win with a draw with black. She is joint third with two points. Koneru Humpy slipped to sixth with 1.5, suffering a defeat against Nurgyul Salimova of Bulgaria.

Gukesh’s was the most standout performance of the day for the Indians. Vidit hung in for a long time and conceded the point after it seemed he would salvage a draw. Things got complex in the Pragg-Nakamura game and the draw was agreed to rather early. Gukesh stood his ground unfazed and defended with a pawn down when the pre-tournament favourite went looking for the point.

“He is that sort of a player, very solid and organised in defence. It’s one of his characteristics. You won’t see him making mistakes that often. He knows how much to do and is content doing that,” GM Dibyendu Barua had told RevSportz about Gukesh, after his first-round draw against Vidit, where he had to work hard with white.

Pragg had made things easier for Gukesh in the second-round win. But in the third and fourth rounds, he had to dig deep into his reserves of skills and fortitude. Caruana is the only player at the moment, after Magnus Carlsen, with a 2800-plus rating. Nepomniachtchi, who Gukesh held in the third round, is World No. 7 and the losing world championship finalist.

Matching these players move for move in a high-profile and high-pressure tournament even before turning 18 is an incredible display of talent, discipline and conviction from the first Indian to overtake Viswanathan Anand in Elo ratings. As Gukesh told the interviewer, he doesn’t seem out of place in exalted company.

Aleksandra Goryachkina and R Vaishali
Aleksandra Goryachkina and R Vaishali (PC: FIDE_chess/X)

Round 4 results

Open Section

Ian Nepomniachtchi (3) bt Vidit Gujrathi (1.5)

Fabiano Caruana (2.5) drew with D Gukesh (2.5)

Nijat Abasov (1.5) drew with Alireza Firouzja (1.5)

Hikaru Nakamura (1.5) drew with R Praggnanandhaa (2)

Women’s Section

Kateryna Lagno (2) drew with Tan Zhongyi (3)

Nurgyul Salimova (2) bt Koneru Humpy (1.5)

Anna Muzychuk (1.5) drew with Lei Tingjie (1.5)

Aleksandra Goryachkina (2.5) drew with R Vaishali (2)

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