Gukesh loses share of lead on bad day for Indian men

D Gukesh and Nijat Abasov
D Gukesh(PC: FIDE_chess/X)

The Indian campaign in the open section of the Candidates chess competition suffered major blows in the 11th round. Not only did D Gukesh lose his share of the lead following a draw, R Praggnanandhaa and Vidit Gujrathi crashed to demoralising defeats. R Vaishali stunned Aleksandra Goryachkina, the top seed, in the women’s category.

Expectations were high of the Indian trio playing with white pieces. This was a chance for them to strengthen their position on the points table. While Gukesh held Fabiano Caruana to an exciting draw, Pragg came out of pressure and then lost the plot against Hikaru Nakamura. The biggest setback was Vidit’s late defeat from a favourable position against Ian Nepomniachtchi.

This extraordinary turn of events made Nepomniachtchi the sole leader with seven points. Gukesh and Nakamura are half-a-point behind. Caruana is next on six points. Pragg and Vidit are well behind the leader with 5.5 and five points, respectively. With three more rounds to go, Indian hopes rest solely on Gukesh, who will have black pieces in two of those.

Vidit had the best position among the Indians after the opening exchanges. Nakamura surprised Pragg with an unusual strategy and Caruana came out showing positive intent against Gukesh. Vidit held an edge against Nepomniachtchi and there were periods when the engine bar reflecting the win-loss probability of the players favoured him.

However, like a few times in the previous rounds, Vidit came under time pressure. Experts on official live commentary reckoned that he couldn’t find the winning moves because of this reason. The position was still very even after the first 40 moves and game was seemingly headed towards a draw, which would have been a good result for Vidit as well as Gukesh.

Vidit believed he had a chance when the two-time champion was apparently willing to draw and he ran into time trouble again. Once the Russian sensed an opening which was non-existent moments earlier, he made sure there was no escape for the Indian. Apart from everything else, this showed Nepomniachtchi’s tenacity to hang in, which helped him snatch precious draws in previous rounds.

Vidit Gujrathi (Image: Michal Walusza/FIDE)

Pragg was taken aback by Nakamura’s third move of c5. Commentators on ChessBase India’s live show said this was a less-expected line of play and the Indian spent 45 minutes pondering over it. His situation improved slowly and just when it seemed that Pragg would secure a draw, his rival went a bishop up. Pragg’s pawn advantage was of no use and he lost that too, along with the game.

Big win for Vaishali

For the first time, Koneru Humpy and Vaishali posted wins on the same day in the women’s section. Having won her previous game after four successive defeats, Vaishali shattered top-seed Goryachkina’s fading title hopes. Humpy avenged her fourth-round defeat against Nurgyul Salimova. Both Indians had white pieces. While Humpy has only a mathematical chance, for Vaishali it’s a matter of not finishing bottom of the table.

Round 11 results

Open section

R Praggnanandhaa (5.5) lost to Hikaru Nakamura (6.5)

Vidit Gujrathi (5) lost to Ian Nepomniachtchi (7)

D Gukesh (6.5) drew with Fabiano Caruana (6)

Alireza Firouzja (4.5) bt Nijat Abasov (3)

Women’s section

Tan Zhongyi (7.5) bt Kateryna Lagno (5.5)

Koneru Humpy (5.5) bt Nurgyul Salimova (4)

R Vaishali (4.5) bt Aleksandra Goryachkina (5.5)

Lei Tingjie (7) drew with Anna Muzychuk (4.5)