Gukesh shares Candidates lead after dramatic win

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

On a day of late drama, three Indians in the open section of the Candidates chess tournament raised visions of victory. R Praggnanandhaa was the first, Vidit Gujrathi next and D Gukesh after the two of them. All three had white pieces. While the first two had to settle for draws against higher-ranked opponents, Gukesh hung in till the end of a marathon game to squeeze out a tenacious win.

The youngest player in the competition at 18, Gukesh shares the lead after Round 5, with two-time winner Ian Nepomniachtchi on 3.5 points. His toil against Nijat Abasov lasted over five and-a-half hours. The lowest-rated in the field of eight, the player from Azerbaijan had three draws in the first four games. He came close to another before succumbing to Gukesh’s perseverance and precision.

Not just the dramatic victory, but the way Gukesh snatched it when it seemed to have gone out of his grasp was also a highlight. It was a queen ending, which often requires a stroke of luck. Abasov made a mistake when a draw was in sight. He was exhausted too, after being probed relentlessly by Gukesh, who took his time at the start to build resources for a long grind.

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R Praggnanandhaa and Ian Nepomniachtchi
R Praggnanandhaa and Ian Nepomniachtchi (PC: FIDE_chess/X)

This pursuit of victory instead of settling for a draw after a prolonged struggle has been a hallmark of the Indian challenge in Toronto, mainly in the open section. Some of the players they are up against are rated above them and more experienced. But instead of going by reputation, the Indian youngsters have straightaway put them to a stern test.

Pragg against World No. 7 Nepomniachtchi and Vidit versus World No. 2 Fabiano Caruana were unequal contests on paper. Despite that, the Indians held the upper hand. Their illustrious opponents were under pressure and made to play catch-up. “It’s freshness that compensates for (lack of) experience,” said GM Srinath Narayanan on live commentary on ChessBase India.

Call it freshness or spunk, Pragg conceded material advantage early on, invited his opponent into battle and came close to shutting him out. “He had it under control and this was an opportunity missed,” said Viswanathan Anand on official commentary. Vidit, too, missed it narrowly. “Huge performance by Vidit after two losses. He had Caruana on the ropes,” felt Anand.

The least flamboyant of the three took time to establish supremacy. Once he did, Gukesh was not going to throw it away. The youngest of the lot is also the calmest of them. There were moments when it looked like slipping away, but Gukesh kept persisting.

Vidit Gujrathi and Fabiano Caruana
Vidit Gujrathi and Fabiano Caruana (PC: FIDE_chess/X)

Round 5 results

Open Section

Vidit Gujrathi (2) drew with Fabiano Caruana (3)

R Praggnanandhaa (2.5) drew with Ian Nepomniachtchi (3.5)

D Gukesh (3.5) bt Nijat Abasov (1.5)

Alireza Firouzja (1.5) lost to Hikaru Nakamura (2.5)

Women’s Section

Lei Tingjie (2) drew with Kateryna Lagno (2.5)

R Vaishali (2.5) drew with Anna Muzychuk (2)

Koneru Humpy (2) drew with Aleksandra Goryachkina (3)

Tan Zhongyi (3.5) drew with Nurgyul Salimova (2.5)

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