Gukesh stays joint leader as Indian men settle for draws

Ian Nepomniachtchi and D Gukesh
Ian Nepomniachtchi and D Gukesh (PC: FIDE_chess)

For only the second time in 10 rounds, games involving Indians in the open section of the Candidates chess competition ended in draws on Monday. The previous occasion was the first round. This didn’t change the positions occupied by them on the points table. With four rounds to go, all three have a chance, along with three others.

In the game between the joint-leaders, D Gukesh defended with black against Ian Nepomniachtchi. The draw left them with six points apiece. R Praggnanandhaa drew with white against Vidit Gujrathi to retain his place, half-a-point behind the top two. Fabiano Caruana and Hikaru Nakamura posted wins to join Pragg on 5.5. Vidit stayed within touching distance on five points.

It’s a strong field, featuring World No. 2 Caruana, No. 3 Nakamura and No. 7 Nepomniachtchi. Alireza Firouzja is also rated ahead of the Indian trio. Against such players, they have not only competed, but called the shots at times. Gukesh’s composure under pressure, Pragg’s versatility and Vidit’s twin wins against Nakamura are among the highlights of the event.

Playing against the only unbeaten player in the open section who had white, Gukesh didn’t have a great chance to win, unless his opponent erred. Nepomniachtchi, who won the last two editions of the Candidates, tried to press but couldn’t make much headway against the solid structure of the Indian. The players were evenly matched after their first 15 moves.

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R Praggnanandhaa and Vidit Gujrathi
R Praggnanandhaa and Vidit Gujrathi (PC: FIDE_chess)

“If Nepo sniffs a chance, he will go for it,” said GM Pentala Harikrishna on ChessBase India’s live commentary. Gukesh didn’t give him that chance. The players embarked on a major-piece ending of rooks and queens, where the queens got exchanged. “In a game involving top players, this position usually ends in a draw,” said GM Irina Krush on official commentary. The draw was agreed upon as soon as both players completed the statutory 40 moves.

“I played a solid game with black. The draw was a fair outcome,” said Gukesh in the official post-game interview. “He (Nepomniachtchi) came with a strategy. I just tried to play my normal game, without trying to think what his intensions were.” Asked if he was beginning to get nervous, the 18-year-old said: “In the last few games, it didn’t feel any different from the initial rounds. I’m in good shape.”

The Pragg-Vidit game also seemed destined for a draw. Pragg’s white pieces had a slender edge at times, but it was not enough to put Vidit under serious pressure. For the second time in two days, Pragg looked intent on conserving himself and did nothing unusual. Perhaps, after the rest day, he will think of springing surprises, which lit up the first half of the tournament in Toronto.

Vaishali wins, Humpy draws

R Vaishali ended her four-game losing streak with a win against Nurgyul Salimova. The Indian had black pieces. It was her second win of the event. Koneru Humpy drew with black against Tan Zhongyi.

Tan Zhongyi and Humpy Koneru
Tan Zhongyi and Humpy Koneru (PC: FIDE_chess)

Round 10 results

Open Section

R Praggnanandhaa (5.5) drew with Vidit Gujrathi (5)
Hikaru Nakamura (5.5) bt Nijat Abasov (3)
Ian Nepomniachtchi (6) drew with D Gukesh (6)
Fabiano Caruana (5.5) bt Alireza Firouzja (3.5)

Women’s Section

Tan Zhongyi (6.5) drew with Koneru Humpy (4.5)
Kateryna Lagno (5.5) drew with Anna Muzychuk (4)
Aleksandra Goryachkina (5.5) lost to Lei Tingjie (6.5)
Nurgyul Salimova (4) lost to R Vaishali (3.5)

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