Win with black brings Gukesh back as joint-leader

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

“It’s probably more likely that he will have a bad event than a good event,” was Magnus Carlsen’s assessment of D Gukesh’s chances in the Candidates chess competition. “He will certainly win at least a couple of good games, but have some fairly bad losses as well,” the World No. 1 had said in an interview with before the start of the tournament.

Having lost his share of the lead in the previous round following a draw, the 18-year-old became the joint-leader in the open section, again, after the 12th round. It took him about five hours of planning and execution with black pieces to hand Nijat Abasov a first defeat with white. Contrary to Carlsen’s calculations, the youngest player in the field has four wins and a defeat so far.

Hikaru Nakamura recorded a hat-trick of wins in the open section to join Gukesh and Ian Nepomniachtchi at the top with 7.5 points. Fabiano Caruana beat Vidit Gujrathi in another long game to move half-a-point behind the leading pack. R Praggnanandhaa held Nepomniachtchi and prevented him from becoming the sole leader. Pragg and Vidit also had black pieces. With two rounds to go, the top four are the contenders.

The first game to end was between Pragg and Nepomniachtchi. This draw opened the door for Gukesh and Nakamura to catch up with the leader. Nakamura was always better placed against the mercurial Alireza Firouzja and his win was seldom in doubt. Gukesh also enjoyed a superior position for the better part, but had to work harder to convert that into a point.

For the Latest Sports News: Click Here

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

Gukesh’s advantage was evident early on. “He has a good pawn structure for the long run,” said GM RB Ramesh on ChessBase India’s live commentary. “He can reach a good position once he develops his pieces. White has to take the initiative after that,” added the coach of Pragg and Vaishali, when the players had completed 14 moves each.

Ramesh’s words came true. It became very long and complex. Although black retained an edge, there was no obvious path to victory against white’s dogged defending. The situation demanded Gukesh to dig deep. Abasov took longer to ponder over his moves and the Indian did not come under time pressure. Not for the first time, his calmness, tenacity and calculations proved decisive.

After hours of perseverance, Gukesh strengthened his position. He went a pawn up and showed amazing accuracy in finding the perfect moves towards the end. Gukesh exchanged the rooks and entered into an end-game where he had a bishop and knight against Abasov’s two bishops. After advancing his ‘a’ pawn, he sprang a surprise by passing the ‘h’ pawn which ended the contest.

R Vaishali and Anna Muzychuk
R Vaishali and Anna Muzychuk (PC: FIDE_chess/X)

Third win in a row for Vaishali

R Vaishali upset Anna Muzychuk with black to post a third successive win in the women’s section. After five defeats including four in a row, this has been a remarkable comeback. Her chances gone early in the competition because of those setbacks, Vaishali was staring at the prospect of finishing at the bottom. She is now placed sixth in the eight-player field with 5.5 points.

Round 12 results

Open Section

Ian Nepomniachtchi (7.5) drew with R Praggnanandhaa (6)

Hikaru Nakamura (7.5) bt Alireza Firouzja (4.5)

Nijat Abasov (3) lost to D Gukesh (7.5)

Fabiano Caruana (7) bt Vidit Gujrathi (5)

Women’s Section

Nurgyul Salimova (4.5) drew with Tan Zhongyi (8)

Kateryna Lagno (6) drew with Lei Tingjie (7.5)

Anna Muzychuk (4.5) lost to R Vaishali (5.5)

Aleksandra Goryachkina (6) drew with Koneru Humpy (6)

Also Read: How Shane Warne helped place the IPL at the heart of the cricket universe