India's Vidit Gujrathi beats Nakamura again to come back in hunt

Vidit Gujrathi
Vidit Gujrathi. File photo: IANS

Toronto: Indian Grandmaster Vidit Gujrathi came back firing on all cylinders after previous match defeat and crashed through the defences of second seed Hikaru Nakamura of United States in the ninth round of the Candidates chess tournament here.

The all-Indian duel between D Gukesh and R Praggnanandhaa ended in a draw without much ado as the day saw no other decisive games.

Ian Nepomniachtchi of Russia lived by the sword against Frenchman Firouza Alireza before signing peace while Nijat Abasov of Azerbaijan showed that he was almost impregnable as white and held his forte against American Fabiano Caruana.

With five rounds and two rest days still to come in the biggest event of the year, Nepomniachtchi and Gukesh continued to be joint leaders on 5.5 points out of a possible nine while Praggnanandhaa is the sole third half a point behind.

Nakamura, Gujrathi and Caruana share the fourth spot on 4.5 points and are all within string distance with Alireza on 3.5 and Abasov on three points.

The Candidates had begun with four draws on the opening day and followed up with a brilliant victory by Gujrathi over Nakamura. The second half was just a reminiscent as Gujrathi was in his element yet again to score over the American again.

The Indian might have been predictable as far as the openings are concerned with either colour but clearly he knows his stuff.

Despite losing to Gukesh in the previous round, Gujrathi decided to continue with the Italian opening and got rewarded as Nakamura went for a side variation by pushing his king side pawns too early.

With a timely breakthrough in the centre, the dynamics in the position remained but Gujrathi was quick to spot a tactic missed by Nakamura. What followed was mayhem for black on the board. Nakamura called it a day when checkmate became inevitable.

Gukesh tried his hands at the Ruy Lopez as white but did not get much against Praggnanandhaa. Both the teenagers have been showing great skills here against the world's best and there was nothing to choose between them when pieces flew off the board in tandem. The game was drawn in 41 moves.

Nepomniachtchi was in definite troubles but he did not show it to Alireza. Playing black, the Russian was looking at a locked position with passivity written all over it for some time but wriggled out thanks to some perfect defense. Alireza might have had some deep strategic chances but the Iranian-turned-French decided to play it safe.

In the other game of the day, Abasov simply gave no chances to Caruana to hold on to another draw with his white pieces.

In the women's section, R Vaishali's hope for a turnaround ended with another loss coming at the hands of Zhongyi Tan of China. The Chinese shot back into sole lead on six points in nine games. Tan-Vaishali contest was the lone decisive game of the day.

India's Koneru Humpy improved her position a bit after drawing with Kateryna Lagno of Russia while overnight joint leader Tingjie Lei was held to a draw by Nurgyul Salimova of Bulgaria.

In the other game of the day, Anna Muzychuk of Ukraine played out a draw with Aleksandra Goryachkina of Russia.

Lei shares the second spot with Goryachkina on 5.5 points with Lagno on their toes with a half point adrift.

Salimova and Humpy are bunched together with four points apiece sharing the fifth spot with Muzychuk on 3.5 points. Vaishali now needs a miracle of sorts with just 2.5 points but she might do better to put an end to her string of four losses in a row.

Vaishali lost a quick game against Tan from the white side of a Sicilian defence that took shape more like a French defense.

The Indian was out of book and out-of-sort early in the middle game as she missed the track allowing Tan to take control and a simple tactic proved decisive with the game ending in a mere 21 moves. This was by far the shortest decisive game of the event in both sections so far.

Humpy, as white, faced the Ragozine defence against Lagno and did not get what she might have hoped for. The Russian, who has to play under the FIDE flag here, neutralized white's initiative early and emerged with an extra pawn in the ensuing rook and pawns endgame that proved to be level.

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