Juni 22, 2024

FIDE Candidates: Gukesh joins Nepomniachtchi in the lead

The FIDE Candidates is back with another exciting day of action after the first rest day. We had the tremendous honour to welcome Andrea Bocelli, the world’s greatest tenor and a great fan of chess. The Italian singer started playing chess as a teenager but then put his passion aside for more than 40 years before rediscovering it in the digital era. “I play online every day,” he confessed. Before the start of the round, he played a game against 5-time World Chess Champion Vishwanathan Anand and then greeted the candidates in the playing hall. Bocelli had a little chat with Fabiano Caruana, his former compatriot, and Hikaru Nakamura.  

All the games in the FIDE Women’s Candidates finished in a draw. Tan Zhongyi, the tournament leader, had an extra pawn against Nurgyul Salimova. The material loss was compensated by greater piece activity and a better pawn structure for Black. The players exchanged off the pieces, and a draw was quickly agreed upon soon after when the game reached an equal endgame.

“I feel like I don’t have a huge lead right now because I am only half a point in front of Goryachkina,” said Tan Zhongyi after the game. “I need to be careful because everything can change in two games.”

Humpy Koneru’s game against Aleksandra Goryachkina was a quiet, solid one in the Queen’s Gambit Declined. The players rapidly reached an endgame which never deviated from an equal evaluation. 

Vaishali, playing against Anna Muzychuk, also reached an endgame as early as move 22. The position closed completely soon after, and the players agreed to a draw. 

The only game today that was close to being decisive was Lei Tingjie versus Kateryna Lagno. The game initially looked promising for the Chinese player. Despite being down a pawn, Lei had a strong center and better piece activity.

However, around move 23, she failed to find a good setup for her pieces, and Lagno, playing with Black, started to take over the initiative. By the 30th move, White was in dire straights. Lagno’s pieces were surrounding the white king, but unfortunately, she failed to find the precise continuation to capitalise before the position returned to equality.

The FIDE Candidates Tournament, on the other hand, treated us to quite a few surprises. The tournament leader, Ian Nepomniachtchi, came dangerously close to the edge, but he managed not to fall off the cliff against young Praggnanandhaa. The Indian prodigy came well prepared in the Petrov Defence, deviating from well-known paths with 16. Bh3. Praggnanandhaa, playing with White, sacrificed two pawns for a kingside attack, following a knight sacrifice on f7 on move 21.

At the post-game press conference, Praggnanandhaa pointed out that Nepomniachtchi could have returned the piece by 23…Bxh2, followed by 24…Nc5, providing Black with solid chances for a draw. However, Ian wanted to shelter his king as soon as possible. After the dust settled on move 25, both players had equal material, but White had much stronger centralised pieces. 

With 26. Qe5! (threatening with 26. Rxh6+) White would have had Black on the ropes. 

However, Praggnanandhaa did not manage to keep the pressure on Nepomniachtchi and gave his advantage away by exchanging the queens after 26. Bf5 Nb7! In the ending, Nepomniachtchi, having survived the onslaught, defended well, and the game finally ended in a draw. 

A similar scenario happened in the game between Vidit and Fabiano Caruana; in fact, Caruana was just a couple of moves away from resigning! Vidit, playing with White, came well-prepared for the Nezhmetdinov-Rossolimo attack and got a comfortable advantage. He was steadily building up his lead and was comfortably pressing when Caruana made a grave mistake with 22…e5, completely missing White’s crushing reply 23. Qg3. After that, Black was losing. 

Vidit confessed that he saw the right continuation: running with his king and playing Kc1 or Kc2 on move 26, but thought that playing 26. Qe5? would also bring him victory. He missed the important defending resource 26…Qa4! and had to settle for a draw – a clearly disappointing result for the numerous Indian fans. 

The remaining two games looked like they were heading towards draws. Unfortunately for Frenchman Alireza Firouzja, the ever-popular Hikaru Nakamura found an amazing trick. Hikaru called his choice a gamble, which worked out perfectly, as Firouzja failed to find the proper defence and had to resign. In fact, the change in the evaluation bar was so sudden that many journalists and spectators could not believe their eyes when the result appeared in the broadcast.

White had to demonstrate accuracy in containing Black’s passers. After 62. Rd8! (Ra8) g3 63. Kf3 Alireza would have maintained the balance. He, however, played 62. Kxd3?? which failed to 62…g3! and the g-passer became unstoppable as 63. Rg8 is met with 63…Ng5.

„I remembered this game between Magnus and Alireza in Norway Chess, where the game was a draw most of the way. But Alireza was very nervous and shaking, and Magnus managed to win this,“ said Nakamura. „Not to sound too cocky, but I felt a little bit like Magnus here.“

In the final game of Round 5, Gukesh D got an edge with White out of the Petroff Defence against Nijat Abasov. Controlling the e-file with his heavy pieces, the Indian player was pressing and eventually obtained a position where he was up a pawn in a queen endgame. The game was objectively drawn, and for a long time, Abasov managed to keep it level. However, from a practical standpoint, it is very difficult to hold such an endgame, and Abasov eventually erred. Gukesh immediately capitalised on his mistake and now joins Ian Nepomniachtchi in the lead with his second win of the tournament.

The sixth round of the event will commence on the 10th of April at 14:30 EDT (Toronto).

Standings after Round 5:

Open:

1. Gukesh, Nepomniachtchi – 3.5
3. Caruana – 3
4-5. Praggnanandhaa, Nakamura – 2.5
6. Vidit – 2
7-8. Abasov, Firouzja – 1.5

Women’s:

1. Tan Zhongyi – 3.5
2. Goryachkina – 3
3-5. Salimova, Lagno, Vaishali – 2.5
6-8. A. Muzychuk, Lei, Koneru – 2

Round 6 pairings:

Open:

Gukesh – Nakamura
Vidit – Firouzja
Praggnanandhaa – Abasov
Nepomniachtchi – Caruana

Women’s:

Vaishali – Lagno
Koneru – Lei
Tan – A. Muzychuk
Salimova – Goryachkina

Written by WGM Anna Burtasova

Photos: Michal Walusza and Maria Emelianova/Chess.com

Official website: candidates2024.fide.com/