Mai 18, 2024

FIDE Candidates: Two co-leaders in both tournaments going into third rest day

What a day of chess in the 10th round of the FIDE Candidates! It started at a slower pace but ended unexpectedly with four decisive results. 

In the FIDE Women’s Candidates Tournament, Lei Tingjie took down fellow chaser Aleksandra Goryachkina with the black pieces in a solid and calm Exchange Slav. After 26. a4 and 27. Nc8, the white knight became stuck in Black’s territory and could not find a way out. Lei managed to exchange the queens and got a winning position but then misplayed it. She spent more than 20 minutes on 41…e5, in a critical position after the time control, choosing the right way to victory. 

Shockingly, just two moves later, Lei erred with 43…Bc8. At the post-game press conference, Lei mentioned that she was not sure about the other riskier continuations but acknowledged that with this move, she let her advantage slip away. Nevertheless, later on, Lei was given another chance and this time, she did not miss it. In a seemingly drawn position, Goryachkina blundered with 61. Nxe5? (instead of 61. exf5 or 61. Kb3). 

“I just thought, oops, there may be some chances!” said Lei during the post-mortem analyses. “I calculated 61…Kf4 and I was also shocked [that it is winning].”

Lei has won four out of her last five games and now finds herself at the top of the leaderboard. When asked what happened a week ago that led to her winning streak, Lei said: “I thought I did not have a chance anymore, and so there was no pressure.” Lei jointly leads with her compatriot Tan Zhongyi, who made a solid draw against Humpy Koneru today. Both Chinese players are going into a free day with 6.5 points out of 10. 

In the other games in the women’s tournament, Kateryna Lagno and Anna Muzychuk made a solid draw. Vaishali R broke her losing streak with a much-needed victory against Nurgyul Salimova. After losing four games in a row, Vaishali made a comeback from yet another bad position in this 88-move encounter, capitalising on Salimova’s mistakes in the sixth hour of play. 

A decisive result in today’s matchup between Ian Nepomniachtchi and Gukesh D could have potentially decided the outcome of the FIDE Candidates Tournament. But the two co-leaders played a calm game in the Ruy Lopez, which uneventfully ended in a draw. Both players continue their pursuit for the top spot but did not want to take risks in this game.

“I was Black, and he played a solid game, so it was a fair result,” said Gukesh. The 17-year-old Indian prodigy is one of the participants who has impressively kept his composure, seemingly not affected by the pressure of the tournament’s status. “I am in good shape, and hopefully, it can continue in the last [few] games.” 

The tournament situation has been spiced up by the victories of the two American players. Fabiano Caruana defeated Alireza Firouzja, while Hikaru Nakamura won a rollercoaster game against Nijat Abasov. Both players are now in the pack of three candidates, trailing the co-leaders by half a point – a great day for our American chess fans! 

Alireza Firouzja chose to play a rarely seen line with 6…h5 in the Najdorf Sicilian, but Caruana was prepared. After 9…Qa5, however, he was on his own. “I thought the endgame [after 12. Qxg5] was slightly better, but I did not find the right path,” said Caruana after the game. 

At the post-game press conference, one of the journalists pointed out the possibility of 14. Bxe6 fxe6 and 15. e5! Both players did not see it during the game but agreed that this variation must be winning for White.  

The endgame was not an easy one for Firouzja with Black. He was defending well until he started to err in time trouble. “We were down to seconds, so it was very difficult,” said Caruana. He capitalised on his opponent’s mistakes and was precise until the end. 

The game between Nakamura and Abasov was similarly difficult for the eventual winner. Nakamura confessed that 7. Bd3 was one of the ideas in the Petroff that he prepared specifically for this tournament. Nakamura, with White, managed to obtain an edge from the opening; he was particularly happy with his 22. Ng4 move, which promised him an easy advantage without risk.

Later on, Abasov found several tricky moves that caught Nakamura by surprise; 24…Ba5 being one of them. 

Nakamura was full of self-criticism after the game: “On 26. Rb7, I spent 18 minutes. [This move] was my first instinct; I could have played this move in three minutes, but I used so much time, which is stupid.” He continued: “And then I played 27. Bf4, a terrible move, after a seven-minute think.” After he also overlooked 30…Bg4 and 31…h5, the position became double-edged. Nakamura was low on time, and Abasov continued to make difficult, unexpected moves for the American player. But luckily for White, Black blundered with 36…Qe7

Nakamura immediately spotted the error and played 37. Be5!, grabbing the decisive advantage. On move 38, he won an exchange and managed to convert without any further difficulties. 

The first ceremonial move was made today by Raj Viswanathan, Chief Financial Officer of Scotiabank, one of Canada’s preeminent financial institutions. He played 1. e4 for Praggnanandhaa R. The move actually stayed on the board and served as a beginning of a calm and solid Berlin Defense against Vidit Santosh Gujrathi.

The evaluation bar never deviated from equality and the players repeated the position before the time control. Along with Caruana and Nakamura, Praggnanandhaa is the third player in the trailing pack, half a point behind the leaders.

With four rounds still to be played in the FIDE Candidates, the players head into the third rest day. The 11th round of the event will commence on the 17th of April at 14:30 EDT (Toronto). 

Standings after Round 10:

Open:

1-2. Gukesh, Nepomniachtchi – 6
3-5. Caruana, Nakamura, Praggnanandhaa – 5½
6. Vidit – 5
7. Firouzja – 3½
8. Abasov – 3

Women’s:

1-2. Tan, Lei – 6½
3-4. Goryachkina, Lagno  – 5½
5. Koneru – 4½
6-7. Salimova, A. Muzychuk – 4
8. Vaishali – 3½

Round 11 pairings:

Open:

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

Women’s:

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

Written by WGM Anna Burtasova

Photos: Michal Walusza and Maria Emelianova/Chess.com

Official website: candidates2024.fide.com/