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India’s Gukesh takes sole lead after outsmarting Alireza, news, latest news, chess news, gukesh chess

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Grandmaster D. Gukesh | Photo-PTI

Toronto: Teenage Indian grandmaster D Gukesh shot into the sole lead after defeating Firouzja Alireza of France in the 13th and penultimate round of the Candidates Chess Tournament here. His quest for the extraordinary put him on the cusp of becoming the youngest-ever World Championship participant.

If the 17-year-old from Chennai emerges victorious in the Candidates, he will face China’s Ding Liren for the title of world champion.

In the women’s race, Humpy Koneru drew with Anna Muzychuk, while Vaishali Rameshbabu prevailed over Lei Tingjie. The 22-year-old Vaishali has now recorded four straight wins in her last four matches.

Gukesh needed a win to progress after the other overnight leaders, Russia’s Ian Nepomniachtchi and American Hikaru Nakamura, played out a quick draw. Gukesh was rewarded for his perseverance as he took advantage of a late Alireza blunder in a difficult situation.

Gukesh took his total to 8.5 out of a possible 13 points, putting him half a point ahead of Nepomniachtchi, Nakamura and Fabiano Caruana of the United States.

R Praggnanandhaa and Vidit Gujrathi share fifth place with six points each, Firouzja at 4.5 and Abasov has 3.5 points.

Of the three players in the chase, Caruana defeated Praggnanandhaa in a hard-fought match, while Gujrathi could only manage a draw against Azerbaijan’s Nijat Abasov.

Gukesh will next meet Nakamura who plays white in the final round and Caurana will have the advantage of the favorable suit against Nepomniachtchi.

While anyone among the four players can win the event, the odds are hugely in Gukesh’s favor as experts believe a draw could just be enough to see him emerge as the youngest-ever contender for the World Cup match.

In the women’s race, Zhongyi Tan took a full point lead over his nearest rival and compatriot Tingjie Lei after drawing with Russia’s Aleksandra Goryachkina.

R Vaishali spoiled the party for Lei by recording a fine victory, while Koneru Humpy and Nurgyul Salimova of Bulgaria drew with Anna Muzychuk of Ukraine and Kateryna Lagno of Russia respectively.

Just a draw away from taking the crown, Lei is in second place with 7.5 points. Goryachkina, Lagno, Humpy and Vaishali are at 6.5 points and share third place, while Salimova and Muzychuk share seventh place with five points each.

Made for big games

Gukesh, by permission, is made for big matches on his day and the 13th round was no different. Gukesh played the white side of a Berlin defense from a Ruy Lopez, going for a line known to have a good reputation with little risk for white.

Alireza equalized comfortably, but then started to show some ambition in the middle game, leading to weakness on the king’s side. The Frenchman also came under time pressure at the first time control, but he did well to maintain a tangible position.

It was on the 47th move that Alireza finally faltered and allowed Gukesh to reach a winning rook and minor piece endgame. Gukesh knocked down a few pawns on his way to completing the technical details in style. The game lasted 63 moves.

Ian Nepomniachtchi decided not to take much risk, even though Nakamura chose a rare variant as black in another Ruy Lopez of the day.

The Russian had reasons to be satisfied, as his position in the midgame was preferred, but the absence of real threats did not leave much to be desired. Nakamura made vide repeat in only 26 moves.

Praggnanandhaa was outmatched from a Rossolimo opening as white against Caruana. The American launched a dangerous-looking attack on the king’s side after the players castled on different flanks and Praggnanandhaa stood back with a rook to allow a knight to stay afloat.

However, the nature of the position remained difficult and with the ticking of the clock the defense was increasingly difficult to find. The longest game of the day ended after 89 moves.

Gujrathi was blank against the Petroff defense against Abasov. The Azerbaijan has stuck to the same opening as black against the king pawn and also in his last black game he decided to use the same setup.

Gujrathi went for one of the main lines and a few smaller pieces were turned into a symmetrical pawn structure. The game became a bit more exciting on the 14th move and White gained an optical advantage with better control in the center.

However, when things happened, Abasov neutralized White’s initiative by simply keeping his position intact. Gujrathi improved and continued for a while before realizing there wasn’t much to hope for. The game lasted 31 moves and ended by repetition.

For the ladies, the exchange of queens ensured that Black did not have any chance in the game and a draw between Zhongyi Tan and Goryachkina was a fair result.

After a rather subdued 7th to 9th round where she lost three in a row, Vaishali continued her demolition campaign to take her fourth win on the trot. The Indian has a chance to finish in the top three if she can get another win in the final round.

Zhongyi Tan has her job to do against Muzychuk, while Tingjie has a tough nut to crack in Humpy. Vaishali meets Lagno and Goryachkina takes on Salimova.

Round 13 results (Indians unless otherwise noted): Vidit Gujrathi (5) vs. Nijat Abasov (Aze, 3); D Gukesh (7.5) vs. Firouza Alireza (Fra, 4.5); R Praggnanandhaa (6) vs Fabiano Caruana (USA, 7); Ian Nepomniachthi (Fid, 7.5) vs. Hikaru Nakamura (USA, 7.5).

Women: Zhongyi Tan (Chn, 8.5) played with Aleksandra Goryachkina (Fid, 6.5); Koneru Humpy (6.5) signed with Anna Muzychuk (5); R Vaishali (6.5) defeated Tingjie Lei (Chn, 7.5); Nurgyuaal Salimova (Bul, 5) drew with Kateryna Lagno (Fid, 6.5).