Candidates 2024: Gukesh in sole lead, on the brink of history - Hindustan Times
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Candidates 2024: Gukesh in sole lead, on the brink of history

Apr 21, 2024 10:31 PM IST

Never before has a teenager won the Candidates. It all now comes down to the final round

For the first time in a decade there’s an Indian in contention to win the Candidates tournament. 17-year-old D Gukesh took the sole lead after Round 13, with one round remaining. He stands on the brink of history. Never before has a teenager won the Candidates. If he does win, he will go on to play the World Championship against Ding Liren later this year.

Grandmaster Gukesh D during the FIDE Candidates 2024 chess tournament, in Toronto, Canada(PTI)
Grandmaster Gukesh D during the FIDE Candidates 2024 chess tournament, in Toronto, Canada(PTI)

But there still could be a lot of drama in store in the final round in Toronto with the chasing pack of players – Hikaru Nakamura, Fabiano Caruana and Ian Nepomniachtchi – just half a point behind Gukesh at 8/13. Gukesh did well to get a full point out of his Round 13 game against Alireza Firouzja while his co-leaders from the previous round, Nepomniachtchi and Nakamura, chose not to risk it all and agreed to a quick draw. Caruana caught up with both after a win with Black against R Praggnanandhaa.

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“I’m just trying my best (to stay calm)…there are nerves… I've been eager and excited from the first round. In general, my mental state has been the same. I’ll be ready to play a good game (in the final round) and we’ll see what happens,” Gukesh said, betraying no emotion, after moving into sole lead.

Over the past three Candidates, Nepomniachtchi has typically been in the lead in the final rounds. The Indian teen deserves a lot of credit for the way he’s handled himself in his first Candidates appearance, being tenacious but not reckless, measured but not passive. A draw in the final round against Nakamura should suffice for Gukesh if the game between Caruana and Nepomniachtchi too ends in a draw. If the latter turns out to be decisive, the tournament will spill into an extra day of tie-breaks.

The pairings have worked in Gukesh’s favour too. In two rounds out of the last four, he was paired against two players – Firouzja and Nijat Abasov – who are at the bottom of the standings and managed to gain a full point each against both.

Against Firouzja, Gukesh appeared to be slightly worse out of the opening with White. Gukesh had lost his only game in the tournament to the French-Iranian GM in a time scramble. So, there might have been a few scars for the Indian to avenge. Firouzja seemed to have the initiative in the middlegame but Gukesh managed to quell the threats. After time control was reached, Gukesh turned down draw by repetition.

After the game he spoke of having found his position to be objectively better (though engines showed they were equal) to play for a win. What could have been steered towards a draw, Firouzja blitzed and self-destructed with a thoughtless move, 45…Qg6, offering a trade of queens to make the endgame hopeless for himself. Gukesh was obviously pleased and his decisions thereafter, such as 47…Rd6 – stopping Black’s knight from advancing to e6 and also threatening the g6 pawn – made matters much worse for Firouzja. White’s b-pawn was soon on an unhindered march to the eighth rank and Black’s King had nowhere to run.

Tan in sole lead among women

China’s Tan Zhongyi took the sole lead in the women’s section, leading by a full point going into the final round. A draw in Round 14 should suffice for her to make the World Championship. To push matters into a tiebreak, Lei Tingjie has to win against Koneru Humpy with White and Tan has to lose against Anna Muzychuk. The winner faces Ju Wenjun in the World Championship. Either way, the Chinese domination will continue. Since 2017, every women's world chess champion has been from China.

India’s R Vaishali continued her winning streak, raking up her fourth victory in a row, this time against Lei Tingjie. The Indian is currently tied for third place with 6.5/13.

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