Chess, Candidates 2024: Vidit Gujrathi beats Alireza Firouzja; Praggnanandhaa defeats Nijat Abasov

Indian Grandmasters Vidit Gujrathi and Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu registered outright wins in their respective matches at the 2024 Candidates in Toronto, Canada early on Thursday.

While Gujrathi got the better of France’s Alireza Firouzja with the white pieces, Praggnanandhaa beat Nijat Abasov of Azerbaijian with the same colour.

The 29-year-old Gujrathi, who had to settle for a draw in the previous round after having a decisive advantage against world No 2 Fabiano Caruana, ensured that he landed the killer blow against the 20-year-old French Grandmaster in the sixth round.

“I was very upset last evening because I could have won against Fabi [Caruana], but what to do,” said Gujrathi after his win over Firouzja. “This game helps a bit in recovering.”

Gujrathi continued his unusual flashy play in the tournament, sacrificing a pawn right in the central e5 sqaure on the 14th move. Though Firouzja sensed danger and did not capture the poisoned pawn, things soon fell apart for him as Gujrathi kept finding good moves one after the other.

“To be honest I had not seen e5, but I felt there would be something,” said Gujrathi. “In the worst case I always had a draw.”

Though Gujrathi was down on the clock by more than an hour in the latter stages of the match, the superior position on the board meant that he was never in any trouble and forced a resignation out of Friouzja after 40 moves.

Gujrathi will next face Abasov – the only player rated lower than him in the competition.

Vidit Gujrathi found e5 at the right time against Alireza Firouzja in 2024 Candidates (Source: Lichess)

Pragg beats Abasov

Meanwhile, the 18-year-old Praggnanandhaa defeated a lower-rated Abasov to be just half a point behind the tournament leaders Ian Nepomniachtchi and Gukesh.

In a tense endgame, Abasov misplaced his rook on the 38th move while capturing Praggnanandhaa’s f6 pawn, but little did he realise it was a well calculated trap laid by the Indian.

“If black had played rook to d6, he would have been totally out of danger,” said five-time world champion Viswanathan Anand in his post-match analysis. “But Nijat [Abasov] walked into a deep and hidden trap which was very beautiful.”

Praggnanandhaa, on his part, found a brilliant square at d7 for his knight on the 40th move that controlled all the dark sqaures which Abasov could have utilised to stop the Indian from promoting to a queen.

The Azerbaijan Grandmaster soon realised his irreversible mistake an resigned after the 45th move.

“I do not know what was happening [in the game] either,” said a poker-faced Praggnanandhaa in the post match press conference.

“I also do not understand why I am playing interesting games everyday. I am trying to play normal chess but somehow things keep getting interesting,” he added.

Praggnanandhaa will now face off against Caruana in the seventh round.

Nijat Abasov’s Rook takes f6 move which gave Praggnanandhaa the advantage (Source: Lichess)

Gukesh draws with Nakamura

The other Indian in action in the open section, Gukesh was held to a draw by world No 3 Hikaru Nakmura, who was playing with the black pieces.

Embroiled in a rook and four pawns endgame, the duo shook hands after 40 moves to share the points from the match.

“It was a pretty calm game,” reflected Gukesh post the match. “I thought I had a slight pull in the opening, but the knight c8 [14th move] idea was very strong and I could not really see anything for white there.

“After all the trades that happened I thought it was a bit unpleasant for me but I figured if I just stay and not do anything, it should just be a draw,” he added.

The draw helped Gukesh be in the joint lead after six rounds with four points alongside defending champion Nepomniachtchi.

Gukesh, the youngest player in fray, will face Firouzja next.

Humpy, Vaishali lose

Meanwhile, it was a disappointing day for India in the women’s event as Koneru Humpy and Vaishali Rameshbabu both lost their respective games with the white pieces.

While Humpy resigned after 48th move with her opponent Lei Tingjie about to queen at the a1 square, Vaishali conceded defeat to Kateryna Lagno after 29 moves as she was an exchange down with a viscious attack on her white king brewing.

The losses now mean that Humpy just has two points after six rounds and shares the last position with Anna Muzychuk, Vaishali has 2.5 points and is joint sixth.

Humpy will now face Muzychuk in the seventh round, while Vaishali will go up against Lei.

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