FIDE Candidates 2024 Round 12: Gukesh prevails over Abasov to take joint-lead; Pragnanandhaa holds Nepomniachtchi

Gukesh’s win kept him in the hunt, along with Ian Nepomniachtchi, Hikaru Nakamura and Fabiano Caruana, for the title

Published : Apr 19, 2024 10:51 IST , NEW DELHI - 3 MINS READ

Gukesh looks over the board during his Round 12 match against Nijat Abasov.
Gukesh looks over the board during his Round 12 match against Nijat Abasov. | Photo Credit: Micha Walusza

Gukesh looks over the board during his Round 12 match against Nijat Abasov. | Photo Credit: Micha Walusza

A resolute D. Gukesh produced another brilliantly-crafted victory to join Ian Nepomniachtchi at the top along with a resurgent Hikaru Nakamura and set up an exciting finale of the FIDE Candidates 2024 in Toronto.

The 12th round, on Thursday, produced three decisive verdicts while R. Praggnanandhaa held Nepomniachtchi after proactively looking for a win. Gukesh targeted bottom-placed Nijat Abasov and scored the much-needed victory. Nakamura posted his third successive victory by punishing Alireza Firouzja for the second time in the competition and an exasperated Vidit Gujrathi could not handle the pressure exerted by a desperate Fabiano Caruana.

With two rounds remaining after the rest day on Friday, only four players – Gukesh, Nepomniachtchi, Nakamura and the fourth-placed Caruana – have a chance to win the event.

ALSO CHECK | Candidates 2024 Points Table

Gukesh surprised Abasov in the opening phase of the Nimzo Indian setup. This meant the Azerbaijani had to spend more time to find the precise continuation. As a result, at one point, he was 45 minutes behind Gukesh on the clock.

Abasov, unbeaten with white pieces in previous rounds, played well to hold off Gukesh for close to 35 moves but erred in his rush to complete 40 moves in two hours. In the process, he missed a continuation that could have helped him capture a king-side pawn and enhance the prospect of forcing a draw.

Instead, Abasov’s king-move gave Gukesh an opportunity to tighten his grip. On the 40th move, Gukesh planted his rook in Abasov’s territory and threatened to capture a key queenside pawn. This plan had Abasov visibly worried.

What followed was Gukesh’s torture of a hapless Abasov. Gukesh brought his king into play from the queen-side, managed to trade an advanced queen-side pawn for a king-side pawn, thereby paving the way for a passed-pawn. At this stage, Abasov visualized the inevitable and resigned.

Praggnanandhaa knew he had to win in order to keep his title-prospects alive. Up against Nepomniachtchi, the Indian youngster was well aware of the odds of beating an in-form champion from the black side. Praggnanandhaa did press for some initiative but regular exchange of pieces led to an equal endgame.

HIGHLIGHTS | Gukesh vs Nijat Abasov, FIDE Chess Candidates 2024

After a pawn-trade as early as the third move, the players were involved in trading pieces. By the 34th move, the players were armed with seven pawns each but had only a rook and a knight each before the next pawn-exchange took place. Draw was agreed when both players were left with a rook. Nepomniachtchi’s lone pawn did not mean much in a theoretically drawn ending.

What made things easy for Nakamura was Firouzja’s decision to trade his rook for a bishop and a knight after 20 moves. Thereafter, Nakamura held advantage in varying degrees and eventually completed an important victory to become the first player to reach 7.5 points. Soon, Nepomniachtchi and Gukesh joined him.

Vidit faced a more determined Caruana who, like Praggnanandhaa, needed a win to keep his chances of topping the field alive. Caruana gained a huge advantage when he captured Vidit’s queen-side pawn and sensed his winning prospects. Vidit chose to take his king for a walk to the safety of the queen’s side but erred on the 40th move after being under time-pressure.

Though Caruana gave Vidit a chance to breathe a bit easy by going for the exchange of the bright-squared bishops, the struggling Indian failed to hold on to his crumbling fort. He resigned when Caruana captured a knight and prepared to deliver the knockout blow.

Nijat Abasov (Aze, 3) lost to D. Gukesh (7.5) in 57 moves in Nimzo Indian; Ian Nepomniachtchi (FIDE, 7.5) drew with R. Praggnanandhaa (6) in 55 moves in French Exchange; Fabiano Caruana (USA, 6) v Vidit Gujrathi (5) in 52 moves in Giuoco Piano; Hikaru Nakamura (USA, 7.5) bt Alireza Firouzja (Fra, 4.5) in 52 moves in French Exchange.
1-3. Gukesh, Nakamura, Nepomniachtchi, 4. Caruana, 5. Praggnanandhaa, 6. Vidit, 7. Firouzja, 8. Abasov.
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