Candidates 2024: Gukesh wins marathon battle, joins Nepomniachtchi in the lead; Frustrating draws for Praggnanandhaa, Vidit; Lucky win for Nakamura

Candidates 2024: D. Gukesh beats Nijat Abasov in the fifth round to become joint-leader of the tournament.

Published : Apr 10, 2024 05:59 IST , NEW DELHI - 4 MINS READ

India’s D. Gukesh in action against Nijat Abasov in the fifth round of the Candidates 2024.
India’s D. Gukesh in action against Nijat Abasov in the fifth round of the Candidates 2024. | Photo Credit: Micha? Walusza

India’s D. Gukesh in action against Nijat Abasov in the fifth round of the Candidates 2024. | Photo Credit: Micha? Walusza

The youngest participant in the FIDE Candidates 2024 blew away nearly half a dozen winning continuations against Nijat Abasov but eventually managed to pull off a deserving victory to join an extremely fortunate Ian Nepmniachtchi in the lead at 3.5 points from five rounds in Toronto.

When the action resumed after a day’s rest, R. Praggnanandhaa caught Nepomniachtchi on the wrong foot after unleashing a deep opening preparation and gradually reached a dominating position. However, the youngster missed the path leading to a possible victory and appeared understandably frustrated.

Even as Praggnanandhaa was grappling with the question of where he went wrong, an equally exasperated Vidit Gujarathi forced a draw by perpetual checks shortly after tossing away a hugely advantageous position against top seed Fabiano Caruana.

Instant computer evaluations gave Praggnanandhaa and Vidit massive advantage against their famed rivals. If Praggnanandhaa missed the winning line despite having an hour more than Nepomniachtchi on the clock at one stage, Vidit rued his poor time management for letting Caruana off the hook.

Vidit had Caruana at his mercy before the American found counter-play as his best defence. The Indian, desperate for a win after back-to-back defeats, could not be faulted for playing what was seen as a natural queen-move in the given position. This allowed Caruana to deliver a threat of a checkmate. Sensing danger and realising the fact that he had erred seriously, Vidit reluctantly chose to force a draw by repeated checks. Caruana, too, deemed it fit to settle for a half-a-point, having understood how close he was to defeat.


Coming back to Gukesh’s victory that came in the day’s longest game, lasting 87 moves spread over just under six hours, the youngster could have sealed the deal around the first time control. However, needing to make four moves in a minute to complete the stipulated 40 moves,

Gukesh erred with the 40th move and allowed Abasov to continue the battle on an even keel.

Again, after 30 minutes were added to the players’ clocks, Gukesh took a lot of time to calculate the possible continuations. Since the rules allow an increment of 30 seconds per move from the 41st move, Gukesh could breathe a bit easily.

In the remainder of the game, Abasov misjudged the position and handed back the advantage to Gukesh a few more times, But the Indian could not encash them. One of the best opportunities came Gukesh’s way when Abasov unwisely sacrificed his advanced central pawn to launch what he thought was a decisive attack on the white’s castled king. 

Gukesh missed the best defence that could have given him a two-pawn advantage. The tale of missed chances continued with Abasov defending well, in parts.


Finally, in a queen-pawn endgame, where Gukesh had an extra pawn, Abasov erred one last time. This allowed Gukesh to force the exchange of queens. A much-relieved Gukesh stood up and watched his frustrated rival from a close distance. A couple of moves later, Abasov resigned after visualizing the obvious continuation. Following a forced queen-trade, he had no way of stopping Gukesh’s lone pawn from ‘queening’.

Before Nijat walked into what turned out to be Gukesh’s knockout punch, second seed Hikaru Nakamura benefitted hugely from a late error of judgement from Alireza Firouzja. In a seemingly drawn position, Firouzja found some active play. He managed to ‘queen’ one of his pawns which forced Hikaru to give up his rook. When the dust settled, the position was still equal with Nakamura having a knight had four pawns to Firouzja’s rook and two pawns.

The proceedings took a dramatic turn when Firouzja went for a pawn-capture with his king, completely overlooking the fact that he could no longer prevent Nakamura’s pawn from queening without giving up the rook. A move later, Firouzja resigned, leaving a much-relieved Nakamura to rejoice in his first victory in the competition.

Fifth-round results (Indians unless stated):
D. Gukesh (3.5) bt NijatcAbasov (Aze, 1.5) in 87 moves in Petroff’s Defence
Vidit Gujrathi (2) drew with Fabiano Caruana (USA, 3) in 30 moves in Sicilian Rossolimo
R. Praggnanandhaa (2.5) drew with Ian Nepomniachtchi (Rus, 3.5) in 44 moves in Petroff’s Defence
Alireza Firouzja (Fra, 1.5) lost to Hikaru Nakamura (USA, 2.5) in 63 moves in Giuoco Piano
Sixth-round pairings:
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