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The Week in Chess

  • Tan leads Lei half a point after 11 rounds in a two horse race for the Women’s Candidates – 11
    Tan Zhongyi took sole lead of the FIDE Women’s Candidates with 7.5/11 after beating Kateryna Lagno in a Reti. Lei Tingjie managed to draw against Anna Muzychuk and is half a point behind. With three rounds to go Kateryna Lagno, Humpy Koneru and Aleksandra Goryachkina are all on 5.5 points, realistically it’s between Tan and Lei for the title.

    Tan played a Reti System, 13…e5 from Lagno could have been met by 14.Nxe5 with advantage but instead a roughly balance position was arrived at. 27.Rc5? could have been refuted by 27…f4 when overloaded pieces combined with a kingside attack win for black. Lagno played the losing 28…Bxb3 (28…f4 is the way to hold the balance now) and Tan made no mistake in converting.

    There were similar goings on in the game Lei Tingjie against Anna Muzychuk. After a Giuoco Piano opening Muzychuk was at least equal until she failed to find the correct defence to 19.Bxh6 gxh6? (19…Nh7!) but then Lei played 22.Nxe5? (22.Kh2!) and black was better and then 30.c4? winning. After 34.Nf5 it came down to whether black could avoid perpetual check, it was possible but the way to do it wasn’t 42….Bf7? but 42…Ke8 instead. So a draw in the end. Humpy Koneru built up a winning position after 30 moves against Nurgyul Salimova as white in a Slav Defence, she made rather heavy weather of conversion but got there in the end. Rameshbabu Vaishali won again and Aleksandra Goryachkina lost again. It ended up in a equal but tricky Queen and Pawn endgame but 64….d4? lost and Vaishali made no mistake.

    Round 11 Standings: 1st Tan 7.5 2nd Lei 7 3rd= Lagno, Koneru, Goryachkina 5.5pts, 6th= Muzychuk, Vaishali 4.5pts 8th Salimova 4pts

    Round 12 18th April at 19:30BST: Lagno-Lei, Muzychuk-Vaishali, Goryachkina-Koneru, Salimova-Tan.

  • Nepomniachtchi beats Vidit in a tense struggle to lead the Candidates alone again on 7/11 – 11
    Ian Nepomniachtchi won a really fascinating struggle against Santosh Vidit in the eleventh round of the FIDE Candidates tournament in Toronto, Canada. Not only did Nepomniachtchi win, he won with the black pieces, but it was Vidit who first had winning chances. Vidit chose a side-line in a fairly topical Petroff line, even with Queen’s off the play remained complicated and 33…Rb3? (33…Kg7!) was losing according to engines after 34.h5! Then 35…a5? 36.Bxa3 d5 was also deemed losing for black but only after giving up a piece. The position was back level and 58.Bb3?! and 60.Nb2+? suddenly Nepomniachtchi was winning and his conversion was a lot easier. Earlier Hikaru Nakamura was extremely impressive in beating Praggnanandhaa with black in a game starting 1. d4 d5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. c4 c5! Gukesh was the one slightly pushing in his draw against Fabiano Caruana. All this leaves Nepomniachtchi leading on 7/11, Gukesh and Nakamura on 6.5/11 and Caruana in an almost must win situation on 6/11 with three rounds to go.

    Round 11 Standings: 1st Nepomniachtchi 7pts, 2nd= Gukesh, Nakamura 6.5pts, 4th Caruana 6pts, 5th Praggnanandhaa 5.5pts, 6th Vidit 5pts, 7th Firouzja 4.5pts, 8th Abasov 3pts,

    Round 12 18th April at 19:30BST: Nakamura-Firouzja, Abasov-Gukesh, Caruana-Vidit, Nepomniachtchi-Praggnanandhaa.

  • Lei join Tan in the lead of the Women’s Candidates on 6.5/10 – 10
    The tenth round of the FIDE Women’s Candidates saw two decisive games and Lei Tingjie re-join Tan Zhongyi in the lead on 6.5 points, they’re a point clear of Aleksandra Goryachkina and Kateryna Lagno.

    Goryachkina has the reputation of being one of the most solid of women’s players and she was hitherto undefeated until Lei beat her today. Goryachkina played the exchange Slav with white and after 23.Rc1? (23.Re1, 23.a3 were both better) Kg6 was in major trouble. 31…Bd3?! lost quite a bit of the advantage and Goryachkina was soon back level, 37.f3? was however a terrible move after which she was completely busted, 43…Bc8? (43…Bxe4) gave white hope and at move 60 the game was equal. Goryachkina thought the game was over as a draw, she missed 60…f5 and in shock played 61.Nxe5?? (61.exf5=) Kf4! and this time there was no escape.

    Rameshbabu Vaishali is having a miserable time of it and this should have continued against Nurgyul Salimova. Salimova was happily converting a winning advantage until the careless 54…Nc5?= (54…Rh8 was the direct win), then 58…Nb7? also lost (58…Rh7+ holds) 59.d8=Q? is back equal (59.Re8 or 59.Kg8 win) and then 67.Kd6? finally is winning for Vaishali and it turned out there was no coming back for Salimova.

    The remaining two games were drawn. Tan against Humpy Koneru was a Scotch where black looked to be better at one stage but a long Rook and Pawn endgame was drawn. Kateryna Lagno against Anna Muzychuk featured some eye watering computer generated opening theory in the Open Ruy Lopez. Muzychuk had a massively better pawn structure in the endgame but white’s bishop meant that winning chances never materialised.

    Round 10 Standings: 1st= Lei Tingjie, Tan Zhongyi 6.5pts, 3rd= Goryachkina, Lagno, 5.5pts 5th Koneru 4.5pts 6th= Salimova, Muzychuk 4pts 8th Vaishali 3.5pts

    Rest Day Tuesday 16th April 2024

    Round 11 17th April at 19:30BST: Tan-Lagno, Koneru-Salimova, Vaishali-Goryachkina, Lei-Muzychuk.

  • Nakamura and Caruana win to get back into contention after 10 rounds of the Candidates – 10
    The tenth round of the FIDE Candidates tournament saw the leaders Gukesh and Ian Nepomniachtchi draw and wins for Hikaru Nakamura and Fabiano Caruana. This leaves Nepomniachtchi and Gukesh on 6, Praggnanandhaa, Nakamura and Caruana on 5.5 and Vidit on 5 all in the mix. A playoff rather than a technical tie-break coefficient will decide the winner.

    Nepomniachtchi played quite a solid Ruy Lopez line against Gukesh. The main point of interest seems to have been whether 19.c3 led anywhere, but this was a computer move rather than a human one. After 19.Rd3 a draw was favourite until the end of the game.

    Hikaru Nakamura built up a very large advantage by move 18 against Nijat Abasov in a Petroff. Nakamura wasn’t the most accurate after this but Abasov’s position remained unenviable until 27.Bf4?! (27.g5 just getting on with the attack was winning) and suddenly not only was Nakamura not better but he was worse/losing. Then the game turned again 36…Qe7? (36…Bc7 was the best but not only good move for black) 37.Be5! and white was winning again. 38.Ne3! would have finished things off but event after 38.Ng3 Rxe5 the damage had been done and Nakamura went on to win.

    Fabiano Caruana beat Alireza Firouzja in a really wild game. 6.Rg1 showed that Caruana knew this was a day he had to gamble. The game was really difficult, 13…Be6? was a mistake but both players missed that 14.Bxe6 was in fact winning for white after the accurate 14…fxe5 15.e5. 14.Be2 instead left white with nothing. The Open Candidates has no increment and this game was decided in time trouble with Firouzja wrecking his position just to make time control with only a few seconds for his final moves up to move 40.

    Praggnanandhaa against Santosh Vidit saw solid play from both sides in a Ruy Lopez Berlin.

    Round 10 Standings: 1st= Gukesh, Nepomniachtchi 6pts, 3rd= Praggnanandhaa, Nakamura, Caruana 5.5pts, 6th Vidit 5pts, 7th Firouzja 3.5pts, 8th Abasov 3pts.

    Rest Day Tuesday 16th April

    Round 11 17th April at 19:30BST: Praggnanandhaa-Nakamura, Vidit-Nepomniachtchi, Gukesh-Caruana, Firouzja-Abasov.

  • Tan bounces back with a win over Vaishali to regain the Women’s Candidates sole lead after 9 rounds – 9
    Tan Zhongyi scored a quick victory against Rameshbabu Vaishali in Round 9 of the Women’s Candidates tournament in Toronto and that eventually proved to be enough to lead alone on 6/9.

    Tan claimed to have surprised Vaishali with her choice of opening, I’m not sure at what move that was but after Vaishali’s 11.Ng5 the position became tricky to handle for both sides. 13.h4?! (13.Na3) was ambitious but the key moment came with 16.c4? (16.Bxd6 is only a tiny bit worse for white) f6! and white was already in dire straits. 18.c5? was another error and the collapse was complete with 19. …Nxd4 20. Qe3? Nxc2.

    Lei Tingjie looked to be heading for a quick victory herself against Nurgyul Salimova. The choice of the Philidor’s by Salimova was probably in the name of unpredictability, she’s been changing her openings pretty much every round, but her position was just bad. The key moment came when Lei played the obviously passive 16.Bd2 when 16.g6 or 16.Rg4 would have been much better and the position was soon level and the game finished in a draw by repetition.

    Humpy Koneru and Kateryna Lagno drew a Ragozin in 57 move. Koneru was pushing for some time after the opening but after 36.Rd1?! (36.Ra2) she dropped a pawn but the resulting rook and pawn endgame was still drawn after accurate play.

    Anna Muzychuk and Aleksandra Goryachkina drew a Berlin Defence in 45 moves. Muzychuk managed to get her bishop trapped but had just enough pawns to hold the endgame.

    Round 9 Standings: 1st Tan, Zhongyi 6pts 2nd= Lei Tingjie, Goryachkina 5.5pts 4th Lagno 5pts 5th= Salimova, Koneru 4pts 7th Muzychuk 3.5pts 8th Vaishali 2.5pts

    Round 10 15th April at 19:30BST: Lagno-Muzychuk, Goryachkina-Lei, Salimova-Vaishali, Tan-Koneru.

  • Nepomniachtchi saves a difficult position against Firouzja and retains the lead of the Candidates with Gukesh after Round 9 – 9
    The ninth round of the FIDE Candidates in Toronto saw just the one decisive game when Santosh Vidit beat Hikaru Nakamura but the joint leader Ian Nepomniachtchi looked to be in trouble against Alireza Firouzja. In the end Gukesh and Nepomniachtchi share the lead with 5.5/9 half a point clear of Praggnanandhaa.

    Hikaru Nakamura seemed to have moved into contention with his round 8 victory against Caruana but went backwards again today by losing for the second time against Santosh Vidit. Nakamura’s Round 2 loss was an unmitigated disaster, this one he was just outplayed, twice. Nakamura was equal out of the opening, 20…Rc8 (20…Nf4=) was the start of a bad plan, 21.Ra3 c5? (21…Nf4 slight advantage to white was best) was really bad and white should have been a lot better, but only if Vidit found 22.Ng4. After 22.dxc4?! the position after 22…Nf5 was equal. Nakamura was fine again but soon went wrong 24.b4 Rc8?! (24…axb4=) and Vidit grabbed an important a-pawn. With 27…Nxe5? (27…Rcd8) Nakamura made what turned out to be the decisive error as Vidit played accurately until the end of the game giving no further chances at all.

    Alireza Firouzja put Ian Nepomniachtchi under great pressure. He chose a very slow double fianchetto setup with white and managed to get a significant edge. The key moment seems to have been on move 29. White had to choose between 30.gxf6 as played or closing the King’s wing with 30.g6 and then opening the Queenside. The way Firouzja chose looked dangerous but Nepomniachtchi held, 30.g6 looks more promising in retrospect.

    Gukesh against Praggnanandhaa was a slow manoeuvring game. The engines think white might have had some small edge about move 30 but it just looked like a well played draw. Fabiano Caruana just about won the opening battle with the black pieces against Nijat Abasov. 3.Bb4 in a Queen’s Gambit turned into a Semi-Slav. Caruana was fine but Abasov didn’t give any more ground and the game was drawn in 44 moves.

    Round 9 Standings: 1st= Gukesh, Nepomniachtchi 5.5pts 3rd Praggnanandhaa, R 5pts 4th= Nakamura, Vidit, Caruana 4.5pts 7th Firouzja 3.5pts 8th Abasov 3pts.

    Round 10 15th April at 19:30BST: Nakamura-Abasov, Caruana-Firouzja, Nepomniachtchi-Gukesh, Praggnanandhaa-Vidit.

  • Gukesh joins Nepomniachtchi in the lead after beating Vidit in Round 8 – 8
    The FIDE Candidates in Toronto is heating up nicely after eight rounds. Gukesh joined Ian Nepomniachtchi in the lead and Hikaru Nakamura moved into contention alongside Praggnanandhaa. Fabiano Caruana’s loss to Nakamura took him back to 50% and is surely a major blow.

    Gukesh recovered from his loss in Round 7 with a win against Santosh Vidit in a Two Knights with 4.d3. Superficially it might have seemed like it was Vidit who had the initiative after the opening, he was pushing pawns and making breaks, but Gukesh had the a-file and white’s position was deteriorating with almost every move. Gukesh crashed in down the a-file, took a left turn towards Vidit’s King and checkmated it.

    Hikaru Nakamura beat Fabiano Caruana in 35 moves from a quiet Ruy Lopez Berlin. You would scarcely believe it possible for a player of Caruana’s class to lose the position he had at move 24 but starting with 24…Qg5?! (24…Re7 is to be preferred and the chosen move turns out to be messy) it seemed like black was on the back foot to the end. After 28…Nf8?! (28…Qd7 was better) black was in serious trouble. 29…Qd8?! (29…Qd7) 30.h5 (30.Qf4 is better) 30…Bd7? (30…Qb6 was not so bad for black) left black lost and 33…b5? ended the game to a trivial tactic. According to Dennis Monokroussos’ The Chess Mind email on the round this was Nakamura’s fourth classical win with the white pieces in a row against Caruana. This seems like the kind of loss that might be hard to come back from.

    Praggnanandhaa against Alireza Firouzja looked like it might be the game of the day, 5…Qc7 was I think supposed to be a surprise but after Praggnanandhaa’s 6.Ncb5, the 12th most common move in this position, albeit still with a plus score for white, Alireza went into a big think. 12…Ne7 was new and the engines think 13.b3 is the best reaction, 13.0-0 with c3 and b4 to follow seems like the wrong plan, although one that is still equal. Soon after dynamic trades happened at fairly regular intervals until there was nothing to do but agree a draw.

    Ian Nepomniachtchi against Nijat Abasov was a Petroff where the engines say black equalised about move 22. By move 36 black’s task was clear, it was level but with a pair of pawns on the Queenside it was still black who had to be accurate, and as far as I can tell Abasov played it perfectly and never was in the slightest trouble. Draw in 63 moves. Is Nepomniachtchi becalmed?

    Round 8 Standings: 1st= Gukesh, Nepomniachtchi 5pts; 3rd= Nakamura, Praggnanandhaa 4.5pts; 5th Caruana 4pts; 6th Vidit 3.5pts; 7th Firouzja 3pts 8th Abasov, 2.5pts.

    Round 9 14th April at 19:30BST: Vidit-Nakamura, Gukesh-Praggnanandhaa, Firouzja-Nepomniachtchi, Abasov-Caruana.

  • Lei, Tan and Goryachkina lead the Women’s Candidates with 5/8 – 8
    Tan Zhongyi was joined by Lei Tingjie and Aleksandra Goryachkina on 5pts after 8 Rounds of the Women’s Candidates tournament in Toronto. It was all so unnecessary too, Tan turned down a draw by repetition by playing the risky and objectively not very good 21.f4 and her position more or less went downhill from there.

    There’s been very little for Humpy Koneru or Rameshbabu Vaishali to smile about in this event and the latter had her 3rd loss in a row, she was worse and then lost the exchange and that was pretty much that by move 17.

    Kateryna Lagno against Aleksandra Goryachkina was a fairly well played Ruy Lopez Berlin which was agreed drawn by repetition on move 34. A small fly in the ointment of this tale is that instead of repeating with Qd2 Lagno could have played Bc1 which the engines say gave her a pretty large advantage.

    Nurgyul Salimova was white against Anna Muzychuk and this was a marathon 120 move draw, although almost the last 50 of those was an attempt to win Rook vs Knight. Salimova had opportunities to win this game. The first key moment was where Salimova got her chances, 30.Nc7 left black having to find the only move 30…Ba4 for equality, instead the second best 30…Bxb4 was played and white was winning. The second key moment was white had to find 34.Ra1 for the largest advantage or 34.Bd3 to keep her big edge. Instead 34.f3 meant black was over the worst. White then pressed in a Rook and 3 pawns vs Knight and 4 pawns endgame. You have to be very careful in allowing transpositions to King and Pawn endgames, sometimes the result is not what you expect. Here for one move only white was winning with 54.Rxe5 and then an 8 move sequence leading to zugzwang had to be calculated (and other side variations). But given the winning chances were obviously not high continuing the way it was, maybe it was worth Salimova giving it a punt anyway, even if all the details couldn’t be precisely seen it might have been possible to tell this was a potential opportunity.

    Round 8 Standings: 1st= Lei Tingjie, Goryachkina, Tan Zhongyi 5pts; 4th Lagno 4.5pts; 5th= Salimova, Koneru 3.5.pts; 7th Muzychuk 3pts; 8th Vaishali 2.5pts.

    Round 9 14th April at 19:30BST: Koneru-Lagno, Vaishali-Tan, Lei-Salimova, Muzychuk-Goryachkina.

  • Gukesh loses to Firouzja in Round 7 of the Candidates – 7
    Ian Nepomniachtchi leads the FIDE Candidates with 4.5/7 at the half way stage. Nepomniachtchi hasn’t looked that steady in the last three rounds and in Round 7 he and Hikaru Nakamura engaged in a memory competition for a mind bending computer line in the Petroff. It seems that Nepomniachtchi was the first to forget something important as 21…Bf5? was significantly worse than 21…Kg8. Nakamura thought for a long time over his 25.Qe2?! which turned out to be distinctly second best to 24.Ndf3 (eval over +1) Nepomniachtchi obviously realised the problem and after Qe2 bashed out 25…Ne4! immediately with obvious relief, the game was level and Nepomniachtchi had no problem proving it.

    Alireza Firouzja is going to be a dangerous wildcard as he’s pretty obviously out of contention to win the thing, not least because he’s obviously not playing well, but today he beat joint leader Gukesh. Firouzja played the London and Gukesh was level at move 20 and better after 21.Ra1?! gradually the game equalised and Queen’s came off. But on the run up to first time control Gukesh bet that his passed a-pawn was more important than Firouzja’s kingside threats, the evaluation remained level until 36…Kh7? (36…b5) 37.Rf3 a3? (37…Kg8 was better but still losing) and Firouzja had forced mate after 39.Nf8!

    Fabiano Caruana played the Advanced French against Praggnanandhaa. The Indian has been switching his openings virtually every round and has been very unpredictable. Caruana was better out of the opening but by move 17 it was black for choice, trades steadily happened and a draw was agreed on move 41.

    Santosh Vidit got serious winning chances on the black side of a Ruy Lopez against Nijat Abasov. At first white was better but 31.Ne2? was a mistake after which black took over for a bit but on the runup to first time control neither side played the best 37…Rd6? (37.Qd6!) 39.Nb1? (39.Nc3=) and 41.g4?= (41.Rh7!) After this equality remained and the game was drawn in 52 moves.

    Round 7 Standings: 1st Nepomniachtchi 4.5pts 2nd= Gukesh, Caruana, Praggnanandhaa 4.0pts 5th= Nakamura, Vidit 3.5pts 7th Firouzja 2.5pts 8th Abasov 2.0pts

    Rest Day 12th April

    Round 8 13th April at 19:30BST: Nakamura-Caruana, Nepomniachtchi-Abasov, Praggnanandhaa-Firouzja, Vidit-Gukesh.

  • Tan Zhongyi leads the Women’s Candidates at the half way stage with 5/7 – 7
    The FIDE Women’s Candidates tournament reached the half way stage and round 7 saw the meeting of the top two placed players. Aleksandra Goryachkina remained half a point behind Tan Zhongyi after their 40 move draw. This was a modern move d-pawn/Queen’s Gambit move order, that ended up in some sort of Catalan. Goryachkina was a little better and 18.Ne1 might have kept some advantage but 18.Ng5 was more or less equal 20.e4 was also perhaps a bit better for white but after that there were trades to a truly drawn position. They meet again in Round 13.

    Lei Tingjie was the only winner of the round beating Rameshbabu Vaishali who lost her second game in a row. On a trivial note the four knights in the centre of the board that happened on move 20 was unusual. 26…Bc8 was the start of trouble for Vaishali and 28…Qb8? was a losing move failing to a hidden tactic 29.Qd5!! that Lei didn’t spot but she saw a similar tactic a few moves later. 31…Rxd8? was the losing move, 31…Bxb3 was about equal 34.Nf6+ was a well spotted win.

    Kateryna Lagno pressed for some time against Nurgyul Salimova in a 3.Nge7 Ruy Lopez. There was nothing clear but after 27.Rxd6 it was pretty clear the game was going to be drawn.

    Anna Muzychuk and Humpy Koneru might both have expected to be fighting for first place, not last and so their draw suited neither player. A 4…Nge7 Ruy Lopez white was a bit better for a while but after 23.e6 the position was dead level and remained so.

    Round 7 Standings: 1st Tan Zhongyi 5pts 2nd Goryachkina, Aleksandra 4.5pts 3rd= Lagno, Lei Tingjie 4.0pts 5th Salimova 3.0pts 6th= Koneru, Muzychuk, Vaishali 2.5pts

    Rest Day 12th April 2024.

    Round 8 13th April at 19:30BST: Lagno-Goryachkina, Salimova-Muzychuk, Tan-Lei, Koneru-Vaishali.

  • Four decisive games in Round 6 of the women’s Candidates – 6
    Tan Zhongyi leads the women’s Candidates on 4.5/6 after a round where all the games finished decisively. Tan played the Colle system against Anna Muzychuk and hit a bullseye as black drifted into trouble. Objectively there weren’t early problems but Carlsen won with black playing 9…cxd4 against Bluebaum, you have to take that as a serious recommendation. After 9…Be7 10.Ne5 cxd4 11.exd4 Nxe5 12.dxe5 white was already better and following 12…Nd7? Tan was close to winning. Tan made some inaccuracies along the way but Muzychuk never equalised and lost in 37 moves.

    Aleksandra Goryachkina kept second place after grinding out a win against Nurgyul Salimova in a Catalan. Rameshbabu Vaishali got into trouble quite soon after the opening against Kateryna Lagno and when she didn’t find the difficult but only move 21.Re3 she was just lost. Humpy Koneru has had a difficult start to the event and is almost certainly out of contention. She struggled to maintain equality out of the opening with white against Lei Tingjie and then after the sequence 36.Nf5?! Nb5 37 c4? Nc3! she was busted and lost a few moves later.

    Round 6 Standings: 1st Tan Zhongyi 4pts, 2nd Goryachkina 4pts, 3rd Lagno 3.5pts 4th Lei Tingjie 3pts, 5th= Salimova, Vaishali 2.5pts 7th= Koneru, Muzychuk 2pts

    Round 7 11th April at 19:30BST: Lagno-Salimova, Goryachkina-Tan, Muzychuk-Koneru, Lei-Vaishali.

  • Gukesh and Nepomniachtchi continue to lead after draws in Round 6 – 6
    The FIDE Candidates in Toronto, Canada are almost at the half way stage. Not much has been settled and 6 of the 8 players can still regard themselves as still being in the hunt for tournament victory.

    Today Ian Nepomniachtchi chose a drawish variation against Fabiano Caruana and whilst the American had to be accurate a draw was what we got. Nepomniachtchi said most of his preparation was focussed on the Sicilian but also such easy days are a key part of tournament strategy. How this draw will be seen will very much depend on the final result, wasted white against a major rival? Good pragmatic decision on the way to the title? We’ll see.

    Gukesh did try against Hikaru Nakamura, his problem was that a smart piece of preparation equalised the game for Nakamura almost straight away and he followed up with accuracy to produce a totally drawn position. Praggnanandhaa moved to +1 with a win against Nijat Abasov. This was a fighting game decided on the run up to first time control, 38…Rxf6? looks like the decisive error in an objectively level position. Alireza Firouzja is struggling here, today he made two very serious errors 11…Bb7 and 13…Qxf2 early on and was crushed, he did limp on to move 40 before resigning but the game was long gone.

    Round 6 Standings: 1st= Gukesh, Nepomniachtchi 4pts, 3rd= Caruana, Praggnanandhaa 3.5pts, 5th= Vidit, Nakamura 3pts, 7th= Firouzja, Abasov 1.5pts.

    Round 7 11th April at 19:30BST: Nakamura-Nepomniachtchi, Caruana-Praggnanandhaa, Abasov-Vidit, Firouzja-Gukesh.

  • Tan Zhongyi continues to lead the Women’s Candidates after a day of draws in Round 5 – 5
    Tan Zhongyi leads the FIDE Women’s Candidates with 3.5/5 half a point clear of Aleksandra Goryachkina. Nurgyul Salimova is the lowest rated player and Humpy tried to target her in Round 4 and that backfired. Today Tan got a very favourable Caro-Kann, 10.Bf4 seems new and 13…d4?! looks like a mistake, however 15.Nfxd4 winning the pawn straight away rather than waiting for a better chance with 15.Rfc1 seemed to reduce white’s advantage and 25.Qc5 (slightly better was 25.Qb6) reduced chances further and the game was drawn in 25 moves.

    Kateryna Lagno missed a major opportunity to beat Lei Tingjie with the black pieces. First of all Lei was better and 19.Bc1! was a major improvement over the game. 23.Bd2? (23.d5!) followed by 24.d5 (too late!) gave the advantage to black after 30…Bxh3 white’s position was falling apart. 31…Ng4! would have finished things nicely, or 34.Bxe2 but if you don’t finish things you’re likely to get punished, and it was almost certainly major time pressure 39.Nf5 Nxf5? (39.Qf6 or 39.Bf3) 40.Qxe5 was equal and the game was drawn a few moves later.

    It’s not exaggeration to say that Anna Muzychuk would be the clear leader of the event if she’d taken all her chances, and it feels like she’s dropped at least half a point every round with wins going to draws and draws to losses. I can imagine how frustrated she must be. Black against Rameshbabu Vaishali she had a massive advantage mostly due to a protected, passed g-pawn. but needed to open the position. 45…c6 was the way to do it but it was needed to be followed by 46…b5 not her 46…d5. After that position remained locked, this time forever and a draw was agreed soon after.

    Humpy Koneru played a chastened game with the white pieces against Aleksandra Goryachkina, after her loss in round 4. In a Semi-Tarrasch Goryachkina seemed comfortable early on and after 34.Bd4?! (34.Be5=) Humpy was the one under pressure and blacks advantage became tangible after 40.f4?! (40.g3=) 42…Rd5?! however wasn’t the best (42…Bd6 and black continues with a small advantage) and after a couple more moves the players agreed a draw in a level position.

    Round 5 Standings: 1st Tan Zhongyi 3.5pts, 2nd Goryachkina 3pts, 3rd= Lagno, Vaishali, Salimova 2.5pts, 6th= Koneru, Lei Tingjie, Muzychuk 2pts.

    Round 6 10th April at 19:30BST: Vaishali-Lagno, Koneru-Lei, Tan-Muzychuk, Salimova-Goryachkina.

  • Gukesh joins Nepomniachtchi in the Candidates lead after an action packed Round 5 – 5
    The fifth round of the Candidates could have seen all four games finish decisively and in fact the two games that did were only decided by mistakes at the end of very long games and the two draws came after huge advantages were let go. In the end leaders were Gukesh and Nepomniachtchi half a point clear of Caruana and all three had good reason to thank their lucky stars today.

    Praggnanandhaa doesn’t need any encouragement to go for dangerous attacking ideas but that’s nevertheless what the leader Nepomniachtchi did in grabbing a hot pawn in the Petroff. Nepomniachtchi couldn’t find his way through the complications and after 23…Nc5? (23…Bxh2+) he was lost with the move 26.Qe5! being the killer blow, Praggnanandhaa didn’t find this and Nepomniachtchi eventually escaped and stayed in the lead. Nepomniachtchi will always have weak moments like this, but if he isn’t punished he’s more than likely to just steamroller his way through the event as he has done twice before, this was a very big escape for him and bad news the rest of the field. He was joined in the lead by Gukesh who was not at all convincing in a very long win against Nijat Abasov, he kept getting big advantages and then frittering them away, at the end he had the pawn in a Queen and Pawn vs Queen endgame, really tricky for Abasov and although the position was drawn he understandably blundered and this time didn’t escape. Santosh Vidit was straight up winning against Fabiano Caruana and contrived to find practically the only move on the board where he had to give perpetual check immediately. Hikaru Nakamura beat Alireza Firouzja in a game that came down to a tricky endgame where Nakamura had a knight and running pawns vs a rook. An obviously nervous Firouzja almost lost on time but the move he played put his King on a forking square which meant he couldn’t stop one of Nakamura’s pawns and he had to resign.

    Round 5 Standings: 1st= Gukesh, Nepomniachtchi 3.5pts, 3rd Caruana 3pts, 4th= Praggnanandhaa, Nakamura 2.5pts, 6th Vidit 2pts, 7th= Abasov, Firouzja 1.5pts.

    Round 6 10th April at 19:30BST: Gukesh-Nakamura, Vidit-Firouzja, Praggnanandhaa-Abasov, Nepomniachtchi-Caruana.

  • Tan Zhongyi’s miracle escape allows her to lead the Women’s Candidates alone on 3/4 – 4
    Tan Zhongyi leads the women’s Candidates with 3/4 going into the first rest day. Tan should have lost the lead and there should also have been three decisive games. Instead there was just the one, Humpy Koneru played what in retrospect was over aggressively and lost to Nurgyul Salimova. Anna Muzychuk should have won her first game but again made a real hash of things. Tan’s escape against Kateryna Lagno was if anything more miraculous and Goryachkina drew against Vaishali.

    Humpy Koneru had three uneventful draws so far, today she clearly decided that Nurgyul Salimova was a player she had to try to beat and played very enterprisingly and aggressively, the problem was twofold, firstly there was no need for panic stations yet, and two this is just not her style. Salimova defended resolutely and indeed she was never worse, 22…g4? and 24…Kg7? weren’t good and the attempt to bail out with a Queen exchange on move 27 just left white with a winning position.

    Kateryna Lagno was heading for victory against Tan Zhongyi with her favourite anti-Sicilian system but made what must be regarded as a huge hash of the conversion and eventually had to settle for a draw. She had a nice edge for a while but 28…Qa2? was a big error that got Tan into trouble. A tactical try with 35…e4 should have sealed Tan’s fate as it only delivered a completely lost position. Then things started to go wrong for Lagno, 42.Rxb6? should have been replaced with 42.Bd4! Tan was still lost but she had play and hope, 51…h4! left only one winning move 52.Bf2! as it was 52.Be5? allowed Tan to save the game and her tournament lead.

    Anna Muzychuk has had a strange and frustrating event so far, today she should have scored her first win against Lei Tingjie, she nursed an extra pawn into a major piece endgame but it looked at first like it wouldn’t be enough. When Queen’s came off the task became a little easier but it still looked like a draw until a fatal error at move 40, black needed to stop f4+ and she didn’t. That should have been that but there was still the technical endgame of Rook vs Two pawns, winning but Muzychuk threw away the win straight away. 53.Rd5+? (53.Rg8 was the only winning move) it was tricky but I think not so for a professional, I seem to remember seeing this in a chess course.

    Aleksandra Goryachkina against Rameshbabu Vaishali was a fairly uneventful Symmetrical English drawn on move 40.

    Round 4 Standings: 1st Tan Zhongyi 3pts, 2nd Goryachkina 2.5pts, 3rd= Lagno, Vaishali, Salimova 2pts, 6th= Koneru, Lei Tingjie, Muzychuk 1.5pts.

    Rest Day Monday 8th April

    Round 5 9th April at 19:30BST: Lei-Lagno, Vaishali-Muzychuk, Koneru-Goryachkina, Tan-Salimova.

  • Nepomniachtchi leads the FIDE Candidates alone on 3/4 – 4
    Ian Nepomniachtchi took the lead of the FIDE Candidates tournament in Toronto with a win against Santosh Vidit. He is on 3/4 half a point clear of Fabiano Caruana and Gukesh.

    Can Nepomniachtchi win the Candidates for a third time in a row? Already I personally wouldn’t bet against it, his fault of being a bit casual sometimes is infinitely better than being too tense, a problem that I sense Santosh Vidit has. Nepomniachtchi came with a new idea of 12.Nh2 against Vidit’s Berlin, Vidit was doing fine until 26…Rb3?! (26…c4) then he was suddenly worse and under pressure with the Rook he buried on b3 being out of play. 37…Be8? (37…Nxe7 might also be losing but had to be tried) was very strange and there was no way back after that.

    Fabiano Caruana won a pawn against Gukesh but it wasn’t a very impressive one and eventually a draw was the right result. Nijat Abasov didn’t get anything against Alireza Firouzja, he went into a Queen endgame a pawn down and although he suffered he held the draw. Nakamura against Praggnanandhaa was a Ruy Lopez Berlin drawn by repetition in 24 moves.

    Round 4 Standings: 1st Nepomniachtchi 3pts 2nd= Gukesh, Caruana 2.5pts, 4th Praggnanandhaa 2pts 5th= Nakamura, Firouzja, Abasov, Vidit 1.5pts.

    Rest Day Monday 8th April

    Round 5 9th April at 19:30BST: Firouzja-Nakamura, Gukesh-Abasov, Vidit-Caruana, Praggnanandhaa-Nepomniachtchi.

  • Praggnanandhaa the only winner in Round 3 of the Candidates – 3
    Praggnanandhaa beat Santosh Vidit in Round 3 of the Candidates to record the only decisive game of the round. There was only one decisive game in the women’s Candidates, a win scored by his sister Vaishali. Praggnanandhaa seems to have come to the Candidates intent on making the biggest mess on the board possible, yesterday this didn’t work, today it did. Vidit’s 29. Qd4? and 32.b4? combined cost him the game. Gukesh had a brief chance to beat Ian Nepomniachtchi, he needed to find 29.a4 or 30.a4 which more or less forced bxa4 followed by putting a piece on c4 with a big advantage. As it was he exchanged rooks and most of his advantage was gone. Fabiano Caruana scored a relatively comfortable draw with the black pieces against Alireza Firouzja and Nijat Abasov and Hikaru Nakamura both seemed happy with a draw today.

    Round 3 Standings: 1st-3rd Gukesh, Nepomniachtchi, Caruana 2pts, 4th-5th Praggnanandhaa, Vidit 1.5pts, 6th-8th Firouzja, Nakamura, Abasov 1pt.

    Round 4 7th April at 19:30BST: Nakamura-Praggnanandhaa, Nepomniachtchi-Vidit, Caruana-Gukesh, Abasov-Firouzja.

  • Tan Zhongyi remains the leader as Vaishali is the only winner in Round 3 of the Women’s Candidates – 3
    Humpy Koneru has looked very solid so far in the Women’s Candidates, she had the draw that gave her the black pieces in the first two rounds, she met the leader Tan Zhongyi in Round 3 and had the white pieces for the first time. This was a reversed Gruenfeld and after a slight inaccuracy Koneru allowed the kind of equality frequently seen in this kind of position and the game was drawn. Rameshbabu Vaishali just like her brother Praggnanandhaa was the only winner in the women’s event. Nurgyul Salimova seemed to panic in the face of Vaishali’s aggression and her position collapsed after several mistakes. Anna Muzychuk almost won her game against Kateryna Lagno, it was just the final precise sequence that escaped her. Lei Tingjie drew with Aleksandra Goryachkina in a seemingly well played game by both sides in an Evans Gambit.

    Round 3 Standings: 1st Tan 2½pts 2nd Goryachkina 2 pts 3rd-5th Koneru, Lagno, Vaishali 1.5pts, 6th-8th Lei Tingjie, Anna Muzychuk, Salimova 1pt.

    Round 4 7th April at 19:30BST: Lagno-Tan, Salimova-Koneru, Goryachkina-Vaishali, Muzychuk-Lei.

  • Four Decisive games in Round 2 of the Candidates – 2
    The second round of the FIDE Candidates in Toronto, Canada was a bloodbath with all four games being decisive. Santosh Vidit was the first winner as his shock move 11…Bxh3! unbalanced Hikaru Nakamura completely, the game wasn’t over and Nakamura had chances to hold but a final blunder 18.Be2? cost the American the game. Fabiano Caruana will have been frustrated with his draw in Round 1 and he needed a win as this was his second white in a row. He wasn’t necessarily better against Nijat Abasov all the way through but his opponent started to weaken his King position and Caruana eventually won with a direct major piece attack. Praggnanandhaa against Gukesh was a real wild affair with Praggnanandhaa continually having to justify his aggressive intentions. In the end he missed a chance to equalise and very quickly was just lost. Ian Nepomniachtchi won the final game of the day to finish against Alireza Firouzja. Nepomniachtchi came armed with an idea that had been played once before, a very unbalanced position resulted and Firouzja had his chances but he miscalculated something and although Nepomniachtchi’s king was driven into the middle of the board nothing bad happened to it and the game was over.

    Round 2 Standings: 1-4 Gukesh, Vidit, Caruana, Nepomniachtchi 1.5pts, 5-8 Nakamura, Abasov, Firouzja, Praggnanandhaa 0.5pts.

    Round 3 6th April at 19:30BST: Abasov-Nakamura, Firouzja-Caruana, Gukesh-Nepomniachtchi, Vidit-Praggnanandhaa.

  • Tan Zhongyi leads the Women’s Candidates on 2/2 – 2
    There were two decisive games in Round 2 of the women’s Candidates in Toronto. Tan Zhongyi launched a big kingside attack against Rameshbabu Vaishali who got her knights tangled up on the Queenside after successfully equalising out of the opening (a Jobava Attack that turned into a fairly standard Carlsbad structure). Aleksandra Goryachkina won an up and down struggle against Anna Muzychuk in an Exchange Slav. Muzychuk equalised but as time trouble came she wasn’t precise and then 25…Rb7? played after less than a couple of minutes thought was just losing and Goryachkina didn’t even have to be that accurate. Salimova-Lei and Lagno-Koneru were both drawn.

    Round 2 Standings: 1st Tan Zhongyi 2pts 2nd Goryachkina 1.5pts 3rd-5th Lagno, Koneru, Salimova 1pt, 6th-8th Lei Tingjie, Anna Muzychuk, Vaishali 0.5pts

    Round 3 6th April at 19:30BST: Muzychuk-Lagno, Lei-Goryachkina, Vaishali-Salimova, Koneru-Tan.

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