Candidates Round 13: Gukesh takes the lead, Zhongyi pulls ahead

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On both sides of the Candidates, Rounds 13 and 14 are very important. The field is so tight in the Open Candidates, with 3 leaders, that any break from them this late would be incredibly positive to their chances. Nepomniachtchi and Nakamura went for a fairly quick draw, but it was a historic day as the 17 year old Gukesh beat Firouzja, to take the sole lead in the Candidates. Caruana ground down Praggnanandhaa’s fortress to take a full point, making tomorrow everything to play for in the Open Candidates. Nakamura has his final game against Gukesh, needing a win over him. Meanwhile, a draw by Gukesh would guarantee him at least the tie-breaks. Caruana faces Nepomniachtchi; again a critical pairing for all of these players where both are virtually in a must-win position.

In the Women’s Candidates, Tan Zhongyi took a draw to extend her lead, as Lei Tingjie lost against Vaishali R. Mathematically, Zhongyi is not guaranteed to take the Women’s Candidates title, as if she loses tomorrow and Tingjie wins, tiebreaks will be guaranteed. However, with a pairing against Muzychuk, who has looked vulnerable this tournament, just a draw from ZHongyi is enough to make her lead unassailable.

As well as broadcasting the live games from the two tournaments, Lichess is providing a live stream for every day of the Candidates. Make sure to tune in to our Twitch or YouTube channels, with streams starting from 14:15 Toronto time (18:15 UTC).

*We’re also providing daily annotations on some of the games from GM Brandon Jacobson and IM / WGM Padmini Rout. The full study can be found here.

Schedule

Round Recap

Open Section

Two of the tournament leaders had a potentially all but deciding clash today, as Nepomniachtchi battled Nakamura. Nakamura has had exceptional momentum lately, coming off the back of three victories. Despite potential sharpness coming out of a Ruy Lopez, the engine gave Nepomniachtchi a slight edge — but Nepomniachtchi didn’t see enough to satisfy himself. Neither player was prepared to take risks — why risk everything when a draw would still keep them in contention in the final round? So a draw by repetition was agreed on move 27. Because of the results in Gukesh’s game, Nakamura is now forced into a must-win position, but he has seemed to thrive in these situations lately.

https://lichess.org/study/embed/Dc0DQMaQ/oblbJJh8#0

The third tournament leader, Gukesh had a critical pairing against Firouzja, who has not been in the best shape this tournament. Regardless, Gukesh’s only loss this Candidates came at the hands of Firouzja with the white pieces, giving an opportunity to avenge the previous result. Gukesh opened with e4, and Alireza responded with a Berlin Defense — making it seem as if a draw may potentially be on the cards. A draw indeed seemed like the most likely outcome, but a single overambitious inaccuracy by Firouzja allowed Gukesh the barest of positional advantages. After hitting the additional time control, Gukesh again tried to eke out some momentum or advantage in the position, with a draw still looking likely. A mistake by Firouzja allowed Gukesh a convertible endgame, and the way to progress became very clear; Firouzja’s position had ultimately become unholdable and Firouzja resigned as Gukesh advanced two passed pawns. A massive win for Gukesh who at just the age of 17 leaps into clear first place in the Candidates by half a point. A massive day for the young prodigy tomorrow, who if he can hold a draw is guaranteed to at least make tiebreaks, whereas a win would guarantee him taking the Challenger spot to the World Champion, Ding Liren.

https://lichess.org/study/Mj0wdEVK/btcw7qoz#0

Another massive day for Fabiano Caruana who had the black pieces against Praggnanandhaa R. Caruana has been chasing the leaders, just half a point behind them. Caruana went in to Rossolimo Sicilian, and went strongly on the attack with a huge kingside attack. Getting pawns all the way to g4 and h3, Caruana created a beautiful outpost on the f3 square for his knight — with Praggnanandhaa offering Caruana an opportunity to exchange that knight for a rook. Caruana accepted, and it seemed Praggnanandhaa had made a fortress. But, a big push now on the queenside by Caruana injected more threats into the position, and after a series of mistakes by Praggnanandhaa, Caruana simply had a winning position, with Praggnanandhaa resigned with a theoretical mate in 30 on the board. Caruana’s win puts him into the mix with Nepomniachtchi and Nakamura, all on 8 points. Caruana now has a critical pairing against Nepomniachtchi tomorrow, with both players in a must-win position for hope of becoming the Challenger.

https://lichess.org/study/Mj0wdEVK/4SzQ50vQ#0

Last but not least, the final pairing of the day was between Vidit Gujrathi and Nijat Abasov. Neither players have any mathematical chance of winning the Candidates, and therefore nothing to play for beyond glory, prize money, and respect for the game and sport. Both players went into a well-known Petrov line, still following previously played games past move 20. At move 31, a draw was offered and agreed — one move past the Sofia rules draw limit (which prevents draws being agreed before move 30).

https://lichess.org/study/embed/Dc0DQMaQ/nRGbe0nL#0

In terms of predictions, Gukesh is now the firm favourite, with Nakamura in second place and then Caruana. Meanwhile, Nepomniachtchi’s chances have plummeted; likely because he only has a very specific path to now win the Candidates, requiring multiple aspects out of his control.

Women Section

Three wins in a row? Make it four. Vaishali is on a roll — though, unfortunately for her, it’s too late for her to win the Candidates. This time, Vaishali did not go for her trusty Alapin, but it did not matter as she seems to have cracked the Sicilian with several different lines for White. From a Moscow Variation of the Sicilian, Vaishali achieved the ideal center with the Alapin-like c3 and d4, nicely complimenting her pawn on e4. After some normal moves by Vaishali, Lei began going astray as she couldn’t find a good setup for her pieces and weakened her position with 13…f6. Vaishali had a long-lasting advantage, but Lei kept the tension and the breakthrough for Vaishali was not at all clear. After equality for a long while, Vaishali found a way to win again as Lei blundered twice on moves 61 and 62.

https://lichess.org/study/Mj0wdEVK/BBjTPAx1#0

Kateryna Lagno missed a golden opportunity to win today against Nurgyul Salimova — with the win potentially giving her a chance to win the tournament overall, depending on the results of Tan Zhongyi and Lei Tingjie. Salimova emerged from her chosen Catalan with the typical small positional pull characteristic of the Catalan; soon, though, she even seemed to have an attack going with 14. Qg4. Lagno found a way to liquidate, though, and just as the position seemed equal, Lagno’s pieces infiltrated and she won a pawn. The position kept getting worse for Salimova, and, eventually, Salimova parted ways with a piece to expose Black’s king. Her strategy paid off as, despite the position being objectively winning, it was not easy at all for Lagno to convert. Certainly this was a heartbreaking draw for Lagno, but a very welcome one for Salimova.

https://lichess.org/study/Mj0wdEVK/XaEcT2HB#0

Tan Zhongyi does not need to risk much; if Lei Tingjie wins and she draws, Lei would the only be tied with Tan. Seeing as how a surging Vaishali, who’s won three games back-to-back, was going to be White against Lei, Tan decided not to go for too many risks against Goryachkia. From a Queen’s Gambit Declined, the queens got traded as early as move 7 and the resulting position lacked dynamism and imbalances. The players soon repeated moves and a draw was agreed as early as move 29.

https://lichess.org/study/embed/XbBwvNRd/Lw910uXC#0

Anna Muzychuk has come well-prepared for this tournament and has been getting many good and winning positions. Unfortunately for her, though, the tournament simply has not been going her way. Today, despite showing stellar Queen’s Gambit Declined preparation against Koneru Humpy, the advantage was never more than nominal. Pieces were traded and even though Muzychuk kept some sort of advantage, at least theoretically, it was never enough as Humpy simply defended well. A draw was soon agreed in a queen endgame.

https://lichess.org/study/embed/XbBwvNRd/WOnFHEZD#0

In terms of predictions, Zhongyi is the massive favourite, with very small chances for Tingjie; understandable as Zhongyi is a full point up.

Round 14 Preview

An exciting and massively important day as Gukesh must defend against a Nakamura who will be pushing in a must-win position, with the possibility that Nakamura will overpush and Gukesh will be able to secure a win. This would make Gukesh the youngest player to ever be the Challenger in the modern era. Equally, Caruana is facing against Nepomniachtchi, with both players in a must-win position to at least have a chance of forcing the Candidates into tiebreaks.

In the Women’s, the Woman Candidate is almost certainly going to be Zhongyi Tan who simply needs a draw to prevent any risk of tiebreaks. However, if Muzychuk did get her first victory in the tournament against Zhongyi, and if Tingjie won her game against Koneru, then the Women’s Candidates would be pushed into tiebreaks. However, this is an outside chance, and realistically a draw by Zhongyi is all she needs to be the Woman Candidate again, giving the former Women’s World Champion her first shot at the title again, since she lost it to incumbent Ju Wenjun in 2018.

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