Candidates R9: Vidit bounces back as Nakamura falters

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
4/15/2024 – Vidit Gujrathi bounced back from his round-8 loss against Gukesh D by beating Hikaru Nakamura with the white pieces on Sunday. The remaining three games ended drawn, which means Ian Nepomniachtchi and Gukesh continue to share the lead with 5½ points each. Since Nakamura lost, now only Praggnanandhaa R stands a half point behind the co-leaders. | Photo: FIDE / Michal Walusza

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Nepo and Gukesh still share the lead

Vidit Gujrathi has only drawn 3 out of the 9 games he played so far at the Candidates Tournament in Toronto. After losing against Gukesh D in Saturday’s round 8, Vidit bounced back by defeating Hikaru Nakamura with the white pieces. Nakamura, on his part, came from scoring a remarkable victory over Fabiano Caruana. Now, both Vidit and Nakamura stand in shared fourth place with 4½/9 points each.

The three remaining games ended drawn on Sunday:

  • Gukesh played white against Praggnanandhaa, got a very slight edge, but the presence of a symmetrical pawn structure meant that there were not enough recourses available to fight for more. Draw in 41 moves.
  • Caruana also got a small edge, playing black against underdog Nijat Abasov. The Azerbaijani GM defended resourcefully in the queenless position with rooks and bishops of opposite colours. Draw in 44 moves.
  • Alireza Firouzja, who has been struggling in Toronto, managed to put pressure on Nepomniachtchi’s position. The co-leader, however, found a fortress to hold the balance in a setup with the pawn structure almost completely closed. Draw in 44 moves.

After the round, Firouzja shared a complaint against the tournament’s main arbiter, Aris Marghetis (Canada), on social media. The French representative explained that the arbiter had asked him to stop making noise with his shoes while strolling around the playing hall. According to Firouzja, Marghetis’ request was made during an intense portion of the game, distracting him decisively. Firouzja added:

He told me to not walk and bring new shoes for tomorrow, but I have the formal shoes that are approved and I have been wearing them for more than a year. This was a big distraction for me during the game and I completely lost my focus.

Mike Klein later interviewed Marghetis for The chief arbiter noted that Firouzja had “a very heavy footfall”. He also noted that just when he was considering suggesting Firouzja to make less noise, Nijat Abasov approached him and complained about this very issue. Marghetis emphasized that he did not give Firouzja any ultimatum nor threatened to penalize the player. As per Marghetis and Klein, the verbal suggestion was given an hour into the round, so the players were not even close to reaching time trouble. The chief arbiter added:

What I did find interesting is that after this exchange, he walked more softly, so he was capable of walking more softly. [...] We are here to protect all the players.

Firouzja told Marghetis that he plans to file an appeal about this incident.

Results - Round 9

Alireza Firouzja

Alireza Firouzja | Photo: FIDE / Michal Walusza

Vidit 1 - 0 Nakamura

Playing white for a second day in a row, Vidit used the same Giuoco Piano line with 4.d3 that he had employed against Gukesh in the previous round. Nakamura replied with a more aggressive plan (playing 6...g5 à la Mamedyarov), though the battle that ensued was similarly slow and strategic.

Unlike on Saturday, however, Vidit focused on not falling behind on the clock while trying to keep things under control — i.e. not making reckless decisions.

On move 18, Vidit finally decided to break in the centre with 18.d4

Engines and commentators considered that 18.b4 was stronger, looking to get a passed pawn on the queenside. However, the text move is perfectly playable as well.

The dynamic balance was maintained until Nakamura played a debatable pawn break.

21...c5 is by no means losing, though it is surely unnecessary, especially given the fact that the natural 21...Nf4 is a stronger alternative.

Vidit’s reaction was not the most precise, though, and the tense battle continued.

Six moves later, Nakamura played the decisive mistake. The U.S. grandmaster explained on his daily recap that he had calculated that 27...Nxe5 all but led to a draw by force.

Nakamura had foreseen that after 28.Bxe5 Bxe5 further simplifications following 29.Nxe5 Rxe5 would lead to a balanced position. What he missed is that after the exchange on e5, White counts with 29.Nxd5 Nxd5 30.Nxe5, both consolidating his extra pawn on the queenside and creating threats against the vulnerable king on g8.

Black’s position collapsed rather quickly from this point on, as there followed 30...Qe6 31.Rd3 Nf4 32.Rd6 Qa2 33.Rxh6 Qb2

Placing the queen on b2 allowed Vidit to put the final nail in the coffin with the strong 34.Qd7 — Black cannot capture the knight now that the c8-rook is threatened by the queen, while there is no good way to deal with the huge weaknesses on f7, g7 and h7.

There followed 34...Qb3 35.Qf5 Ng6

Nakamura resigned after 36.Rxg6+, since Black can only prevent his opponent from giving a quick checkmate (with the help of a rook lift via e1-e3) by making huge material concessions.

Vidit Gujrathi, Hikaru Nakamura

Vidit Gujrathi v. Hikaru Nakamura | Photo: FIDE / Michal Walusza

Expert analysis by GM Daniel King

More photos from round 9

Ian Nepomniachtchi

Ian Nepomniachtchi continues to share the lead with... | Photo: FIDE / Michal Walusza

Dommaraju Gukesh

...Dommaraju Gukesh, who drew fellow prodigy Praggnanandhaa with the white pieces | Photo: FIDE / Michal Walusza

Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu

Praggnanandhaa stands a half point behind the co-leaders | Photo: FIDE / Michal Walusza

Fabiano Caruana

Fabiano Caruana, on his part, is sharing fourth place with Vidit Gujrathi and Hikaru Nakamura (all with fifty-percent scores) | Photo: FIDE / Michal Walusza

Standings after round 9

All games

Vlog: Vidit’s second victory over Nakamura

Hikaru Nakamura, the people’s champion

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Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.
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