After today’s riveting chess matches, Nepomniachtchi and Tan must be feeling the pressure, as the tournament standings still offer them no respite. With Nakamura and Gukesh hot on Nepomniachtchi’s heels, and Lei closely trailing Tan, every move counts. Fortunately, both Nepomniachtchi and Tan delivered with wins against Vidit and Lagno, respectively. Tan’s victory over Lagno not only secured her own position but also eliminated a formidable opponent from the race. With Lei just half a point behind Tan, the competition remains fierce. Goryachkina, Lagno, and Humpy, standing at 5.5/11, are trailing Lei by a significant margin. In the Open category, Nepomniachtchi maintains a narrow lead, with Gukesh and Nakamura closely behind, drawing against Caruana and winning against Praggnanandhaa, respectively.

Nepomniachtchi continues his unbeaten streak, but the race remains intense as Nakamura and Gukesh trail closely by just half a point. The resilience of Nepomniachtchi and Nakamura, securing victories as Black, adds intrigue to the final stretch of three rounds. With everything still up for grabs, nerves will play a pivotal role in determining the ultimate victor. Tomorrow’s matches hold significance; if Nepomniachtchi and Nakamura can hold their ground as White against Praggnanandhaa and Firouzja, it sets the stage for a high-stakes encounter in round 13 between the two frontrunners. The outcome of this fiery Candidates tournament hinges on their ability to maintain composure and deliver when it matters most.

Today’s match showcased Vidit’s calm demeanor, yet the whirlwind of unpredictability seemed to shadow him regardless of his strategic approach. Venturing into the less-trodden path of the 4. Nc4 Petrov, Vidit and Nepomniachtchi navigated into an unconventional territory, marked by White’s isolated a4-pawn and the unusual sight of doubled c3- and c4-pawns. While these pawns might typically spell weakness, the specific position birthed both advantages and drawbacks. Vidit’s deft pawn sacrifice on move 23 injected White with activity, compensating for the structural woes and even hinting at a potential win by move 37, particularly with the bold 37. Nxd5! However, the optimal strategy eluded Vidit, settling instead for parity, albeit with a precarious outlook as Nepomniachtchi’s king made ominous strides. Regrettably, a slight misstep on move 58 paved the path for a glaring blunder on move 60, allowing Nepomniachtchi’s pawn to triumphantly claim victory in a crucial turn of events.

Nakamura had a real shot at sharing the top spot today if Vidit hadn’t faced that unfortunate defeat against Nepomniachtchi. Nevertheless, Nakamura must be feeling quite content with his win today, placing him in joint second position with Gukesh, just half a point behind Nepomniachtchi — quite a pleasing turnaround considering he was trailing by a full point and the competition was tightly packed. Nakamura’s performance today was nothing short of “smooth” as he skillfully outmaneuvered Praggnanandhaa from what seemed like an even queenless middlegame position. His primary aim was to seize control of space, followed by strategically hampering White’s piece development, with moves like Bb3 causing considerable annoyance. Under the relentless positional pressure exerted by Nakamura, Praggnanandhaa made a crucial blunder, eventually losing a knight after committing to an ill-fated positional plan that left the White king precariously exposed. Nakamura effortlessly converted the resulting material advantage and will undoubtedly approach tomorrow’s round with a buoyant spirit.

In their second clash, Gukesh, leading the tournament, and Caruana, set out for another draw. They delved into a Queen’s Gambit Declined territory, albeit distant from the main routes. Black stretched out on the kingside with h6-g5, while White claimed space on the queenside with b4-a4. But attacking White’s king wasn’t on Black’s agenda; those doubled g-pawns and potential Rae1-e4 put a damper on that. White expanded queenside, Black mirrored with a6, and on the flip side, Black pushed f5. True, c5 seemed weak, but any knight venture there faced swift capture. Despite bxc5 weaknesses, Black fortified the b-pawn like a fortress, with pieces standing guard. That light-squared bishop, not the star player for Black, now stood sentinel for the b-pawn, a critical role. The e5 square teetered as a vulnerability, but a knight-bishop trade balanced the scales. Progress on the kingside for Black entailed heavy simplification. They navigated to a queen endgame, settling in a draw by move 40.

In the aftermath of Abasov’s missed chance against Nakamura, he faced Firouzja wielding the black pieces. The encounter swiftly took a turn for the worse as Firouzja cunningly chose a Nimzo-Larsen setup, seizing a comfortable stance right from the opening gambit. By move 14, with the bishops menacingly stationed on d4 and f3, Abasov found himself under immense positional duress. His response, 14…Ne8, aimed at exchanging the dark-square bishops, possibly seeking a knight reposition. However, Firouzja’s tactical finesse manifested with 15. Rc5, an intermediary stroke. Abasov’s divergence into e5 only played into Firouzja’s hands, leaving his position further compromised. With moves like 17. Rd5 and 19. Bc5, Firouzja cornered Abasov into a virtual zugzwang. The fatal blunder, 20…Rb8??, not only abandoned a pawn but paved the path for further material hemorrhage, sealing Abasov’s fate.

It would be exciting to watch, how the future penultimate round unfolds..

Author: Praveen Sagar
FIDE Arena Grandmaster
Chief Coach & Mentor

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