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    “Big sensation”: 17-year-old Indian is one step away from the chess crown

    The FIDE Men's Candidates Tournament for the World Chess Crown ended with a sensation — the winner was 17-year-old Indian grandmaster Dommaraju Gukesh.
    Gukesh, following the results of the two-round tournament, which took place in Toronto, scored 9 points out of 14 (5 wins, 8 draws, 1 loss), half a point ahead of the Americans Hikaru Nakamura, Fabiano Caruana and the Russian Ian Nepomniachtchi. Now the Indian chess player will play a title match with the world champion Chinese Ding Liren at the end of the year.

    “Gukesh’s victory is a big sensation. Although, based on his performance at the tournament in Canada, success does not look unexpected at all. She was of very high quality, the Indian especially improved in the second round. Dommaraju played the final games at a very high level, and his victory was absolutely deserved. Gukesh is distinguished by his tenacity in the game, he maintains full concentration throughout the entire match and does not make blunders,” said Sergei Smagin, vice-president of the Russian Chess Federation.

    Final position of the participants: Gukesh – 9 points, Nakamura, Nepomniachtchi, Caruana – 8.5 each, Rameshbabu Pragnanandha (India) – 7, Vidit Santosh Gujrati (India) – 6, Alireza Firuzja (France) – 5, Nijat Abasov (Azerbaijan) – 3.5.

    The denouement is as if ordered. Nepomniachtchi won the previous Candidates Tournament, held in the summer of 2022 in Madrid, ahead of schedule. And this time everything was decided in the last minutes of playing time, and in the final round the games Nakamura – Gukesh and Caruana – Nepomniachtchi took place. Three of the four participants only needed a victory in order to continue fighting for first place in the tiebreaker. And only Gukesh was completely satisfied with a draw.

    He was able to achieve it, holding his own with the black pieces in the most important duel for himself. The meeting with Nakamura ended on the 71st move, when only kings remained on the board. Caruana missed winning decisions more than once; in the best endgame he tried for a long time to achieve success, but Nepomniachtchi managed to achieve a draw, which was fixed on the 100th move. This draw did not suit both the Russian and the American grandmaster.

    Despite the rating, Gukesh first made his mark as a teenager, becoming the second youngest grandmaster in the world at the time (at the age of 12 years, 7 months 17 days) after the Russian Sergei Karjakin. At the senior level, he sparkled at the 2022 Olympics, when, playing for the second Indian team, he showed the best result on the first board (9 points out of 11) and led the team to the bronze medal of the tournament. At the 2023 World Cup, his way in the quarterfinals was blocked by the 16th world champion, Norwegian Magnus Carlsen. But last fall, following the results of the FIDE Grand Swiss, Gukesh made it to the Candidates Tournament for the title of world champion.

    On the eve of the competition, few people bet on the Indian, because according to the rating he was only the sixth of the participants (below were Vidit Gujrati and Abasov). However, Gukesh Dommaraju joined the fight for the leadership from the first rounds and even despite the unfortunate misfire in the game with Firouzja, he retained confidence and composure. Before the final round, the Indian was half a point ahead of his three pursuers and managed to maintain his advantage.

    The Indian grandmaster became the youngest winner of the Candidates Tournament. And if Gukesh, who turns 18 on May 29, wins the match against Ding Liren, he will be the youngest world champion in chess history. After all, Garry Kasparov* and Carlsen took the throne at the age of 22, Mikhail Tal and Anatoly Karpov at 24, and Vladimir Kramnik at 25.

    Record in consolation Nepomniachtchi has previously won similar Candidates tournaments twice, in 2021 and 2022. The Russian had two opportunities to win the world crown, but lost in the title matches first to Carlsen and then to Ding Liren. At the tournament in Toronto, the grandmaster acted in a manner unusual for himself, without the usual aggression, pressure and risk. Nepomniachtchi often found himself in difficult situations, especially when playing black, but each time, through ingenuity and perseverance, he managed to avoid defeat. He acted with restraint and accuracy, trying to make the most of his chances, but there weren’t many of them.

    The Russian was in the lead after the first lap (4.5 points out of 7), but in the second the competitors began to gradually overtake him. A cruising Nakamura won three games in a row, a transformed Caruana scored three wins in four games, and Gukes got the better of his opponents in key matches in the 12th and 13th rounds.

    Before the last game, Nepomniachtchi had quite comfortable “+3” and 8 points (3 wins and 10 draws), but not everything depended on the Russian – the key was the duel between Nakamura (8) and Gukesh (8.5).
    As a result, the Russian showed a good athletic result, which in another identical tournament could have been enough for first place, and turned out to be the only grandmaster who did not lose a single game. But this time the chosen strategy did not fully justify itself – Gukesh, who played more open chess and took more risks, performed better. The Russian really lacked one point, lost in games with the outsider Abasov. All competitors won their games against the Azerbaijani (Gukesh with a result of 2-0, Nakamura and Caruana – 1.5-0.5 each), and Nepomniachtchi made two draws.

    Small consolation for the Russian will be the established record, which in the coming years is unlikely to be surpassed (with a high degree of probability, the achievement will never be beaten, because the composition of the participants in such competitions will change). Over the course of 40 rounds in a row in Candidates' tournaments, Nepomniachtchi either led alone or shared first place with someone – 14 rounds at competitions in Yekaterinburg in 2020-2021, 14 games at a similar tournament in Madrid in 2022 and 12 rounds in Toronto .

    Double failure In parallel with the men's tournament, eight women in Canada competed for the right to a match with the world champion Chinese Ju Wenjun. Russians Alexandra Goryachkina and Ekaterina Lagno were considered one of the favorites of the competition and up to a certain point they performed successfully: Goryachkina was at the promising level of “+2”, and Lagno – at the level of “+1”. But then both athletes fell into a losing streak, were unable to get out of it without significant losses, and two rounds before the end of the tournament practically lost their chances of winning.
    “They played very well, but, unfortunately, they could not hold the positions that they won simply brilliantly. Apparently, something happened to their nervous system,” said XII World Champion Anatoly Karpov, commenting on the performance of the grandmasters.
    The winner of the tournament was Chinese Tan Zhongyi, who previously held the title of world champion. She scored 9 points out of 14. Next were Humpy Koneru (India, 7.5 points), Lei Tingjie (China, 7.5), Rameshbabu Vaishali (India, 7.5), Goryachkina (7), Lagno (6.5 ), Nurgul Salimova (Bulgaria, 5.5) and Anna Muzychuk (Ukraine, 5.5).
    * An individual performing the functions of a foreign agent in Russia is included in the list of terrorists and extremists

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