Candidates chess: How Vidit Gujrathi turned tables on Hikaru Nakamura in Round 9

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Candidates chess: Vidit Gujrathi has spent most of his maiden Candidates 2024 appearance shadow-boxing with the little ticking clock next to the chess board. Almost like a habit he cannot seem to let go of, he has found himself under pressure from the timepiece in almost every game. “For every position (I’m thinking too much) and then I’m under time pressure,” Vidit had admitted after his victory over French Grandmaster Alireza Firouzja. “I don’t know why I like to think so much.”

There have been moments when Vidit found himself knee- deep in thoughts with the time at his disposal as much as 50 minutes less than his opponent’s. Time pressure has put additional stress on the 29-year-old grandmaster, who then has to rush through his moves in the middlegame and endgame in a mad scramble. Classical events such as the Candidates offer players 120 minutes to make the first 40 moves, followed by an additional 30 minutes as soon as the game crosses move 40. Players also get an increment of 30 seconds on the clock per move starting from move 41.

But Vidit’s games at Candidates 2024 have never been predictable. So far in Toronto, he has drawn with D Gukesh, beaten Hikaru Nakamura, lost to R Praggnanandhaa, then to Ian Nepomniachtchi, drawn with Fabiano Caruana, defeated Alireza Firouzja, drawn with Nijat Abasov, lost to Gukesh, and has now defeated Hikaru Nakamura for the second time in the tournament to end Round 9 just one point behind the tournament leaders.

The game against Nakamura was heading down the same path for Vidit, who was 27 minutes behind on the clock compared to Nakamura by the time he had made his 14th move.

Candidates Chess 2024: Vidit Gujrathi contemplates his next move in the game against Ian Nepomniachtchi (right). (PHOTO: FIDE/ Michal Walusza) Candidates Chess 2024: Vidit Gujrathi contemplates his next move in the game against Ian Nepomniachtchi (right). (PHOTO: FIDE/ Michal Walusza)

Then Vidit’s opponent started to double-guess himself, wasting time on the 14th and 15th moves before playing what was his first instinct anyway.

Festive offer

“This (game) was a carbon copy of my game yesterday against Fabiano Caruana (where he had defeated the World No 2), except in reverse. I felt I was doing okay and then lost the balance and made one bad move and had time pressure creeping up on me and couldn’t find the right move. That’s how it goes,” shrugged Nakamura at the press conference afterwards as his opponent Vidit sat nearby nodding empathetically.

“I spent 30 minutes thinking of a move and came up with the worst one. I mean, I don’t think it was necessarily so bad. But I spent 30 minutes when I’m up half an hour on the clock. Obviously, I didn’t find the right moves, but my timing usage was absolutely horrible. It was a huge reason why I couldn’t find decent ideas later on, especially around moves 24 and 25. I wasted time at the wrong moments.”

Nakamura was more elaborate in his daily breakdown on his own YouTube channel where he posted a video with the title, ‘Bad Things Happen When You Lose Time’, explaining how he had let the balance of the hourglass tilt in favour of his opponent in the 14th and 15th moves.

“I was sure 14.b6 (pawn to b6) was the right move, I used 12 minutes before deciding to play it anyway. Regardless of whether it was the correct move or not, I should have trusted myself and played the move in two or three minutes. The reason I bring this up is that later I spent nearly 30 minutes making the next move: 15.Nh5 (knight to h5). At that stage, I was up 30 minutes on the clock — as we saw yesterday in the game against Caruana that time played a huge role in the game — then I went deep into the tank and threw away all that advantage,” the American GM admitted.

Gukesh leads heading into Nepo showdown

Meanwhile, the other two Indians in the open event at the Candidates have been in prime form so far. Gukesh finds himself at the top of the standings after Round 9 (where he held compatriot Praggnanandhaa to a draw), sharing the spot with Russia’s Nepomniachtchi.

The next round sees a clash between the 17-year-old from Chennai and two-time Candidates winner Nepomniachtchi.

Meanwhile, Praggnanandhaa is in sole third position, half a point behind Gukesh and Nepo with just five rounds left in the Candidates.



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