Karpov Poikovsky International Chess: Vidit Gujrathi's chances of winning title diminish after four successive draws

Lots of nailbiting action was witnessed over the last four rounds of the Karpov Poikovsky International. By the end of the seventh round, Ian Nepomniachtchi, the top seed of the tournament was ousted from the pole position by Dmitry Jakovenko. Indian star Vidit Gujrathi found that his chances of title contention had almost evaporated.

Having drawn all his games from rounds four to seven, Vidit is now a point and a half behind the current tournament leader, Jakovenko. With just two more rounds to go, Vidit's chances of making it to the top do not seem realistic.

Meanwhile, for the first time in the tournament, Russian GM Nepomniachtchi had to settle for the second place. Having scored three points out of his last four games, Jakovenko succeeded in overtaking the tournament’s top seed after the Russian agreed to a quick draw in the seventh round against Vladislav Kovalev.

Vidit Gujrathi in action at the Karpov Poikovsky International Chess tournament. Image courtesy: Vasily Papin

Vidit Gujrathi in action at the Karpov Poikovsky International Chess tournament. Image courtesy: Vasily Papin

Vidit crossed swords with Jakovenko in the fourth round of the tournament and their game kicked off with a Ruy Lopez but the structure soon resembled that of an Italian. Breaking open the centre, the Indian managed to exchange queens by the 10th move, denying white even a remote chance of scraping out an advantage. More exchanges followed as play progressed and by the 24th move, Vidit had secured a comfortable draw.

The fifth round was, perhaps, the toughest in terms of result for the Indian player. He was a heartbeat away from victory but his opponent eluded a defeat with a sensational stalemate tactic. Vidit was playing against former World Championship challenger, Boris Gelfand, in this game. With the white pieces, Vidit was able to gain an advantage out of the opening and ended up liquidating in an endgame where he had an extra exchange. Despite his material advantage, a win was far from sight and Vidit kept milking for a win relentlessly for six hours. By the 57th move, Vidit was in a completely winning position when a slight oversight cost him half a point. The Indian GM had assumed that the sequence he had opted was leading straight to victory, however, he had missed a very crafty finesse. From the 61st move, the Israeli GM uncorked a sensational sequence of moves in which he sacrificed all of his pieces and got his king in a stalemate!

In the diagram below, the white king is forced to capture the black queen as it has no legal moves otherwise. But once white does that, the black will have no legal moves to play. Since the king is not in check and black has no legal moves to play, the position is declared drawn by stalemate! This was not an easy trick to find, especially after six whole hours of play. But Gelfand, even though he is nearing 50, proved that he can be sharper than his young opponent even after a six-hour long stretch of concentration.

What a picturesque finish this was!

What a picturesque finish this was!

The sixth round saw almost all games, except one, end decisively. That one game was Vidit’s game against Emil Sutovsky. This time, the 23-year-old tried to mix things up a little in the opening in an attempt to score a win. He opted for the Open variation of the Ruy Lopez to kick the game off, but just a few moves into the game, it was clear that the Israeli GM was fully prepared to face the Ruy Lopez.

A fully balanced position arose out of the opening and before the 20th move, an endgame was reached. All that remained on the board was a pair of rooks and a bunch of pawns for each side. Sutovsky’s central passed pawn was far advanced in the position. But Vidit had absolutely nothing to worry about in the position since his rooks were much too advanced in their post on the seventh rank. Forcing perpetual checks in the position took no effort from Vidit’s end.

Going into the antepenultimate round, the need for a victory was already beginning to be felt and Vidit was a full point behind the leaders. The number of games remaining to overcome this gap was reducing after every round.

In this round, Vidit was pitted against the young Russian GM Vladislav Artemiev, who was definitely not an easy opponent considering his rating of 2704.

The game began with a Gruenfeld defence in which Vidit had the white pieces. Again, Vidit wasn’t able to gain much out of the opening. By the time the 30th move was reached, Vidit was already an exchange down but with his two bishops, he held on to a draw. The game went on for 64 moves but Vidit was, in the end, able to save half a point.

But this draw meant that Dmitry Jakovenko, who defeated Victor Bologan in the seventh round, was now a point and a half ahead of Vidit. There is also Nepomniachtchi, who, despite scoring a draw in round seven, is a full point ahead of the young Indian grandmaster. More importantly, Vidit will not even be playing Jakovenko or Nepomniachtchi in his last two games and, therefore, will not be able to stop them from scoring more points while he increases his score. All he can now hope for is to finish high on the leaderboard and gain some rating points in the process.


Updated Date: Jun 04, 2018 20:52 PM

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