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Candidates chess: Indians in hunt, but Nepomniachtchi clear favourite on first rest day

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Toronto, Apr 9 (PTI) The great Viswnathan Anand felt Indians were "a long shot" in the Candidates Chess Tournament but the duo of D Gukesh and R Praggnanandhaa have done surprisingly well to withstand the early storm as the prestigious event took its first rest day of the ongoing edition.

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The Indians were never the favourites in the bigger scheme of things but yet, Gukesh has held his own and so has Praggnanandhaa. However, the same cannot be said about Vidit Gujrathi, who became a favourite after his stunning win over world No.3 Hikaru Nakamura.

With four rounds done out of 14, there are 10 more games still to play. Things have been going well for the Indians but not in the purest way possible.

Ian Nepomniachtchi of Russia, who has to play under the FIDE flag due to sanctions against his country, is sitting firmly at the top of the table on three points out of a possible four and he could not have hoped for a better start to his campaign.

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With victories against Gujrathi and Firouza Alireza of France and two draws, the Russian got a heads-up to what could possibly be a third attempt to fight for the crown of world champion.

Historically, no one has ever won the candidates three times in a row.

Nepomniachtchi became the first sole leader in the event following his second victory with white pieces and he is now followed by Fabiano Caruana and Gukesh on 2.5 points apiece.

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Praggnanandhaa is not far behind on two points holding the fourth spot while Gujrathi, Abasov, Alireza and Nakamura have an identical 1.5 points each. The youngster has his mother, Nagalakshmi, travelling with him like usual and counts her as a big emotional support.

"It's important to have someone in the room, especially when you lose. I am grateful for her support," he said in an interaction with FIDE's official website.

If any one had asked Gukesh about his start in the tournament, he would probably have settled for 2.5 out of four but then it is hard to imagine that he would have envisaged Nepomniachtchi being just ahead of him.

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However, the Indian stalwart is close and has shown steely nerves especially when he beat Praggnanandhaa out of a no man's land kind of position. His chances depend on whether or not he collapses after a bad day.

One person who gives a knee-jerk reaction to bad result is the 18-year old Praggnanandhaa.

Bouncing back from a bad loss against Gukesh, Praggnanandhaa has earned the respect he deserves at the highest level and his chances will depend on his acumen to deal with any position that arrives on board.

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Caruana still remains a feared contender given his history and pedigree. However, one cannot rule out the fact that he has not had a dominating start despite being the hot favourite and top seed.

Nakamura, who is also an ardent streamer, does not seem as focused as others but still a couple of good games can see him bouncing back in the scheme of things. For Gujrathi, the road might be tough but as everyone saw in the FIDE Grand Swiss, the Indian has too much fire power and will come back roaring.

Pairings round 5: Firouza Alireza (FRA, 1.5) vs Hikaru Nakamura (USA); D Gukesh (IND) vs Nijat Abasov (AZE); Vidit Gujrathi (IND) vs Fabiano Caruana (USA); R Praggnanandhaa (IND) vs Ian Nepomniachtchi (FIDE). PTI Cor SSC PM PM PM

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