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Praggnanandhaa to meet Firouza in the opener; Gukesh to clash with Vidit

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Toronto, Apr 4 (PTI) India's best bet, Grandmaster R Praggnanandhaa will start his campaign against French Alireza Firouza and it will be an all-Indian affair between D Gukesh and Vidit Gujrathi in the first round of the Candidates chess tournament that has begun here.

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An all-American duel will be fought between two highest-ranked players Fabiano Caruana and Hikaru Nakamura. In the other contest of the day, Nijat Abasov of Azerbaijan will take on the lone Russian Ian Nepomniachtchi.

In the women's section too, the two Indians, R Vaishali and Koneru Humpy are pitted against each other and the two Russians Aleksandra Goryachkina and Kateryna Lagno will also be battling out in the first round.

The two Chinese Lei Tingjie and Tan Zhongyi are also slated to meet each other and Anna Muzychuk of Ukraine will face the youngest participant Nurgyul Salimova of Bulgaria.

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While the pairings were announced a few weeks ago, the only thing that might matter is the start for each of the eight participants in the double round-robin events that will select the challenger to the next world championship match.

The time control for the event is 40 moves in two hours and 30 minutes for the rest of the game with an increment of 30 seconds per move starting from move 41. "This is going to be interesting; the time control means that we have to keep an eye on the clock as there is no increment for first 40 moves," Pragg said.

Going by the announced pairing, Pragg may have an edge as the second half is where most of the things unfold. The Indian is slated to play Nakamura and Caruana with black pieces in the first half and also compatriot Gujrathi.

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It may be a vital element as in the return games the young Indian will have white pieces and towards the end of the event a lot can change with a positive approach that Pragg possess.

Gukesh also has things under control but for that he will need to use his white pieces for good effect in the first half.

For Gujrathi, it has never been about what colour generally because he only needs a good position to keep his chances in the game. The openings will be vital and who cracks first could be the key as the entire bunch is likely to go after the weak link.

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In the women's section Humpy is favoured a great deal by India’s second Grandmaster Dibyendu Barua.

"My pick among the five Indians who can win the candidates is Humpy, she has the skill, knows the platform and has done it before," Barua said.

While Humpy is favoured, the other Indian Vaishali is also the cynosure of all eyes these days and looked confident with a disciplined approach. The 22-year-old older sibling of Pragg has everything in her favour as she starts as an underdog with privilege of being the sister of one of the biggest stars of world chess today.

In the views of Grandmaster Abhijeet Gupta, the five Indians may have a tall task on hand, "but they are not rank outsiders and each of them have the competence and any given day they are better than the best in the world". PTI Corr AT AT

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