Vidit Gujrathi wins 4-2 against Nepomniachtchi to complete Indian quartet in FIDE WC quartersAugust 15, 2023
No Indian has won a medal at the FIDE World Cup since Viswanathan Anand won the first two editions of the tournament in 2000 and 2002. Two decades later, there are four Indians in the quarterfinal of the 2023 tournament, with at least one Indian guaranteed a spot in the semifinal.
Vidit Gujrathi, who stayed in the shadows of his superstar teen compatriots, started as an underdog against two-time World Championship finalist Russian Ian Nepomniachtchi but showed that he too can compete at the highest level, pulling off a stunning 4-2 triumph to grab the last quarterfinal slot in Baku on Monday.
Along with Gukesh D, Arjun Erigaisi and R. Praggnanandhaa, Vidit completed the record-breaking Indian quartet, making it the first time that four Indians have advanced to the quarterfinal of the tournament.
India’s campaign in the FIDE Women’s World Cup though came to an end as Harika Dronavalli fell to the strongest Russian in the women’s section. Second seed Aleksandra Goryachkina beat Harika 4.5-3.5 by winning the penultimate five-minute blitz game after the last Indian challenger fought back to make it 2-2.
Vidit, after holding Nepomniachtchi in the two-game mini-match in classical time-control over the past two days, proved equal in the two 25-minute rapid games before scripting an absolutely stunning climax.
In the first 10-minute game, Vidit trailed the Russian on the clock. On the 37th move, Nepomniachtchi erred and Vidit, despite all the pressure, saw his chance and seized it. For the remainder of this 60-move thriller, Vidit consistently found the right continuation. With his rook tied down behind Vidit’s advanced pawn and king almost out of play, Nepomniachtchi resigned.
Stunningly, Vidit had only 49 seconds left as compared to Nepomniachtchi’s 5.01 minutes.
“I was really hoping that I would do well. And if I look at the games, I feel like I have been playing very good chess so it’s not just by chance. But of course, sometimes you also need some games to go your way,” he said after the match.
Faces Abasov in quarters
The 28-year-old from Nashik will face Nijat Abasov of Azerbaijan in the quarterfinals.
Asked about four Indians featuring in the quarterfinals of the World Cup, Gujrathi said, “We are doing very well, what can I say! Everybody is showing a very high level of play.
“Praggnanandhaa defeated Hikaru (Nakamura) which is not easy. Arjun was very clinical with his wins, especially against (Javokhir) Sindarov. Gukesh won with Black against Wang Hao, which is never easy,” Vidit said.
Gukesh will take on five-time world champion Magnus Carlsen on Tuesday while Praggnanandhaa will meet Erigaisi which guarantees India a semifinal spot.
Having four Indians in the quarterfinal is unprecedented, but it isn’t totally unexpected. After all, there are currently nine Indians in the top 100 spots of the FIDE classical chess rankings: Viswanathan Anand (World No 9), Gukesh D (No 11), Vidit Gujrathi (23), Pentala Harikrishna (27), Praggnanandhaa (47), Arjun Erigaisi (32), Nihal Sarin (51), SL Narayanan (85) and Aravindh Chithambaram (99).
Stunningly, from this list, Gukesh, Erigaisi, Praggnanandhaa, and Sarin are still in their teens. Gukesh has become World No. 7 in live FIDE ratings, and is set to overtake Anand when the new ratings are released.
India’s success at the event in Baku also spells success in the larger scheme of things. The Candidates Tournament, the final contest to determine the challenger for the World Chess Championship in 2024, looks set to feature an Indian other than Anand for the first time as the top three finishers at the World Cup will earn places in the 2024 Candidates, an eight-player tournament scheduled to be held in April next year. Carlsen’s stated intention to skip the Candidates also adds to India’s chances.
While that is still a long way off, the Indians will look to go one better and aim for something unheard of- three Indians in a World Cup semifinal.