Candidates 2024: Vidit Gujrathi and the importance of being earnest - Hindustan Times
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Candidates 2024: Vidit Gujrathi and the importance of being earnest

Apr 15, 2024 11:52 PM IST

The 29-year-old Indian GM, who defeated world No. 3 Nakamura for the second time in this event, now stands a point behind leaders Nepomniachtchi and Gukesh

Vidit Gujrathi doesn’t fall into the category of favourites, top players, or prodigious talents. Nor is he the lowest seed with zero odds. The only player in the eight-man Candidates tournament who doesn’t quite fit any of the catchy labels above. The 29-year-old Indian stands by himself, an outlier, persevering against the odds, fighting to carve his space in the competition.

Grandmaster Vidit Santosh Gujrathi during the FIDE Candidates 2024 chess tournament, in Toronto, Canada,(PTI)
Grandmaster Vidit Santosh Gujrathi during the FIDE Candidates 2024 chess tournament, in Toronto, Canada,(PTI)

He's had six decisive games in nine rounds – the highest in the field. Three of them were losses. The emotional whirlwind he’s found himself in often has perhaps lately turned him economical with his joys. “It’s pleasant but I’m not delving too much into it because then when things don’t go well, you feel the extremity,” he responded to a post-game query on his immediate feelings after his Round 9 win over Hikaru Nakamura. It was the second time that he had defeated the world No 3 in the tournament.

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In many ways, the contrast in the ambitions and attitudes of two players who qualified for the Candidates together (at the Grand Swiss, Nov 2023) couldn’t be starker. At 36, Hikaru – a top player and hugely successful streamer – has spoken of the Candidates not meaning as much to him as perhaps most of the others, of feeling no real pressure and not being too hung up on winning the whole thing.

For Vidit this is the most important tournament of his career so far. He poured the last few months into preparing for it with his seconds and was among the first players to arrive in Toronto, at least a week ahead of the start. He is off the internet for the tournament while Hikaru has been diligently carrying out his streamer duties with post-game YouTube recaps.

In Round 9, Hikaru trotted out the aggressive and double-edged 6…g5?! in the Italian early on and for a change, it wasn’t Vidit running into time trouble.

It’s Vidit's first Candidates appearance and unlike fellow Indians in the field, it’s taken him some time to get here. He’s been on the circuit for a while but wasn’t counted among the names who were likely to surprise with a breakthrough performance. The pandemic arrived and India’s super-talented teen GMs grew in strength and gained eyeballs.

Vidit dabbled in streaming and vlogging during that time, he slowly dropped from India No. 2 to No. 5 and was seen as less of a serious player. He hadn’t had any meaningful results in a while and tournament organisers found the teenage Indian GMs the obvious, more exciting choice for invitations. Roughly a decade older than the likes of Gukesh, and Praggnanandhaa, he wondered if he was too old to be in the race anymore. From that self-reflection perhaps arose the urgency and will to mount a fightback. The Grand Swiss in November 2023 was his first tournament win in roughly four years.

At the Candidates, he’s gone from crushing Nakamura with some terrific enterprising play as early as Round 2 to some terrible time management that saw him collapse. In the Round 8 game he lost against Gukesh, he was down almost 20 minutes on the clock by move four. “Such low-quality chess was unlike me. It bothered me… how can I play such a game?” Vidit told Chessbase India, “Probably something was off and I needed to fix it. My team understood what I was going through and helped me go to the game with proper thoughts.”

His team in Toronto comprising his sister Vedika and trainers Surya Sekhar Ganguly and Daniel Vucaturo, are perhaps among the most visible entourage of any participant. They often drop him off at the venue and are around right after he’s done with his game. Ganguly was part of three of Viswanathan Anand’s World Championship-winning teams.

After his Round 9 win over Hikaru, the Indian walked out of the Great Hall in Toronto to a small group of waiting Indian fans outside. Autographs and selfies followed and one of them gifted him a bag containing homemade gulab jamuns. After wins, Vidit usually appears on the India broadcasts of the tournament. “I feel a sense of duty to reciprocate because in India it’s late,” he said, “And people are watching with so much passion and love…they’re waiting for such moments when players come, especially after good games.”

Only five rounds remain. Vidit currently stands a whole point behind leaders Ian Nepomniachtchi and Gukesh. The contest could intensify over the final bunch of games and the standings might see some churn. “It’s not many rounds left…I don’t want to think about it too much. It’s the most boring answer but it’s probably what I want to do at the moment.”

Pressure, hope, and emotions will run high in the days ahead. Vidit will want to find a way to pull himself into the zone, not fritter away time and put up a fight to remember.

Round 9 results

Open

Vidit Gujrathi (4.5) beat Hikaru Nakamura (4.5)

Gukesh D (5.5) drew Praggnanandhaa R (5)

Alireza Firouzja (3.5) drew Ian Nepomniachtchi (5.5)

Nijat Abasov (3) drew Fabiano Caruana (4.5)

Women

Koneru Humpy (4) drew Kateryna Lagno (5)

Vaishali R (2.5) lost to Tan Zhongyi (6)

Lei Tingjie (5.5) drew Nurgyul Salimova (4)

Anna Muzychuk (3.5) drew Aleksandra Goryachkina (5.5)

Round 10 pairings

Open

Hikaru Nakamura - Nijat Abasov

Fabiano Caruana - Alireza Firouzja

Ian Nepomniachtchi - Gukesh D

Praggnanandhaa R - Vidit Gujrathi

Women

Kateryna Lagno - Anna Muzychuk

Aleksandra Goryachkina - Lei Tingjie

Nurgyul Salimova - Vaishali R

Tan Zhongyi – Koneru Humpy

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