Gukesh has caught up with Levon Aronian. After a Black win over Andrey Esipenko in the seventh round of the WR Chess Masters, the youngest competitor now shares the top spot with the oldest on 4.5 points. The two will meet in the ninth and final round, potentially a showdown for the tournament title.
Aronian lost to Ian Nepomniachtchi, who managed to break his run of drawn games. With four points from seven, the upcoming World Championship finalist is hot on the heels of the two leaders and in a good position to win the tournament himself.
Levon Aronian's queen had lost its way a bit on the wing named after it with no discernible task and no quick way back, one reason why Nepomniachtchi was satisfied with his position early on. Alone: he had used up a lot of time. On the other hand, the exposed position of the opponent's queen gave him the opportunity to chase it back and forth, thus repeating moves without changing the position.
After the first back and forth, Aronian suddenly called arbiter Gregor Johann to the board and claimed a draw because of a threefold repetition. But Aronian had miscounted. Johann ordered the game to continue.
"When Levon even went for the arbiter to get a draw, I saw how big his desire for a draw was," Nepomniachtchi explained after the game. And he named another argument to continue the game: "I don't have so many classical games before the World Championship match. I should use them."
And how he used this one. With the white queen locked out on the other wing, Nepomniachtchi launched an attack against the under-defended white king. Gradually, he managed to bring more and more forces into position against Aronian's monarch. After Aronian missed one or two opportunities to raise counterplay, the black initiative became irresistible.
The second Black victory not only of the round, but of the tournament, came to Gukesh, although it didn't look like it at first. In a Catalan gambit, the Indian was on his own early – unlike his opponent.
"He's prepared, it's probably quite dangerous for me," Gukesh reflected during the opening. "But I'm proud of what I then found on the board": a knight move that was actually offside, looked terrible at first glance, but was tactically and strategically justified in these specific circumstances.
Nevertheless, it looked as if Esipenko was gradually organizing a promising king attack. But Gukesh coolly fended off what came, and he was still playing on the other side of the board with the extra pawn Esipenko had sacrificed at the start of the game. The white attack petered out, and the black counterattack soon took hold.
Wesley So and Praggnanandhaa provided the marathon of the day. For over seven hours So pressed for the full point with the black pieces. The Indian defended flawlessly in the rook ending until after 82 moves there was only one rook each left on the board.
The most spectacular game of the day seemed to be played by Nodirbek Abdusattorov and Jan-Krzysztof Duda. Already on move seven the black king had to flee to g6 into the open field, but one move later a black knight on h1 snatched a white rook. But what looked wild and hardly transparent was known to both players. Both had embarked on a rare line of the Steinitz Attack in the Russian Defense, and both knew exactly what they were doing. The spectacle soon petered out into a roughly even endgame.
Vincent Keymer and Anish Giri also had such an endgame on the board very early on. Keymer claimed possession of a pawn, Giri greater activity and the better structure. The result was an even game.
Round 7 video: