Indian Grandmaster D Gukesh took a significant step towards earning a spot in the prestigious Candidates tournament next year by winning the Chennai Grand Masters 2023 chess tournament in Chennai on Thursday.

D Gukesh in action.(Twitter/DGukesh)

Local boy Gukesh, 17, edged past compatriot Arjun Erigaisi on tie-breaks after both Indians finished on 4.5 points after the completion of the seventh and final round. Another Indian Grandmaster P Harikrishna, whom Gukesh drew with in the final round on Thursday, finished third on the leaderboard with 4 points.

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Going into the final round of the eight-player tournament, Gukesh needed only a draw in his clash with Harikrishna with black pieces. Erigaisi made things rather interesting by defeating Russian-born Hungarian Grandmaster Sanan Sjugirov in the final round. Gukesh and Erigaisi were equal on points and on par in terms of head-to-head but the former came out triumphant on the basis of a superior tie-break score.

The tournament victory gives Gukesh — who in September this year had surpassed Viswanathan Anand as the top-ranked Indian player in the FIDE charts — a great chance of booking a seat in next year’s Candidates tournament in Toronto in April through the FIDE Circuit route.

With six of the eight spots already taken (including those by Indians R Praggnanandhaa and Vidit Gujrathi), two remain up for grabs via the 2023 FIDE Circuit (for one player who achieves the highest results during the eligible tournaments in 2023) and the FIDE rating route. By winning the tournament in Chennai, Gukesh has put himself on top of the FIDE Circuit leaderboard and will be in a battle with Dutch Grandmaster Anish Giri to finish on top with one more tournament to go.

The FIDE Circuit ends with the World Rapid and Blitz Championship in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, from December 26-30. Gukesh, though, was quoted as saying by chess.com after his tournament win that he was still “50-50” about participating in the World Rapid and Blitz.

Gukesh remained unbeaten through the seven rounds in Chennai, notching up wins against Russian-born Serbian Grandmaster Alexandr Predke and Sjugirov in the fourth and fifth round, respectively, to go with the five draws. The win over Sjugirov with black pieces on Tuesday had put Gukesh in the sole lead.

“It was really good. I finally managed to enjoy myself in a tournament,” Gukesh told chess.com. “Obviously, the last few months have been very stressful.”

Erigaisi had an impressively strong finish to the tournament (with three wins overall). He defeated Sjugirov on Thursday and Parham Maghsoodloo, the Iranian GM who was the top seed in Chennai, with black in the penultimate round. However, his opening-round defeat to compatriot Harikrishna proved to be the difference in the end. The 20-year-old Grandmaster needed to win this tournament to stand a chance of qualifying for the Candidates via FIDE Circuit.

Harikrishna, the 37-year-old from Guntur, meanwhile also remained unbeaten with six draws that followed the win over Erigaisi. Top-seeded Maghsoodloo, another competitor who was in contention for the Candidates through a triumph in Chennai, could not quite live up to his billing and finished sixth with 3.5 points and a couple of defeats.

–With agency inputs

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