Toronto, Apr 13 (PTI) Indian Grandmasters R Praggnanandhaa and D Gukesh would look to bridge the gap with leader Ian Nepomniachtchi of Russia when they restart their campaigns in the eighth round of the Candidates chess tournament here.

Teen sensation Praggnanandhaa will be up against Frenchman Firouza Alireza, while Gukesh will take on compatriot Vidit Gujarathi when the tournament resumes on Saturday.

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While all three Indians have had a decent outing in the open section so far, it is defending champion Nepomniachtchi who is in prime position to complete a hat-trick of titles at the halfway stage.

With 4.5 points to his credit, Nepomniachtchi would be happy with his performance and stands as the favourite with half point more than nearest rivals Praggnanandhaa, Gukesh and top seed Fabiano Caruana of United States.

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Gujrathi on 3.5 points is known to rise towards the end of tournaments and one can expect him to come firing in the second half along with Hikaru Nakamura, who shares the fifth spot with him.

Alireza comes next in standings on the seventh spot with 2.5 points, a half point clear of Nijat Abasov of Azerbaijan.

It has been a story of less hits and more misses for the Indian trio.

Earlier in the event, Gujrathi had clearly outplayed Caruana and in the previous round too his position looked commanding against Abasov before settling for draws.

Gukesh also enjoyed a great position against Alireza in the previous round and the Frenchman was under tremendous pressure with the clock ticking away too.

However, luck did not seem to be on Gukesh's side and it took some serious mistakes on his part to hand the point to Alireza.

Praggnanandhaa has been very solid and has shown tremendous preparation here. His black-piece draw with Caruana in a French defense was a case in point showing his tremendous confidence and his victory over Gujrathi earlier had already shown the risk-taking ability.

Against Alireza, the previous outing was a draw and Praggnanandhaa will try to use his white pieces well in the return game.

“I have been playing quite well and am happy with the quality”, Praggnanandhaa said.

He quickly singled out his victory against Gujrathi as his favourite so far.

"Coming after a loss it was quite important to do well their.”

Gukesh will have black pieces against Gujrathi in a game that is likely to draw many eyeballs in the live telecast.

For the record, Nepomniachtchi and Caruana are the only two unbeaten players at the half-way stage.

In the last two attempts that he won, Nepomniachtchi had been leading the event after fifty per cent game which is no different from this time.

Though Caruana is one player who can hit the top gear at any point and his fans are only waiting for that to happen.

The Indian challenge in the women's section has not quite taken off contrary to expectations. Many had believed Konery Humpy's experience and R Vaishali's fearless play might come in handy for both but it has yet to show in the first seven games.

The two are currently at the bottom of the tables with 2.5 points each while the tournament leader Zhongyi Tan has five points.

Following Zhongyi Tan closely is Aleksandra Goryachkina of Russia and it looks like the battle for the crown is between these two players.

However, just a couple of quick victories can still propel the Indians up, and it will be something they will be hoping for.

Pairings round 8 (Indians unless specified): R Praggnanandhaa (4) vs Firouza Alireza (Fra, 2.5); Vidit Gujrathi (3.5) vs D Gukesh (4); Hikaru Nakamura (Usa, 3.5) vs Fabiano Caruana (Usa, 4); Ian Nepomniachtchi (Fid, 4.5) vs Nijat Abasov (Aze, 2).

Women: Zhongyi Tan (5) vs Tingjei Lei (Chn, 4); Koneru Humpy (2.5) vs R Vaishali (2.5); Nurgyul Salimova (Bul, 3) vs Anna Muzychuk (Ukr, 2.5) drew with K Humpy (2.5); Lagno Kateryna (Fid, 4) vs Aleksandra Goryachkina (Fid, 4.5).

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