Chessable Masters: Praggnanandhaa loses final in tiebreak after superb fightback

Chennai: The Indian boy wonder Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa launched an incredible fightback to win the second phase of his two-round final against Ding Liren of China and force a tiebreak in the Chessable Masters, the fourth leg of the nine-round USD 1.6 million Champions Chess Tour.

But his resistance ended at around 2.30 am on Thursday night as the Indian blundered to lose the second play-off blitz game, losing the match by 2.5-1.5, 0.5-1.5 margin in the tiebreak play-offs — an incredible performance for a 16-year-old school kid who had defeated some top players including World No. 1 Magnus Carlsen in this event.

Pragg, as he is known fondly in chess circuit, found some brilliant tactical moves to leave the experts shaking their heads in wonder as he came back strongly in the rapid section, the short version of chess that could be compared with a one-day match (the classical version is like Test match and the blitz is equivalent to the T20).

Pragg, who had appeared for his school exam before the first round of the final after playing the semifinal encounter till late in the night, won the second game in the four-game mini-match after the first ended in a draw.

He then held on to the advantage to force a blitz playoff. He drew the first game of play-offs before blundering to lose the second.

By finishing runner-up, Pragg had to be content with USD15,000 in priz money and USD6,250 in bonuses, a memorable run in which he finished above world champion Magnus Carlsen, who he beat in the preliminary stage.

Ding claimed the USD25,000 first prize, USD6,250 in bonuses and the pride of winning his first Meltwater Champions Chess Tour title, the fourth leg of the 2022 season.

It all started with the Chinese player having the advantage after winning the first round of the final and needing only to draw the second. But Praggnanandhaa had other ideas.

Game 1 started with the Semi-Tarrasch Opening and both players were in well-known territory before Ding, playing with white pieces, found some pressure with a pin on the d-file.

The key moment was Pragg’s move with his King (24… Kh7) to relieve tension in the position before the first encounter ended in a 41-move draw.

The second rapid game started as a repeat of the first with a Semi-Tarrasch before Ding deviated by capturing a pawn (5… cxd4). The game came to life with a queen exchange that set off a quick tactical sequence.

By taking a pawn with his his rook (31. Rxd5), Ding offered up a clever-looking pawn sacrifice to activate his pieces which Pragg accepted. The engine agreed with Pragg but the youngster quickly found trouble getting his pieces coordinated.

Ding let his position slip, however, with two trades and let Pragg stayed a pawn up and got his king active.

The teenager is something of an endgame master and wasn’t going to let this chance slip. Pragg forced through to win the game and was back in the match with a chance of forcing a play-off.

For the first time, Ding was under pressure and needed a win. The third game was intense. Pragg was on the back foot for most of it but stayed cool and went for a risky exchange sacrifice that bagged him three pieces for his queen.

For a brief moment, Pragg had a glimmer of hope. Ding decided to push his passed pawns but missed a crucial knight move (44… Nb4).

It didn’t prove enough of an advantage though as the pawns disappeared and a rare imbalance was left on the board with Ding’s king and queen against Pragg’s king, rook, knight and bishop. Neither player could find a win and, after 106 moves, a draw was agreed.

In the final game of the mini-match, there was no way through again for Ding and it also ended in a draw. Pragg was level in the final and the tie was going to tiebreaks — two blitz games and then an armageddon game if needed.

In the first game of the tiebreak, Pragg showed his prowess in the shorter form but was left bitterly disappointed. At a key point, Ding thought he’d found a tactic, but Pragg had seen further and conjured up the stunning take by his bishop (30.Bxe4) to go a pawn up.

It all went to waste though as Pragg, looking certain to take the lead, made the wrong choice and let Ding off the hook. The game was drawn. Ding got out of jail.

The second game was frenetic but one blunder from Pragg, the first of the final, ended it and he resigned.

It was still a brilliant performance by the Indian wizard, the youngest of the three in the fray in Chessable Masters, and one that enhances his reputation as a world-beater in the making.

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