After the long Covid restricted-hiatus, there’s now more live over-the-board events taking place, and with it comes an inevitable clash with the pandemic lockdown-inspired online events. And one clash that was overshadowed with the welcomed return recently of the Grand Chess Tour’s Superbet Chess Classic Romania proved to be the Gelfand Challenge, the second leg of the new Julius Bär Challengers Chess Tour.
This is the tour from the Play Magnus Group that caters for the young ones, with two mixed gender teams of ten under-18 male players and ten under-25 women doing battle in an all-play-all; the big incentive apart from the lucrative prize-fund being that the winner qualifies for the next Meltwater Champions Chess Tour event, a ‘golden ticket’ early opportunity for a rising talent to take on the world champion, Magnus Carlsen, and the rest of the grandmaster elite.
The latest leg, the Gelfand Challenge – named after one of the tour’s mentors, Boris Gelfand, the former world championship challenger – proved to be a very close race going down the homestretch on the final day between two of India’s leading talents in D. Gukesh and R. Praggnanandhaa, the winner of the first tour leg.
After seeing off a spirited challenge from the German early front-runner Vincent Keymer, Pragg looked set for a repeat win, but he was dramatically halted by an amazing four-game clutch winning-streak from 15-year-old Gukesh. Both finished tied on 14/19, but one of Gukesh’s clutch wins proved to be a vital one over Pragg in round 17 – and that’s what separated the two, as Gukesh took the title and the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour invite on tiebreak.
Another dimension to the rising talents tour is that the competitors are also split into two teams of near equal strength, “Team Kramnik” and “Team Polgar”, with the two chess legends, Vlad and Judit, also acting as mentors, team captains and online commentators for this unique contest. And in the end, once again Team Polgar emerged victorious, inflicting a heavy 101-86 defeat over Team Kramnik.
1-2. GM D. Gukesh (India), GM R. Praggnanandhaa (India), 14/19; 3. GM V. Keymer (Germany), 13.5; IM V. Murzin (Russia), 13; 5-7. GM N. Sarin (India), GM N. Andusattorov (Uzbekistan), GM C. Yoo (USA) 12; 8. GM A. Liang (USA) 11.5; 9. GM L. Mendonca (India), 10; 10-11. IM S. Khadem (Iran), GM L. Tingjie (China), 9; 12-13. IM G. Mammadzada (Azerbaijan), GM J. Bjerre (Denmark), 8.5; 14-16. WGM Z. Jiner (China), IM N. Salimova (Bulgaria), IM D. Saduakassova (Kazhakstan), 7.5; 17-18. IM Z. Abdumalik (Kazhakstan), IM P. Shuvalova (Russia), 6; 19. IM C. Yip (USA), 5; 20. IM O. Badelka (Belarus), 3.5.
GM D. Gukesh – GM R. Praggnanandhaa
Gelfand Challenge, (17)
Queen’s Gambit Accepted
1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 d5 3.c4 e6 4.Nc3 dxc4 5.e4 b5!? A very aggressive line of the Queen’s Gambit Accepted, and the sort of dashing, dynamic play one can expect from one of the game’s rising young stars. 6.e5 Nd5 7.Nxb5 Nb6 8.Be2 Nc6 9.Be3 Be7 10.h4!N Gukesh varies from theory with an important new novelty in this sharp line. Unlike many rising young talents, Gukesh admits to not being a ‘heavy’ engine user, but he has started to develop his game by using them more now, and in doing so, he discovered this ingenious novelty that was instrumental in his crucial win over Pragg! 10…Nb4 11.Nc3 N4d5 12.Bd2 Nxc3 13.bxc3 Bb7 14.h5 h6 15.Rh3! And this is logic behind the variant 10.h4 that the young Indian discovered, the fact that the ingenious rook lift with Rh1-h3-g3 completely stymies Black’s development. 15…Qd7 16.Rg3 Bf8 17.Be3 Bd5 18.a4 a5 19.Nd2 Rb8 20.Rb1 Ra8 21.Ra1 Qc6 22.Kf1 Nc8 23.Qb1 Nb6 24.Ra2 Nxa4 25.Qa1 Nb6 26.Rxa5 Rxa5 27.Qxa5 Qa4 28.Nxc4! [see diagram] A nice little tactic that takes the game to another dimension now, as not many would want to trade the queens here with the Black king stuck in the middle of the board – but Gukesh sees just a little bit further, as the trade of queens simply empowers White’s rook and bishop-pair. 28…Bxc4 29.Qxa4+ Nxa4 30.Bxc4 Nxc3 31.Bc1 Clearing the way for the oscillating rook to now wreck havoc along the third rank, as Black struggles to hold the line. 31…Nd5 32.Rb3 Nb6 33.Bb5+ Kd8 No better was 33…Ke7 34.Rc3 Nd5 35.Ra3 Nb6 36.Ra7! Kd8 37.Bd2! and with the White rook very actively placed on a7, there’s no stopping Ba5 with Black in deep trouble. 34.Rf3 Ke7 35.Rc3 Kd8 36.Rf3 Ke7 37.Bf4 More clinical was 37.Ba3+ Kd8 38.Bc5 f6 39.exf6 gxf6 40.Bxb6 cxb6 41.Rxf6 Ke7 42.Rg6 and with Be6 coming next, Black can’t defend the e6-pawn. It’s an easy win with two extra pawns and the more active pieces, but in Gukesh’s defence, we’ve all been there, and the fear in the back of your head would have been the worry of falling into an ending with bishops of opposite-colour. 37…Nd5 38.Bg3 f5 39.Ra3 Nb6 40.Bh4+ Kf7 41.Ra7 Pragg is being pulled apart, and he still yet hasn’t found a way to develop his bishop and rook – but he finds a clever way to at least make Gukesh work hard for the full point. 41…Be7 42.Bxe7 Nc8 Very clever under the circumstances, as …Nxe7 allows Black to get his rook into the game and a potentially holdable position. 43.Bc5! Retaining the bishop-pair is the easy, human way to win this – but the engine finds a quicker way with 43.Ra8! Kxe7 44.Ba6 Kd7 45.d5! exd5 46.Bxc8+ Rxc8 47.e6+ and Black can resign. 43…Nxa7 44.Bxa7 Ra8 45.Bc5 Ra1+ 46.Ke2 Rh1 47.Bc4 c6 Attempting to stop White playing d5, as 47…Rxh5 48.d5! exd5 49.Bxd5+ Kg6 50.e6 and the e-pawn queens – but Pragg is just delaying the inevitable. 48.Ba6 Rxh5 49.Bb7 Rh1 50.Bxc6 Rc1 51.Kd2 Rf1 52.d5 Defending f2 and rolling home one of the central pawns. The rest of the game is just a formality now. 52…Ra1 53.d6 Ra2+ 54.Kc3 Ra5 55.Kb4 Ra1 56.d7 Rb1+ 57.Ka5 Rd1 58.Bd6 1-0