There was a dramatic finish to the Oslo Esports Cup in the Norwegian capital, the third leg of the $1.6m Meltwater Champions Chess Tour, as both the tournament front-runners, World Champion Magnus Carlsen and the young Indian teenage prodigy, Rameshbabu “Pragg” Praggnanandhaa, sensationally collapsed going down the homestretch, all of which was enough to see Poland’s Jan-Krzysztof Duda unexpectedly capture the title come the end of Thursday’s final round.
Pragg had the toughest task of all to win the title, having to face the very experienced duo of Duda and Dutchman Anish Giri respectively in the final two rounds – both proved difficult opponents for the 16-year-old Tour wildcard, who was simply outplayed in both matches though finishing in a creditable share of fourth place – but despite the rising star’s disappointment, he found it all to be “a great experience” competing against top elite-stars.
After winning the first two Tour events of the new season, Carlsen’s spluttering performance on his Oslo home turf was well below-par for his usual high standards. He only needed to beat Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in the final round to complete a hat-trick of Tour victories, but he was clearly struggling throughout with insipid play against the Azeri as he crashed to a heavy defeat.
Beset by both a heavy schedule – in-between the Oslo Esports Cup, the No 1 turned out for an online Norway vs Ukraine charity match, beating former elite star Vasyl Ivanchuk but losing to Yuriy Kozubov and Kirill Shevchenko as Ukraine ran out 11-5 winners – and a heavy cold, Carlsen apologised for his performance: “It’s not nearly good enough … I have no energy in my body whatsoever.”
All of which saw World Cup victor Duda once again being in dreamland, as the Pole finished strongly with a brace of mini-match victories over Pragg and bottom-placed Eric Hansen of Canada, to bring to a halt Carlsen’s winning Tour run in his home city to clinch the Oslo Esport Cup title with his under-the-radar performance – and with it, now jumping into second place behind Carlsen in the Tour standings.
1. Jan-Krzysztof Duda (Poland) 14/21; 2. Le Quang Liem (Vietnam) 13; 3-4. Magnus Carlsen (Norway), Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa (India) 12; 5. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan) 11; 6. Jorden van Foreest (Netherlands) 10; 7. Anish Giri (Netherlands) 9; 8. Eric Hansen (Canada) 3.
GM RR Praggnanandhaa – GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda
Oslo Esports Cup, (6.2)
Grünfeld Exchange Variation
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nxc3 6.bxc3 Bg7 7.Bc4 World Champions Boris Spassky and later Anatoly Karpov were the trailblazers for adopting this variation for White – and both with considerable success. 7…c5 The Grünfeld for Black allows White to build a big centre, but the plan is to chip away at it, or force it to advance, and then continue to further chip away at it – but the onus is always on Black to find sufficient counter-play. 8.Ne2 0-0 9.Be3 Nc6 10.0-0 e6 11.dxc5 Releasing the tension early in the centre only helps Black in the Grünfeld – and even by winning a pawn in this way won’t help matters, as Black will eventually pick-off one of the crippled queenside pawns. 11…Qa5 12.f4 Rd8 13.Qe1 Better was 13.Qb3 but after 13…Qc7!? (threatening …Na5, xc4, Bf8, Bd7 and Rac8 ganging up on the c5-pawn) Black has more than enough compensation. 13…Qa4! The reality is that Duda has more than full equalised now as Pragg can’t hold on to the extra pawn – and with it a Grünfeld lesson that the teenager will learn as he matures. 14.Bb3 Qxe4 15.Ng3 Qd3 Suddenly Black is the one in the driving seat. 16.Rc1 Bd7 17.Qf2 Na5 18.Bc2 Qa6 19.Bd4 Bxd4 Better first was 19…Bb5 20.Rfd1 and then 20…Nc6! forcing 21.Bxg7 Kxg7 and, long-term, White’s crippled queenside pawns will become a big handicap heading into the endgame. 20.cxd4 Bb5 Instead of the better plan noted above, Duda puts all his hopes on dominating the light squares and play on White’s hanging pawns in the centre. 21.Rfd1 f5 22.h4 Rd7 Doubling rooks on the d-file to put added pressure on d4. 23.Re1? It all starts to go horribly, horribly wrong for Pragg from here, as he loses his way. The best try was continuing with 23.h5! as 23…Rad8 24.Bb3 Kf7 25.Qe3 Bc4 26.h6! and with threats of Qe5 hanging in the air, White should have more than enough to hold for the draw. 23…Rad8 24.c6? Pragg has obviously has lost the thread of the game here, tumbling from one mistake to another – better was to try to keep things tight for now with 24.Rcd1 Bc4 25.Ba4 Nc6 26.Bxc6 Qxc6 27.Rd2 and, while Black holds all the aces with pressure on d4 and the strong d5 outpost for the bishop for light-square dominance, there’s still lots of work needed to make any winning breakthrough. 24…Nxc6 25.Rxe6 Qxa2 White’s game simply implodes from here in. 26.Qe3 Nxd4 It’s hard not to be tempted by the d4-pawn, but the better killer move was 26…Bc4! 27.Re8+ Kf7! 28.Rxd8 Nxd8 29.h5 b5! and, with the passed queenside pawns now quickly running down the board, White finds himself in dire straits – and not in any good way with Mark Knopfler licking the riffs on lead guitar! 27.Re8+ Kf7 28.Rxd8? It’s one blunder too many now for Pragg, who misses any last chance for survival with 28.Re1! and Black is more or less forced into 28…Be2 29.Rxd8 Rxd8 30.Bd3 (Not 30.Nxe2?? Nxc2! winning.) 30…Qa5 31.Rb1! Qc5 32.Rxb7+ Kf8 33.Nxe2 Nxe2+ 34.Kf2! Qxe3+ 35.Kxe3 Re8+ 36.Kf3 Nd4+ and it is doubtful Black’s extra pawn goes for anything here. 28…Rxd8 29.Bb1 Qd5 The centralised queen is just the cherry in the cake for Duda. 30.Qa3 Qd6 31.Ba2+ Kg7 32.Qe3 Re8 Duda now moves in for the kill. 33.Rc7+ Kh6 The “sexy” king move. Also good was 33…Kh8 34.Qc3 but by going to h6, Duda’s king evades any delay in the final result with the pin down the a1-h8 diagonal. 34.Qc1 Bc6 Disconnecting the wayward Rc7 and setting-up mating threats on g2. 35.Rf7 Re2! [see diagram] With the rook taboo due to the fork on king and queen, the sudden hit on g2 is the final blow for Pragg. 36.Kh2 Rxg2+ 37.Kh3 Rxg3+ 0-1 And Pragg resigns with no way to avoid the fork on e2.