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For the first time on the $1.6m Meltwater Champions Chess Tour, all the players get to play under the same roof as World Champion Magnus Carlsen takes on seven of his rivals in the Oslo Esports Cup  that’s currently heading into the homestretch in Norway’s capital city – and with it, possibly an epoch-making result could be on the cards.

Carlsen heads the eight-player field in the $210,000 Oslo Esports Cup that includes World Cup winner Jan-Krzysztof Duda (Poland), Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan), Anish Giri (Netherlands), Liem Quang Le (Vietnam), Eric Hansen (Canada), Jorden van Foreest (Netherlands), and last but not least the Indian 16-year-old prodigy Rameshbabu “Pragg” Praggnanandhaa, one of the four Tour wildcards.

For the first time on the Tour, it’s a ‘hybrid event’, modeled very much in the esport tradition, with all eight competitors physically present in the Tour broadcast studio and facing each other manu et manu (albeit via opposing computers, across the same table), rather than playing remotely from their homes. Also for the first time on the Tour, rather than preliminaries and a business-end knockout, the format is a round-robin, with each round a best-of-four game match with a 15’+10″ time control.

It’s also the third event in the 2022 Meltwater Champions Tour and Carlsen, who won the 2021 Tour and now the first two tournaments of the new 2022 season, is aiming to continue his winning run. But the intriguing storyline unfolding in the tournament is the fight at the top between Carlsen and Pragg, one of the young pretenders to the Norwegian’s throne.

Pragg is fresh from his recent Nordic victory across the Norwegian Sea at the Reykjavik Open, and also a memorable online win over Carlsen in the Airthings Masters that made him the youngest player to beat the world No 1 in a serious competition. And while Carlsen has been blowing hot and cold in Oslo, he easily dispatched Pragg in their round 4 match-up and looked on course for a third successive Tour victory.

But beset by yet another crash, Carlsen unexpectedly lost to Jorden van Foreest and the setback allowed Pragg to bounce back with victory over Hansen to regain the lead going into Wednesday’s penultimate round. The Indian teenager now enjoys a 3-point lead at the top over the world No.1, and he’s just two match-wins away from what could be a very famous victory ahead of Carlsen on his own home turf.

It could be Tour history-in-the-making for Pragg, and you can follow the live-action of the final two rounds of the Oslo Esport Cup on Chess24 with the regular Tour commentary team of host Kaja Snare, GM David Howell, and IM Jovanka Houska breaking down all the action from the studio.

GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa
Oslo Esports Cup, (4.3)
QGD, Tarrasch Defence
1.Nf3 d5 2.e3 Nf6 3.c4 e6 4.Nc3 c5 5.d4 Nc6 6.cxd5 exd5 Thanks to the English Opening move-order and the early 2.e3, we now transpose into the Tarrasch Defence where Black doesn’t face the more critical main-line of fianchettoing the light-squared bishop and undermining Black’s isolated d5-pawn. 7.Bb5 The only drawback for Pragg in a must-win scenario, is that this sideline tends to see a lot of trades and the game petering out to a toothless draw. 7…cxd4 8.Nxd4 Bd7 9.0-0 Bd6 10.Nf3 Be6 11.b3 0-0 12.Bb2 Bg4 13.h3 Bh5 14.Be2 Rc8 15.Nh4! Bg6 Forced, and with it Pragg has to cede the bishop-pair, otherwise 15…Bxe2 16.Nxe2 Re8 17.Nf5! Be5 18.Bxe5 Rxe5 19.Ned4 and White’s knight not only solidly blockade the all-important d4 square in front of the isolated d5-pawn, but ideally placed to cause some havoc on the kingside. 16.Nxg6 hxg6 17.Nb5! Dominating the all-important d4 square in front of the isolated d-pawn. 17…Bb8 18.Bf3 a6 19.Nd4 Re8 20.Nxc6 This only eases Pragg’s position – but in a strange way it is an effective psychological choice for Carlsen,  as he profits from his opponent trying to complicate matters in the vain search for an unlikely win to stay in the match and going to a game 4. If Carlsen was looking to ‘squeeze’, then better was keeping the tension in the position – and the isolated d-pawn – for now with 20.Rc1!? Qd6 21.g3 which all but forces Black to seek the bail-out now with 21…Rxe3!? If Black doesn’t strike now, White will consolidate his position with relentless pressure on the isolated pawn. 22.Nxc6 Rxc6 23.Rxc6 bxc6 24.Bxf6 gxf6 25.fxe3 Qxg3+ 26.Bg2 Qh2+ 27.Kf2 Qg3+ 28.Kg1 (it’s slightly dangerous to try to run the king, but the end result will be the same after 28.Ke2 Qxg2+ 29.Rf2 Qxh3 30.Rxf6 Be5 31.Rf3 Qg2+ 32.Rf2 Qg4+ 33.Kd2 Qb4+ 34.Ke2 Qg4+ 35.Kd2 Qb4+) 28…Qh2+ 29.Kf2 Qg3+ and a draw. At least by keeping the game ‘live’ with the slightly inferior capture on c6, Carlsen has cunningly just heaped pressure on his young opponent who needs to win. 20…bxc6 21.Qd3 a5 22.Rac1 Ne4 23.Bxe4 Rxe4 24.Rc2 Rh4? Pragg, 2-0 down and fighting for his very survival in the mini-match, decides to unwisely go for broke with some sort of hallucination of a kingside attack. If he was still in the match, I have no doubt Pragg would have gone for the solid choice of 24…Qd6 and the continuation 25.g3 a4! 26.Rfc1 axb3 27.Qa6 (There’s no time for 27.axb3 Qd7! 28.Kg2 Ba7 and, if anything, Black is no worse, and if anything, has slightly the better of it.) 27…bxc2 28.Qxc8+ Kh7 29.Rxc2 Rc4! 30.Rxc4 dxc4 31.Qe8 Qb4 32.Qe4! and the likelihood of the game ending in a perpetual check – and Carlsen winning the match anyway. 25.Rfc1! Qd6 26.Kf1 Rh5? Things have gone from bad to worse for Pragg as he makes yet another meaningless rook move – but likely too late in the day, he probably realised that the seemingly threatening 26…Qh2 backfires to 27.Qa6! Re8 28.Rxc6 Rhe4 29.Rc8 Qh1+ 30.Ke2 Qxg2 31.Rxe8+ Rxe8 32.Rc8 Qe4 33.Rxe8+ Qxe8 34.Qxa5 Be5 35.Bxe5 Qxe5 36.Qd2 and what should be an easily won Q+P ending with the extra pawn and two queenside passers. 27.Qa6! [see diagram] And now Black’s position crumbles under the pressure of having too many weak queenside pawns, with c6 and a5 making for easy targets for Carlsen. 27…Rf8 No better was 27…Qd7 as after 28.Rxc6 Rxc6 29.Qxc6 Qxc6 30.Rxc6 Black is forced into a simply horrible R+B ending, and one where his bishop is embarrassingly short of squares. 28.Rxc6 Qh2 29.Rc8 As Carlsen systematically goes about trading pieces, Pragg has no hope of being able to save a hopelessly lost game. 29…Bd6 30.Rxf8+ Bxf8 31.Rc8 Rf5 32.Rxf8+! Carlsen has no problems finding the killer move that mates his young pretender’s king. 32…Kxf8 33.Qc8+ Ke7 34.Ba3+ Kf6 35.Qd8+ 1-0 And Pragg resigns, in view of 35…Ke5 36.Qe7#

 

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