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Half a century ago in Iceland’s capital of Reykjavik, the 1972 World Championship Match between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky – arguably the greatest of the long and storied world championship series – witnessed a demographic change take shape, as almost overnight through the worldwide media attention, globally the game shed off it’s grey-beard and tweed-jacket image by attracting more younger players.

With Fischer’s victory came a chess boom resulting in more clubs starting-up and more tournaments emerging, and it was only going to be a matter of time before a teenager bested the temperamental American’s long-standing age-record of becoming the world’s youngest Grandmaster. That player just happened to be a girl, Judit Polgar, but the trend was set that the teenagers were now kicking at chess.

And in the milestone 50th anniversary year of that infamous Cold War match, fittingly the Icelandic capital witnessed a byproduct of Fischer-Spassky with an epic round six struggle in the Kvika Reykjavik Open between two prolific teenage prodigies: America’s Mishra Abhimanyu , 13, and India’s Rameshbabu “Pragg” Praggandhaa, 16, respectively both the world’s youngest-ever grandmaster and, back in 2018, the then second youngest grandmaster in the world.

With the stunning glass venue of the Harpa Conference Centre on the ocean’s edge providing a stunning backdrop, it proved to be a memorable encounter between these two future stars, and one that ultimately proved decisive for Pragg who went on to outright victory in the top international open – first won in 1964 by former World Champion Mikhail Tal – scoring an unbeaten 7.5/9 to clinch sole first place in a tough field and gain 13 Elo rating points. For always improving Mishra, he rallied with a strong finish for second equal, pushing his Fide rating up to 2535, and on-course to break the record for the youngest ever 2600 player.

Pragg rode his luck in the final round to beat another Indian teenager, Dommaraju Gukesh, 15, to claim the €5,000 first prize.  But with victory, many back home are predicting that Pragg could next take a big step to join his and the nation’s hero, Vishy Anand, by being selected for the Indian squad ahead of the forthcoming Olympiad that’s now been switched to Chennai, where both were born.

Final standings:
1. GM RR Praggnanandhaa (India) 7.5/9; 2-5. GM M Warmerdam (Netherlands), GM M Andersen (Denmark), GM H Gretarsson (Iceland), GM M Abhimanyu (USA) 7; 6-15. GM A Fier (Brazil), GM H Niemann (USA), GM A Gupta (India), IM V Larkin (Ukraine), IM K Korley (Denmark), GM S Maze (France), IM B Clarke (England), IM J Sarkar (USA), IM C Yoo (USA) GM F Libiszewski (France) 6.5.

Photo: The Pragg-matic Reykjavik winner! | © Kvika Reykjavik Open

 

GM Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa – GM Mishra Abhimanyu
Kvika Reykjavik Open, (6)
Slav Defence
1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.e3 e6 The ‘Triangle’ of pawns on d5, c6 and e6 is the fundamental key structure in the Slav Defense that’s both very robust and difficult to breakdown. 5.Bd3 dxc4 6.Bxc4 Nbd7 7.0-0 Bd6 8.Qc2 0-0 9.e4 e5 Safely getting in …e5 in the Slav Defence is much like Black getting in …d5 in the main-line Sicilian – it generally means equality. 10.Be3 Ng4 11.Bg5 Qc7 12.h3 h6 13.Bh4 Ngf6 14.Nc3 Nh5 15.Rad1 exd4 16.Rxd4 Ne5 And, if anything, just enough to edge it for Black in the equality stakes. 17.Qd1 Nxc4? I think this was based on misjudging what was going to be the outcome of the material imbalance coming down the line. Better was 17…Bc5! which more or less forces now 18.Nxe5 Qxe5 19.Rd8 Be6 20.Rxa8 Rxa8 and White is slightly worse here. 18.Rxc4 Be6 19.Nb5! Bxc4 20.Nxc7 Bxc7 21.Qd7! The material imbalance here would normally favour Black with his  rook and bishop for the queen – but here there are many anomalies for Black, as it is difficult for him to get his pieces working together. 21…Rac8 Wrong was capturing the rook with 21…Bxf1? as after 22.Qxc7 Bd3 23.g4! Rac8 24.Qd6 Bxe4 25.Nd2 and Black is in trouble. 22.Re1 Nf4 23.b3 Be6 24.Qd2 Ng6 25.Qe3 Bb6 26.Qc3 Nxh4 27.Nxh4 Rcd8 28.Nf3 Also an option was 28.Nf5!? Bxf5 29.exf5 Rd6 30.g4 Rfd8 31.Kg2 as 31…Rd2 walks right into 32.Re8+! Rxe8 33.Qxd2 Rd8 34.Qe2 which is more than just a little uncomfortable for Black; the sort of position where the queen is more dominant than the R+B, and Black has to be wary of Qe7 threats. 28…Rfe8 29.a4 a5 30.b4! Highlighting the crux of Black’s difficulties: As the b-file opens, just how is he going to defend b7? 30…Ra8 31.Rb1 axb4 32.Qxb4 Bc7 33.Nd4 Bc8 34.Nf5 It is just suddenly getting more and more difficult for Black to co-ordinate his pieces – and at the end of the day, this is what ultimately decides the game between these two exciting young stars of the future. 34…Kh7 Just stepping out of the way of any possible Ne7+ tricks. Alternatively, if 34…Bxf5 35.exf5 and, in the long-term, the weakness on b7 will be telling. 35.Qc4 Be6 36.Qc2 Or even 36.Qc3!? that would have forced Black’s hand to capture with 36…Bxf5 37.exf5 and once again, long-term, the elephant in the room will be the b7 weakness. 36…Rad8 A little more resilient was 36…Rab8!? 37.Nd4 Bc8 38.a5! Rd8 but it is going to be a herculean effort for Black to unravel here – and, perhaps understandably, this best explains Mishra’s rationale for opting to go more proactive. 37.Rxb7 The b7-pawn was doomed to fall – but what Mishra is relying on, is generating some counterplay by activating his pieces as best he can. And usually in chess, going proactive can be psychologically better than trying to doggedly defend a passive position. 37…Bxf5 38.Rxc7 The only move in town! 38…Bxe4 39.Qc5 Black would be OK if wasn’t for the a-pawn – it is just huge as at runs down the board, restricting what Mishra can do. 39…Bd5 40.Re7! It is easier for Pragg if he can swap a set of rooks, as that means less complications – but Mishra really can’t afford not to swap a set of rooks. 40…Rg8?! The last move before the time-control is always full of pitfalls, and this is one of them. Hard to tell how much time Mishra had to make the final move, so he could have been rushed into this decision – but the reality is that he had to bite the bullet now and go for 40…Rxe7 41.Qxe7 Ra8 42.Qc5! g6 43.a5 Ra6 and it’s a painful defence with the rook awkwardly out of the game on a6. To win, White will throw his kingside pawns up the board and then bring his king into the game via h2-g3 etc – but he’s still going to have to work hard to convert this. 41.a5 Ra8 42.Qa3! Rgb8 43.a6 Rb3 44.Qa1! Pragg is making the most of his sublime squeeze, with his queen and rook stretching Mishra’s defences. 44…Rb6 45.a7 Rb4 46.Rc7 Just stopping for now any ideas of running the c-pawn down the board. 46…g6 47.f3 More accurate, stronger, and to the point was 47.Qa3! Rb3 48.Qc5! Rb5 49.Qd4 where White’s queen and rook are very powerfully placed. 47…h5 48.h4! And now Black is beginning to run out of useful moves to make. 48…Rxh4 49.Qa6 The clinical way to win was 49.Rb7! c5 50.Rb8 Rd4 The mating threat on h8 had to be stopped somehow. 51.Qa5 Rb4 52.Qd8 and Black can resign. 49…Rb4 50.Rc8 Rxc8 51.Qxc8 c5 52.Qxc5! Not falling for the obvious trap of 52.a8Q? Bxa8 53.Qxa8 Rf4! and, while Black is objectively still lost, after …Rf5 there’s good chances of perhaps building a fortress. 52…Ra4 53.Qc7 This time White could also have gone for 53.Qxd5 Rxa7 54.Qd4 as this time the fortress with the rook is not so effective, especially with Qf6 on the cards. 53…Ra2 If Black could somehow anchor his bishop on d5, it might well be saving the game – but that’s not a realistic possibility. 54.Qd7 Be6 55.Qc7 A slight mishap that delays the inevitable end – winning almost immediately was 55.Qb7! forcing 55…Bd5 56.Qxd5 Rxa7 57.Qd4 Ra2 58.Qf6 and we’re back to the picture painted in the above note. 55…Bd5 56.Kh2 Ra4 57.Kg3 Kg7 Many watching this enthralling encounter thought that Black might have survival chances with 57…h4+ but after 58.Kh2 Ra2 we just triangulate back to a better version of the QvR endgame with 59.Qd7 Bc4 60.Qb7 Bd5 61.Qxd5 Rxa7 62.Kh3 where the h-pawn is now a big liability. 58.Kf2 Kh7 59.Ke3 When the king crosses over to the queenside, Black is doomed to defeat. 59…Be6 60.Qb7 Bd5 61.Qd7 Pragg is in no rush, as Mishra’s R+B are paralysed. 61…Ra5 62.Kd4 h4 63.Qc7 Rb5 64.a8Q! [see diagram] And by a nice trick, Pragg now converts his win – but the a-pawn has become the perfect decoy for the this crucial win! 64…Bxa8 65.Qxf7+ The point of Pragg’s play. 65…Kh6 66.Qf8+ Kh5 67.Qxa8 The rest of the game needs no comment – but what an epic tussle between these two top teenagers! 67…Rf5 68.Qh8+ Kg5 69.Ke3 Rf7 70.Qd8+ Kh5 71.Qh8+ Kg5 72.Kf2 Rf4 73.Kg1 Kf5 74.Qg7 g5 75.Qf7+ Ke5 76.Qg6 Rf5 77.Kf2 Kf4 78.Qd6+ Re5 79.Qf6+ 1-0 And Mishra resigns, facing the mate with 79…Rf5 80.Qd4#

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