The $1.6m Meltwater Champions Chess Tour has provided a unique opportunity for new talent to make a break-through into the elite-circle, as India’s 16-year-old boy wonder, Rameshbabu “Pragg” Praggnanandhaa, announced his arrival on the world stage with an epic generational clash with established star Ding Liren in the $150,000 Chessable Masters final, as the teenager narrowly lost out to the world No 2.
Earlier this week, Pragg had to put in a late shift on a school night, staying up to 2am to beat Anish Giri to reach the final – the youngest player to have reached a Tour final -before having to be at school by 8:45am to sit an exam. Against Ding, his school night shift proved to be even longer, but this time there was no script-writer’s dream of a Pragg stunning victory.
Ding took the opening first set of the match with a brace of near identical wins with black that involved queenside pawn breakthroughs – but crucially the set-back didn’t break Pragg’s resolve. Showing no nerves of being behind in a showpiece Tour final, the Chennai teenager hit back in the second match to extend the final into a dramatic tiebreak-decider.
Previously Ding had lost four online Tour semi-finals and a third place playoff to Magnus Carlsen. And just when many thought the match might well be swinging the teenager’s way, Ding held his nerve to win the second playoff game just short of the Armageddon-decider to clinch his first Tour title.
A relived Ding spoke highly of Pragg in his post-victory presser, though admitted that he was“Exhausted!” due to the time-zone difference. “Today it was very, very hard, too hard to play, the last day of the tournament, also it’s nearly 5 am and after each game I had to take a rest, to lay down on the bed, to recover a little bit.”
Pragg was equally tired but y satisfied with his breakthrough performance. “I’m definitely exhausted, to be honest, but it’s definitely a good match and an interesting one and I’m definitely happy about my play overall in rapid. It’s a good result for me overall. It’s fine, I think, if I finish second, it’s a very good thing.”
There’s also conciliation for Pragg that with a strong showing now in his two wildcard-invites, the teenager rises up the Tour standings – and there’s more Tour invites coming! After reaching the final of the Chessable Masters, he’s now booked his berth into the second Major of the Tour, an eight-player event set to take place in Miami, Florida from August 12-20, shortly after the Chess Olympiad in Pragg’s native Chennai.
GM R Praggnanandhaa – GM Ding Liren
Chessable Masters Final, (1.3)
Queen’s Gambit Declined, Cambridge Springs Variation
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 c6 5.Bg5 Nbd7 6.e3 Qa5 Although first played by Emanuel Lasker in 1892, the nomenclature of this opening derives from the 1904 tournament held in the small northwestern Pennsylvania town of Cambridge Springs – the first major international tournament to be held in America in the twentieth century – where the opening gained considerable popularity after it was used several times. 7.cxd5 One of the reasons why the Cambridge Springs still retains popularity at club level is that it is very simple to play, easy development with clear tactics, and the fact that Black can quickly start the process of breaking down the White center and trading pieces – and that is seen in the main-line that normally runs 7.Nd2 Bb4 8.Qc2 0-0 9.Be2 e5 etc. 7…Nxd5 8.Qd2 Bb4 9.Rc1 h6 10.Bh4 b6 Ding simply solves the problem of how to develop his light-squared bishop – he’s just going to play …Ba6. 11.Bd3 Ba6 12.0-0 0-0 13.e4 Nxc3 14.bxc3 Ba3 15.Rcd1 Rfe8 16.Rfe1 Bxd3 Time to trade the bishop before White can retreat with Bb1. We’re left with a simple position with not many dynamics on the board, which for Ding is his perfect scenario as it stops Pragg complicating the position. 17.Qxd3 Rac8 18.h3 b5! Ding is going to meet Pragg’s expansion in the centre by mobilising his queenside pawns – and his pawn expansion is the one that crashes through first. 19.Re2 Qa4 20.Rde1 Bf8 21.g4?! Ding’s subtle play by containing Pragg’s central pawns has paid-off, as the teenager unwisely lashes out with a dodgy pawn thrust on the kingside. 21…c5! Ding has clearly won the strategical battle by taking control of the queenside. 22.d5 c4 23.Qd2 b4! [see diagram] Creating what affectively becomes a very strong and game-winning passed pawn – and note also how the advancing pawn now indirectly defends the loose knight on d7. 24.dxe6 Rxe6 25.Nd4 Rb6 Even stronger was 25…bxc3! 26.Qxc3 Bb4 27.Qe3 Bxe1 28.Rxe1 (There’s no time for 28.Nxe6 as Black will win with 28…Bb4! 29.Nd4 Qd1+ 30.Kh2 c3 and no way of stopping the c-pawn.) 28…Rb6 and Black is in total control with a big advantage. 26.Qd1 Qxd1 27.Rxd1 bxc3 28.Rc2 Pragg’s only hope now is to try and contain and pick-off those doubled c-pawns. Easier said than done though! 28…Nc5 29.Rxc3 Nxe4 30.Re3 Nf6 31.Ne2 Attempting to bolster the c3-square – but it all too late now, as Ding ruthlessly finds a way to quickly capitalise on the power passer. 31…Bc5 32.Re5 If 32.Rf3 Ne4! 33.Nc3 Re6 34.Kg2 Bb4 and Black is in total control with the c-pawn ready to roll further down the board. 32…Rb2 33.Nc3 Bb4 34.Rc1 Nd7 Heading to b6 to further build-up the pressure on the queenside – and something now has to give for White. And also note how Pragg’s bishop is completely out of the game over on h4, having played no part whatsoever in the game. 35.Re4 Nb6 White is doomed – the end is increasingly getting nearer. 36.a4 Rb3! 37.Na2 Bd2 38.Rc2 c3 39.Rd4 Rb2 0-1 White can’t hold the position so Pragg resigns. If 40.Nb4 a5! sees the rook lost on c2.