A rising star

4 June 2022

9:00 AM

4 June 2022

9:00 AM

Ding Liren took first place at last month’s Chessable Masters, the fourth event in the 2022 Meltwater Champions Tour. But it was his defeated opponent in the final, 16-year-old Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa from India, who stole the show. The teenager’s reputation is already well established, and he made headlines in the (non-chess) media in February when he beat Magnus Carlsen in a rapid game at the Airthings Masters, the first event in the tour. Remarkably, at the Chessable Masters, he added a second victory over Carlsen, who blundered in an almost even position in their game from the preliminary stage.

Even more impressive were the scalps he took in the knockout stages. In the quarter finals he scored a 2.5-1.5 upset over Wei Yi, which left him facing Anish Giri in the semi-finals. Giri had shown exceptional form throughout the event, but Praggnanandhaa took the lead in their match with the sharp game shown below. Giri pulled one back, but was beaten in the blitz playoff. That put Praggnanandhaa through to a final match against world no. 2 Ding Liren, who had overcome Carlsen in the semi-finals.

If this wasn’t daunting enough, Praggnanandhaa had to contend with school exams on the same day! The players traded blows, each winning one mini-match to land in another blitz playoff. The teenager achieved a winning position in the first game, but couldn’t find a way past Ding’s stubborn defence. Ding won a complex second game to secure the title. It was, nonetheless, a stellar performance from Praggnanandhaa.

R. Praggnanandhaa-A. Giri

Semi-final, Chessable Masters (online), May 2022

1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 d5 4 cxd5 Nxd5 5 e4 Nxc3 6 bxc3 Bg7 7 Bc4 c5 8 Ne2 O-O 9 O-O Nc6 10 Be3 b6 11 dxc5 wins a pawn, but after 11…Qc7 12 cxb6 axb6 White’s fractured queenside means that his hopes for an edge are slim. 11 h4 e6 12 h5 Posing a typical dilemma: 12…gxh5 weakens the kingside, but otherwise h5-h6 may become a nuisance, as the game demonstrates. Qh4 13 Qc1 An insidious move which Praggnanandhaa had almost certainly prepared before the game. One idea is that 13…Qxh5 14 Ng3 Qg4 15 Be2 Qh4 16 Bg5 traps the queen on h4. cxd4 14 cxd4 Qxe4 14…Qxh5 15 Ng3 Qa5 was possible, though the queen feels very awkward: 16 Bd2 Qa4 17 Bb3 Qb5 and White can repeat with 18 Bc4, or try 18 Rb1 with unclear play. 15 Rd1 Na5 16 Nc3 Qb7 17 Be2 White has a significant initiative to compensate for the lost centre pawn. Bd7 18 h6 Bh8 19 Bf3 Bc6 20 d5 exd5 21 Bd4 Recapturing on d5 can wait. Thanks to the pawn on h6, the exchange of dark squared bishops will make the Black king permanently uncomfortable. Rad8 22 Bxh8 Kxh8 23 Nxd5 Bxd5 24 Qd2 A key tactic: 24…Bxf3 25 Qxd8! wins Qe7 25 Qc3+ Inducing another weakness. Instead, 25 Bxd5 Qf6, would allow the queen to plug the kingside weaknesses. f6 26 Rxd5 Rc8 27 Re1 Qc7 28 Qa3 Surprisingly, 28 Qxc7 was even more effective. 28…Rxc7 29 Rd6 f5 30 Bd5 and the attack lasts into the endgame. For example, 30…Nb7 loses to 31 Rf6! Rfc8 32 Re6! Nc4 29 Qe7 Ne5 The final error. Instead, 29…Rf7 would have kept Black in the game. 30 Rexe5 fxe5 31 Rd7 Qc1+ 32 Bd1 Qxh6 33 Qxe5+ 33…Kg8 34 Bb3+ is the sting in the tail, so Black resigns

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