Candidates R3: Adventurous Pragg takes down Vidit

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
4/7/2024 – Praggnanandhaa R scored the only victory of round 3 at the Candidates Tournament in Toronto. The Indian prodigy played a sharp system in the Ruy Lopez to take down Vidit Gujrathi with the black pieces. Three players are now sharing the lead with 2 points each: Fabiano Caruana, Ian Nepomniachtchi and Gukesh D. Pragg and Vidit stand a half point behind. | Photo: FIDE / Michal Walusza

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Bouncing back in style

Praggnanandhaa R has so far played three eventful, tactical games at the Candidates Tournament in Toronto — and it is surely no coincidence, as the 18-year-old has employed sharp systems in his encounters against Alireza Firouzja (draw), Gukesh D (loss) and Vidit Gujrathi (win). Apparently, first place is all that matters for the boy from Chennai.

After sacrificing pawn after pawn on Friday — and losing the thread only near the end of the game — Pragg played a delayed version of the Schliemann Defence from the black side of a Ruy Lopez (i.e. going for ...f7-f5 on move 4) against Vidit. Thus, Vidit began to spend a considerable amount of time from an early stage in the game. Despite the evaluation remaining close to equal for quite a while, the psychological battle had been won by Pragg, who made the most of his chances once his opponent faltered in time trouble. Pragg thus bounced back in style, returning to a fifty-percent score in the standings.

The remaining three games ended drawn.

  • Nijat Abasov and Hikaru Nakamura, who both came from suffering defeats in round 2, signed a 29-move draw. Abasov later confessed that he had not been feeling well physically during the game.
  • Gukesh and Ian Nepomniachtchi traded queens on move 12 and played correct chess before agreeing to a draw on move 40.
  • Alireza Firouzja gained a pawn in his game with white against top seed Fabiano Caruana, but a good defensive plan by the U.S. star led to a 38-move draw.

Caruana, Nepomniachtchi and Gukesh are sharing the lead with 2 points each, with Pragg and Vidit standing a half point behind. Co-leaders Caruana and Gukesh will face each other in Sunday’s fourth round, the last one before the first rest day of the event.

Results - Round 3

Dommaraju Gukesh

As calm as ever — co-leader Gukesh signing autographs | Photo: FIDE / Michal Walusza

Vidit 0 - 1 Pragganandhaa

Commentators from all channels were surprised to see Pragg’s 4...f5 out of a Ruy Lopez, a system seen much less frequently than other, more cautious setups in elite competitions.

Pragg had his compatriot thinking on move 8, as his 7...Na5 was also a surprising continuation — in an already peculiar system.

The strategy worked well for Pragg, who got a half-hour advantage on the clock and a position that engines evaluate as slightly favourable for Black. Nonetheless, the younger Indian had given up a pawn, and it was difficult to decide where to place the black king. Meanwhile, White had a sound position with his king looking safe on g1.

Pragg spent almost 10 minutes before playing 19...0-0-0

The dispassionate engines favoured 19.0-0 in this position, though castling long is a normal plan in the Schliemann — from a human point of view, it certainly looks scary to place the king on g8 with both the g and h-pawns already on the sixth rank.

However, the computers were even more critical of Vidit’s 20.h4. Moreover, the commentators also struggled to understand why Vidit chose not to play the logical 20.Nd5 (diagram), which is also the strongest move in the position.

As it turns out, Black is all but forced to play 20...Nxd5 here, when a potential discovered check with e6-e7 becomes a very annoying threat.

After the text, on the other hand, Pragg got to improve his pieces before Vidit finally placed his knight on d5 two moves later.

Further mistakes by Vidit, who was down to 5 minutes by move 29, allowed Black to simplify into a clearly advantageous position. Pragg’s 34...g3 was a killer pawn push.

35.fxg3 or 35.f3 fail to 35...Qb6+, and White will need to concede a lot of material to prevent checkmate, while after Vidit’s 35.Nxb7 there is 35...gxf2+ 36.Kxf2 Qxb7, opening up the king’s position on a board full of major pieces.

Good technique is all that Pragg needed to convert this position into a crucial victory, one that keeps him within touching distance of the tournament’s co-leaders.

Vidit Gujrathi, Praggnanandhaa

Vidit Gujrathi dealing with a surprising variation, Praggnanandhaa confident after having studied the lines deeply before the game | Photo: FIDE / Michal Walusza

Expert analysis by IM Robert Ris

More photos from round 3

Alireza Firouzja

Alireza Firouzja got to put pressure against Fabiano Caruana... | Photo: FIDE / Michal Walusza

Fabiano Caruana

...but the top seed managed to get a draw in the end | Photo: FIDE / Michal Walusza

Ian Nepomniachtchi, Dommaraju Gukesh

Ian Nepomniachtchi and Dommaraju Gukesh drew their game to remain tied for first place | Photo: FIDE / Michal Walusza

HIkaru Nakamura

Hikaru Nakamura, one of the most popular chess streamers in the world, making his way to the playing hall | Photo: FIDE / Michal Walusza

Expert analysis by IM Robert Ris

Standings after round 3

All games

Vidit dissects his round-2 victory over Nakamura!

The Dabeli, the cycle, the victory — round 2 through the eyes of Sagar

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Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.
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