Ding beats Pragg in close match, wins Chessable Masters

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
5/27/2022 – Ding Liren won the Chessable Masters after beating 16-year-old Praggnanandhaa in the final match’s tiebreaks. The Chinese had won the first set on Wednesday, but saw his opponent bouncing back in the second 4-game mini-match. A clear rating favourite, Ding defeated his prodigious rival in the deciding blitz tiebreaker.

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Pragg forces tiebreaks

In exactly three weeks, Ding Liren will play the first round of the Candidates Tournament (against Ian Nepomniachtchi with the white pieces). Only about a week ago, he was confirmed as the eighth participant at the double round-robin. The Chinese is stepping in as a substitute of Sergey Karjakin, whose participation in the event was banned by FIDE’s Ethics Commission. In order to meet the organizer’s requirement to have played at least 30 rated games during the last twelve months, Ding played a marathon of classical games in April.

Amid this whirlwind, the humble grandmaster agreed to play in the fourth leg of the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour. Despite the rounds kicking off at midnight for the Chinese, he managed to win the online event after beating Praggnanandhaa in the two-day final match.

Defeating his 16-year-old opponent was no easy task, as the Indian, an agile tactician, has proven to thrive in the tour’s format. While Ding started playing at midnight, Pragg began to compete at 9:30 p.m. — moreover, during this tournament, the Indian was taking school exams, which meant he needed to wake up before 8:30 a.m., not too long after facing some of the very best players in the world the night prior.

Despite losing this match (by a whisker), it was a remarkable perfomace by Praggnanandhaa. He beat Magnus Carlsen in the prelims, finished the single round-robin in fourth place, and knocked out Wei Yi and Anish Giri in the knockout. In two months’ time, Pragg will be part of India’s B team at the Chess Olympiad in Chennai.

Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu

In Thursday’s second set, Pragg got ahead on the scoreboard after outplaying his more experienced opponent in a rook endgame. Game 3 was perhaps the most critical confrontation of the day, as Ding emerged from a sharp middlegame with a queen and a pawn against a rook and two minor pieces.

 

Both players had shown incredible nerves up to this point, when Ding had the upper hand thanks to his connected passers on the queenside. Here, however, he lost his advantage by playing 39.a5 — the subtle 39.Qd4 was winning.

The idea behind placing the queen on d4 was that after, for example, 39...h5 40.b6 Ba6 White can safely push his pawn with 41.b7

 

The bishop is overloaded, but nonetheless has to capture on b7 to keep the game going, thus giving up the knight. Note that after 41...Rb8, White has 42.Qd6, attacking all three black pieces at once!

In the game, Pragg displayed cold-blooded defence to coordinate his pieces and keep the balance following his rival’s imprecision. A draw was agreed on move 106, and another draw in game 4 meant the match would be decided in tiebreaks.

Second set - Rapid games

 

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While Ding missed his chances in game 3 of the rapid, Pragg failed to make the most of his superior position in the first 5-minute encounter. The Indian had the white pieces.

 

At first sight, it seems like there is no way to save the far-advanced passed pawn on the queenside. However, White counted with the crafty 53.Rd1, when after 53...Bxa7 he can follow up with 54.Nc6+ Ke8 (or ...Kf8, no difference) 55.Rd8+ Kf7 56.Rd7+ and the bishop falls.

 

None of this was seen in the game, though, as Pragg went for 53.Rb1 in the first diagrammed position. Ding captured the dangerous pawn and with good technique demonstrated that the position was drawn.

The last encounter of the match (and the tournament) saw Ding getting a 49-move deciding victory. It was 5 a.m. in Wenzhou, and Ding had been dealing with a few irritating visitors...

Blitz tiebreakers

 

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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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