Challengers Tour Finals: Pragg and Yoo make it through

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
10/17/2021 – It was a rather short day at the office for the semifinalists of the Julius Baer Challengers Tour Finals, as Praggnanandhaa and Christopher Yoo only needed three games to knock out Vincent Keymer and Awonder Liang respectively. After an astounding win by Pragg, Vladimir Kramnik was full of praise for his play, even comparing him with Magnus Carlsen. “He’s playing almost like a real world champion, not a future one”, said Kramnik.

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Three and out

The two players who made it into the final of the Julius Baer Challengers Tour certainly left a strong impression on Saturday. While Christopher Yoo beat Awonder Liang 3-0, Praggnanandhaa got the better of Vincent Keymer by a 2½-½ score — moreover, the Indian prodigy agreed to a draw from a winning position in the third encounter! Thus, we were inches away from seeing clean sweeps by both finalists.

Vladimir Kramnik, who is providing commentary together with Judit Polgar, was full of praise for Pragg, who made it look easy against the player that won the last two “Challenges” of the tour. The former world champion went as far as saying that the Indian’s play was at top-10 level. Kramnik later emphasized:

I have no words! He is playing just absolutely fantastically. Amazing chess. He is playing almost like a real world champion, a level close to Magnus Carlsen. Very strong, really!

Meanwhile, back-to-back blunders by Liang gave Yoo an almost unsurmountable edge in the other semifinal. The younger American (Liang is 18, while Yoo is still 14) made the most of Liang’s risky play and scored a third win to make it into the final. Yoo later confessed:

I was definitely excited about the match. I did not get much sleep, but I feel extremely good after the match!

Julius Baer Challengers Tour Finals 2021

Pragg kicked off the day with the black pieces. By move 27, he had an advantage thanks to his mobile pawn majority on the queenside.

 

Here Keymer faltered with 27.Bh5, which turned out to be too slow — the German’s best chance to fight for a draw was 27.bxa5 Ra8 28.Rf1 Rxa5 29.f4, with quicker counterplay than in the game. After the text, Pragg immediately grabbed the initiative with 27...axb4 28.axb4 Rd4.

Six moves later, the Indian prodigy showed the strength of his active rook on the fourth rank.

 

34...Rb4 was the critical move in the whole variation. Black later captured Keymer’s b-pawn and went on to get a rather simple technical win. 

In the second game, Pragg was again in the driver’s seat, and handled his edge almost flawlessly, except for a tactical trick he failed to foresee...

 

White’s 41.Ng1 looks logical, preparing to get rid of the annoying black knight on e2. However, it is a mistake. Keymer could have changed the course of the match had he found the surprising 41...Ne3+, when White’s only move 42.fxg3 is met by 42...Ng3+ 43.Kf2 Ne4+, followed by grabbing the rook on e2. Knights are tricky pieces!

 

None of this appeared on the board, though, as Keymer played 41...Rxa5 instead and resigned the game 12 moves later.

The first game of the match was analysed by our in-house endgame specialist Karsten Müller.

 

In addition to the pressure for playing in a prestigious event, the fact that the tournament is taking place online with a quick time control can prompt any player to falter either with a blunder or a mouse-slip. In the semifinals, Liang twice hung pieces to enter completely lost positions.

 

In game 2, Liang was worse with the white pieces, but there was plenty to play for still on a board full of pieces. However, after 25.Qe4 Black can simply capture a rook with 25...Qxa4 — perhaps Liang thought he was just giving up an exchange, as he had 26.Qxe7, but failed to notice his other rook is now hanging on d1.

Resignation came four moves later.

 

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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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