Impressive Praggnanandhaa wins Julius Baer Challengers Tour Finals

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
10/18/2021 – There was no stopping Praggnanandhaa in the Finals of the Julius Baer Challengers Tour. The 16-year-old from Chennai scored a dominating 3-0 victory in the final match against Christopher Yoo, which means he was a half point away from getting a perfect score in the event — he got 8½/9 points after knocking out Volodar Murzin and Vincent Keymer in the previous rounds.

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A clean sweep

Vladimir Kramnik had already praised Praggnanandhaa’s form while providing commentary in the semifinals, noting that the youngster is playing way above his rating in the online event. Pragg did not disappoint, as he scored yet another clean sweep in the final match against Christopher Yoo on Sunday, getting three straight victories to secure first place and a $12,500 top prize.

In the post-match interviews during the event, Pragg mentioned that he had not been performing as well as he expected in over-the-board tournaments lately, but he more than made up for it in the knockout Finals. When asked about how he will celebrate his victory, the ambitious prodigy responded:

I need to prepare for the Grand Swiss, which is coming in a week, so probably I’ll not see chess for a day or something.

Besides the money prize, Pragg gained the right to participate in next year’s Meltwater Champions Chess Tour, where he will face the strongest players in the world. Vishy Anand congratulated his compatriot on Twitter.

Yoo kicked off the final match with white, and went for a quick push of his b-pawn out of a Sicilian (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.b4). Unfortunately for the American, Pragg was prepared for this oofbeat line and immediately got the upper hand. The Indian’s conversion of his advantage was not without fault, but he never quite lost control of the situation until eventually getting the full point.

The second game was a hard-fought struggle, with Yoo giving up a piece for the attack on move 36.

 

36...Nxh3+ 37.gxh3 Qxh3 is a line approved by the engines from the black side. However, after 38.Ne2, the best alternative to keep the momentum going was 38...f5, preparing to further open up the position. Yoo played 38...Bc5+ instead, and White eventually managed to coordinate his pieces in defence.

Yoo could have looked for drawing lines, with his queen and one of the rooks hovering around White’s vulnerable king. But the young Californian wanted more.

 

White had just captured his opponent’s dark-squared bishop, and instead of recapturing the minor piece or going for a rook exchange, Yoo opted for 41...Rxe4. Pragg immediately returned with his bishop to f2 and began to look for simplifications.

The Indian star gave back one of his extra pieces to enter an endgame with rook, knight and 3 pawns versus rook and 6 pawns.

 

Pragg’s pragmatic approach paid off, as he scored his second win of the day, which meant he only needed a draw with black to secure first place.

Yoo needed back-to-back wins to level the score and, as it is usually the case in these situations, he pushed too hard and lost yet another game. Kramnik and Polgar noted that the American is also underrated, as the pandemic was a major hindrance for these prodigies who make progress so quickly. Despite the result, the living legends predicted that both finalists will become incredibly strong players in the future.

 

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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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ulyssesganesh ulyssesganesh 10/24/2021 12:46
congrats Praggnandha....
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