FTX Crypto Cup: Carlsen and Pragg in the lead

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
8/17/2022 – Magnus Carlsen and Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu are the only players who have collected three points in each of the first two rounds at the FTX Crypto Cup in Miami. With 6 out of 6 points, they have a 1-point lead over Levon Aronian in third place. In Tuesday’s second round, Carlsen lost the first game against Hans Niemann, but managed to recover magnificently, winning three games in a row to get match victory.

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The world champion stumbles, recovers

After beating fellow elite GM Anish Giri in round 1, Magnus Carlsen was paired up against the lowest-rated player in the field (according to the rapid ratings), 19-year-old US grandmaster Hans Niemann.

Instead of a clean sweep, though, Carlsen needed to bounce back from a loss in the first game. A confident Niemann was interviewed after beating the world champion, and somewhat cryptically responded to the reporter congratulating him with a single phrase: “Chess speaks for itself”.

Carlsen is not one to feel discouraged after a single loss, though, as he went on to score three wins in a row to collect his second 3-pointer in Miami — if a player wins outright in the 4-game rapid match, he gets 3 points; otherwise, the winner of the blitz tiebreak gets 2 points and the loser gets 1 point.

Game 2 saw Carlsen winning with black, before following a trend he has set in previous tournaments of the series: i.e., to play strange opening moves. Against Niemann, the world champion went for 1.a3 and got a 72-move victory.

In a must-win situation, Niemann tried to muddy the waters by sacrificing his knight on move 14 of game 4.

 

Instead of jumping backwards with his knight, which had been attacked by 14...a6, Niemann played 15.axb6, when after 15...axb5 White has 16.Ra7. The commentators were impressed insofar the refutation for Black was by no means trivial, but by this point Carlsen had fully recovered his usual confidence, and he found a line that left him an exchange up in the middlegame.

Niemann fought hard, and could have saved a draw, but given the match situation, he pushed for more and ended up losing the game.

 

Select an entry from the list to switch between games

Pragg beats Giri in close match

Throughout the series, 17-year-old Praggnanandhaa has proven to be a force to be reckoned with in online rapid chess. Back in May, at the Chessable Masters, the youngster even defeated Carlsen. Now, in the second Major of the season, he had a marvellous start, beating Alireza Firouzja and Anish Giri to go into round 3 sharing the lead with the world champion.

Tuesday’s match started with three fighting draws. Pragg, who was the underdog in the encounter, had the black pieces in the fourth game, but that did not prevent him from keeping his eyes open for winning opportunities.

On move 21, Giri faltered, and the Indian swiftly grabbed his chance.

 

Giri’s 21.Rd3 fails tactically to 21...Rc2, when White is all but forced to enter a forcing sequence: 22.Ba3 Rxe2 23.Bxb4 Rxe1+ 24.Bxe1 Nxe4, and Black will manage to keep his extra pawn going forward.

The conversion was not at all easy, but Pragg patiently improved his position until beating his Dutch colleague in 81 moves.

 

Firouzja gets clear win over Le

Losing to Pragg in the first round in a very close match was a disappointment for Alireza Firouzja, but he bounced back brilliantly, getting a 2½-½ victory over Le Quang Liem at the Eden Roc Miami Beach Hotel.

In game 2, the French representative obtained the quickest win of the day (in terms of moves), as he obtained a 30-move victory with the black pieces. Out of a fashionable variation in the Semi-Tarrasch, Le dubiously decided to keep his king in the centre.

 

Le spent over 3 minutes (players have 15 minutes for the whole game) on 16.Ke2. The Vietnamese star was surely considering 16.0-0, which would claim that White’s better structure might end up being an advantage in the long run.

After the text, Firouzja prioritized the initiative, and went on to show his great calculating skills until securing the full point.

 

Aronian beats Duda in tiebreaks

In the first match (out of 8) that went to tiebreaks, Levon Aronian defeated Jan-Krzysztof Duda by a 3½-2½ score. The Armenian-born grandmaster will face Carlsen in the marquee matchup of round 3. Aronian won the previous event of the series, and is certainly capable of stopping the world champion’s winning streak.

Duda and Aronian traded wins with black in the first two games of the day. Two draws followed, and Duda got white in the first tiebreaker. Aronian failed to make the most of his chances in that game, but nonetheless went on to beat his Polish rival in the blitz rematch.

 

Aronian had no trouble converting this position with knight against two connected passers to get the deciding win of the match.

 

Standings after round 2

FTX Crypto Cup 2022


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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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