FTX Crypto Cup: Pragg keeps pace with Carlsen

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
8/18/2022 – Praggnanandhaa and Magnus Carlsen are sharing the lead with perfect scores at the FTX Crypto Cup in Miami. In Wednesday’s third round, Pragg defeated Hans Niemann while Carlsen got the better of Levon Aronian. Le Quang Liem and Alireza Firouzja were the remaining winners of the day, with the latter climbing to shared third place after beating Anish Giri in Armageddon.

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Pragg still perfect

Indian youngsters continue to shock the chess world. At the Olympiad in Chennai, Dommaraju Gukesh and Arjun Erigaisi had stellar performances, but were not the only Indian juniors that over-performed. On boards 2 and 3 of the India 2 team, Nihal Sarin and Praggnanandhaa finished the massive event with 2774 and 2767 rating performances respectively.

In Chennai, Pragg, who has now won all three of his matches at the FTX Crypto Cup, scored a crucial win over Javokhir Sindarov in round 10. The youngster showcased his technical strength in a theoretical endgame.

In Miami, due to the rapid-chess format, small mistakes in somewhat dry positions can be very costly — i.e. in the kinds of positions strong grandmasters would safely hold in classical games. After trading wins with Hans Niemann on Wednesday, Pragg collected a draw with black and went on to score a deciding victory in game 4. Niemann blundered in an imbalanced ending with rook and knight against rook and bishop.


Trading rooks with 57...Rxd2 is the one move that keeps the balance for Black. Niemann’s 57...Rg1, on the other hand, loses to 58.Ng3, when Black runs out of useful moves and White is threatening to either increase the pressure on the pinned bishop or advance his dangeorus passer on the kingside.

The US grandmaster spent a minute and a half on 58...Ra1, but soon found himself in a visibly losing position after 59.Ne2 Ke5 60.Nxd4 Rxa4 61.f6


Of course, Black cannot grab the piece, since the f-pawn would simply run down the board. Three more moves were played before Niemann decided to throw in the towel.


Select an entry from the list to switch between games

Carlsen takes the bulls by the horns

The world champion picked up where he left off in round 3. After scoring three straight wins over Niemann on Tuesday, he defeated Levon Aronian in the first game of their confrontation.

Two hard-fought draws followed, with stalemate ending both games — both in positions with king and pawn against king. The elite grandmasters were in fighting moods, with Aronian not one to feel intimidated by the perennial favourite.

Carlsen only needed a draw with white in game 4, but that did not prevent him from entering complications and (correctly) sacrificing a queen when that was what the position called for.


The world champion had foreseen his opponent’s 20...Rh6, and had rightfully assessed that 21.Nxe4 was the strongest move in the position — he captured the knight almost immediately.

After 21...Rxh5, White must not play 21.Rg1, pinning the queen, as 21...Rxh4 22.Rxg7 Kxg7 leaves Black in a winning position. However, 21...Bxh5 22.Qh6 Ng3 shows why Carlsen agreed to give up his queen — his minor pieces and rook quickly find coordination, while Black’s army is not fully developed.


Shortly after, Carlsen got a winning position. The resourceful Aronian eventually managed to escape with a draw by perpetual check, but that was enough for the Norwegian to grab his third straight win in Miami. When he was asked about his adventurous play in game 4, the world champion confessed that he had consciously decided to “take the bull by the horns”.


Firouzja beats Giri in Armageddon

For a second day in a row, one of the four matches in Miami went to tiebreaks. And in round 3 we got to see the first confrontation that went all the way to the Armageddon decider. After drawing all four rapid games and both blitz tiebreakers, Alireza Firouzja and Anish Giri decided their match in a single sudden-death encounter.

Firouzja got the white pieces, and grabbed his chance when Giri decided to defend the wrong pawn on move 38.


Black is temporarily a pawn to the good, but both his pawns on b3 and on f6 are under attack. Giri played 38...Rb8, defending his queenside blocker, allowing his young opponent to decisively grab the initiative with 39.Rxf6.

A bullet specialist, Firouzja did not falter in the conversion of his advantage, as he won the game — and thus the match — in 57 moves.


Le takes down Duda

While Firouzja needed seven games to finally defeat his opponent, Le Quang Liem made quick work of Jan-Krzysztof Duda, winning the first two encounters and drawing the third to claim his first victory of the event.

Duda had an extra pawn with black in the first game of the day, but it was Le who had the better attacking chances in a dynamic position.


Black’s 47...f4 only made things worse, as White can safely trade pawns with 48.gxf4 gxf4, and the vulnerability of the weaker king (Black’s) becomes even more of a relevant factor.

Le grabbed the pawn with 49.Bxf4, since 49...Nxf4 fails to 50.Ne7+, and after 49...Kh5 missed a chance to quickly put an end to the game. There is mate in 10 on the board. Can you find White’s winning move?


50.Ne7, opening up the sixth rank for the rook while also creating threats with the knight, is the way to go — e.g. 50...Rxe7 51.Rxf6 Nxf6 52.Qxf6 is game over.

The Vietnamese did not find this tactical shot and went for 50.Ra5 instead. Duda’s best defensive recourse was 50...Qf3, while his 50...Rg8 allowed White to consolidate his advantage with 51.Bg3. Le went on to get the full point thirteen moves later.


Standings after round 3

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.