Polgar Challenge: Pragg leads, Liang has a perfect day

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
4/11/2021 – Despite losing against Vincent Keymer in the last round of the day, Praggnanandhaa kept the sole lead in the Polgar Challenge for young stars. Nodirbek Abdusattorov also ended the day with a loss and goes into the last four rounds of the event a half point behind the leader. Nihal Sarin and Awonder Liang (pictured) are sharing third place a full point behind Pragg — Liang scored 5 out of 5 on Saturday! | Don’t miss the expert analyses by endgame specialist Karsten Müller. | Photo: Crystall Fuller / Saint Louis Chess Club

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Everything still to fight for

Praggnanandhaa took the sole lead in round 9 of the Polgar Challenge on Friday, when Nodirbek Abdusattorov — the then shared leader — lost to Leon Luke Mendonca. The Indian prodigy has remained alone atop the standings ever since, but that does not mean everything is decided in the first event of the Julius Baer Challengers Tour. To the contrary, we can expect a very exciting final day, as four players stand well within range to catch the leader with four rounds to go.

Abdusattorov has perhaps shown the steadiest hand. The Uzbek grandmaster is in sole second place a half point behind Pragg despite having failed to convert a winning position on Friday against Mendonca. If there are no significant changes in the standings table, Abdusattorov will get a chance to leapfrog Pragg in their last-round encounter, when the Uzbek will play with the white pieces.

A half point behind Abdusattorov stand Nihal Sarin and Awonder Liang. While the former has only lost once so far in the event, the latter showed what he is capable of by scoring a perfect 5/5 score on Saturday. It is worth noting that Nihal will likely have a much easier time than Liang on Sunday — if we go by their opponents’ performances in the event.

Finally, German star Vincent Keymer still has chances to catch up with Pragg. Keymer defeated the leader in Saturday’s last round and will need to overcome a 1½-point deficit on Sunday if he wants to take home the $3,000 first prize.

Polgar Chess Challenge 2021

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Pragg kicked off the day in style, beating former co-leader Christopher Yoo with the black pieces:

 

The Indian star went for the sharp variation with 5...h5 against his younger opponent, who was the only undefeated player in the field at that point. 

Not surprisingly, a tactical skirmish ensued. This was the position after 20 moves:

 

White was already committed to the attack and kept up the pressure against the black king in the centre with 21.Nxd6. Pragg had nothing better than to accept the sacrifice as the game continued 21...Kxd6 22.Qxf7 Bb7 23.c4.

The black king remained on d6 until move 30, with Pragg demonstrating that White did not have enough firepower to mate his monarch. Eventually, most of the pieces left the board and Black found himself a rook up in a completely winning endgame. Yoo resigned for the first time in the event on move 73.

Three rounds later, Yoo was again defeated, this time by Liang, who came from winning all three of his games up to that point — in round 12, he had to face Dinara Saduakassova, who, as we mentioned yesterday, had to retire from the competition due to issues with her internet connection.

 

White had a massive advantage by move 28, and here finished off his opponent with 29.Rxe5 Qc1 30.Ne7+ Kg7 31.c5 Qb5, and there is no more counterplay for Black. Yoo resigned a few moves later.

Going into round 15, it seemed like a two-horse race between Pragg and Abusattorov would decide who wins the tournament. However, both players lost their last encounters of the day, giving three more players realistic hopes to win it all with four rounds to go. Pragg was defeated by Keymer, while Nihal beat Abduttasorov. 

On the last day of action, out of the top 5 in the standings table, only Keymer will get a ‘free point’ against Saduakassova. Direct encounters between those fighting for first place are Liang v Keymer (round 18) and Abdusattorov v Praggnanandhaa (round 19).


Endgame analyses by Karsten Müller

Our in-house specialist found three examples of instructive and/or interesting endgames in rounds 11-15. In Khademalsharieh v Mammadzada, he showed how a pawn move can be fatal, while in Gukesh v Badelka and Lei v Mendonce he demonstrated how important it is to activate one’s pieces in the endgame.

 

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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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