Pragg in Prague: Can he stop David Anton?

by Macauley Peterson
3/14/2019 – The Challengers group at the Prague Chess Festival concludes today, and with one round to play Spanish GM David Anton is in pole position, leading by half a point over Jan Krejci. But Anton will face one final challenge as he seeks to qualify to the 2020 Masters: Indian prodigy Praggnanandhaa. | Photo: Vladimir Jagr / PragueChessFestival.com

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Three-way ties possible

The first edition of the Prague Masters and Challengers models itself after the Tata Steel tournament format in a variety of ways, but one of them is the idea to give local Czech grandmasters who don't necessarily have opportunities to compete against elite international competition a chance to shine. The plans already in the works for a 2020 edition include offering the top finisher in the Challengers tournament a spot in the Masters, as is the practice in Wijk aan Zee.

After eight rounds, David Anton Guijarro clearly has the best chance with a half point lead, and the white pieces in the last round. But Jan Krejci and Peter Michalik from the host country as well as Women's World Championship Ju Wenjun have theoretical chances to catch him.

 

Click or tap any result to jump directly to that game via live.chessbase.com

Here are the ninth round pairings on the top boards:

Bo. No. Rtg     Name Vs   Name   Rtg No.
1 5 2570
 
GM Krejci Jan   GM Ju Wenjun
 
2580 10
2 6 2565
 
GM Michalik Peter   GM Shirov Alexei
 
2667 4
3 7 2643
 
GM Anton Guijarro David   GM Praggnanandhaa R
 
2532 3

The tiebreak scenarios broadly come down to Anton's result. If he wins against Praggnanandhaa, of course he comes clear first. If he draws, then only Jan Krejci can catch him by beating Ju. The first tiebreak criteria is Direct Encounter, but Anton and Krejci drew their head-to-head which would send the tiebreak to the notoriously hard-to-calculate Sonneborn-Berger score. Anton's current S-B lead is substantial, however.

If Anton loses to Pragg, then it gets interesting: Peter Michalik has an outside chance, assuming of course he wins his last round game and Krejci only draws, as Michalik beat both his countryman and Anton in their head-to-head games.

If Ju beats Krejci, she can also reach 5½ to tie in case of an Anton loss. Ju beat Michalik and drew with Anton, so again we'd be back to Sonneborn-Berger, which favours Anton.

David Anton

David Anton on the brink of winning 1st Prague Challengers | Photo: Macauley Peterson

The bottom line is, Anton should be happy with a draw, and he has White, but the question is what will Pragg do?

Pragg beats Ju and Shirov but then falters

In the middle of the tournament, the Indian prodigy Praggnanandhaa was on a roll, scoring back-to-back wins against the current Women's World Champion Ju Wenjun and the legendary attacking player Alexei Shirov.

Ju and Shirov

Ju and Shirov were Pragg's two Prague victims | Photo: Macauley Peterson

In a Petroff, play followed the modern-practice of Nakamura vs Caruana, Aronian vs Caruana and Karjakin vs Giri, all from 2018 through 12...c5:

 

Here Pragg went his own way with 13.Bf4 and was nursing a small advantage throughout a long queenless middlegame until Ju made a misstep on move 37:

 

Ju had burned up too much time on the clock earlier and here she quickly played 37...e6 (Black needs to try to hold the position with the bishop pair after the undesirable exchange of rooks on d5) 38.e5+ d7 39.fxg5 with a pawn-up ending that Pragg deftly converted.

Praggnanandhaa comments on the game for the Prague International Chess Festival YouTube channel

Praggnanandhaa vs Shirov was a charming duel of two generations and two temperaments.

Pragg vs Shirov

Fortunately for Pragg, size is of no relevance at the chess board! | Photo: Vladimir Jagr

In an Italian game Shirov opened the position in the centre with early d7-d5. 

 

Here the Latvian-born Spaniard got himself into trouble with the careless move 11...f6 opening the light-squared diagonal to his King. Praggnanandhaa thought for 20 minutes and replied 12.d4!, which simply threatens 13.dxe5. On 12...exd4 would come 13.b3. Shirov instead gave a pawn with 12...h8 13.fxe5 xf3 14. gxf3 ce7 15.exf6 gxf6 but did not get enough compensation and suffered in a long ending. His young GM colleague patiently turned his advantage to victory.

 

After 60.e7, Shirov gave up, as there's nothing to be done about 61.g6 and 62.f7.

IM Sagar Shah annotates this game in detail in both written and video form below:

 

Pragg vs Shirov charicatures

Another visual take on this game from artist Lubomír Zimniok

The next two games brought the young Indian GM back down to Earth, however. Against Krejci he was under pressure right out of the offbeat opening and it didn't let up:

 

The Czech GM played a strong exchange-sacrifice with 17.xb4 xf3 18.xf3 xa1 19.xa1 with a commanding position for White.

On Wednesday against Michalik, Pragg squandered a middlegame advantage and then was close to losing but fighting valiantly until he fell into a mating net.

 

Pragg played 63...h7, missing 64...b2+ 65.d1 d3! (the rook was needed on h8 to give check on d8 and continue defending). 66.e1 e3 67.f1 f2+ is hopeless for White who soon had to throw in the towel.

Michalik

Czech GM Peter Michalik still has an outside chance at first | Photo: Macauley Peterson

So round 9 — which you can watch below or live alongside the eighth round of the Masters —  will give Pragg a chance to redeem himself against the tournament leader David Anton. He's not generally one to give up an easy draw, so it could be an interesting finale.

Live games of Round 9

 

André Schulz contributed reporting

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Macauley is Editor in Chief of ChessBase News in Hamburg, Germany, and producer of The Full English Breakfast chess podcast. He was an Associate Producer of the 2016 feature documentary, Magnus.
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ketchuplover ketchuplover 3/16/2019 08:15
about dam time
WillScarlett WillScarlett 3/14/2019 03:29
I have learned that the Indian chess child prodigy, Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa , wishes to accommodate the press and world-wide chess fans who have been having a spot of trouble with his name. He has agreed to allow an abbreviation in media articles that mention him. He graciously says that from now on he may be referred to as
"Rameshbabu Praggnanandha " .
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