Polgar Challenge: Praggnanandhaa takes the lead
Eight consecutive wins
Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu, also known as Pragg, got his third GM standard in Ortisei, a small town in northern Italy in June 2018. He will later be confirmed as the 52nd Grandmaster of India. To date, Pragg is the fourth youngest player to win the GM title, behind Sergey Karjakin, Gukesh D and Javokhir Sindarov.
The 15-year-old started the tournament with a loss to an even younger opponent, Russian IM Volodar Murzin. Looking back, since apparently a dominant score will be needed to win the tournament, this loss could have seriously damaged the Indian’s chances of securing the title. However, his results from that point on have been outstanding – Pragg won every game from rounds 2-9 and drew Awonder Liang in the final game on Friday to qualify for the final 9 rounds of the event as that only leader.
Pragg has shown great practical skills throughout, fighting stubbornly even in the worst positions. Her 9th round victory had nothing to do with fighting spirit, however, as he got a full point after her opponent, Dinara Saduakassova, announced that she would not continue playing due to problems with her internet connection. Kazakhstan withdrew from the last three games of the day and then apologized for the inconvenience on Instagram. She explained:
In the seven games I played I ran into internet issues and tried a few times but nothing helped. […] I mean sorry to all the chess fans and the organizers – they really do a great job.
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Twice, Pragg struggled hard on Friday, but still got 1½ points in those two tough encounters to stay ahead of the standings. Against Liang, who turned 18 on day two of the event, the Indian prodigy held his own in a position with rook and knight against queen and a dangerous passer in line a. Liang faltered on the 41st move:
Now was not the right time for Black to push his passer. by Liang 41 … a4 gave way to 42.Re4, the saving stroke. Black cannot save their pawn, because the queen also defends the bishop in e7 – 42 … Da3 43.Nb1 Qd6 44.Txa4. White pieces can now defend their king without worrying about a new queen appearing on the opposite flank. A draw was agreed six strokes later.
In the 8th round, it was Nurgyul Salimova who could have ended Pragg’s winning streak:
Whites 43.Bf3 was a huge blunder, as it allowed 43 … Ng6 and the queen is trapped. Salimova didn’t find the retreat move – a maneuver hard to find in a blitz game, after all – and ultimately lost the match.
Both players of the Fighter Squad have played impressive chess throughout. Yesterday we wrote about Yoo, the youngest participant in the field. Today we salute the performance of Abdusattorov. The Uzbek prodigy – who, at age 9, beat two general managers at the Georgy Amazov Memorial – displayed a good mix of technical prowess in calm positions and tactical awareness to find fatal blows when the situation calls for it. .
In the 6th lap, he got the better of Danish GM Jonas Buhl Bjerre. Our in-house specialist Karsten Müller analyzed the final phase:
Abdusattorov won four and lost one on Day 2, but could have ended the day with a perfect 5/5 had he taken advantage of his superior position against Leon Mendonca in the 9th round:
Black has a dominant position with the bishop pair and an annoying pawn on e3. In addition, two white pawns are suspended. The first catch that comes to mind – because she gives a check – was the right way to go: 49 … Bxb5 + 50.Nxb5 Rxb5 and Black has two couriers connected on the lady side. However, Abdusattorov chose 49 … Kxd4, allowing whites to recover with 50.Bc1 Bd7 and 51.Bxe3.
Mendonca would take a victory in 96 moves. Two rounds earlier, the Indian had saved a draw in a delicate final against Zhansaya Abdumalik. Karsten Müller took a closer look: