Aggro with black sets apart Pragg & Vidit at Candidates

Praggnanandhaa and Alireza Firouzja
Praggnanandhaa and Alireza Firouzja (PC: FIDE_chess/X)

Indian players made an unspectacular yet steady start at the Candidates chess competition in Toronto. Three in the open category and two in the women’s section were part of the seven draws in the eight games across both sections in the first round.

It’s a decent beginning, considering that it’s a long tournament where the players take part in 14 games each. Normally in the first round of such events, featuring the best of the world, players don’t go all out, because nobody wants such a move to backfire early on in the marathon. They play safe and down shutters at the first sign of trouble.

That’s why Dibyendu Barua was mighty pleased with the performance of R Praggnanandhaa, who shared the point with France’s Alireza Firouzja. Barua noted that despite playing with black pieces against the World No. 6, India’s teen sensation stuck to his natural game and kept looking for a win. Pragg is 14th in the latest world rankings.

“Draw in the first round is a good result for everybody, but Pragg stood out for showing attacking instincts,” Barua told RevSportz. “He played a dynamic game and was unfortunate to not pull it off in the end. His opponent defended well. Pragg made some brilliant moves and throughout the game, he played to win. Doing that with black in the first round shows his aggressive attitude.”

The second Indian after Viswanathan Anand to become a Grandmaster, Barua explained why it’s not common to see players try what Pragg did. “They conserve themselves for the later stages in tournaments like this. Here, every half point counts, which makes a draw with black precious. That’s why players with that colour play safe, especially in the first few rounds.”

Vidit Gujrathi also tried to force the issue with black pieces against D Gukesh. “There was actually a time when he looked like winning. That’s how he plays, always looking for something,” noted Barua. “Although Pragg and Vidit didn’t win, this was good for them. Being aggressive with black gave them a chance to assess themselves in terms of preparation, form etc.”

The second round pits Pragg against Gukesh where the former will have the white pieces. Vidit will have black again, against World No. 3 Hikaru Nakamura of the United States. “This is professional sport, but I wish the all-Indian games end in draws, at least at this stage of the competition. Nobody loses a point in that case and can preserve their best for the other games,” said Barua.

There was another all-Indian contest on the opening day, between Koneru Humpy and R Vaishali in the women’s section. Humpy, the former World No. 1 and the greatest Indian woman chess player ever, played with black and had her younger opponent under pressure for a while.

“Humpy is way too experienced to give it away. She knows how to approach these tournaments and has lots of maturity. Vaishali is promising, but maybe a bit inexperienced at this level. But given that this was the first round, it was a good result for both of them. Of the two, I still feel Humpy has a better chance,” said Barua.

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