I like when young players play antiquated line: Nigel Short on Praggnanandhaa’s wonder move

R Praggnanandhaa and Nigel Short
R Praggnanandhaa and Nigel Short (PC: X)

Early into his game against Vidit Gujrathi, R Praggnanandhaa moved his pawn to f5 square. The chess world sat up to take note. The move was not quite as astounding as Bobby Fischer’s ‘Pawn Sacrifice’, but the variant of the Ruy Lopez that Pragg played was rare enough even for the engine to call it an inaccuracy.

The move sowed the seeds of Pragg’s win against Vidit and far afield in England, while recovering from a wrist fracture, British grandmaster Nigel Short, too, was equally startled. In an interview with RevSportz, Short spoke about the move and gave his overall assessment of the ongoing Candidates chess.

Q: What do you make of Pragg’s move?

A: The move is called Schliemann Gambit Deferred. It is an antiquated line. I like it when young players play some of these lines that have been discarded. It shows that chess is exhaustible. This is actually 19th century chess, as the move originated in 1847. But chess is a practical game and sometimes you can surprise people with some unusual openings.

Q: The move definitely caught Vidit off guard.

A: Vidit is a player who is superbly prepared in fashionable lines. And Pragg decided to go left field. He didn’t play to Vidit’s strengths and it worked.

Q: Do you think the defeat is a blow to Vidit?

A: I feel sorry for Vidit. He was initially sitting pretty and he now has two losses in a row. But the tournament is long and this can change.

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R Praggnanandhaa and Vidit Gujrathi
R Praggnanandhaa and Vidit Gujrathi (PC: FIDE_chess/X)

Q: What’s your assessment of the Indian contingent at the Candidates chess?

A: Gukesh (Dommaraju) is half-a-point (currently on 2.5 points) from the lead and he is a very, very good player. Pragg is fifty-fifty. And I remember Magnus Carlsen’s pre-tournament prediction that he said Vidit wasn’t going to do very well. He is suffering a bit at the moment.

Q: Early days at the Candidates chess, but so far have things panned out as per your expectations?

A: I’m not surprised that (Hikaru) Nakamura is underperforming, although he has been in great, great form coming into the tournament. But it’s about the big tournament psychology. It’s interesting to see that (Ian) Nepomniachtchi is in the lead. It’s fascinating because he hasn’t done that much recently. He is a big tournament player and I like the way he raises his game for key events.

Q: Who do you think is the tournament favourite?

A: Hard to say. Fabiano Caruana is very consistent. Nepomniachtchi is in pole position. Gukesh can be up there. So, I’m not going to make any predictions. We still have a long way to go. But I don’t think those who are in the negative zone will go on and win the tournament. Among them, only Nakamura can win matches at a stretch.

Q: Current-day chess doesn’t seem to have a character like Fischer or Carlsen. Do you agree that this is affecting the sport’s marketability?

A: I don’t accept it at all. Rather I would say, now that Carlsen is sort of semi-retired, it has created space for other people. The Candidates chess is a very, very good tournament. Contest is intense and the games so far have been interesting. And the event is held alongside the Women’s Candidates Tournament. So, I don’t accept that chess has become less interesting. In fact, the last World Championship match between Nepomniachtchi and Ding Liren was more interesting than some of Carlsen’s matches.

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