Pragg miracle on day of siblings

Left: Vidit Gujarathi, Right: Praggnanandhaa. Source: ChessbaseIndia

Among other things, chess is also about compensating for resources lost. One has to make up for what has been conceded. After suffering defeats, a day earlier in the Candidates chess tournament in Toronto, siblings R Praggnanandhaa and R Vaishali bounced back with wins in the third round.

Pragg shocked everybody including Viswanathan Anand doing commentary with an outrageously unconventional move early on and converted a seemingly hopeless position with black into a win against Vidit Gujrathi. Vaishali was far more orthodox in her victory with white against Nurgyul Salimova of Bulgaria. The other six games were drawn.

D Gukesh, Fabiano Caruana and Ian Nepomniachtchi are leading the open section with two points each. Pragg and Vidit are on 1.5. China’s Tan Zhongyi is leading the women’s section with 2.5 points. Vaishali and Koneru Humpy are sharing the third spot with 1.5.

“Insane” was the word dominating live commentaries and comments boxes after Pragg played F5 in his fourth move. This involves a pawn not occupying the central squares, which are the critical ones. It is seen as a ploy to create a muddle in the middle and trying to gain something out of it. Because he had messed up with white a day earlier, Pragg was least expected to try something like this.

Instead, he chose something even messier. Out to regain the point lost on Friday, he threw the kitchen sink at Vidit and threw the textbook out of the window in the process. It gained him an early pawn, but he also lost two. His position got muddled up, pieces were not mobilised and the channel left open by his bizarre opening was worked upon by Vidit.

Just above half-an-hour into the game, doing commentary for the live telecast on the official website of the International Chess Federation (FIDE), Anand opined that black should resign. Vidit seemed to have found the right lines and more or less everybody on every platform concurred that a second successive defeat for Pragg was a matter of time.

The clock ticked by. That ‘time’ didn’t arrive. Rather, Vidit was forced into long thoughts. Pragg knew he was gambling. He also knew when to stop. Slowly, he started manoeuvring his pieces in a manner which made it difficult for his opponent to break in. The white pawn advancing down the middle was rendered ineffective. He opened up channels which didn’t exist a while earlier and used those to gain material advantage.

Vidit started getting uneasy and appearing unsure. He advanced his arm to make a move, kept it hanging above a piece for a few seconds before withdrawing. This happened on multiple occasions. At this stage, Anand observed that he was “shifting in his chair” and was not clear “what his next move should be”. Pragg didn’t go for the kill. He waited and waited until Vidit ran out of options.

Hikaru Nakamura’s words summed up how incredible the turnaround was. The World No. 3 had lost to Vidit a day earlier and settled for a quick draw on Saturday with black, saying that he did not want to risk another early setback. Asked what he was doing after his game, Nakamura said on live telecast he was looking at other boards where Pragg had “played this completely insane variation”.

Round 3 results

Open section


Nijat Abasov (1) drew with Hikaru Nakamura (1)

Alireza Firouzja (1) drew with Fabiano Caruana (2)

Vidit Gujrathi (1.5) lost to R Praggnanandhaa (1.5)

D Gukesh (2) drew with Ian Nepomniachtchi (2)

Women’s section

Anna Muzychuk (1) drew with Kateryna Lagno (1.5)

Lei Tingjie (1) drew with Aleksandra Goryachkina (2)

R Vaishali (1.5) bt Nurgyul Salimova (1)

Koneru Humpy (1.5) drew with Tan Zhongyi (2.5)

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