India’s boy wonder Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu continued to impress at the top table of world chess as he stormed into his first Meltwater Champions Chess Tour final in sensational style.
The 16-year-old from Chennai showed off all his skills as he overpowered the strong Dutch No 1 Anish Giri in the Chessable Masters semi-final, the fourth leg of the $1.6 million Tour season.
Giri had gone into the match unbeaten and in red-hot form having topped the $150,000 event’s Prelim stage leaderboard. But the 29-year-old ran into one of the world’s top talents, who is truly coming of age.
Pragg’s jaw-dropping performance set up a mouth-watering clash with the new World No 2 Ding Liren, who also pulled off a shock to down the reigning world champion and tour leader Magnus Carlsen. Earlier in the tournament, the 16-year-old Indian had beaten Carlsen in the group stage - which was the second time in three months that he had beaten the World No 1.
Incredibly, Pragg – as he is known in the the chess community – had something equally important to do first thing on Wednesday: he had to tackle his 11th grade exams.
“I have to be at school around 8:45am,” he said late night Indian time after the win. “And now it’s 2am. So I have to go sleep, and try not to sleep during the exam.”
“It is actually my board exams, it’s a must to give the. It’s a commerce exam, and I hope I will pass. Would be an ideal day [to pass both the exam and win]. But winning the match will be much more nice than passing the exam.” Pragg said at the end with a smile, in a direct response to a question from the interview about his big day coming up.
The semi-final delivered incredible drama as the four top players from the Prelim stage, all on top form, made it through the quarter-finals yesterday and went into battle in the semis.
Pragg’s match with Giri caught fire in the second game after a tame first encounter ended in a draw.
The youngster set Giri a deadly trap in the endgame and the Dutchman missed the only defence. Checkmate was guaranteed and Pragg took the lead. Giri had lost his first game of the tournament.
The third game was another cracker. With Giri needing a win, the advantage switched several times. As Giri looked set to break through in the endgame, Pragg found a way to dig in and force a draw. The youngster was 2-1 in front with one game to go.
An astonishingly tricky game followed that let Giri back in. Pragg defended brilliantly but one slip when the position was on a knife-edge and Giri was onto it. The game ended with a beautiful checkmate on the board and the match locked at 2-2 and heading to tiebreaks.
Then it all went wrong for Giri. He blundered badly in the first blitz game of the play-off with 32. Qc2, handing Pragg double attack that led to a piece capture. Giri resigned in a hopeless position and looked despondent.
But the Dutchman wasn’t out yet. The second blitz game saw Giri on top before another slip gifted Pragg a pawn. There was no way back. A draw was agreed, but it was the same as a win for Pragg who was through.
Grandmaster David Howell said: “It feels like we’ve got a front-row seat to watch him blossom, month after month.”
In contrast, Carlsen vs Ding was a match of extreme, slow-burning pressure. To add to the intensity, Carlsen found himself plagued early on by internet connection problems at his base for this event in Skagen, Denmark.
After three tense draws where both players probed but couldn’t crack their opponents’ defences, it all came down to the fourth and final game.
And then, a moment no-one expected: Carlsen cracked. Ding broke through and went on to win. Carlsen had failed the make the final for the first time in the 2022 Tour.
You can watch the replay of the matches here and Pragg’s interview at the very end of the video: