16-year-old Praggnanandhaa will play world no. 2 Ding Liren in the Chessable Masters final just hours after he sits school exams at home in Chennai, India. The prodigy played some brilliant chess to overcome heroic resistance from Anish Giri, while Ding Liren called it “a little unbelievable” that he finally beat World Champion Magnus Carlsen in an online tour knockout match. An extremely high-level clash featured chances for both players before Ding finally broke through in the 4th game.
You can replay all the knockout games from the Chessable Masters, the 4th event on the $1.6 million Meltwater Champions Chess Tour, using the selector below.
The semi-finals produced our first playoff of this year’s event.
Despite the handicap of having to play late at night, China’s Ding Liren has been one of the heroes of the new world of online chess since it all began with the Magnus Carlsen Invitational back in April 2020. He’s struggled against Magnus, however, losing to him in the semi-final of that first event, then in the semi-final of the 1st ever Chessable Masters, then in the semi-final of the overall Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour Finals.
Ding struggled more in 2021, but still lost to Magnus in the 3rd place playoff for the Goldmoney Asian Rapid, while this year he lost, again in the semi-finals, of the Charity Cup. It was understandable, therefore, that he was thrilled to finally win!
Very happy, a little bit unbelievable, since I lost to Magnus so many times. I haven’t beaten him in any of the knockout stages in this Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour, so it’s my first time to knock him out.
The match was everything you would hope for from the world’s top two players, featuring deep opening ideas and strategy but also tenacious defence. To start the match Magnus had White, and Ding admitted he got into trouble.
When I was the black pieces I was caught in preparation in both games. I was worse in both at some stage but finally I tried to hold and it just works.
Magnus Carlsen second Jan Gustafsson was on hand to explain the tricky move-order Magnus employed in a Catalan-style opening, with 13.Kh1 a new move.
It provoked Ding into the bold 13…Kf7!?, which might have backfired after 14.e4! dxe4 15.Nxe4 Nxe4 16.Bxe4 Bf6 17.c3 Qc7, when the computer points out the possible 18.f5!
18…gxf5 19.Qh5+ is obviously promising for White, but after 18…exf5 the big move is 19.Bh6!, limiting the escape squares for the black king. 19…fxe4? loses on the spot to 20.Qd5+ Ke7 21.Rxf6! with Raf1 to follow.
Instead in the game we saw 18.Qf3 Ne7! with Ding boldly giving up the b7-pawn to get all his pieces into the game. In fact both players would freely jettison pawns in the play that followed, with Ding getting a slight advantage before the game ended in a draw by repetition.
In Game 2 it was Magnus who gave up a pawn in the opening, and though his play was bold and highly-challenging for a human opponent, a computer would have picked up a win.
The most natural try here is 15.Bc3, though in some lines Black, with his rook capturing on e2 and queen coming to h4, puts heavy pressure on the f2-pawn. Ding would eventually play the prophylactic 16.Be1!, but it turns out 16.Bb4! was actually the winning try. It’s extremely complicated, however, with the main line going 16…Nxf3+ 17.gxf3! Bxh2+! 18.Kg2! Qxd5 and more sharp moves required to deal with all the hanging pieces.
Ding said he was very happy with his white games and just noted “I missed a very difficult win” in Game 2. Even in the game after 16.Be1 Rxe2 17.Nxe5 Bxe5 18.Qxe5 it was an absolutely only move for Magnus to capture the e3-pawn with his rook!
After 19.Qxe3 Bxd1 20.Qxa7 Ding was a pawn up, but Magnus managed to hold a draw with relatively little trouble.
Game 3 once again saw Magnus with the white pieces, and this time he sacrificed two pawns for a powerful grip on the position.
21.f4 was winning back one of the pawns, and it was the kind of position it felt as though Magnus would win in a classical game, but in rapid chess it was very tricky to find the subtle moves to prove what the computer soon claimed was a decisive advantage. In fact later Ding Liren could have taken over.
35…Rg2+! 36.Ke1 f3! and Black suddenly has the more menacing passed pawn — and an extra pawn! — but 35…Rxe6 36.Bxe6, with the plan of bringing the king to eliminate the d-pawn, was only enough for a draw against Carlsen’s accurate defence.
That meant the players were level going into the 4th and final rapid game, but this time it was Ding who emerged with a big opening advantage. It was so big that Magnus may have deliberately given up a pawn to remove a defender of the e4-square, with 16…Ba5?!.
Ding accepted with 17.Nxd5! exd5 18.Bxa5 and, with an extra pawn and the bishop pair, had every reason to hope for a win. It did begin to look like a fortress, however, and on moves 38 and 39 it seems Magnus could have come very close to equalising.
39…g3! was the move, keeping White’s forces locked down. Instead after 39…Kg7? 40.Bh4! Ng8 41.Bc2 Nd2 42.Bg5! the black position was falling apart.
Picking up the exchange with 42…Nxb3 was no compensation for the h5-pawn falling and the queen invading, and Ding Liren was absolutely flawless as he powered to victory.
Ding commented on how the upcoming Candidates Tournament was influencing his approach.
Actually I did not take this tournament that seriously until I reached the knockout stage, since I liked to hide some preparation and save some energy for the Candidates, since it’s already very late, but today I slept a lot of time before the match, so I was very, very conscious during the game.
Magnus, meanwhile, was gracious in defeat.
I’m really disappointed with my play in the last game, but I think overall this match could have gone either way. I’ve played a lot of close matches with Ding and this went his way, which is disappointing, but that’s what it is.
I think we both made a few mistakes here and there, but I think we also did a few things at a high level, so I think it was a pretty good match overall, but yeah, I think I had my chance in the penultimate game and I didn’t take it, and he took his, so I guess that’s fair enough.
Ding was asked who he’d like to play in the final, with the Giri-Praggnanandhaa match not yet decided.
I would like to play against Praggnanandhaa, since I haven’t played against him many times and he’s a newcomer in this circle, and he plays very entertaining chess. His style is attacking and calculating. It’s very rare on this stage.
Ding would get his wish!
This thriller of a match would get off to a quiet start, though our commentators were impressed by Praggnanandhaa’s concrete solution to what seemed a tricky position in Game 1.
After 29.Nxc6 bxc6 there was no way to promote the white a-pawn and the game fizzled out into a draw.
The second game, however, was stunning. First, and this has become a pattern in these online events, Praggnanandhaa showed an interesting opening novelty, 13.Qc1!? (13.hxg6 had been played in five previous games)
It worked to perfection, first getting Anish to burn up time and then allowing White to build up a dangerous advantage. The violence began after 24…Qe7? 25.Qc3+! f6.
26.Rxd5! was the start of a series of blows. 26…Rc8 27.Re1! Qc7 28.Qa3 (28.Qxc7!) 28…Nc4 29.Qe7 Ne5? and now Pragg crashed through with 30.Rexe5!
It was easy to miss the clever point, that after 30…fxe5 31.Rd7 Qc1+ White has 32.Bd1 Qxh6 33.Qxe5+
And here it’s that bishop that started on f3, pointing away from the black king, that’s crucial, since after 33…Kg8 White is only winning due to 34.Bb3+, and checkmate can’t be avoided.
That was the first loss of the tournament for Giri, and he must have felt that his best chance to hit back was in the next game, where he had the white pieces. Up to a point, everything went like a dream…
As in Warsaw, where Kirill Shevchenko missed a last-round win with Rxg7+ against Jan-Krzysztof Duda, the winning blow, mate-in-11 according to the engine, was 32.Rxg7+! Rxg7 33.Rg6! and, with the threat of capturing on h6 and also playing Nf5 if Black ever takes on g6, White should wrap up victory.
32.Rg6?! didn’t entirely spoil the win, but Pragg, starting with 32…Qf8! found a series of only moves. He still stumbled into trouble again later on, but with time ticking down Giri missed the win, and Pragg himself had a couple of chances to take over and win the match. The last was after 61.Bd6.
61…Rc2! (or 61…Rc1) threatens to play Rh2, pinning the h4-pawn, and then Rg5 checkmate with the other rook, and it turns out there’s no good defence!
Pragg missed that, but a few moves later he found a brilliant way to stop the madness and earn a draw. He gave up an exchange to set up an impenetrable fortress.
Pragg could just shuffle his king between the h7 and h8 squares, since there’s absolutely nothing White can do with the b7, f6 and h6 pawns firmly defended. Quite a game!
That put Anish in a must-win position with the black pieces, and Pragg perhaps showed some lack of experience by allowing the King’s Indian to appear on the board.
Despite the computer as usual signalling that White was much better in the opening, Giri got the attacking setup you dream of and looked to be coasting to a win, before Pragg then found a fantastic last-ditch defence.
The queen on h3 can’t be taken due to the Ne7+ fork winning the black queen. A few moves later, however, Pragg, down to under a minute, couldn’t quite find the path to a draw.
36.Bxe5! would have done it, when 36…Qxe5 runs into 37.Qxg4 and White wins, or 36…Nxe5 is met by 37.Rxf4+. His 36.Kg1 was the losing move, but in fact 36.Kg2! would also still have held the balance. The point is that after 36…Rxh4 37.gxh4 Rxh4 in the game, with the king on g2, defending the queen, you can equalise with 38.Rxf4!
Instead after 38.Qf3 Ne3 Black was crushing, and Anish got to finish in real style by giving checkmate with a knight.
Praggnanandhaa commented afterwards:
I’m just relieved! When he came back in Game 4 I was just so upset, but I think it’s just normal in these knockout matches that someone will come back in a must-win game, so I just wanted to keep my calm in the blitz and see how it goes. Luckily it went my way.
That meant that for the first time in this year’s Chessable Masters a match would be decided in blitz, with the time control switching to 5 minutes per player, with a 3-second increment each move.
It was very late in India, but Praggnanandhaa remained alert and played fast, and after a quiet first game he suddenly pounced on the blunder 32.Qc2? with 32…Be4!, simply winning a piece.
That meant Giri had another must-win game with the black pieces, and this time Pragg showed a bit more solidity in the opening, satisfying Chicken Chess Club member Jan Gustafsson with 10.dxe5, though the youngster only played the least ambitious move in the position after some soul searching.
At some point Black may have got a slight edge, but another blunder would end the contest: 36…h5?
Pragg gratefully seized the chance to play 37.Bxg4! hxg4 38.Nxe5! and, with an extra pawn and the better pawn structure, it was all over. Giri was at least in time to offer a draw in the lost final position, meaning Praggnanandhaa had reached his first tour final.
Praggnanandhaa revealed afterwards that his time for celebrating was limited!
It’s actually a board exam and I have to give my board exams each month and tomorrow I will have Commerce, I guess, and I hope I’ll pass.
But would he choose passing the exam or beating Ding Liren?
Winning the match is much nicer than passing the exam!
The final will now be played over two days, with a 4-game rapid match on both Wednesday and Thursday, and only tiebreaks on Thursday if the match score is 1:1. Alas, perhaps, there isn’t a 3rd place playoff!
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