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Reports Sep 20, 2021 | 9:18 AMby Colin McGourty

Hou Yifan Challenge 2: Praggnanandhaa makes it 9/9!

Indian chess prodigy Praggnanandhaa won all four games of his games on Day 2 of the Hou Yifan Challenge to reach a perfect 9/9 score as the 4th stage of the Julius Baer Challengers Chess Tour crossed the halfway mark. That put him two ahead of Vincent Keymer in 2nd place, but Vincent has played one game less and scored 3/3 on Day 2 to keep within striking distance before their head-to-head clash. Christopher Yoo is in 3rd place, while Poland’s Pawel Teclaf had a good day to move up to 4th. 

Praggnanandhaa started the day with a tense win over Awonder Liang, and didn't look back

You can replay all the games from the Hou Yifan Challenge using the selector below. 

And here’s the day’s live commentary from Arturs Neiksans, Ellen Nilssen and Artur Kogan. 

The standings after 9 rounds of the Hou Yifan Challenge look as follows. Note that as there are an odd number of players, one player has a bye each round — the “R” column shows how many games each player has played, with 9 having played 8 rounds, while 8 have played all 9 rounds.

Praggnanandhaa marches on

There was no change on Day 2 of the Hou Yifan Challenge, as Polgar Challenge winner Praggnanandhaa continued to post a perfect score, now stretching to 9 games.

His biggest test came against Awonder Liang in the first round of the day, but although the US star was better for a couple of moves and had a big lead on the clock, he stumbled with 31...f5?! and was soon put to the sword after 32…fxe4?

33.Nxg6+ Kh7 34.Nxf8+ Rxf8 35.Rc7+! Kh8 36.Qb2+! Kg8 37.Qg2+! saw Pragg force a completely won endgame.

Awonder took the queen, then resigned next move. 

Praggnanandhaa went on to beat Volodar Murzin and Oliwia Kiolbasa convincingly, and then once more showed his endgame mastery in the final game of the day against Gunay Mammadzada. The Azerbaijan played looked to have everything under control, but as in Round 1 against Balaji Daggupati, Praggnanandhaa had faith in his knight against his opponent’s bishop. 37…Qd4! upped the pressure. 

The ending after a queen trade would be very tricky for White, so that 38.Qb4 was a good response, but after 38…Kh7 Gunay panicked with 39.f6? Pragg gratefully accepted the pawn with 39…gxf6, and 40.Qb1+ was essentially just one check. 

Pragg went on to find the most efficient kill, with the final position after 50…e2! picturesque. Once again the Indian star had conducted a powerful attack with the most limited of resources. 

Keymer keeps in the race

Another 16-year-old, Kramnik Challenge winner Vincent Keymer, has also won all his games apart from a loss to Christopher Yoo, though he started Day 2 a round later after a bye in Round 6. He made up for lost time with three convincing wins, starting against the world’s youngest grandmaster, Abhimanyu Mishra, whose 32…Be5? was the losing move in an already tough position. 

33.Rxe3! exploited the pin of the d4-pawn, and although after 33…Bxh2+ there was actually nothing wrong with 34.Kxh2! Vincent also got the job done with 34.Kf1!, with the point that 34…Qf6+ just increases the power of 35.Rf3!

Vincent then won a rook ending against another potential rival, Leon Mendonca, before getting to finish the day in style against Aditya Mittal. He crashed through by capturing a pawn on h5.

And while after 24…gxh5 there’s nothing wrong with taking with the rook, 25.Qd1! was a nice twist of the knife, making sure the queen joined the attack. Black never stood a chance.

Keymer meets Praggnanandhaa in the second game of Day 3, but before that he faces the challenge of 18-year-old newcomer Pawel Teclaf, who reached the semi-finals of this year’s Polish Championship. Pawel moved up to 4th place on Day 2 by scoring 3/4, but he could have finished the day in sole 3rd when he met Christopher Yoo in the last round.

Paweł Teclaf at the 2021 Polish Championship | photo: Weronika Poczwardowska, official website

Christopher’s 5-game winning streak, which included beating Keymer, had just come to an end in the previous round when he lost a winning position to Aditya Mittal. It nearly went from bad to worse against Pawel, when we reached the position after 28.Qf6+.

After 28…Kxh7? 29.Qxf7+ Christopher remained in 3rd place by forcing a draw by perpetual check, but in fact Pawel could have played on with 28…Kg8! If White now gives a queen check Teclaf can take the knight and there’s no perpetual — e.g. the king can eventually come to f8 and block a check with Be8. 

That left the standings as follows after Day 2 of the Hou Yifan Challenge, with two days and eight rounds to go.

It’s not just Teclaf-Keymer in Round 10, but Praggnanandhaa-Yoo, before the huge Keymer-Praggnanandhaa match-up in Round 11. Needless to say, if Pragg can keep his 100% record through those two games he’ll be a huge favourite to win the event, but will he? 

If that wasn’t enough reason to watch, Arturs Neiksans will be joined for commentary on Day by Boris Gelfand, with 14th World Chess Champion Vladimir Kramnik also set to be part of the show! Don’t miss all the action live here on chess24 from 10:00 ET, 16:00 CEST, 19:30 IST!

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