13-year-old Praggnanandhaa played a game of frightening imagination, calculation and technique as he beat Pavel Eljanov in Round 3 of the Chess.com Isle of Man International. That came after a draw against Peter Leko in the previous round and puts the Indian wunderkind on 2.5/3, half a point behind the six leaders Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Wang Hao, Arkadij Naiditsch, Jeffery Xiong, Erwin l’Ami and Pavel Tregubov.
You can replay all the games from the Isle of Man (including those that weren’t broadcast live) using the selector below:
After Javokhir Sindarov from Uzbekistan recently met the grandmaster requirements at the age of 12 years, 10 months and 5 days, Praggnanandhaa is now “only” the third youngest player to become a grandmaster in history, but there’s little doubt he’s the real deal. On the Isle of Man last year he beat 2701-rated David Howell in Round 5 and then drew a position he’d been winning against Nils Grandelius in the following round. This year, with no grandmaster title chasing distractions, he held a tricky ending against Peter Leko in Round 2 and has now claimed another 2700 scalp – that of Pavel Eljanov – in Round 3.
Fortunately for Pragga it wasn't a physical contest!
It was a fascinating game in all its stages. Eljanov played the Sicilian with 2…Nc6 and managed to achieve the d5-break, though Praggnanandhaa getting a pawn to h6 would have real consequences later on. The contest turned on move 28, when Pavel took the decision to “win” his opponent’s queen with 28…Ne3!? (28…Rxd1+, 28…Rdc7 or 28…Qf2 all seem to preserve Black’s material advantage):
29.Rxd7 is an only move, but a nice one, and after 29…Nxg2 30.Ne7+ Kf8 31.Nxc8 the tactical point becomes clear:
Black can’t take the rook on e1 since with the pawn on h7 covering g7 and the knight on c8 covering e7 the rook is threatening to give checkmate on d8. 31…Qxh6 was therefore forced, and the complicated struggle went on, with Eljanov soon giving up his queen for a rook and knight.
You can’t let your guard down for an instant against this kid, though, and 39…h5?!, played with one and a half minutes on the clock, looks to have been a serious inaccuracy (39…b4! would have immobilized the white queenside):
Pragga had even less time, but 40.c4! proved to be the start of a brilliant technical conversion of the advantage of rook vs. knight. The game ended on move 64:
It’s been a tough few weeks for Eljanov, who’s now dropped 26.9 live rating points in the Olympiad, Euro Club Cup and Isle of Man International, but that should take nothing away from the youngster’s achievement.
Once again there was a limited number of big upsets, with a curiosity being that 55-year-old 2180-rated English FM Glenn House, who was the only player to beat a higher rated opponent in Round 1, did it again in Round 3, when he defeated 2448-rated Polish IM Mateusz Kolosowski.
Closer to home, we can’t help but mention our very own Sopiko Guramishvili. In Round 2 she used the Exchange Variation of the Caro-Kann that she recommended in her recent chess24 video series:
It was more evidence that these exchange variations, while relatively easy to play for White, are nowhere near as quiet and drawish as their reputation. Sopiko spiced things up with an exchange sac on move 22:
22.Rxe4!? She soon went on to build up a crushing attack that allowed more sacrifices:
30.Bxg7+! was one that couldn’t be accepted, since 30…Kxg7 31.Qh6+ leads to a quick mate. Black was soon put to the sword anyway after 30…Ke8.
Sopiko also stood up for chess24 in a world of chess.com logos (Giri is talking about his draw with Alina Kashlinskaya)
Sopiko’s opponent there was 2142-rated Swiss player Martin Leutwyler, but in the next round she proved it was no accident by beating 2541-rated Norwegian GM elect Johan-Sebastian Christiansen in a fine game. Early on she gave up a piece for a phalanx of queenside pawns, and when Johan failed to force a draw with 36.Nf6+! his 36.Bxh6? was already a losing move:
36.Qc6! left White with no defence to lethal threats such as Nf3+, and a fork on h2 if the king runs to f1. The black attack ran like clockwork: 37.Re3 d2! 38.Qd1 Ra8! 39.Nf4 Nc2! 40.Kh2 Ra1 41.Re8+ Kh7 42.Ne6 Rxd1 and White resigned, since he didn’t have the firepower to trouble the black king.
Sopiko is on 2/3, level with her husband Anish Giri and also with Hikaru Nakamura, who let a big chance slip against Russian former Junior World Champion Mikhail Antipov. Hikaru was winning after exchanging off his queen for two rooks, but it was a treacherous position to play in mutual time trouble. Mikhail’s 37.h6! was a nice last throw of the dice!
Winning moves include simply taking the pawn, but instead after 37…Raf3? 38.hxg7+ Kxg7 White had the saving shot 39.Ne8+!
Nakamura offered a draw with his reply 39…Kh8, which looks odd, at least if you’re watching from the comfort of your armchair with an engine running, since 40.Nf6! would then have been strictly the only move for Antipov to find with seconds remaining on his clock. Instead he simply took the draw.
Meanwhile at the top after Levon Aronian was held to a draw by Sam Sevian the only Top 10 player on a perfect score is Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. He used a line Shakhriyar Mamedyarov had used against him in the recent St. Louis blitz tournament to beat 2017 World Junior Champion Aryan Tari and become the fastest player to reach 3/3, just as he’d been the fastest to reach 2/2 the day before.
In Round 4 he’ll face 2016 World Junior Champion Jeffery Xiong, who won a powerful game against Vishnu Prasanna for his third win on the Isle of Man this year.
The other clashes between the leaders will be Wang Hao – Erwin l’Ami and Naiditsch – Tregubov, though there are plenty of fascinating pairings among the players on 2.5/3:
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