15-year-old Praggnanandhaa stormed back from a 1st round loss to Volodar Murzin to win his next four games and lead after Day 1 of the Polgar Challenge, the 1st event on the $100,000 Julius Baer Challengers Chess Tour. He’s joined on 4/5 by the only unbeaten players, 14-year-old Christopher Yoo and 16-year-old Nodirbek Abdusattorov. All play for Team Kramnik, but the team scores are tied 25:25. Lei Tingjie is the top performing female player and had a great chance to take the sole lead on 4.5/5, while Awonder Liang won with an incredible smothered mate.
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You can replay the full live commentary on Day 1 from team captains Vladimir Kramnik, the 14th World Chess Champion, and Judit Polgar, the greatest female player of all time.
Praggnanandhaa leads the Polgar Challenge after Day 1 on the tiebreak of most wins, which you would have struggled to predict after he went down in flames in the first game of the day. 14-year-old Russian Volodar Murzin played the King’s Indian Defence and eventually gained such an overwhelming position that even his compatriot Vladimir Kramnik, a famed KID-slayer, would have chosen the black pieces.
From there, however, Pragg won all his games, most notably outwitting his compatriot Nihal Sarin in a tricky ending.
The final game of the day could have gone either way, however, when he faced former Chinese Women’s Champion Lei Tingjie, whose rapid skills are evident from her finishing runner-up in the Women’s World Rapid Championship in both 2017 and 2019. Lei Tingjie drew against Nihal Sarin and beat Olga Badelka, Zhu Jiner and Carissa Yip to go into the final round as the only sole leader of the day on 3.5/4. She was in huge trouble against Pragg, until move 26.
Most moves keep a winning advantage for White, but not 26.Nxg7?. White would be completely on top after 26…Rxg7 28.Bc3, but the only move 26…d4! stopped that plan in its tracks as well as preparing Bc6 with pressure on g2.
After 27.Qd3 Rxg7 Lei Tingjie was essentially just a piece up and on course to finish the day in sole first place on 4.5/5. Her chance slipped away as suddenly as it had arisen, however, with both players down to around 10 seconds on their clocks. 30…Rag8? let White right back into the game.
31.Rc5! was pinning and winning the f5-bishop, since 31…Rg5 is met by 32.h4, while Tingjie’s 31…Nh6? ran into 32.Be5! and suddenly it was White who was winning again. This time Praggnanandhaa made no mistake.
Praggnanandhaa is joined on 4/5 by the tournament’s top seed, 16-year-old Nodirbek Abdusattorov from Uzbekistan. He lived up to his billing to score the first win of the day and end with three wins and two draws. It was a smooth performance, with the one shaky game coming against his co-leader, 14-year-old US IM Christopher Yoo.
31…Ke7! and Christopher had every chance of holding on to his extra piece and winning, but much lower on time he chose 31…Kc7?, and after 32.Rd7+ Kb6 33.Rxa7 Kxa7 34.Kxa3 the game fizzled out into a drawn opposite-coloured bishops endgame.
Yoo won all three of his games with the white pieces, including impressive wins over Leon Mendonca and Volodar Murzin, and getting to give mate on the board against Sarasadat Khademalsharieh.
Just half a point behind the leaders are Lei Tingjie and also Vincent Keymer and Gukesh, who drew high praise from the watching Vladimir Kramnik and Judit Polgar.
When Judit suggested 14.Ne2 here, Vladimir explained it would be the move of a “wise old man” and not a junior, but after 2 minutes and 37 seconds 16-year-old German Grandmaster Vincent Keymer played it. He then methodically exchanged on d5, put his bishop on c3 and went on to smoothly beat Denmark’s Jonas Bjerre in the ensuing ending. Vladimir identified the influence of Vincent’s coach Peter Leko.
Gukesh, who became a grandmaster at the second youngest age in history, lost to Bjerre in the first round, but then scored 3.5/4, including an impressive win over Keymer. His last-round win over rising Russian star Polina Shuvalova also garnered praise from Kramnik.
Sometimes a single move, or position, can redeem a day’s chess, and that was certainly the case for two of the players. 17-year-old Nurgyul Salimova from Bulgaria suffered three losses, but her win over Volodar Murzin was simply beautiful. Volodar “blundered” on move 18, but he probably didn’t realise anything was wrong until he played 21.Be3. White would be well on top, if not for the shocker 21…Qd2!!
White’s bishop can’t take the queen as it’s pinned, while 22.Bxc5 would of course lose the queen on g5. Volodar tried to defend the bishop with 22.Rae1, but 22…Rd3! overloaded the defence, with Nurgyul going on to wrap up the game by move 31 with some more nice tactics.
18-year-old Awonder Liang had a rocky day, losing in the first round to Zhansaya Abdumalik and also losing a theoretically drawn ending to Volodar Murzin.
He made up for it all in the final round against Azerbaijan’s Gunay Mammadzada, with 37.Nb6# the kind of move chess players usually only get to play in their dreams!
It’s not only a smothered mate, but a smothered mate where the knight is attacked by two pieces but can’t be captured by either of them as they’re both pinned. Kramnik and Polgar took a look at the last moments of that game.
Here are the full standings after Day 1 of the Polgar Challenge.
As you can see, despite all three leaders playing for Team Kramnik, Team Polgar have scored exactly the same number of points after Day 1.
It’s mainly an individual event, of course, but the team points matter since after the end of the Tour the team with the most points will win an all-expenses paid trip to Dubai to watch some of Magnus Carlsen’s latest World Chess Championship match.
There’s a long way to go yet, however, with the first event on the Tour, the Polgar Challenge, only getting started. There are 14 rounds to go, with another five this Friday April 9th. Make sure to watch all the action live here on chess24 from 16:00 CEST (10:00 ET, 19:30 IST).
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