China’s Ding Liren battled mosquitoes, late-night starts and an inspired fightback from boy wonder Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa to break Indian hearts and win the Chessable Masters today.
The world no.2 had to neutralise an incredible performance from 16-year-old Pragg who came back hard after falling behind in the final yesterday.
The youngster from Chennai had a nation of chess fans behind him as he took the final to overtime, but it wasn’t to be.
Ding, who plays in an unfavourable timezone from his home in Wengzhou, China, finally came out on top in the blitz play-off after his opponent blundered. By then, it was nearly 2.30am for Pragg in Chennai, and 5am for Ding in China.
Ding takes home the $25,000 first prize, $6,250 in bonuses and the pride of winning his first Meltwater Champions Chess Tour title, the fourth leg of the 2022 season. Pragg can be content with $15,000, $6,250 in bonuses, a memorable run and finishing above World Champion Magnus Carlsen, who he beat in the Prelim stage.
Asked how he felt after the win, Ding said: “Well, exhausted! Today it was very, very hard to play. It was the last day of the tournament, also its nearly 5am and after each game I had to take a rest, lay down on the bed to recover a bit!”
Throughout the match Ding was bothered by mosquitoes and flies which distracted the 29-year-old from play as he tried to swat them. It led to some amusing scenes for viewers, but can’t have helped!
Game 1 started with the Semi-Tarrasch Opening. Both players were in well-known territory before Ding found some pressure with a pin on the d-file.
The key moment Grandmaster David Howell picked out was Pragg’s move 24… Kh7 to relieve tension in the position before the first encounter ended in a 41-move draw.
The second started as a repeat of the first with a Semi-Tarrasch before Ding deviated with 5… cxd4. The game came to life with a queen exchange that set off a quick tactical sequence.
With 31. Rxd5, Ding offered up a clever-looking pawn sacrifice to activate his pieces which Pragg accepted. The engine agreed with Pragg but the youngster quickly found trouble getting his pieces coordinated.
Ding let his position slip, however, with two trades and let Pragg stayed a pawn up and got his king active.
The teenager is something of an endgame master and wasn’t going to let this chance slip. Pragg forced through the win and was back in the match with a chance of forcing a play-off.
For the first time, Ding now needed a win. The third game was intense. Pragg was on the back foot for most of it but stayed cool and went for a risky exchange sacrifice that bagged him three pieces for his queen.
For a brief moment, Pragg had a glimmer of hope. Ding decided to push his passed pawns with 43. b7 but missed 44… Nb4.
It didn’t prove enough of an advantage though as the pawns disappeared and a rare imbalance was left on the board with Ding’s king and queen against Pragg’s king, rook, knight and bishop. Neither player could find a win and, after 106 moves, the game was drawn.
In the final game of the mini-match, there was no way through again for Ding and it also ended in a draw. Pragg was level in the final and the tie was going to tiebreaks – two blitz games and then an armageddon game if needed. The tension – if it wasn’t high enough already – rose significantly.
In the first game, Pragg showed his prowess in the shorter form but was left bitterly disappointed. At a key point, Ding thought he’d found a tactic, but Pragg had seen further and conjured up the stunning 30.Bxe4 to go a pawn up.
In the commentary, Grandmaster David Howell said: “I’m almost speechless. I’m running out of superlatives, running out of praise for Pragg because he just so good right now.”
It all went to waste though as Pragg, looking certain to take the lead, made the wrong choice and let Ding off the hook. The game was drawn. Ding got out of jail.
The second game was frenetic but one blunder from Pragg, the first of the final, ended it. Pragg resigned, and Ding smiled. What a relief for the Chinese star.
Recap the action here: