Champions Chess Tour: Contrasting fortunes lead Pragg, Carlsen to final day shoot-out in FTX Cup
Miami: India’s Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa fought back from a deficit and took his sixth round match to the blitz tiebreaks but could not get the better of World Cup winner Jan-Krzysztof Duda of Poland in the FTX Crypto Cup, the second major event of Champions Chess Tour.
Norway’s world champion Magnus Carlsen too had to fight all the way to the wire but managed to beat Alireza Firouzja in the tirbreaks.
Their contrasting fortunes fetched Carlsen two points while Pragg bagged one, thus leaving them neck-and-neck, the Norwegian in the lead with 15 points and the Indian student in second position with 13. For losing to Carlsen in tiebreak, Firouzja got one point and was placed a close third with 12 points.
The exciting action on the sixth day of the event on Saturday left the FTX Crypto Cup set for a blockbuster finale on Sunday night (IST time) as Carlsen and Indian wonderkid Praggnanandhaa go head-to-head in a final shootout for the title.
The USD210,000 elite esports tournament, held at Florida’s Eden Roc Miami Beach, rests on a last-round match between the big two who have dominated the event so far.
Carlsen is the strong favourite after overcoming a fierce challenge from the exciting Iranian-French teenager Alireza Firouzja, 19, in the sixth round.
Firouzja took the world champion to tiebreaks but Carlsen won in the end to finish off the youngster’s lingering hopes of cracking into the top two on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Carlsen’s biggest rival Pragg was forced to battle back to take his match with the dangerous Pole Jan-Krzysztof Duda to tiebreaks. In a chaotic blitz play-off, the youngster from Chennai blundered badly and lost.
But it didn’t matter too much as the point gained from getting to that stage was enough to keep Pragg in contention for the title.
Carlsen, however, is now two points ahead of his Indian rival and knows if he reaches the tiebreaks in the seventh and final round on Sunday he’ll win the FTX trophy. That would take Carlsen to 16 points and beyond the reach of both Pragg and Firouzja, who can at best reach 15 points.
Pragg has to beat Carlsen in rapid chess for three points.
Praggnanandhaa is one of the few players that has beaten Carlsen in rapid ganes this season but will have to guard against the world champion’s capacity to bounce back.
The 17-year-old’s hopes must have been lifted when Carlsen, who played while listening to a Norwegian comedy podcast, got off to a horrible start. The champ played a series of odd moves before crashing to defeat in his opening game.
Unfortunately for the youngster, he was also on the receiving end of a defeat to Duda, who downed Carlsen on Friday.
In game 2, Carlsen made an important comeback and then two draws, the first a particularly fiery encounter, took it to tiebreaks where Firouzja folded.
Carlsen and Firouzja’s tense final game in the rapid section, with the score level at 1.5-1.5, could have decided the destination of the title. In the end, Carlsen won the play-off which became academic.
In Pragg’s match, the youngster was staring into the abyss in game 2. Under siege from Duda, he defended like a lion until he found the only move to save the game (92… Kg6). After 1 hour 7 minutes and 113 moves, Pragg escaped with a draw.
Pragg was still behind at this point needing to win the third against Duda to stand any chance of picking up the maximum points. A draw, however, left him needing a final-game win to take it to tiebreaks.
Incredibly, Pragg managed it.
The tiebreak was dramatic. Pragg was clearly winning the first blitz game but blundered into a mate in one to gift Duda the lead. It was heart-breaking for Pragg, but he still had a chance to bounce back. Duda would not relent though and stayed firm to cloise n the day and take the match.
In the other matches, three games was all it took for Liem Quang Le to put Dutch Grandmaster Anish Giri to bed. The Vietnamese star was in spectacular form as he won the first two games and drew the third to seal a 2.5-0.5 win. He is on nine points.
The struggles of Hans Niemann also continued as he went down 2.5-1.5 to Levon Aronian. Niemann is yet to win a point in the tournament.
Now attention turns to Sunday when all eyes will be on Carlsen vs Pragg in Round 7 which will decide the title.