Trust Magnus Carlsen to be a great spoiler. R Praggnanandhaa‘s superb run to the World Cup chess final was almost too good to be true. The Norwegian world No. 1 outplayed the Indian teen in tiebreaks to win the only title missing from his kitty at Baku on Thursday.
Watch: R Praggnanandhaa’s 1st reaction after losing final against Magnus Carlsen at Chess World Cup
The 32-year-old didn’t even need 10-minute games to stop Prag. It was all over in the first set of two rapid games (25 mins and 10-sec increments) as Carlsen won the first and drew the next. He won $110,000 and Prag $80,000.
AS IT HAPPENED: CHESS WORLD CUP FINAL
Prag will play the Candidates tournament in April, whose winner will challenge world champion Ding Liren.
Prag’s dream run ends as King Carlsen stamps his authority
Prag was expected to give Carlsen a closer fight but he proved to be more skillful and knowledgeable. This is not the first time Carlsen had put a dagger in the heart of Indian supporters. He came to Chennai for the World Championship as Challenger 10 years ago and dethroned V Anand from his perch. He retained the crown by beating Anand again in Sochi next year.
In both those matches, he was the clear favourite for his greater ability to bite hard and age was on his side too. The roles were somewhat reversed in Baku. The Norwegian was the older of the two but remained stronger.
However, Carlsen once again underlined that the younger generation still has some catching up to do before they can claim to have matched his endgame prowess and champion’s attitude.
The Indian, who was high on confidence after beating No. 3 Hikaru Nakamura, Erigaisi Arjun and No. 2 Fabiano Caruana, tried to win the initiative in the first rapid game with white pieces. But Carlsen showed his peerless command in the endgame to win in 47 moves of Modern Bishop’s opening.
Chess World Cup final: Carlsen beats Praggnanandhaa in tie-breaks to win the title
Prag was better out of the opening and was pressing hard on the kingside. With his queen manoeuvred to g-file and attack on the ‘f7’ pawn, Prag was in a position where he could have called the shots. But Carlsen first found the king move (16…Kg7), eased the pressure and followed that with exchange of queen and rook.
What followed (two knights, rook and four pawns vs knight, bishop, rook and four pawns) was a supremely coordinated attack of two knights dancing to strangle the king. His rook almost circulated on the board, landing on ‘a3’ square from ‘a8’ via the h8-h3 route. The final act involved a mating threat too.
Carlsen opted for Sicilian Alapin in the second game, also regarded as Anti-Sicilian against Black. Prag was facing a must-win game with Black. But Carlsen’s level was a couple of notches higher. He spent just four minutes to Prag’s 14. The draw was agreed after 22 moves when only four pawns, rook, knight and light-coloured bishops remained on the board.
The champion enjoyed a better position in this game from the word go. He would have given Prag a hard time in saving this position had he faced a must-win situation. The boy from Chennai can hold his head high for trying to win the initiative in the first game.
But he may have to look higher to match Carlsen’s vision. Excelling in classical chess is not Carlsen’s top priority now. Still he defeated D Gukesh in the quarterfinals in his own game. Then he held Prag to two easy draws while recovering from food poisoning.
Carlsen made it look like child’s play. But even he is aware that the challenge from the Indian young brigade is going to be real. More so because the chess circuit is now also about online and blitz games with good prize money.
Watch Watch: This is what R Praggnanandhaa said after Chess World Cup final loss