FIDE World Cup: Praggnanandhaa beats Caruana in tiebreaks, to meet Carlsen in final

Continuing his dream run, R. Praggnanandhaa took World No 3 Fabiano Caruana out of his comfort zone, and pulled him into shorter time-control games and nailed him to challenge favourite Magnus Carlsen in the
final of the FIDE World Cup in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Praggnanandhaa, who turned 18 during the World Cup and knocked out second seed Hikaru Nakamura on the way, now becomes the third youngest to qualify for the Candidates Tournament after Bobby Fischer
and Magnus Carlsen. He is also the first Indian to reach the World Cup final since the knockout format was introduced in 2005.

It may be recalled that Viswanathan Anand’s titles came in 2000 and 2002 came in a 24-player league-cum-knockout format.

After Praggnanandhaa and Caruana played out four draws in three days, the decisive difference came in the first 10-minute rapid game. Praggnanandhaa, playing white, had an extra pawn by the 21st move but Caruana had compensation. The twist to the tale followed when Praggnanandhaa gained a second pawn and swiftly moved his king to the queen’s side and added to Caruana’s worries.

By this time, Caruana realized he was in serious trouble and needed some moves of some sub-optimal strength from his young rival to regain lost ground. But Praggnanandhaa relentlessly chased victory and came within a move of handing out a checkmate when Caruana resigned on the 63rd move.

Caruana returned to hit back with white pieces but it was Praggnanandhaa who played proactively to put his desperate rival under pressure. Caruana did wriggle out of trouble but never held any winning chances. Eventually, Praggnanandhaa gave nothing away and the resultant 82-move draw took him past Caruana.

Looking back, Praggnanandhaa should consider himself extremely fortunate to have saved the first 25-minute rapid game with black pieces in 71 moves, while Caruana was left to rue the choice of pushing a kingside pawn on the 54th move, that saw his winning chances evaporate in a flash. In this game Caruana’s time management was better than Praggnanandhaa and he took that confidence into the next game.

In the second, too, Praggnanandhaa had to tread carefully and Caruana was alert to seizing any opportunity. This was an improved showing from Praggnanandhaa but Caruana was never under pressure.

Earlier, in the women’s final, Aleksandra Goryachkina rode her luck all the way to deny 20-year-old Bulgarian Nurgyul Salimova a well deserved title by winning the second 25-minute rapid game.

Salimova, who let the second seeded Russian off the hook on Sunday, again blew a winning position in the first rapid clash on Monday.

In the second, the 2021 finalist Goryachkina held the upper hand before Salimova found a continuation leading to a draw. Just when the contest seemed to be heading for a pair of 10-minute rapid games, Salimova erred one last time and Goryachkina seized the opportunity to decide the title.

The result ensured the top prize of $50,000 for Goryachkina and the consolation for a disappointed Salimova was $35,000.

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