Playing their maiden knockout World Cup final in Baku, Azerbaijan, they split a point after 35 moves of Fianchetto line in Four Knights variation in the English opening.
Five-time world champion Carlsen, 32, who became a GM in 2004 before Prag was born (2005), will play with white pieces in the second game on Wednesday. Whoever wins this game pockets the title and the top prize of $110,000. Another draw will take the match to tie-breaks of short time control slated for Thursday.
DAY 1: AS IT HAPPENED
During the official webcast, GM Peter Leko said: “It was an honour to commentate on this game, replete with rich possibilities and tactical nuances. Both played really well.”
Carlsen: I had food poisoning
After being late on the board by half a minute in his three-minute tiebreak game against Erigaisi Arjun in the quarterfinals, Prag strode in the playing hall early and took his seat. Carlsen arrived in the nick of time and spent almost two minutes before replying with e5 to Prag’s first move c4. There was some pressure on the queenside early on and Carlsen took almost half an hour for his 13th move, replying with Rb8 to Prag’s Ba3. Both players castled short after trading knights. By the 20th move, both bishops and queens were exchanged.
When the draw was agreed after 35 moves, both players had rook, knight and three pawns each on the board. Carlsen’s 25-minute advantage on the clock counted for little as Prag would have made the first time control of 40 moves (90 minutes with 30 secs increment) and would have got 30 minutes more from the 41st move.
It was only the second classical game (standard time control) between Carlsen and Prag with none being decisive. Magnus Carlsen said after the draw that he was suffering from food poisoning and could not eat for two days.
“I was maybe slightly better. I didn’t really mind a draw. Normally, I will have a little advantage having a rest day and Prag having to play tie-breaks. But I have been in rough shape in the last couple of days. I had some food poisoning. I have not been able to eat for the last two days. It means I was calm and didn’t have much energy to be nervous. Overall, I am happy with the way I have solved the problems in the opening,” he said.
Prag felt he was not in trouble at all in the game. “What I played after the 13th move was not the best try but I could not find the best continuation.” About the second game, he said, “It will be a fight. He will push very hard. I will just try to rest and come back fresh, that’s the best I can do.”
Meanwhile, Fabiano Caruana of USA, who was knocked out of the tournament without losing any of his 12 classical games, lost the first game of his third-place match against Nijat Abasov. He fell in the trap after the world No. 97 home boy put relentless pressure on the kingside. The 31-year-old slipped with Qb4 on the 23rd turn and allowed Abasov a possibility to win on the spot.
Caruana was so upset with his play that he did not rearrange his pieces after resigning and left the playing hall immediately. He faces a must-win situation on Wednesday. Prag, Abasov, Caruana and Nepomniachtchi have already made it to the eight-player Candidates tournament next April.
Watch Grandmaster Praggnanandhaa stuns Caruana, set to clash with Carlsen in final