Pragg’s defensive masterclass earns him another draw

There are many Grandmasters who hate defending. Everyone wants to be like Mikhail Tal, Garry Kasparov or even Alexander Alekhine — make the sacrifices, come up with the brilliant traps, push the opponent into the corner. Everyone likes the flashy stuff, fans included.

The 18-year-old from Chennai gave another masterclass in defensive chess (ANI)

But you don’t rise to the top in the modern era with a shaky defence. Your game will be dissected and broken down very quickly by the other players. However, on evidence of the show he is putting on against Fabiano Caruana, this doesn’t seem like something Indian GM R Praggnanandhaa will have to worry about.

The 18-year-old from Chennai gave another masterclass in defensive chess on Sunday to draw the second classical game against the highly-rated Caruana after 47 moves at Baku, Azerbaijan. The match will now move into the tiebreaker where the players will first play two Rapid games (25-minute time control). If there is no result there, they will move into more Rapid games (10-minute time control) and finally into the blitz games.

Caruana adopted the Queen’s Gambit to make a very solid opening but the game still seemed to be in the balance. White had to work a little harder but it was fine.

Things started to get interesting with 15.Na3. It seemed a little edgy and invited complications. The question was whether Caruana would go for Nxd4. The American GM declined to get drawn into that battle by opting for 15…g5.

He was clearly trying to keep it simple at this point. His pieces were set up well and Praggnanandhaa needed to do the hard yards.

The pressure from Caruana was incremental. By the 21st move, the Black knights were controlling a lot of squares and making things really difficult for Praggnanandhaa. The Indian GM had needed a superb defensive effort in Game 1 and he would need it again here as well.

There was a lot of subtle manoeuvring involved but when the dust settled, the two players shook hands and agreed to a draw.

Carlsen reaches first World Cup final

The World Cup is the only major individual chess event that Magnus Carlsen has never won. In fact, he had never even reached the final but he changed that with a draw against Nijat Abasov in their second classical game.

The Norwegian world No.1 had won a double-edged first game on Saturday and he needed just a draw to advance but Abasov didn’t make it easy for him. He created imbalance and hoped that Carlsen would falter.

“I blundered,” Carlsen said about losing a piece in the endgame. “I was playing on because I thought there was absolutely no risk. And I thought that I finally triangulated and got in a winning position. It was quite a rude awakening to see the 56.d6 move because I always thought that I would go and pick up the pawn with the king. When he played it, I immediately saw his idea. Fortunately, it did not take me long to realise the position was an easy draw.”

Goryachkina escapes with draw

Nurgyul Salimova was a healthy pawn up and had real chances to seal the Women’s World Cup title, but Aleksandra Goryachkina showed why she is regarded as one of the finest players around to eventually force and draw.

A win for Salimova would have earned her the GM title as well but Goryachkina stubbornly made light of her pawn disadvantage to hold on and take the match into the tiebreak.

Meanwhile, Anna Muzychuk clinched the third place at the tournament, and a ticket to the Candidates tournament next year, with a draw against former women’s world champion Tan Zhongyi to win their match 1.5-0.5.

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