Chess Olympiad 2022: Teensational show continues

Praggnanandhaa raises to the occasion to keep India in medal contention at Chess Olympiad.

Published: 08th August 2022 01:04 AM  |   Last Updated: 08th August 2022 12:31 PM   |  A+A-

Indian Grandmaster R Praggnanandhaa

Indian Grandmaster R Praggnanandhaa (Photo | PTI)

Express News Service

MAHABALIPURAM: If one 16-year-old doesn’t get you, another 16-year-old will get you. On a day when D Gukesh’s winning run came to an end at the hands of Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, R Praggnanandhaa produced a thrilling end game to claim a match-saving point against Azerbaijan’s Vasif Durarbayli after a marathon five-hour encounter.

The pressure was on the Indian after Raunak Sadhwani had lost to give Azerbaijan the edge. Durarbayli only needed a draw to secure the match points. With the clock ticking down for both players -- the duo played the last few moves as if this was a game of backyard Blitz -- Praggnandhaa expertly maneuvered from a tricky position to keep the hosts in medal contention.

What swung the end game in his favour was moving the bishop to d3 in his 62nd move. On air, Judit Polgar, commenting on FIDE’s YouTube channel, rated it as ‘great’. The engine agreed with her assessment of it. A few minutes later, Durarbayli, playing with black, knew his goose was truly cooked.

The opening and middle exchanges itself was played at a steady pace but neither player had a clear roadmap to victory. After the first 30 moves or so, it was a drawish position but Praggnanandhaa went on the offensive, even offering a rook sacrifice as he tried to force Durarbayli into an error. The 30-year-old made a questionable decision when he opted to lose his rook to try and gain a better position on the board.

R Praggnanandhaa (Photo | R Satish Babu)

While he didn’t manage that, Praggnanandhaa wasn’t completely in the clear yet. His queen, on h1, was boxed with pieces all around it. Yet, he expertly recovered from the situation. Captain RB Ramesh called the win ‘very crucial’. They are in second place, a point behind Uzbekistan, who beat Armenia.

The young team will next face another young team, the table-topping Uzbeks. And captain Ramesh was of the opinion that that game will likely decide 'the gold medal'.

“Pragg is very good in pressure situations. It was messy, very complicated situation. Happy that he won. Overall, slightly disappointed, 2.5-1.5 would have been a fair result.”

He also praised Nihal Sarin for drawing after being in ‘big trouble’.

India women slip

Minutes after India B salvaged a draw, the India A women’s team suffered a big setback as they went down to Poland, who are now the leaders with two rounds to go. The last game to be decided on the day -- between R Vaishali and Oliwia Kiolbasa -- seemed to be headed towards a draw for the majority of the contest. However, the Pole, who has now won nine out of nine, was two pawns up in the end game.

India A’s first loss of the tournament means they have dropped to third in the leaderboard, even below Kazakhstan, who handsomely got past Bulgaria 3-1. The problem for them is that two of their more experienced players -- D Harika and Koneru Humpy -- aren’t getting the wins on the board necessary to break free of the pack. Put together, the duo have won only twice (both Humpy) across 15 games. 

It has meant that Tania Sachdev (five wins, zero losses) and Vaishali (five wins, zero losses coming into Sunday’s matches) have had to do a lot of the heavy lifting. Sachdev drew early on with black pieces. With a likely tie against Kazakhstan coming up in one of the next two rounds, they will be hoping for the experience of Humpy and Harika to clutch.

The India A team in the men’s section had a relatively easier day against Brazil to keep alive their chances of medalling. Vidit Gujrathi, another player who is having trouble in converting draws into wins (seven draws, one win), again drew but Arjun Erigaisi and Krishnan Sasikiran found their mojo to help the hosts to two match points. They are in sixth place, two points behind the leaders.

Results: Open: India A 3-1 Brazil,  India B 2-2 Azerbaijan, India C 3-1 Paraguay. Women:  India A 1.5-2.5 Poland,  India B 4-0 Switzerland, India C 3-1 Estonia.


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