Indian prodigy Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa came back strongly from a disadvantageous position to beat World’s No. 1 junior player, Alireza Firouzja, in the third encounter of their four-game match as the FTX Crypto Cup, the American finale of Champions Chess Tour, which got off to a thrilling start here.
The 2.5-1.5 win in the first-round encounter on Sunday night in Miami, the first offline event of the tour, put Praggnanandhaa in the top spot along with World No. 1 Magnus Carlsen, Jan-Krzysztof Duda of Poland and Kevin Aronian in the eight-player all-play-all field.
With USD7,500 at stake for each match win at the Eden Roc Miami Beach Hotel, the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour Major started with plenty of fire and fighting chess.
Carlsen defeated Dutch No. 1 Anish Giri. Duda got the better of Hans Niemann of the United States while Aronian beat Liem Quang Le of Vietnam. Each match will be played over four rapid games, with blitz tiebreaks in case of a 2:2 draw.
Praggnanandhaa, India’s 17-year-old hotshot, got off to the best start possible in the battle of the prodigies, sealing a first-game win by taking advantage of a tiny mistake from Alireza Firouzja.
Pragg followed up Firouzja’s pawn push (21… c5) by taking it (22. cxd5) and then made a fine rook move (23. Rac1) to set up tactics in his favour. The Indian Grandmaster from Chennai capatilised on the small tactical advantage to duly convert it into a win.
Firouzja, the French Iranian prodigy, however, is not known as the world’s best junior for nothing. Immediately, he hit back in the second game to level the score before building up a strong advantage in the third.
In the third game, Pragg looked lost but, incredibly, managed to turn things around and score an improbable second win to go 2-1 up.
In the fourth and final game of the tie, Pragg closed out the draw he needed to take the 3 points and continue his incredible form in Meltwater Champions Chess Tour events. He had finished second to China’s Ding Liren in the first event of the hybrid series in which players are playing on their personal laptops to maintain continuity.
Meanwhile, World Champion Carlsen put on a masterclass to secure a first-round win against Anish Giri. Norway’s world champion went up the gears as he ended the round with two dominant wins to blow Giri away 3-1. It was an ominous sign for the rest of the field, Play Magnus Group, the organisers of the Champions Chess Tour, informed in a release on Monday.
Giri, the Dutch No.1, did have a strong position in game 2 but was left ruing his decision to bail out for a draw without taking advantage and really going for a win.
Carlsen said afterwards, “It was a lot of fun, we played really, really fighting games. Finally, I managed to break him in the third.”
Carlsen now marches into Round 2 against the American Hans Niemann who had drama-packed day which ended with him losing 3-0.
Niemann suffered a disastrous start against Poland’s Oslo Esports Cup winner Jan-Krzysztof Duda — and not of his own making.
The New Yorker’s laptop ran out of power and had to be restarted, allowing his opponent five minutes to find the best moves.
In the last match to finish, Aronian took an early lead against Vietnam’s Liem Quang Le and then held on for three draws to take the match win, USD7,500 and three points.