India’s chess star Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa and world champion Magnus Carlsen made it two wins out of two as the FTX Crypto Cup favourites powered into an early lead.
On Tuesday night, Praggnanandhaa narrowly beat Anish Giri in the four-game match to avenge a costly defeat the Dutch number 1 inflicted on him earlier this year in the Oslo Esports Cup. Pragg and Giri played out three draws before the India struck in the final game.
The youngster sits alongside Carlsen at the top of the leaderboard on 6/6 points. On Wednesday, Praggnanandhaa will play American teenager Hans Niemann, while Giri, still yet to get off the mark, will face French-registered Alireza Firouzja.
World champion Carlsen recovered from a shock loss against Niemann to march into Round 3 of the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour round-robin. Carlsen’s day started badly as he was blown away by Niemann, the lowest rated player in the tournament.
Niemann, coming off a 3-0 loss on Monday, was super-smooth with the black pieces. The killer move was 35… Be4, which wreaked havoc in Carlsen’s defence and ended Niemann’s tilt.
In his post-game comment, Niemann summarised his win by simply saying: “Chess speaks for itself.” But Game 2 saw the world No.1 1 hit back in ruthless style to level the score at 1-1. Then in the third game, Carlsen sprung another opening surprise with the dubious 1. a3, played for the first time on the Tour, before moving into a more orthodox queen’s pawn opening. The Norwegian has previously played 1. e3 and 1. f3 — all highly unorthodox moves.
Carlsen quickly went a pawn up and secured a beneficial queen trade before turning the screw against his 19-year-old opponent to take the win and go 2-1 up. Niemann now needed to win the next game on demand. He battled hard, but could not hold back the tide. Carlsen won the final game — despite missing a chance to win a piece — to take the match 3-1.
Carlsen said after: “I didn’t play so great, but I’m very happy with the fact I came back.”
Alireza Firouzja, the French-registered superstar-in-the-making, brushed off his loss on Monday to get his first campaign this season under way with a superb 2.5-0.5 win over Liem Le. Firouzja clinched victory with a game to spare, picking up USD7,500 and three points. Vietnam’s top player, meanwhile, has now lost two matches in a row.
The last match to finish, Jan-Krzysztof Duda vs Levon Aronian, became the first of the tournament to go to tiebreaks after a tight encounter between two of the Tour big beasts ended 2-2. Aronian missed an opportunity to take the lead in the first blitz tiebreak, which ended in a draw. But the Armenian-born US star made no mistake in the second to take the match win. He now sits one point behind Carlsen and Pragg on five points.
Round 3 of the round-robin event will be played later on Wednesday. Each match will be played over four rapid games, with blitz tiebreaks in case of a 2:2 draw.