How Praggnanandhaa punished Carlsen's risky play for his first classical win over former world champion - Hindustan Times
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How Praggnanandhaa punished Carlsen's risky play for his first classical win over former world champion

May 30, 2024 09:33 PM IST

The 18-year-old Indian went after the world No 1's edgy opening choice and decision to not castle, to take the lead in Norway Chess standings after Round 3

Perhaps it’s time to lay off the hyperboles and surprised gasps. Eighteen-year old R Praggnanandhaa’s first classical win over five-time world champion Magnus Carlsen has arrived. It shouldn’t shock or startle. It’s been building up to this moment.

Indian GM Praggnanandhaa R(PTI)
Indian GM Praggnanandhaa R(PTI)

The win arrived in Round 3 of Norway chess in the south-western Norwegian seaport city of Stavanger and had Carlsen sitting, hand pressed to his temple in the final moments, as the Indian swivelled and rocked in his chair wearing a business suit and a satisfied grin. Earlier this month, the teen punched in his first-ever rated over the board win against Carlsen at the Grand Chess Tour Superbet Blitz in Warsaw, Poland.

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“I kind of feel that I have enough experience at this level. I can beat these players but I have to play my best for that. That’s the mindset,” Praggnananadhaa said in a cool, matter-of -fact reflection after beating the former world champion on his home turf. The Indian has previously defeated the world No 1 multiple times in rapid chess. The first time he did so was at the 2022 Airthings Masters, played online. In classical, Praggnanandhaa had a loss and three draws against Carlsen before, two of which came in last year’s World Cup.

Playing with the Black pieces, Carlsen opened with the rather edgy Paulsen variation (which he’s played earlier as well) of the Sicilian and seemed to stutter early in the middlegame. Carlsen’s 13...Qd7 response to the Indian’s f5 strike was an inaccuracy according to the computer and the evaluation bar leaped in White’s favour. It opened up active play and initiative for Praggnanandhaa who was operating at 99.6 percent accuracy to Carlsen’s 95.4 per cent.

“I wish Magnus would take these chances against me or against Fabi (Caruana),” Hikaru Nakamura offered in the confession booth. “I have this theory that when Magnus is playing the younger kids specifically he wants to sort of prove a point, he wants to go after them and try to beat them and he takes far more risks than he does against us old folks.”

The Indian was behind on the clock through the game and Carlsen’s ploy to throw off the young Indian with his dubious choice in the opening only went on to backfire.

Carlsen chose to live dangerously and not castle. A call that would return to haunt him.

He made an attempt at salvaging a draw with 33…Qc5 but Praggnanandhaa was seasoned enough to see through the sneaky idea. The Indian pushed his rook to the seventh rank to cut off Black’s King and prevent the possibility of any counterplay. It didn’t take much time for the Indian to grind out the calculation and spot the winning 35…Kh2 move – preventing potential perpetual checks and leaving an exasperated Carlsen with no room for escape. Carlsen extended his hand in resignation after 37 moves, shook his head in self-flagellation and both players settled for a post-game dissection. Praggnanandhaa betrayed no emotion, almost as if this was the most expected result. He dominated the game from start to finish and converted an advantage into a win, outwitting the world No 1 with his monster calculation strengths and fearless play.

"I shouldn't be mentioning this because Magnus is one of my best friends out thereThe only way to beat him is..attack!" GM David Howell said on commentary, "Players respect him too much, swap out queens and try to play for a draw. Keeping the Queens on was inspired by Pragg, and his decision to go for attack.. impressive stuff.”

Praggnanandhaa’s win came on the birthday of fellow Indian, newly-minted World Championship challenger and the latest entrant to the 18 year olds’club – D Gukesh.

“Eight years ago on this day I became an IM (International Master) and we both were playing the same tournament in India,” Praggnanandhaa looked back, “We celebrated, ate cake together...I think I must play more on this day.”

Carlsen has not been quite himself in classical chess. He's spoken of his interest in the format waning. He went winless in the last edition of Norway Chess, finishing sixth in the 10-player field. This time, he finds himself with a defeat early in the tournament. Praggnanandhaa now leads the Open standings while his sister Vaishali heads the women's section after three rounds. "Whether it's a loss or win, I try not to let the emotion affect my next game," Praggnanandhaa said, imparting sagely wisdom beyond his teen years, “I try, but I struggle sometimes.”

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