Chess World Cup final: R Praggnanandhaa and Magnus Carlsen battle to a draw in Game 1
India’s teenage grandmaster, playing with white pieces, played out a draw against Norway’s five-time world champion in the World Cup chess final
The first of the classical games in the Chess World Cup final between R Praggnanandhaa and Magnus Carlsen ended in a 35-move draw in Baku, Azerbaijan on Tuesday. And on the face of it, the result works for both players.
Praggnanandhaa, who was playing with white, was solid from the start. He seemed to have his lines figured out. He would have been exhausted after the tiebreaker against Fabiano Caruana in the semi-finals on Monday, but the moves were coming in quickly and with confidence.
Carlsen, on the other hand, seemed a bit too relaxed. He spent seven minutes on his first three moves. Usually, Grandmasters hammer out the moves in the opening and then settle in, trying to look for a variation or a move that will take the opponent away from their preparation. But after Praggnanandhaa moved his black bishop to a3, the Norwegian spent 27 minutes and 53 seconds on his move.
Now, this wasn't normal. Carlsen can take time and we saw him do this against D Gukesh in the quarterfinal as well. But this seemed to indicate that he had been surprised. So, he needed to take his time and solve the problem in front of him.
From that point, both players produced very precise play and, in the end, it seemed like a draw was the right result. But when Carlsen revealed after the match that he had food poisoning and hadn't really eaten for two days, it seemed like the Indian might have missed the opportunity to make the World No.1 suffer a bit.
“Like normally I would probably have a bit of an advantage having had a rest day while he had to play a tough tie-break yesterday, but I had a rough couple of days,” said Carlsen. “I had some food poisoning and I haven’t really been able to eat for the last two days. But this also meant I was really calm as I had no energy to be nervous.”
A long game would have drained whatever little energy Carlsen might have had and maybe forced a blunder. But given how relaxed he looked, Praggnanandhaa would have had no clue.
Praggnanandhaa will also take confidence from the draw. Almost everyone expected him to struggle in the classical games, but this was different. He was playing way above his level and displaying the calm of a player who has been rated above 2700 for a while. He now seems comfortable even in slower positions, where not too much counterplay is possible, and we saw that against Caruana too.
Praggnanandhaa can play regardless of what the opponent throws at him and against the top players, that is an irreplacable quality. “I don’t think I was in any trouble at all,” said the 18-year-old. “Yeah, I kinda looked at it (the opening) but not in great detail. I kinda remembered the Ba3 position from earlier prep.”
When asked whether he had been caught out by the opening, Carlsen said: “Pragg moves around quite a lot in the opening and I didn’t quite know what to expect. To be honest, I didn’t prepare for c4. I tried to sort of play some commonsense moves. I thought I was slightly better but I didn’t really mind the draw.”
Carlsen will play with white pieces in the second classical game on Wednesday and he can he hard to stop when he is feeling motivated enough. Praggnanandhaa will be aware of the threat he will face but he will not be intimidated. “It will be a fight,” said Praggnanandhaa. “He’ll definitely push very hard. I will just try to rest and come fresh. That is the best I can do.”
The effects of the tough tiebreaker on Monday were more evident in the match for third place between Nijat Abasov and Fabiano Caruana. Abasov scored a victory in just 26 moves against the World No.3 from USA, who clearly still seemed a little out of it.
“Since my last three games were London (opening), and I previously went for Queens Gambit declined positions, he didn't expect Catalan from me,” said Abasov. “But I was watching his games against Pragg closely and there were already some Catalans in this line, so I decided to test my luck here. I had some ideas and it turned out to be that Fabi wasn’t ready for it.” Abasov now leads the match 1-0 and Caruana, playing with white pieces, will have to win on demand on Wednesday.