Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa of India finished second in the FTX Crypto Cup, the second major on the Champions Chess Tour, after fighting back strongly from a game disadvantage to surprise world champion Magnus Carlsen in tiebreaks in the seventh and final round.
After dropping the third of the four rapid games, the 17-year-old Pragg found himself two points behind the Norwegian Carlsen at the start of the round. However, Carlsen erred in the endgame when he tried to force a draw in the fourth game, and the Indian took advantage of it to force the match into blitz tiebreaks.
In the four quick games, Praggnanandhaa had several opportunities in the drawn first game, played outstanding defence in the second game (also a draw), lost in the tight third game, and then triumphed in the fourth game by taking advantage of Carlsen’s error.
He gained two points by dominating the blitz games, bringing his total to 15. Teenage Iranian-French Alireza Firouzja scored three points in the decisive round to tie Pragg for the lead (15 points), but ultimately had to settle for third place.
Carlsen increased his point total to 16 after winning the third quick game, making him the winner and taking home the FTX Crypto Cup for a second consecutive year.
Carlsen achieved his first Major victory and third victory of the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour season. Aside from extending his lead atop the USD 1.6 million Tour scoreboard, the outcome also earns him the tournament’s exclusive NFT trophy.
Throughout the entire tournament, Pragg and Carlsen were evenly matched, with the teenager consistently making a statement.
However, Pragg faced the actual litmus test in Round 7 of the all-play-all competition: world No. 1 Carlsen. The youthful player had opportunities in game one, but in game two, he had to defend like a lion. In the third, he finally lost steam.
According to a statement issued on Sunday by the event’s organisers, Play Magnus Group, Carlsen secured the victory that assured him of the title and did so in trademark Magnus fashion with a brilliant display of endgame strategy and a great sense of relief.
Reacting before the final rapid game, Carlsen said, “This game was very nervy, I think, for both of us. Today I haven’t been able to find a rhythm at all, but hopefully I can relax a bit in the last game.”
Carlsen did relax — but it barely mattered to him. In the fourth game, the champion looked to be steering the game to a draw but blundered in the endgame.
“I think Magnus just wanted to have more fun!” Pragg, who still had work to do to finish second, was quoted as saying in the release.
In the final tiebreak, Pragg won the first and then ended it in a dramatic second game in which Carlsen blundered badly. Pragg ended the tournament on a high, securing the runner-up spot.
Carlsen hailed his tournament win a “great result”.
The USD210,000 premier esports competition was taking place at Florida’s Eden Roc Miami Beach, and as it entered its last day, all eyes were on the highly anticipated match between Carlsen and Pragg.
In contrast, Alireza Firouzja, who was trying to surpass Pragg in the other matches, defeated Levon Aronian by a score of 2.5 to 1.5 to at least earn third place.
Hans Niemann, a 19-year-old New Yorker who has been entertaining everyone with his interviews throughout, is still having difficulties. Niemann lost versus Vietnam’s Liem Quang Le 2.5–1.5 to finish without any points.
However, the newly-crowned “bad boy of chess” can take away from the tournament memorable wins over Carlsen, Pragg and Aronian, plus an army of new fans.
The champion of the Oslo Esports Cup, Jan-Krzysztof Duda, ended his competition with a 2.5-0.5 victory over Dutch No. 1 Anish Giri.
Duda had a difficult start to the competition but came out on top with victories over Carlsen, Pragg, and eventually Giri.
On September 19, the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour will resume play with its subsequent “normal” match.
(Inputs from IANS)