German GM Vincent Keymer took clear lead of the world’s next-generation talent Saturday, scoring 5/5 in a wildly decisive penultimate day of the Gelfand Challenge. The 16-year-old’s run was part of one stretch of action in the rapid 10+5 event that saw just three draws across 40 games, including Saturday’s penultimate Round 14 that produced decisions in all 10 games. Keymer has 12/15 and a headstart in Sunday’s four-game sprint to the finish line, chased by India GM Praggnanandhaa a half point behind, and American IM Christopher Yoo in clear third after a four-win Saturday himself.
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You can replay the full live commentary from Day 3 from David Howell and Jovanka Houska, who were joined by Anna Muzychuk.
The decisive, fighting spirit seen in the first 15 rounds of the Gelfand Challenge has also seen several players experiencing streaks both hot and cold, though Keymer has played consistent, blunder-free chess throughout and is now set up as the favorite to qualify for the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour.
There are no easy opponents in the Gelfand Challenge, however, with every player having shown they are capable of a quick and unexpected result. Holding first place in this group of young stars has even proven somewhat of a curse, seeing some former leaders crash and burn after reaching the front.
American GM Awonder Liang led after Day 1 and had a perfect 6-0 to start the event, but followed up with three straight losses and has middled to 3.5/9 since. And on Saturday both Day 2 leaders, Praggnanandhaa and Uzbek GM Nodirbek Abdusattorov, stumbled from their previous pace.
After his own five-win day on Friday, Praggnanandhaa was nicked by both of Kazakhstan’s top female players, his streak snapped by a sudden blunder and loss to IM Zhansaya Abdumalik in Round 12, and then he only picked up a half-point from IM Dinara Saduakassova in Round 15.
Against Abdumalik, Pragg went on the offensive in a Queen’s Gambit Accepted, moving the black king early with 11. Nc7+, though until 12.f3 the position was still dynamically balanced.
Drastic measures such as 12…Nxe4! were essential now, since after 13…Rb8? 14.Na6! Pragg was soon wreaking havoc on the exposed queenside. Abdumalik found some late counterplay on the kingside with 30…Rxg2 and an exchange at 31…Rxf2+ however, helping to set up a brutal oversight by Pragg under time pressure.
The stunner 34…Nxe4+ forked the queen and king and Pragg’s win streak was halted at seven.
The other Day 2 leader Abdusattorov had an even larger fall from the top, limping through Saturday to a 1.5/5 score and dropping into a sixth-place tie with Liang and Russian GM Volodar Murzin. Things looked off for Abdusattorov in the day’s opening 11th round, when Christopher Yoo broke open his Caro-Kann and piled easily onto his d-pawn.
Black had voluntarily unlocked the center with a knight trade at 24…Nxe5, then immediately saw his exposed d-pawn come under fire.
The American shielded Black’s defense of the isolani with 32.Bd6!, finally captured with 34. Qxd5+ then coasted through a rook-and-pawn endgame.
Yoo put together four nice wins on Saturday and vaulted into clear third, yielding only one loss to an even better streak: Indian GM Nihal Sarin produced Saturday’s second 5/5 score, doubling his points from a slow tournament start and racing up to 10/15, two points off Keymer’s pace.
Sarin sits a half-point behind Yoo, in a tie for fourth place with GM Gukesh D after beating his compatriot in Round 14. Gukesh as Black had at least found equality through the worst of a Sicilian, offering a queen trade with 27…Qc4, which Sarin refused with 28.Qf6.
Black’s pawn-hunting with 28…Qxa2? (28…d4!) then proved costly, leaving the queen out of position and allowing White to load up on the f-file with 29.Rf3 Qb1+ 30.Kh2 Qb6. Sarin’s 31.e6! was a nice shield and second refusal of Black’s queen trade offer, allowing White to finish things off after 31…Qd6+ 32.g3 Qc6.
33.Qxf7+! Rxf7 34.exf7 and there was no way to stop the white queen from reappearing.
Gukesh had some moments of his own, however, including one of the day’s best combinations — it took him all of six seconds to find!
34.Nfd7+! Rxd7 (Black has to defend against 35.Qxf7 checkmate) 35.Nxe6+!, forking the black king and queen.
The day’s frenetic action left the standings as follows.
Sunday will see a sprint to the end of the Gelfand Challenge, with just four rounds remaining and the stakes high for the chasing pack: the winner gets the chance to play with World Champion Magnus Carlsen and the rest of the Champions Chess Tour participants. Pragg will receive a double-whammy to start the day, getting Yoo in the Round 16 opener followed by Gukesh D in Round 17, two players who are desperate for his points.
The action begins at 15:00 CEST here on chess24, with Judit Polgar joining the commentary!