16-year-old Indian prodigy Praggnanandhaa scored a perfect 5/5 on Day 1 of the Hou Yifan Challenge, including a win over his older sister Vaishali. Pragg was matched for four rounds by Kramnik Challenge winner Vincent Keymer, until US star Christopher Yoo defeated the German in a tense final round of the day. Christopher is in joint third place on 3.5, half a point behind Vincent, but he has a game in hand. The 17-player field means that one player gets a bye each round.
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Praggnanandhaa won the Polgar Challenge, the first event on the Julius Baer Challengers Chess Tour, and he got off to the perfect start in the Hou Yifan Challenge, the last event before the final. Perhaps the key to his success was the first game of the day, since when he found himself a pawn down against Balaji Daggupati, and a minute down on the clock with just 20 seconds and a 5-second increment each move, things weren’t looking hopeful.
Balaji was much too hasty in swapping off rooks, however, and soon found himself with a bad bishop against fantastic knight.
Black is still a pawn down, but Praggnanandhaa’s king is ready to march into the position on the dark squares and start grabbing pawns. There’s nothing White can do, and the desperate 40.h4?! didn’t help matters as Pragg went on to score a comfortable win.
That set the tone for the day, with Daggupati going on to lose his remaining three games, against Leya Garifullina, Vaishali and Zhu Jiner, while Pragg powered to another four wins.
The second of the day was notable, since Praggnanandhaa was taking on his talented older sister. The sibling rivalry initially looked set to feature a crushing early win for Pragg.
But Vaishali here accepted things had gone badly wrong and managed to regroup with the pawn sacrifice 8…Be7 before actually keeping the game going for 55 moves. It was the last game to finish apart from the 100-move Mishra-Liang, where a missed win for Abhimanyu meant we missed out on White winning all 8 games!
Vaishali’s fighting spirit in that game seemed to help her afterwards, as she won her remaining two games, against Daggupati and Garifullina, with that latter game featuring a powerful attack.
After 20.f6! Bxf6 21.Qf5! Rfd8 22.Qxh7+ material was equal, but the black king was fatally weakened.
The other pace-setter was top scorer for the Challengers Chess Tour as a whole and the winner of the Kramnik Challenge, Vincent Keymer, who recently tied for first place in the European Championship. He scored 4/4 before a loss in the final round of the day.
Once again the first round was critical, since Keymer faced the player he tied for first with in the Kramnik Challenge, Awonder Liang, and we got an amazing slugfest right out of the opening. Vincent played a line of the Caro-Kann where he sacrificed two pawns, but after 15…Nb4 it seems Awonder was winning.
The win was 16.0-0!, when the computer says 16…Rxh3 17.Nf4! holds everything together for White. Instead another logical move, 16.Na3, allowed Vincent to play 16…Qc6! — 17.Rc1? fails to 17…Nd3+! Now Awonder did castle, but after 17.0-0 Rxh3 18.f3 Vincent played a spectacular only move, 18…Bc5!! that piled the pressure on White.
It seems that 19.dxc5! Ne5! can still be defended by 20.Nb5!!, deflecting the queen to give a check from e6, but instead, after almost 6 minutes’ thought, Awonder played 19.Qf4? and after 19…Nd3! 20.Qg4 Rdh8! Black’s attack down the h-file was just too powerful.
It may “only” have been played in an online rapid junior event, but what a game!
Keymer went from strength to strength after that, but in the final round of the day he met his match. 14-year-old US star Christopher Yoo could have gone into that game with a perfect 3/3, since he’d spoilt a winning ending in Round 1 against Volodar Murzin in a game which lasted exactly 100 moves.
The Yoo-Keymer game was a heavyweight struggle where Vincent came very close to holding the endgame, but made a final mistake with 43…Kc5. That came back to haunt him after 46…Be5.
Black would be holding if not for 47.Rh5!, and the pin of the bishop meant the g-pawn could advance with 47…Rf4+ 48.Ke3 Kd6 (you can’t both defend the bishop and stop the pawn) 49.g7! and Keymer resigned.
That left the standings as follows after Day 1 — note that Yoo, Vaishali, Garifullina, Mammadzada and Daggupati have played one game less.
Team Kramnik trail badly in the overall race to earn a trip to Dubai during the Carlsen-Nepomniachtchi match, but they do lead here after Day 1 — only the Top 8 scores are counted for Team Kramnik, as they have one extra player.
The tournament is only beginning, however, with three more days and 12 rounds to go. Praggnanandhaa’s 100% record will be tested in the first round of Day 2, for instance, as he takes one of his key rivals, Awonder Liang.
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