Hou Yifan Challenge 3: Keymer in pole position after Pragg collapse

16-year-old German prodigy Vincent Keymer goes into the final day of the Hou Yifan Challenge as the sole leader after beating Indian star Praggnanandhaa, who followed a perfect 9/9 start by scoring only 0.5/4 on the 3rd day of the event. Christopher Yoo is now best placed to catch Vincent after defeating Pragg in the first game of the day and going on to score 3.5/4, while Awonder Liang’s 3/3 likely came too late.

You can replay all the games from the Hou Yifan Challenge, the 4th event on the $100,000 Julius Baer Challengers Chess Tour, using the selector below.

And here’s the day’s live commentary from Boris Gelfand and Arturs Neiksans (unfortunately at the last moment Vladimir Kramnik was unable to join). 

It was all change on Day 3 of the Hou Yifan Challenge, with Vincent Keymer taking over at the top and Christopher Yoo now level with Praggnanandhaa on 9.5 points, while the Indian star has one less game to play on the final day. 

Praggnanandhaa’s streak crashes to an end

We noted in the previous report that if Praggnanandhaa could keep his 100% record in the first two games of Day 3 he’d be a huge favourite to win the event, but instead it all went wrong for the 16-year-old Indian star, of whom Boris Gelfand commented, “his potential is enormous”. When the dust had settled, his 0.5/4 was the lowest score of any of the 17 players on Monday.    

Praggnanandhaa began with the white pieces against 3rd place Christopher Yoo, and when he put pawns on e3, d3, c3, b3 and a3 he already had our commentators wondering what he was doing. By move 14 there was a chance for 14-year-old Christopher to win by not retreating his attacked knight to h6, as he did, but grabbing a pawn with 19…Nxh4!

20.Rxh4 f5! is losing for White, but so are the alternatives, since the white queen, which has to defend the g2-bishop, will soon run out of squares.

The move Christopher played in the game was a reprieve, and it looked as though for a third day in a row Praggnanandhaa might come out of a tricky first game of the day on top, but perhaps he began to dream of a 10th win in a row and lost his sense of danger. He’d already misplayed things by move 40.

We’d been used to seeing Pragg with the good knight against a bad bishop in this event, but on this occasion the tables were reversed, and his 41.Be3?! was a sad move after which Black took over. 41.a4!, hoping to develop the bishop to a3 to trouble the black king, was a more promising try. 

The game was finally over on move 49 when Yoo found a killer move.

49…e3+! destroyed any coordination in the white camp and prepared for the invasion of the black queen. 50.Bxe3 would run into 50…bxc3+!, when the c-pawn is so strong that there’s nothing better than giving up a piece. 

Instead Pragg played on with 50.Ke1, but it was soon over.

Vincent Keymer was Pragg’s next opponent, and he warmed up with a nice finish against Poland’s Pawel Teclaf, whose 25.Ra4? missed a crucial tactical detail.

25…Nxc1! 26.Bxa6 at first just looks like an exchange of pieces, but Vincent had the zwischenzug 26…Rxb2+! 27.Kf3 and could now pick up a full piece with 27…Bxc3. The game went on to move 42, but the outcome was never in doubt. 

Vincent then impressed Boris Gelfand by the slow approach he took against Praggnanandhaa, playing only for a small but nagging advantage. That gradually became a pawn, but despite both players being down to only around 10 seconds it seemed as though Pragg was favourite to draw, until 42…Ra3? (42…Bb5!) allowed 43.Ra2!, and suddenly it was all over. 

Pragg couldn’t avoid the exchange of rooks (43…Rb3 44.Bc2!) and after the rooks left the board Vincent’s extra pawn, and the weakness of the h3-pawn, easily won the day.

Everything was going perfectly for Vincent, who had caught Pragg and had a game in hand, but as we’ve seen before on the Challengers Chess Tour, the burden of leading a tournament can prove hard to handle. Vincent suddenly found himself outplayed by Russia’s Leya Garifullina.

It was a game with many twists, and for a while it seemed as though Vincent would escape, but in the end Leya went on to score a deserved win in 83 moves.

That enabled Praggnanandhaa to regain the lead, but he did it only with a shaky draw against the world’s youngest grandmaster, Abhimanyu Mishra.

After that aggressive opening choice Praggnanandhaa puzzled our commentators by exchanging off queens into a clearly worse position, but he survived in the end.

In fact the main winner of the 3rd round of the day was Christopher Yoo, who had been on the defensive against his fellow American Balaji Daggupati until 39.Bxe6? suddenly allowed him to win a rook and the game with 39…Be3+!

In the final round of the day, leader Praggnanandhaa faced his compatriot Leon Mendonca, who had earlier won an amazing game. It’s impossible to force mate with two knights against a bare king, but you can do it if your opponent has a pawn (and therefore no stalemate escape), as Leon demonstrated in 126 moves.

That was highly impressive, but no less impressive was the way Leon simply outplayed Praggnanandhaa on the white side of the King’s Indian Defence in the final round of the day.

That gave a huge opportunity to Pragg’s rivals, and Vincent Keymer seized his with both hands, bouncing back from his loss to beat Balaji Dagguptai and score a 3rd win of the day. Vincent handled the tactics perfectly, meeting 27…g6 with 28.Rg5!

The game continued, 28…Rxd3 29.Rxd3 Rxd3 30.Nd5! Nxd5 31.Bxf6! Nxf6

32.Rxg6+! fxg6 33.Qxg6+ Kf8 34.Qxf6+

Now faced with the choice of either 34…Ke8 losing the queen to 35.Qh8+, or 34…Kg8, losing the rook to 35.Qg6+, Black resigned. 

Nevertheless, Christopher Yoo, who was on 3/3 for the day, could have gone into the final day as the clear favourite, since the fact that he won the individual game against Vincent Keymer means he’ll win the tournament if they finish tied for first. 

He would have been level with Vincent if he’d beaten Vaishali, and when his Indian opponent decided to trade off all rooks to enter a pawn endgame that became a strong possibility. 

Boris proved right, as Vaishali did indeed go astray with no time to calculate all the necessary variations.

Here all Christopher needed to do was create a zugzwang so the black king had to move and his own king could advance to h6. The way to do that was simply 39.a4! bxa4 (39…b4 40.cxb4 axb4 41.a5 d4 42.Kg4 and White stops Black’s pawn, while the a-pawn is uncatchable) 40.bxa4 and White would win easily. Christopher was down to seconds himself, however, and after the cautious 39.Kg4? Kg6! there was no second chance. 

That leaves the standings as follows going into the final day. 

As mentioned, the key detail is that Praggnanandhaa has played one game more than Keymer and Yoo, so only has three games remaining, against Aditya, Teclaf and Garifullina. If he wins them all he’ll be on 12.5 points, meaning that Vincent would need to score 2.5/4, or Christopher 3/4, to finish ahead, since they both win on the tiebreak of beating Praggnanandhaa in their individual games.         

The battle between Yoo and Keymer is finely balanced, since Christopher’s win in the individual game means if they tie for first he’ll be the one to earn a spot in the first event of next year’s Meltwater Champions Chess Tour. A curiosity is that they both play Zhu Jiner, Lei Tingjie and Yahli Sokolovsky, while Vincent also plays Vaishali while Christopher plays 4th place Awonder Liang in the final round. 

Vincent is therefore the favourite, while Pragg has gone from runaway leader to rank outsider in a single day. 

Even Leon Mendonca could mathematically still triumph, though a lot of planets would have to align for that to happen!

Don’t miss all the final day action, with Boris Gelfand once again joining Arturs Neiksans, live here on chess24 from 10:00 ET, 16:00 CEST, 19:30 IST.

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