Does Pragg's rapid game make him a favourite in tiebreaker?

Magnus Carlsen, a five-time world champion, will be wary about the 18-year-old Indian’s prowess in this format as they move into the D-day

R. Praggnanandhaa (Photo: ANI/Twitter)
R. Praggnanandhaa (Photo: ANI/Twitter)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

It’s almost in the fitness of things that the FIDE World Cup final between Magnus Carlsen and R. Praggnanandhaa will now be decided in a tie-breaker on Thursday. There has been very little to choose from between the two warriors so far – but the five-time world champion will be wary of the Pragg’s reputation in the rapid format to break the deadlock. 

How will the tie-breaker be played in Baku on Thursday, which gets under way at 4.30 pm IST? The rulebook says two players will play two games in rapid format with time control of 10 minutes for each player and a 10-second increment for each move.  

If a winner is still not decided, two more rapid games will be played with a time control of five minutes and a three-second increment of each move. If the score is still a draw, then the final will be played in a sudden-death mode in a single blitz game. 

The buzz among the chess circles is whether the tie-breaker gives the 18-year-old Indian an edge. Pragg, whom Carlsen holds in high esteem as a competitor, had been using the rapid format to his advantage throughout this tournament in Baku. What’s more, all his three wins against the Norwegian five-time world champion last year had come in variations of the rapid format. 

In fact, the prodigious Pragg turned the attention of Indian media towards him 360 degrees when he defeated Carlsen first in February last year at the Airthings Masters (an online rapid chess tournament), in the process becoming the youngest person to defeat the Norwegian since he became world champion in 2013. The second time he stunned the Norwegian was at the Chessable Masters online rapid chess tournament in May. 

The third, and the final win, was even more stunning as Pragg defeated the then world No. 1 Carlsen in three consecutive games in one day — one rapid and two blitz at the 2022 FTX Crypto Cup. 

He continued to showcase his prowess in Baku with the short game, disposing off world No.3 Hikaru Nakamura in the tie-breaker in the second round, following it up with a win over friend and sparring partner Arjun Erigaisi in the quarter final in a frantic sudden-death blitz showdown after eight games failed to find a winner. 

The semi-final again saw Pragg prevailing over American GM Fabiano Caruana, a world No.2, in the tie-breaker to force a final showdown against Carlsen. The prowess of the young brigade from India, which includes Pragg, N. Gukesh and Erigaisi in rapid format has been giving the top players a run for their money – and it should be no different on Thursday. 

Pravin Thipsay, a senior India GM and columnist said: “Even someone like Carlsen, in his quarter final against Gukesh (world No.7), had to push himself to draw the second game after he saw that Gukesh had a slight chance. None of the top players want to take the risk of facing our Golden Generation of youngsters in rapid games because they know that rankings and ratings don’t matter there,” he said. 

If Pragg has shown a penchant for clinching the tie-breakers, the hugely experienced Carlsen did not really exert himself in the second round – failing to take advantage of playing with the white and agreeing to a draw after 30 moves.  A bout of food poisoning had kept him little under the weather on first two days but the master's ability to spring a surprise over his rivals has had the chess world in thral over the past decade. 

It will, hence, be intriguing to find out what the ace has up in his sleeves! 

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Published: 24 Aug 2023, 9:07 AM