This week, R. Praggnanandhaa was widely expected to make a splash in the big league by stunning a few big names in the elite field of Airthings Masters online rapid chess tournament.
As it turned out, this prodigiously talented 16-year-old warmed up for the big moment by shocking World No. 4 Levon Aronian and then pulled off the biggest upset by bringing down World No. 1 Magnus Carlsen, that too, with black pieces on Sunday.
In between, Praggnanandhaa also drew with World No. 9 Anish Giri after losing to World No. 7 Shakhriyar Mamedyarov.
By scoring two wins and a draw against four top-10 players in the world, Praggnanandhaa made the chess world sit up and take note of his abilities in the shorter format of the game. The performance, seen in the background of Praggnanandhaa’s three straight defeats on Saturday, assumes greater significance. It aptly reflects Praggnanandhaa’s temperament and the remarkable toughness of a young mind.
Since a victory brings three points and a draw one, Praggnanandhaa jumped from a solitary one point in the first four rounds to eight from the next four. The Chennai lad improved his position from the overnight 15th to 14th. However, he faces an uphill task to finish among the eight quarterfinalists from the remaining seven rounds in the 16-player field.
Coming back to the moment of the day, when Carlsen resigned after the 39th moves, Praggnanandhaa became the third Indian — Viswanathan Anand and P. Harikrishna being the other two — to emerge triumphant against the irrepressible Norwegian in tournament play.
In fact, after 21 moves, Praggnanandhaa appeared to have a great chance to slam the door on Carlsen but missed out.
Carlsen is not known to give rivals a second chance, but on this day, with aggressive play Praggnanandhaa managed to catch him on the wrong foot 11 moves later.
On the 32nd move, once Carlsen faltered with a knight move. Praggnanandhaa found a lethal response and a flawless sequence of knight and queen moves that pushed Carlsen to the edge and finally forced resignation with a timely bishop-block.
Even after Carlsen resigned and left the board, it was amazing to find a cool and calm Praggnanandhaa continuing to study the final position without any show of emotion.
Before this incredible win, Praggnanandhaa dominated Aronian from the 27th move during the 80-move triumph with white pieces and held Giri in 38 moves.
Ian Nepomniatchtchi continued to lead with 19 points from a maximum of 24, followed by Ding Liren and Eric Hansen at 15. Andrey Esipenko (14) is fourth and Carlsen trails in the joint fifth spot with 13 points with youngster Vincent Keymer.
The results (involving Praggnanandhaa):
Eighth round: Magnus Carlsen (Nor) lost to R. Praggnanandhaa (8); Seventh round: drew with Anish Giri (Ned); Sixth round: lost to Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Aze); Fifth round: bt Levon Aronian (USA).