R Praggnanandhaa has begun the soft landing towards the World Cup chess title in the knockout format, drawing the second classical game against world No. 1 Magnus Carlsen on Wednesday.
Though the Chennai boy has increased his chances of winning this match by taking it to Thursday’s tie-breaks, it won’t be entirely right to expect a smooth and successful landing. Prag, though, isn’t short on confidence, having already beaten world No. 3 Hikaru Nakamura, friend Erigaisi Arjun and No. 2 Fabiano Caruana in the shorter format. That’s half the battle won, especially against Carlsen, whom Prag has beaten five times in short time controls.
But then, the stakes are higher here. It’s on a global stage with a top prize of $110,000.
Carlsen is hungry for this title. Forget winning it, he had never reached the final of this tournament.
Carlsen is rated 2825 and 2887 in rapid (15 to 25 minutes) and blitz (5-14 minute games) respectively. Prag’s corresponding rating strength is 2645 and 2623. Generally speaking, a rating difference of 200 points means difference in ‘class’. However, that is more applicable in standard time control. Plus, many games of shorter time control don’t come under the purview of FIDE‘s rating calculation hence ratings can’t give a complete picture.
AS IT HAPPENED: WORLD CUP FINAL GAME 2
Considering momentum and battle-readiness, Carlsen and Prag start on equal footing. The knockout format, too, underlines that.
Since there is not much ‘recovery’ and ‘regrouping’ possibility due to paucity of time in shorter time controls, mistakes generally happen from both players. Fighting spirit, nerve, ability to soak in pressure play bigger roles here. And remember that Carlsen is dominant and experienced, but Pragg is 14 years younger.
The Indian followers can take the liberty to feel that tie-breaks can be anybody’s game. However, one cannot overlook Carlsen’s credentials. Even in shorter time controls. He has won four World Rapid title and five World Blitz crown. He is the reigning champion in both formats.
He was 9/9 during a blitz event in Zagreb, Croatia, last month where he just bulldozed the elite field with a final score of 15/18, two full points ahead of the runner-up. Caruana had held Carlsen to 12 successive draws in the 2018 World Championship. Carlsen annihilated him in the rapid tie-breaks 3-0, without needing the fourth game. Two years earlier, he humbled Sergey Karjakin for the world title via tie-breaks after drawing the last classical game in just 30 moves. He later said that he was confident of beating the Ukrainian in the rapid portion and wanted to conserve energy.
The Norwegian has said that he suffered from food poisoning after the semifinals in Baku. He appeared low on energy and focus in the first game against Prag.
Carlsen has already relinquished his world title and has spoken openly against classical chess saying one doesn’t get many playable positions in that format due to computer-aided preparation and hence gets somewhat bored due to the excessive theory. It is clear that young rivals and shorter time control excites him more.
Now, he gets his chance on the big stage. And Prag seems ready for the challenge after beating many stronger players in shorter time control.
Let’s make this clear though: the semifinalists from the World Cup, including Prag, are two giant steps away from landing on the moon (World Championship crown). They first have to win the Candidates tournament scheduled in Canada next April and will then get a chance to dethrone Ding Liren of China.