Hou Yifan Challenge: Pragg keeps the pace
New out of nine
At 16, Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu is the 11th highest rated U20 player in the world. A likeable teenager, he became the youngest Indian player to cross the 2,600 mark in May 2019. And it’s not just about scoring with Pragg, like many great masters, including Indian legend Vishy Anand, rented his room.
In the fourth round of the Julius Baer Challengers Tour, Pragg couldn’t have dreamed of a better start – the boy from Chennai won all 9 matches in the first two days of action.
Our first round report featured a photo of Pragg standing next to his mother, Nagalakshmi, and sister Vaishali, who is also competing in the online tournament. In 2019, when Pragg broke the 2,600 mark, famous Danish trainer Jacob Aagaard, who has worked with the prodigy in the past, pointed out how helpful it was for Pragg to have received the right kind of support from his family:
Praggnanandhaa is a wonderful child with a great sense of humor and a happy existence. Vaishali is a calm personality, but she is incredibly likeable. I feel happy to call them my friends. I had a bit of experience with their parents and you can easily see why the kids are so big. They are well behaved, with a combination of love, kindness and steadfastness necessary for a child. Basically, parents are good at saying no with a smile, when they need to.
As the second half of the tournament approaches, it looks like only Vincent Keymer – currently in second place, two points behind Pragg – has a chance to stop the leader. Keymer will face Pragg with the white pieces on Monday, in round 11.
On lap 7, Pragg beat Volodar Murzin with the black pieces. Jon Speelman has been dealing with avalanches of pawns in his column lately, and while it wasn’t an avalanche, it was Pragg’s connected passer on the queen wing that gave him the full point in this game. .
25.cxb4 was Murzin’s decisive error. He followed 25 … Nd4 26.Rf2 axb4 27.f4 c3
White won’t be able to create a counterplay fast enough, and only major material concessions will stop the online passer. Murzin resigned three strokes later.
Pole IM Pawel Teclaf had a good second day, scoring 3/4 to move up to fourth place. In round 6, however, he failed to find the right winning maneuver in a bishop v knight final against Murzin.
As GM Karsten Müller notes in his annotations below, careful consideration should be given to any potential simplification in a final pawn phase. Here 39.Bb4 + Ke6 40.Bxe7 wins for White, while Black can successfully defend the position after Teclaf 39.Bg3. Certainly an instructive potential transition to a pawn end!