Amid nerve-wracking tension, R. Praggnanandhaa ended Arjun Erigaisi’s comeback tale, ironically by inflicting a rare victory with white pieces for a 5-4 triumph in their dramatic clash and advanced to the semifinals of the FIDE World Cup chess in Baku, Azerbaijan, on Thursday.
In a memorable clash spread over nine games, where the players won three times each from the black side, Praggnanandhaa clinched the issue with a 72-move triumph.
Despite a testing time-control of three minutes and two-second increment per move per player, Praggnanandhaa arrived 30 seconds late for the key game and still managed to come out stronger with precise play.
After a day’s rest on Saturday, Praggnanandhaa plays USA’s Fabiano Caruana and favourite Magnus Carlsen faces Azerbaijan’s Nijat Abasov.
With Carlsen officially declining to be part of the eight-player 2024 Candidates tournament in Toronto, from April 2 to 25, leading to the World title match, Praggananadhaa, Caruana and Abasov are set to fill the three qualifying spots available from this competition.
Thursday saw plenty of action. After two uneventful 25-minute drawn rapid games, the rest of the battle was full of drama.
From an objectively lost position to a dramatic victory, R. Praggnanandhaa experienced every emotion before snatching the first 10-minute rapid game. Undeterred, Arjun also struck with black pieces to draw level and force the set of blitz games.
It was clear that both players were equally alert in decisively punishing any blunder. Unlike the two rapid games, the shorter duration face-offs were full of thrills and these genial teenagers were going for each other’s throats.
The fierce fight continued in the blitz games, where each player had five minutes and a three-second increment per move to finish the games.
Once again, the winner emerged from behind the black pieces as Praggnanandhaa launched a decisive kingside attack to win in just 31 moves to lead 4-3. For the second time, Arjun hit back to prove that black was the new white on this day.
With the players locked at 4-4, the contest moved to a phase where the first decisive game decided the winner and Praggnanandhaa got it right.
In the women’s semifinal, Bulgaria’s surprise packet Nurgyul Salimova upstaged Ukraine’s Anna Muzychuk 3.5-2.5 for a place in the final against Russian second seed Aleksandra Goryachkina.
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