Ukraine’s Pavel Eljanov might have won the championship honors at 2016 International Chess Tournament in Isle of Man but India’s 10-year old chess prodigy R Praggnanandhaa shocked the audience with a remarkable tear-away victory over Paraguayan Grand Master Axel Bachmann. Praggu played with Black pieces and overwhelmed Bachmann in just 18 moves. It was the most sparkling display from world’s youngest ever International Master, who recorded his 5th win in tournament’s 9 Rounds. This was his third victory with Black pieces in addition to two others with Whites. Since the boy plays only for wins, the idea of drawing games eludes him. A more mature player would have converted those losses into draws to earn ½ points for each draw. Praggu lost three of his matches and if he had managed draws, he could have ended up somewhere within the top 10 in a field of 137 players. As for the tournament champion, the Ukrainian Eljanov was chased by three Americans; Fabiano Caruana, Wesley So and Hikaru Nakamura. In the end, Eljanov and Caruana tied for first place. However, due to progressive tiebreaker, Eljanov won the first place trophy and the title. The cash prize however, was not split and they each took home £9,000. There were 26 Indians in the tournament and most of them performed quite well. Vidit Gujrathi had begun pretty impressively with 5 wins in his first 6 Rounds but couldn’t add more and settled for 9th place in overall standings. Among women, India’s Harika Dronavalli collected the top prize of £3,500 but her score of 5½ points was shared with several others.
On the last day of 2016 Isle of Man International Chess Tournament, Pavel Eljanov played his Round-9 match against USA’s Wesley So. Until then, Eljanov had kept his half-point lead over Caruana but since Caruana defeated GBR’s Michael Adams on last day, the American tied with Eljanov with 7½ points. These two were the only players in the tournament to reach this score. However, Eljanov was declared winner on progressive tiebreaks since the tournament rules didn’t permit a play-off. After Eljanov and Caruana, the third place was taken by Azerbaijan’s Arkadij Naiditsch, who won his Round-9 with Blacks against Israel’s Maxim Rodshtein.
The tournament field had 26 players from India and the best performance was delivered by Vidit Gujrathi. Vidit won 5 out of his first 6 Rounds before losing to the eventual champion Eljanov in Round-7. The Indian had White pieces but still lost to the Ukrainian. In his last two Rounds, Vidit could manage only draws. But with 6 points, he finished 9th on overall final standings. Of other Indian men, Aravindh Chithambaram also scored 6 points and ended at the 19th spot; SL Narayanan was 23rd; Abhijeet Gupta 26th; Harika Dronavalli 27th; Abhimanyu Puranik 31st; MR Lalith Babu 34th; Tania Sachdev 35th; Kidambi Sundararajan 37th; Vishnu Prasanna 38th; R Praggnanandhaa 39th; Shyam Sunder 47th and Shardul Gagre took the 50th spot.
Among women participants, Harika Dronavalli was declared the top player with 5½ points and awarded the top prize of £3,500. After Round-8, two other women including China’s World Champion Hou Yifan had been in contention but Harika settled the issue by drawing her last Round with Armenia’s Sergei Movsesian, while the other two women lost in Round-9. Other women, who shared the same 5½ score were; India’s Tania Sachdev, Ukrainian GM Anna Ushenina and Georgian IM Nino Batsiashvili.
But the final day truly belonged to India’s yet-to-be 11 Praggu. The Chennai boy scored his third victory with Black Pieces and 5th overall by defeating Paraguay’s GM Axel Bachmann in Round-9. It wasn’t a routine victory but scored in an amazing fashion. Besides his tongue-twisting name full name, Praggnanandhaa, the Indian chess prodigy also has plenty of hidden imagination. The Paraguayan GM began with non-theoretical chess on a premise that such a route would be the best way to confuse the little boy from Chennai. The 2645 opponent played 1.d4 and Praggu countered with Nf6. Bachmann didn’t know that Praggu liked the non-theoretical chess and shies away from reams of theory or computer analysis. Instead, Praggu likes to watch children’s cartoons on TV rather than studying chess classics of past. After the first few moves, both sides castled on opposite wings. Until the 7th move Bachmann felt safe because he had the hook on g6. But Praggu has the art of mounting unanticipated attacks. He didn’t waste much time and went for the kill at 8…Nc6. Bachmann already found himself in trouble against the innocent-looking killer. At 12…Nxa2, the whole game had become too complex. By move 15 Nxa8 c3 16, Bachmann stared at defeat and he resigned on move 18! It was brilliant chess from Praggu, who simply demolished his 2645 ranked opponent for a resounding victory. Famous chess writer Leonard Barden posted on English Chess Forum saying that India’s 11-year-old and world’s youngest ever IM with an unpronounceable name has won an 18-mover against a 2645-rated GM. Barden further added that this game could be compared to Bobby Fischer’s Game of the Century against Donald Byrne. Those days, Fischer was 13 years old while Praggu is not quite 11 yet.