Praggnanandhaa was the sole leader with 6.5 points from nine games at the end of the first day | photo: Maria Emelianova, Chess.com
Praggnanandhaa got off to a flying start, winning his first five games, and ended the first day of the 2023 Tata Steel Chess India Blitz as the sole leader on 6.5/9. He's pursued by Vidit and Alexander Grischuk on six points, with only Grischuk still undefeated. The top two finishers in the rapid section, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Teimour Radjabov, had a rough day at the office, both losing their first three games.
Tania Sachdev and Robert Hess commentated on the day's action.
After the last round was over, I had an interesting conversation with Praggnanandhaa. What does he think is the ideal style to play good blitz?
This morning, I was spending time to study the games of players who play blitz well. For example, Arjun played very well in Tata Steel Chess India last year. He won it convincingly. I was trying to look at his games. Also trying to look at my games from last year. To see how not to play! I felt that I was trying to play interesting... but hanging pieces here and there. One of the aims today was to keep it simple. Not to do anything drastic.
Did Praggnanandhaa really keep it simple today? His first-round game against Radjabov went:
His second game win against Vachier-Lagrave also followed a similar path.
So is this his natural style?
Honestly, I don't know! Nowadays, you have to be universal—good at everything. Everyone is good at everything! That's what I am trying to do. Earlier I felt that I was not playing many attacking games. I feel I am doing it for the past two months, a lot more. Not consciously, but I am taking the chances to attack if I get any. I try to be generally objective in the position. I try to play my best moves, and sometimes consciously to play sharply. Sometimes consciously.
This being objective and attacking the opponent when needed, was reflected in his game against Vincent Keymer.
Not a flawless game, but typical of blitz. Praggnanandhaa played for the initiative and ultimately succeeded, as it is difficult to defend correctly in a blitz game.
"Except for the game against Vidit, I think I played well—I outplayed many of my opponents," Praggnanandhaa claimed. In Vidit he met his match in the seventh round, soundly outplayed in a well-controlled positional game for a blitz encounter.
It was indeed a game of simple concepts, but it was Vidit who strategically executed them better.
Vidit—sound positional chess | photo: Maria Emelianova, Chess.com
When it came to playing the position and taking chances when tactical opportunities presented themselves, Vidit too followed the same principle outlined by Praggnanandhaa. His game against Keymer was a tactical marvel, a joy for spectators. It is our Game Of The Day, annotated by GM Rafael Leitao.
Another player to impress on the day was Grischuk, whose sense of tactics and blitz prowess are well known—he is a three-time world blitz champion, in 2006, 2012, and 2015. His quick spotting of tactics won him an easy-looking game against Keymer.
Looking at his play, Grischuk seemed to be playing steadily, preferring strategic games. Is this what he prefers? Grischuk disagreed.
"Actually I think it is the opposite—I play more aggressively in blitz." He professed his game against Vachier-Lagrave to be his best game. This was the game where Grischuk played actively, underlining that "playing the position" indeed takes preference when tactics present themselves.
Grischuk, the blitz specialist | photo: Maria Emelianova, Chess.com
Blitz events have their own drama and thrills, especially in the dying seconds, which makes them glorious spectator delights.
Praggnanandhaa's win against his friend Arjun proved to be important, as he managed to capture the lead again. The end of the game shows both the players in intense concentration, and the pure joy of blitz chess.
White has compensation for the pawn, but Black has to be careful. He blundered with 42...Ra4? after which he lost a piece: 43.e5 Nxe5 44.Nxe5 1-0.
Gukesh's ambition cost him dearly in his game against Arjun Erigaisi.
In a near-equal position, Radjabov had a blind spot in his game against Gukesh.
In this position, Grischuk nonchalantly played 81.Bf5!?, underlining the absurdity of playing on. Vidit captured it on the 96th move, and both players played on for a total of 173 moves, until a draw was agreed.
It was partly quizzical and partly comical to see Vidit try to checkmate with two knights, but we know it is worthwhile for the global audience he attracted for his effort.
In the seventh round, in his hurry to evacuate his king quickly, Praggnanandhaa committed a not-so-uncommon occurrence in quicker time controls: an illegal move.
Praggnanandhaa played 48.Kf1?? here, only for it to be pointed out that it was an illegal move. A visibly embarrassed Praggnanandhaa sat smiling as one minute was added to Vidit's clock. Praggnanandhaa's position was lost, and he resigned two moves later anyway.
An embarrassed Praggnanandhaa after his illegal move | photo: Maria Emelianova, Chess.com
The standings look as follows with one day, and nine rounds, still to go.