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Carlsen and Pragg neck in neck before the final round of the Oslo Esports Cup

Magnus Carlsen and Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa will duke it out for the Oslo Esports Cup title tomorrow after India’s boy wonder finally cracked under pressure. Three points ahead going into the penultimate round of the $210,000 event, 16-year-old Pragg suffered a painful quickfire reverse against Poland’s World Cup winner Jan-Krzysztof Duda. It handed world No.1 Carlsen a golden opportunity to go level on points with the youngster and overtake him on the leaderboard due to their head-to-head score. MoreOslo cup participants / Live games / Round 1 / Round 2 / Round 3 / Round 4 / Round 5 / Round 6 / Carlsen – Praggnanandhaa 3:0

Carlsen, as always, grabbed the opportunity with both hands by thrashing the lowest-ranked player in the field, Canadian streamer Eric Hansen. The Norwegian is now hot favorite to win the first Major of the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour season. Duda also isn’t out of it, as he sits just one point behind on the leaderboard. However, the Pole needs a 3-point win against Hansen and defeats for both Carlsen and Pragg. Carlsen, meanwhile, faces the dangerous Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in Round 7 while Pragg is up against Anish Giri.

Carlsen had the good fortune to face Hansen today – an opponent who felt seriously low on form and confidence. The 29-year-old Hansen blundered badly in the first game and was punished and then escaped with a draw in the second. Before the third game, Hansen said: “There’s something very off with my head right now. I’m missing so much, and in this game I was very lucky to come off with a draw.” But it didn’t get better for Hansen as Carlsen reeled off a fine game to retake the lead overall going into the final round.

For Pragg, it was nowhere near as comfortable a day as he’d hoped. Game 1 started unconventionally as Duda played an English Opening with 6.e3 and then the ultra-rare 9.b3. Duda was allowed to advance a pawn on the f-file to the seventh rank and the result was inevitable. Pragg resigned on move 65. In the second game, the 16-year-old from Chennai overstretched with 24.c6 and from there Duda was ruthless. Pragg shook his head as he resigned in an impossible position on move 37. It left the youngster with an uphill struggle needing to win both remaining games on demand just to take it to tiebreaks. It wasn’t to be as the third game ended in a draw after the queens came off. The match ended 2.5-0.5 in Duda’s favour.

Asked if he can win the tournament tomorrow, Pragg said: “I just want to play better chess tomorrow and then we’ll see.” So far, both matches had finished in three games and the third was no different as Liem Quang Le thrashed Play Magnus Group’s new ambassador, Dutch No.1 Anish Giri 2.5-0.5.

The last match to finish was Mamedyarov vs Jorden van Foreest which went to a fourth game in which the Azeri needed to win to take it to tiebreaks. The game looked to be headed for a safe draw for van Foreest but the Dutchman let it slip and Mamedyarov went on to win. Tiebreaks beckoned. Van Foreest was clearly annoyed with himself and said afterwards: “To lose this game was pretty ridiculous.” The first blitz game followed the same pattern as the last rapid game as van Foreest was left furious with himself for letting the win go again with one hasty decision, this time in the endgame. The momentum appeared to be with Mamedyarov and in the second blitz game van Foreest fell apart. It ended in heartbreak for the 22-year-old as Mamedyarov took the match.

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