Magnus Carlsen, a five-time world champion, seldom engages in lighthearted conversation with a rival after a Classical over-the-board game, much less in a FIDE World Cup final.
Not just any opponent, either. The Norwegian has grown very fond of 18-year-old R Praggnanandhaa, a young pathfinder from India. So much so that on Tuesday, when their first game in Baku ended in a draw after only 35 moves, the two players talked for a good few minutes, sharing notes and perhaps speculating on what could have been.
It's a big cry from the World Chess Championship finals in 2013 and 2014, when Carlsen faced Indian icon Viswanathan Anand. The young Carlsen then defeated Anand to claim his maiden victory.
The Norwegian, however, has handled the young Indian superstars differently, frequently mentioning how they are revolutionizing chess not just in India but also around the entire world.
He made time for meals with Praggnanandhaa, Gukesh D, and Arjun Erigaisi when they were on his team in the first Global Chess League so they could pick his brain. And that's precisely what the kids did.
Carlsen is just a very amiable individual. It is wonderful for us to talk chess with him. With him, we have been practicing several games. The most of the time, we discuss various positions and games. merely to have an understanding of his thought process, mental processes, and initial instincts
He may have defeated World No. 2 Hikaru Nakamura and World No. 3 Fabiano Caruana en route to the final, but Praggnandhaa is well aware that Carlsen is at a higher level, so he would have to be exceptional to become the first Indian to win the World Cup since Anand (in 2002) in addition to being the first Indian to reach the semifinals.
The teenage player, using white pieces, used a novel opening strategy that appeared to confound Carlsen, who lost time while pondering his next move.
"Pragg varies his openings a little. I wasn't entirely sure what to anticipate. I wasn't ready for Praggnanandhaa's opening move, c4. I then began to play some music.
Carlsen's lone defeat in this competition came at the hands of German teenager Vincent Keymer, age 18. Carlsen didn't lose a single game throughout his journey to the championship after defeating him in tiebreakers, and he also avoided them. Gukesh, the highest-rated Indian, presented him with his toughest test in the quarterfinal when the match was near to going to tiebreakers. Carlsen succeeded in salvaging a draw and taking the match. It seems almost as though he wanted to prevent tiebreakers.
Praggnandhaa ought to be aware of that. If he can force Carlsen into tiebreakers, that would be his greatest chance of winning the World Cup. According to Thipsay, Praggnanandhaa has a higher chance of winning if the format is shorter.
When playing players from his generation, Carlsen is perfect in quick and blitz situations. We saw that this isn't always the case when he is speaking to younger people. Therefore, in order to force Carlsen into tiebreakers on Wednesday, Praggnanandhaa must defend successfully with black pieces. Even further, I'll assert that Praggnanadhaa should attempt to drag Carlsen into the 10- or even the blitz-minute game. The key to Praggnanandhaa's success is his rapid reaction time, according to Thipsay.
Thipsay was making reference to the tiebreakers Praggnanandhaa won in this competition versus Nakamura, Erigaisi, and Caruana. The young man from Chennai won the games despite being in a losing position by playing strong defense.