HD Bank Masters Chess: Grandmaster Murali Karthikeyan beats top seed Le Quang Liem on his way to finish second
Murali Karthikeyan pulled off a spectacular performance at the 8th HD Bank International Open Chess Tournament held in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi to bag second place at the event.
Indian Grandmaster Murali Karthikeyan pulled off a spectacular performance at the 8th HD Bank International Open Chess Tournament held in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi to bag second place at the event. Out of his nine games at the event Karthikeyan finished with a score of 7/9, with six wins, two draws and a loss. Karthikeyan’s performance rating at the event was a whopping 2720.
In its eighth edition, the event had attracted a strong field of Grandmasters from all across the globe including some world class players like Le Quang Liem and Wang Hao. The strongest Indian in the fray was Grandmaster SP Sethuraman who was the third strongest player at the event by rating. The tournament was a nine-round Swiss league with a time control of 90 minutes + a 30 second increment from move 1.
From the very start of the event, Karthikeyan, despite being the 10th seed in the tournament, was dominating the field. Winning four straight games in the first four rounds, Karthikeyan made his way to the top very swiftly.
However, his dream run came to crashing halt in the fifth round when lost to the Russian Grandmaster Dmitry Gordievsky. Karthikeyan had the black pieces in this game and went for a Gambit line called the Benko Gambit against Gordievsky’s queen pawn advance. Perhaps, this was an attempt by Karthikeyan to catch his opponent by surprise in the opening. But as it turned out, the opening surprise hardly had an effect on his opponent. Out of the opening, Gordievsky got a slight edge in the position. By the 30th move, Karthikeyan was down an exchange.
Despite being down on material, Karthikeyan defended tenaciously to save at least half a point and retain his lead. Soon, the players reached a rook and pawn endgame after the 64th move. By this point, Karthikeyan had regained his lost exchange but Gordievsky’s outside passed pawn was still quite a trouble for the Indian. In the final phase of the game, the Russian, once again, exchanged one advantage for another when he exchanged his outside passed pawn for both of Karthikeyan’s doubled king pawns. The resulting position was simply lost for the Indian. Karthikeyan played on for a few more moves but eventually resigned on move 90.
Post this loss, Karthikeyan took things slow in the next round and tried regaining his composure but seventh round onwards, the eighteen year old was back to business. Winning both his games in the seventh and the eighth rounds, Karthikeyan was back into contention for the title. Especially worth noting was Karthikeyan’s game against the top seed of the tournament, Le Quang Liem from the penultimate round.
Karthikeyan had the white pieces in this game which began with the Symmetrical English Opening. He got a slight edge out of the opening but then, Le Quang Liem began to make errors. As early as by the 20th move, Karthikeyan had a significant edge and within no time, Quang Liem’s position collapsed like a house of cards. The Vietnamese Grandmaster still tried to limp on by giving up his queen for a rook and a minor piece but by this point, Karthikeyan’s advantage was simply overwhelming. But since his opponent was so keen on playing on, Karthikeyan indulged in some over the board chess humour giving up his queen for Quang Liem’s rook. In the final position, Quang Liem had a knight against Karthikeyan’s three extra pawns. However, the pawns were too far advanced and the black knight was in no position to check their advance. Realising this, on the 63rd move, Quang Liem finally decided to throw in the towel.
Karthikeyan was back in first place after this win but there were two more players who were sharing the top spot with him – Argentinian Grandmaster Sandro Mareco and his final round opponent International Master Le Tuan Minh.
In the final round game, Le Tuan Minh went for the Torre Attack with the white pieces. Karthikeyan was able to equalize very easily out of the opening and even got an edge late into the middle game. But Le Tuan Minh defended resourcefully in the final phase and after a few inaccuracies by Karthikeyan. By the 49th move, a dead drawn position arose over the board and players immediately decided to draw by mutual agreement.
A draw on the top board gave Mareco the chance of having his shot at the title. He, too, was tied for first going into the final round of the event. A win would have made him the champion and a win is what he got in the final round. Karthikeyan on the other hand, shared second place with Alan Pichot and Le Tuan Minh.
This was, nevertheless, a fantastic performance by the Indian. He did miss a few chances in his final round game that eluded him from winning the title but looking at the larger picture, he also defeated the top seed of the tournament and finished ahead of both the 2700+ rated Grandmasters. Moreover, thanks to his incredible performance of Elo 2720, he will be gaining 14 rating points along with the $6500 cash prize that he will take home.