The 25th Abu Dhabi Masters came to a close on the 15 August, 2018, the Indian Independence Day. Sadly, there wasn’t a single Indian among the top 10 in the final standings. But that was more due to the high number of players tied on one score. Even for the first place, there was a tie between three players: Daniil Dubov, Anton Korobov and Salem AR Saleh. After the tiebreaks were applied, Dubov took the top spot while Korobov and Saleh were placed second and third, respectively.
Gabriel Sargissian, who was half a point behind on 7.0/9 took clear second, and then there was a long tie between 11 players at 6.5/9. Three Indians were a part of this tie; the highest placed was GM Murali Karthikeyan who took the 11th place on the leaderboard. Behind him were Harsha Bharathakoti and Debashis Das, who had finished 13th and 15th, respectively.
But more than in the final standings, where India shined was in terms of the number of Grandmaster and International master norms scored in the tournament. India was richer by two young Grandmasters in the 14-year-old Nihal Sarin and Arjun Erigaisi, who is only a year older than Sarin.
Sarin made his final GM norm in Abu Dhabi with a round to spare. Going into the penultimate round, he only needed half-a-point to clinch his final GM norm — and with it, the Grandmaster title. Fortunately for him, his opponent, IM Teymur Kuybokarov, was also in a similar situation. He too needed a draw to earn his GM norm. The result of the game, quite obviously, therefore, was a tepid 21-move draw. In fact, both players were pitted against much higher-rated opponents in the finale and had lost. But they had little to regret as they had already pocketed their grandmaster norms!
For Erigaisi, the final round of the tournament was a lot more crucial. He was in a must-win situation in his final round game against IM Krishna Teja. The game began with a Torre Attack wherein Erigaisi, who had the white pieces, had managed to stick out a passed pawn on the queenside, around 30 moves into the game. While this could potentially have been a trump for Arjun, the pawn was also at a risk of being rounded off. And that is what happened a few moves later. But Krishna delayed on taking the pawn and soon an equal position was reached. Eventually, the game reached a very double-edged rook-and-pawn endgame where Arjun managed to come out on top despite being a pawn down.
Interestingly, Arjun did not have even an International Master norm to his name at the start of the year. All of his six norms — three IM norms and three GM norms — have come within just eight months! He also crossed the 2500 rating threshold in this time.
IM P Iniyan was the third Indian teenager to have scored his Grandmaster norm. In the first eight rounds, Iniyan had scored 4.5 points, which included a win against GM Sanan Sjugirov, who was rated more than 200 points over him. The only loss Iniyan had suffered this far was in the second round against the eventual winner of the tournament, GM Daniil Dobov. In the penultimate round, Iniyan faced Martyn Kravtsiv, against whom the 16-year-old played a sharp tactical battle.
In a Classical Sicilian, Iniyan was forced to give up his queen in order to avoid mate in the middlegame. Kravtsiv was clearly winning after this but a blunder by Kravtsiv on the 46th move allowed Iniyan to wriggle out with perpetual checks and earn his title with a round to spare.
Harsha Bharathakoti was yet another Indian to score a Grandmaster norm in the tournament. On his way towards making his final GM norm, Harsha scored four straight wins in his last four rounds, defeating strong GMs like Daniele Vocaturo and Levan Pantsulaia. He also gained 20 rating points on the way, taking his rating up to 2470. All he needs now to become a grandmaster is 30 rating points.
Besides the three GM norms, three Indians also scored their International Master Norms in the tournament. Like Sarin and Iniyan, Sankalp Gupta and Muthaiah AL also scored their norms with a round to spare. The third Indian to score an IM norm was FM VS Rathanvel.
Rathanvel needed a draw in the final round against Dinara Saduakassova. Playing white, he essayed the Ruy Lopez and got the draw within just 24 moves. However, Saduakassova did not want to let the young lad get away without a fight. On her 17th turn she gave up an exchange to rip open the white king.
After this, Rathanvel’s king position looked precarious. However, Rathanvel not only found the best moves to hold ground, he also was better after black’s attack had fizzled out. But despite being in a better position, he decided to draw the game by mutual agreement and seal his IM norm.
Cumulatively, Indian players scored as many as seven norms and two Grandmaster titles at the event. What’s all the more important is that all of these players are still in their teenage years and could potentially become world-class grandmasters in the not so distant future!
Aditya Pai is an editor at ChessBase India
Updated Date: Aug 17, 2018 17:30 PM