Reykjavik Open 2018: India's Adhiban Baskaran continues fine form, records fifth straight win
Adhiban defeated Hungarian number one, GM Richard Rapport, on the top board.
In the eighth round of the Reykjavik Open, India’s Adhiban Baskaran scored his fifth straight win of the tournament. In the penultimate round, Adhiban defeated Hungarian number one, GM Richard Rapport, on the top board. Rapport and Adhiban had been leading the event at the commencement of the round. With this win, Adhiban has taken sole lead in the tournament whilst killing most of his competition. The only player who can better Adhiban’s score is the Turkish GM Mustafa Yilmaz who got the better of GM Daniel Howard Fernandez.
Adhiban’s game against Rapport was undoubtedly the most important one of the round. If there was a decisive result on this board, the winner was almost certain to go on to clinch the title.
With all this in mind, this was a high pressure situation for Adhiban. On the one hand, Rapport was the higher rated of the two. If Adhiban risked too much and lost, he’d have sunk deep enough on the leaderboard so as to not be able to have any chance at the title prize in the final round.
On the other hand, Adhiban had the white pieces and this was a good opportunity to push for a win. A draw would of course make way for several players to flood in at the top and then it could have been anyone’s game.
Adhiban’s opening choice was excellent for this game. He went for a rare line in the Slav Defence. About Adhiban’s opening choice, IM Sagar Shah remarked after the game, “Computer analysis has proved that this line leads to equal positions but if your opponent isn't expecting it, it can always lead to interesting positions." And that’s exactly what happened. Rapport was caught off guard and began making mistakes. On his 17th move, Rapport blundered and let his opponent gain two strong bishops in exchange for his rook. The rest of the game was simply a mopping up operation for Adhiban who finished the game off in merely 27 moves.
What also worked in Adhiban’s favour was the fact that only one of the five players sharing the second spot — Mustafa Yilmaz — was able to win his game. This means that in the final round, Adhiban will play Yilmaz and a draw would be sufficient for the Chennai lad to take home the title.
For Yilmaz, making it to the top board in the final round involved a bit of luck. Playing black against GM Daniel Fernandez, he was unable to claim any advantage in any point in the game until his English opponent blundered in the endgame on the 53rd move and almost walked with his king into a mating net. Saving the mate required Fernandez to give up a couple of pawns in addition to the one he had already sacrificed and this gave Yilmaz a decisive material advantage.
On board three, the all-Indian clash between Vaibhav Suri and Nihal Sarin was a short 19-move draw. With the black pieces, Sarin countered Suri’s English Opening with the Four Knights variation. Out of the opening, neither side had any advantage. The players went for a three-fold repetition move 16 onwards and decided to call it a day.
IM R Praggnanandhaa, who is on the hunt for a GM norm in Reykjavik, had a promising position in his game against GM Emre Can. The game began with an Open Catalan where Praggnanandhaa had the black pieces. On his 33rd turn, Emre blundered and gave Praggnanandhaa a decisive advantage but the Indian little prodigy also fumbled a few moves later and gave away a big part of his advantage.
Praggnandhaa tried hard to win after this. He had a bishop and three pawns against his opponent’s rook. Materially speaking, this should have been enough to win but Can’s rook was active enough to restrain his opponent’s pawns and stop Praggnanandhaa from making any progress in the position. After trying for 94 long moves, Praggnanandhaa decided that it was time to sign peace and call it a day.
A win in this game would have hugely raised Praggnanandhaa’s chances of scoring a GM norm. However, with this game drawn, it might be that Praggna gives his norm a narrow miss. Whatever the case, he will have to fight for a win in the final round and see what happens.
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