Eight rounds have passed at the World Juniors 2018 so far. In another three rounds, the champion of the world in the U-20 age category is to be crowned. Thus far, Iranian GM Parham Maghsoodloo seems to be the biggest contender for the title. With a score of 7.5/8, Maghsoodloo is a full point ahead of his nearest rival, Awonder Liang.
Among the Indians in the fray, Karthik Venkataraman and Abhimanyu Puranik have been the most impressive. Both grandmasters are currently sharing the third place – behind Liang – with seven others. Harsha Bharathakoti, who was sharing the lead with Maghsoodloo after the first four rounds, went on to lose back-to-back games in the fifth and the sixth round and is currently on 5.0/8.
Round five had seen the clash between tournament leaders, Bharathakoti and Maghsoodloo. Bharathakoti had the white pieces in the game and played strongly. In a Nimzo-Indian Defence, the Telangana-based teenager found some really impressive moves and had Magsoodloo, the top seed of the tournament on tightropes. To defend, Maghsoodloo retreated to the base rank with several of his pieces and seemed to be in deep trouble. But with some neat manoeuvres and accurate defensive moves, he managed to bring things back on an even keel.
Once the smoke had cleared, players found themselves in an equal – but slightly complex – endgame where both sides had a queen, a rook and a bishop. It seemed the game might drift towards a stalemate soon and both players would keep their lead. However, on his 37th turn, Harsha made an unfortunate blunder that allowed Maghsoodloo to catch the white king in a mating net. Magsoodloo was swift with delivering the final blow. He immediately sacrificed his bishop and forced resignation.
While Harsha went down against Maghsoodloo, Karthik made his way to the top board winning back-to-back games in rounds five, six and seven. In the fifth round round, he defeated GM Haik Martirosyan in an 80-move-long marathon. While Karthik had got the advantage in this game right out of the opening, a clear win was hardly in sight. By the time the game had reached an endgame, Karthik had won a pawn. In order to hold on, Martirosyan gave up an exchange for a pawn and liquidated further into a position where both sides had three pawns on the same side of the board. It looked difficult to convert at the outset but after 35 long moves, the latest Indian GM managed to force a win.
Round six had paired Karthik against his compatriot, GM Aravindh Chithambaram. Chithambaram is also the second strongest Indian player in the field by rating and also had the white pieces. The game opened with a Sicilian Najdorf and – as is typical for the opening – steered into an extremely sharp middle game. After Chithambaram made a few tactical inaccuracies in this phase, Karthik’s pieces began ushering into the white camp. Karthik even gave up his queen on the 31st move to keep the momentum of his attack. Chithambaram did manage to save his king eventually but was left with a significant material deficit. On his 51st move, Karthik plucked another white pawn with a tactical stroke and brought home the full point.
Round seven pitted Venkataraman against Iranian GM Amin Tabatabaei, who was sharing the second spot with him and two others. This game wrapped up surprisingly quickly. Tabatabaei was trying hard to find something concrete on the queenside in a Caro-Kann Defence. He even gave up a pawn on the flank to prise in with his pieces. Venkataraman, in the meantime, sought his counterplay on the other side of the board against the enemy king. Transferring his heavy pieces towards the enemy king, he found a crushing rook sacrifice on the 29th move after Tabatabaei, who was already in a dire position, greedily grabbed a pawn. Mate was inevitable at this point and Tabatabei, therefore, decided to throw in the towel.
This win had propelled Venkataraman to top board of the tournament. He was to play Maghsoodloo in round eight. If he could manage to win, he could topple the top seed and take the pole position for himself. With the white pieces, he entered a closed Sicilian, a line which isn’t as commonly seen at GM level as the opening’s open variant. When players castled on opposite wings, it seemed, this game would also be a ferocious tactical battle like some of Karthik’s earlier games. However, Karthik exchanged queens early and reached an endgame with a minimal edge.
There was absolutely nothing special in the position until the first time control was reached. On his final move of the time control, Karthikeyan had allowed Parham to gain the advantage of the bishop pair. This, combined with Black having the possibility to create a passed pawn on the kingside gave Maghsoodloo enough to bite on. In the remainder of the game, found the most accurate moves and converted the game into a full point.
Another important game for India was on board five where Puranik brought down the second seed of the tournament, GM Jorden van Foreest. This game was also a closed Sicilian in which Puranik had the white pieces. The Dutchman seemed pretty eager to win this game and took lots of risks from the very start. He gave up a pawn as early on move 11 and continued playing aggressively. However, van Foreest soon made some inaccuracies and gave his opponent a free hand on the queen side. Abhimanyu made the most of this by first advancing his queenside pawn majority and then opening up a second attacking front on the king’s wing.
Desperate for counterplay, van Foreest gave up a full rook. But by this point the position was beyond hope. Just two moves later, he had to resign.
This win, while dropping Venkataraman to the third place, has put Maghsoodloo a full point ahead of his nearest rival, Liang who is at 6.5/9. With his win against the second seed of the tournament, Puranik joined the 10 way tie for third at 6.0/9. With three more rounds to go, it looks unlikely that an Indian would win the event, but it is surely heading towards an exciting finish.
Aditya Pai is an editor at ChessBase India
Updated Date: Sep 13, 2018 22:18 PM