Fair to say, round 7 was probably the most intensely fought roundof the tournament thus far. Sitting pretty on top of the points table, Arjun Erigaisi, took on Adhiban who was having a forgettable tournament. In responseto Adhiban’s King-pawn opening, Arjun responded with his pet opening, thePettroff. Both players were extremely solid and gave nothing away whatsoever. The queens were swapped off the board on move 7, and it was a fairly quiet gamewith both sides playing very solid chess. After close to 1 hour, this matchproduced the first result of the round after the game ended in a draw.
Another very interesting battle was the one between young Praggnanandhaa and Parham Maghsoodloo. Where the latter came in extremely well prepared for the game as he blitzed out the first 27 moves without breaking a sweat. With a central passed pawn compensating Pragg’s early pawn sacrifice, it was crucial to be accurate. Pragg managed to hold fort in the rook endgame, as the pawn advantage on the kingside wasn’t enough for the Iranian to convert.
Two-time National Champion, Murali Karthikeyan, was playing Levon Aronian and opted for the Russian Defense in the Ruy Lopez. After the opening, top-seeded Aronian started pushing his kingside pawns trying to create an ambitious attack against Murali’s king, but the Indian youngster calmly reacted with solid moves that negotiated the advances made by the Armenian. After the queens were traded on move 25, the position gradually transitioned into a rook endgame with both sides having a pawn each. The game ended on move 61 with players repeating moves.
After a quiet Day 2, Vidit Gujrathi had some acceleration to do ashe took on R. Vaishali. The India No. 2, playing the 4 Knights Variation in the English opening, managed to get a slight edge around the 26-move mark after grabbing a pawn on e4. He went on to convert the better position with impeccable technique, trading pieces at regular intervals, jumping to joint 2nd place on the standings.
Former US National Champion, Sam Shankland managed to get the better of his counterpart, Le Quang Liem in the closed Ruy Lopez after he cramped the Vietnamese for space, putting constant pressure on the queenside pawns. On move 40, Shankland took advantage of a small inaccuracy by his opponentwhich allowed him to get a passed pawn that ultimately decided the game.
Leading by one full point, Arjun Erigaisi split the point in round 8 playing white against Vidit Gujrathi. It was a short 12-move affair in the Ragozin Variation of the Nimzo Indian as both players decided to go for comfortheading into the final round.
In hot pursuit of first place, Levon Aronian looked to up the anteagainst R. Vaishali. He opted for the dynamic Sicilian Najdorf making hisintentions very clear from the word go! The Armenian’s dark square bishopcreated lots of trouble along the a1-h8 diagonal, exerting pressure against theIndian’s king. In a position that required extreme accuracy, Vaishali slippedever so slightly, giving the top seed an initiative. But things soon took adramatic turn as the Indian fought back and managed to centralize her queen,keeping all threats at bay. In an opposite-coloured bishop with queens on theboard, Aronian couldn’t create enough play to bring home the point as the game ended in a draw. Terrific result for the only woman player in the event.
In what was a very impressive display of attacking chess, MuraliKarthikeyan pounced upon an opportunity to launch an attack against former World Junior Champion, Parham Maghsoodloo. Playing the Ruy Lopez, the young Indian went in for the kill with 33. Qf7, creating all kinds of trouble for theIranian. On the very next move, Murali followed it up with a dazzling bishopsacrifice to expose the opponent’s kingside threatening to jump in with hisknight to deliver checkmate. It was a cracking game as the first playerannihilated the second with relentless attack.
Indian prodigy Praggnanandhaa was up against Le Quang Liem. Heemployed the Queen’s Gambit Accepted variation hoping for an open game with better chances. Both players played the entire game with remarkable accuracyand at the end, there was nothing either of them could do to force a win.
Adhiban took on Shankland, still looking for his first win in theevent. He employed the fianchetto variation against the English opening andmanaged to create active play on the queenside with his major pieces lined upon the a-file. While the Indian managed to get an advantage in the later partof the game, he was unable to capitalize on it at the right time, allowing theAmerican to scamper through with a draw.
HOUDINI act by Arjun, wins Rapid Title
Heading into the final round, Arjun was leading the Tata Steel Chess India Rapid event by one-full point. But, the job was far from done as he had to overcome the final and arguably the toughest challenge – a game against the top-seed, Levon Aronian.
After the customary fist bump, things got underway as Arjun stuck with his pet opening, The Petroff, in response to Aronian’s 1. e4. Considering that a draw was all he needed, the commentators – Tania Sachdev and Sagar Shah lauded the young Indian’s smart approach. Aronian seemed to be well prepared as he played out the initial moves quite quickly. On move 16, the Armenian No. 1 cashed in on an opportunity to win a pawn, putting Erigaisi in some trouble. Asthe game progressed, the one-time World Cup winner tightened the screws on theteen and created a passed pawn on the central file. While it looked like the game was slipping away, Arjun kept defending tenaciously in an inferior position pulling things back, one move at a time. In a dramatic turnaround, the youngster found a series of moves with unreal precision under extreme pressure. The 41st move by Erigaisi, Qf3, also had 5-time World Champion, Viswanathan Anand exclaim “That’s brilliant!” in the commentary box. In the post-match discussion, Vishy commended Arjun’s resourcefulness – which in itself was a testimony of the youngster’s incredible display throughout the event.
A Houdini Act by Arjun as he managed to save the game, and keep his spot at the top of the rankings.
With a podium finish on the line, Murali Karthikeyan went all in as he unleashed the King’s Indian Defense against Praggnanandhaa. It was an extremely hard fought battle as both players brought in their A-game. The two-time National Champion managed to tick all boxes playing the King’s Indian bringing all his pieces into the game. On the other hand, young Pragg was solid and responded well. Soon, the match entered an endgame with a slight edge for Murali. A display of the highest order continued from both players, making it impossible to separate the two. The game ended in a draw on move 73.
The other player in close contention was India No.2, Vidit Gujrathi, who was up against Sam Shankland. The American Grandmaster opted for the Grunfeld Defense and did well to hold on as Gujrathi looked to create counter play along the kingside after early queen trades. The position soon liquidated into a rook and knight endgame with equal pawns after which the players mutually agreed to a draw. Shankland’s tenacious defence denied the Nashik star of a podium finish.
Top Iranian GM Parham Maghsoodloo got the better of young Vaishali in a Reti Opening, after churning out a win in an isolated pawn rook endgame. It was a great display of endgame prowess as the former World Junior champion edged past the only female player of the event.
Former World Blitz Champion, Le Quang Liem, finished the rapid section of the event on a high with a win over Adhiban Baskaran, who had a forgettable tournament. The Vietnamese GM’s passed pawn on the a-file along with the double bishops proved too strong for the Indian as he resigned the game on move 36.
1. Arjun Erigaisi (India)
2. Levon Aronian (Armenia)
3. Praggnanandhaa R ( India)
Adhiban Baskaran has withdrawn himself from Blitz category due to illness and he will be replaced by Rapid winner Arjun Erigaisi in the Tata Steel Chess India Blitz 2021.