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Abu Dhabi Masters: Rathanvel dominates Le Quang Liem!

by Aditya Pai - 08/08/2018

The 25th edition of the Abu Dhabi Masters saw some gnarly upsets on the first day. On the topmost board, IM VS Rathanvel achieved what Vidit Gujrathi could not at the Danzhou Masters some weeks ago; he defeated Le Quang Liem!! Playing white, Rathanvel gave up an exchange early in the game and dominated all the way through. This, however, was not the only upset of the round. Koustav Chatterjee, Sankalp Gupta,Rakshitta Ravi and many others also scored some stunning upsets. A detailed report.

Abu Dhabi Chess Fest turns 25!

One of the biggest chess events in the Middle East, The Abu Dhabi Chess Festival kicked off on Tuesday evening at Hotel Dusit Thani in the Emirati capital of Abu Dhabi. The event has been a hot favourite of Indian players and every year, there is a high number of participants from India. This year, too, is no exception. Out of the 150 participating players in the Masters’ group, about 90 are Indians!

Celebrating its silver jubilee this year, the festival’s premier event, the Abu Dhabi Masters, will feature a field of very strong grandmasters. More than 100 titled players from 25+ countries have confirmed their participation this year.

In comparison to the previous year when Nigel Short was the top seed of the event with an Elo of 2688, this year, the tournament features five grandmasters rated above 2700. The line-up includes some well-known names like Richard Rapport, Le Quang Liem, Ivan Cheparinov, and Short, currently focused on the FIDE Presidential race, is back as well.

Upsets and exchange sacs

The initial rounds of strong open tournaments like this one are always exciting. Norm hungry title aspirants fight to their fullest and, many a time, succeed in knocking their high rated opponents off their pedestals.


In that regard, the inaugural round was quite a spectacle. Top seed of the tournament, GM Le Quang Liem was thoroughly outplayed by V S Rathanvel, a 17-year-old FIDE Master from India! With an Elo of 2348, Rathanvel was rated almost 400 points below the Vietnamese number one.


Le has been in top form currently. He has come to Abu Dhabi after a very successful outing in Dangzhou where he finished clear second in an all 2700+ rated eight-player round robin, winning back to back games in the last two rounds. But this game painted a completely different picture.

Position after 17.Qb3

If one were asked to guess who was playing white in the game, one might easily fall prey to thinking it was Le Quang Liem. In a Caro-Kann Advanced, Le had established a menacing pawn on d3. In the position above, it is black to play and taking on a1 with the queen or on e5 with the knight were decent options. 


However, Black played 17…Bg4, perhaps, trying to dislocate the d1 rook. If the white moves the rook to e1, Qxa1 just wins. White does not have Bb2 in this case as the rook on e1 remains en prise. But Rathanvel never intended to defend the rook. He simply responded with 18.Bb2 and after 18…Bxd1 19.Rxd1 Qg4 20.Rxd3 Rd8, planted his knight in the heart of black’s position with 21.Nd6.

Position after 21.Nd6

Play turned extremely sharp after this and Rathanvel proved that his tactical skills are absolutely world class!

17-year-old IM VS Rathanvel managed to bring down the top seed of the tournament, GM Le Quang Liem in the opening round | Photo:

Board five saw another exchange sacrifice by white but in this case it did not lead to victory. Padmini Rout, who had the black pieces against Vladimir Fedoseev, had inflicted several weaknesses in her opponent’s pawn structure. But with his active pieces, black was doing just fine.

Position after 18.Nxf4

Here, Padmini decided to give up an entire exchange with 18.Nxf4 allowing 18…Bxd1 19. Rxd1 h4. As play progressed, however, Padmini struggled to find compensation for her material deficit. Fedoseev, in the meantime, took over the initiative and scored a clean win.

Padmini Rout fought hard but failed to hold ground against Vladimir Fedoseev | Photo: David Llada

A third exchange sacrifice of the round was seen in the game between local GM Salem Saleh and Sankalp Gupta. The Emirati number one had dominated all through the game and by the 36th move, he was merely giving finishing touches to his well-deserved victory when an unfortunate mishap ruined it all.

Position after 35...Kh5

Black is just very passive here. The bishop has no future and the rook is stuck defending it. Saleh just gave up an exchange here with 36.Rxb7 and was just completely winning. But then the UAE grandmaster began to move back and forth with his queen. At first, it looked like Saleh was just playing cat and mouse with his opponent but, as it turned out, he had lost the thread of the position and ended up being held to a draw!

Sankalp Gupta's game against Salem Saleh was a startling draw

Something equally stunning and surprisingly similar was seen in the game between Koustav Chatterjee and GM Sanan Sjugirov. Just like in the game between Saleh and Gupta, an exchange was sacrificed on the 36th move. But this time it was black who had played the sac.

Position after 36...Rxf3

Sjugirov plunged in here with 36…Rxf3 37.gxf3 and 37…Qxh2. After this, white was completely winning. It’s not clear whether this was time pressure or something else but both players missed several opportunities after this. Within six moves, white, from being completely lost, was in a totally winning position. But surprise, surprise… a draw was agreed!!

Koustav Chatterjee held GM Sanan Sjuigirov to a draw in a topsy-turvy battle | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Deep down the pairing list on board 46, 13-year-old Rakshitta Ravi was pitted to play against IM Javokhir Sindarov. Rated about 300 points above Rakshitta, Sindarov was clearly the favourite to win. But the Uzbekistani International Master began to falter quite early in the game let his opponent win an exchange as early as on move 13. As play progressed, Sindarov began to fight a bit too hard to restore material equality.

Position after 18.Bg5

Here, Rakshitta just let her opponent win back the exchange and just castled short. But after 19.Bxd8, white seized the initiative and simply dominated the game with 19…Qd4 20.Be7 and 20…Bxc3. Within the next six moves, Rakshita had scored her first win of the tournament!

Rakshitta Ravi scored a win against IM Sindarov in merely 26 moves! | Photo: Supriya Bhat

Round 1 results

Bo.No. NameRtgPts. ResultPts. NameRtg No.
180FMRathanvel V S 23480 1 - 00 GMLe Quang Liem 27271
22GMRapport Richard 27190 1 - 00 FMSamhouri A. 234881
382FMAliyev Ravan 23460 0 - 10 GMCheparinov Ivan 27183
44GMWang Hao 27110 1 - 00 IMSidhant Mohapatra 234183
584IMPadmini Rout 23380 0 - 10 GMFedoseev Vladimir 27075
66GMDubov Daniil 26910 1 - 00 IMAhmad Al Khatib 233685
786CMZuo Yifan 23340 0 - 10 GMAmin Bassem 26847
88GMSargissian Gabriel 26800 1 - 00 IMSiva Mahadevan 233187
988Koustav Chatterjee 23250 ½ - ½0 GMSjugirov Sanan 26779
1010GMKorobov Anton 26640 1 - 00 FMMithil Ajgaonkar 231889
1190CMAronyak Ghosh 23180 0 - 10 GMShort Nigel D 265911
1212GMAkopian Vladimir 26550 1 - 00 FMKigigha Bomo 231791
1392Sammed Jaykumar Shete 23140 0 - 10 GMKravtsiv Martyn 265413
1414GMParligras Mircea-Emilian 26450 ½ - ½0 WGMKulkarni Bhakti 231293
1594WGMEric Jovana 23070 0 - 10 GMMaghsoodloo Parham 263615
1616GMSalem A.R. Saleh 26360 ½ - ½0 Sankalp Gupta 230495
1796WGMGomes Mary Ann 23030 0 - 10 GMAdly Ahmed 263417
1818GMLupulescu Constantin 26190 1 - 00 FMHamidi Amir Mohammad 229997
1998CMKarthik Kumar Pradeep 22950 0 - 10 GMVocaturo Daniele 261719
2020GMGupta Abhijeet 26140 1 - 00 FMShailesh Dravid 229099


Standings after round 1

Rk.SNo NameFEDRtgPts. TB1  TB2  TB3 nwwew-weKrtg+/-
GMRapport RichardHUN27191,00,000,0110,900,10101,0
GMCheparinov IvanGEO27181,00,000,0110,900,10101,0
GMWang HaoCHN27111,00,000,0110,900,10101,0
GMFedoseev VladimirRUS27071,00,000,0110,900,10101,0
GMDubov DaniilRUS26911,00,000,0110,890,11101,1
GMAmin BassemEGY26841,00,000,0110,890,11101,1
GMSargissian GabrielARM26801,00,000,0110,890,11101,1
GMKorobov AntonUKR26641,00,000,0110,890,11101,1
GMShort Nigel DENG26591,00,000,0110,880,12101,2
GMAkopian VladimirARM26551,00,000,0110,880,12101,2
GMKravtsiv MartynUKR26541,00,000,0110,880,12101,2
GMMaghsoodloo ParhamIRI26361,00,000,0110,880,12101,2
GMAdly AhmedEGY26341,00,000,0110,880,12101,2
GMLupulescu ConstantinROU26191,00,000,0110,870,13101,3
GMVocaturo DanieleITA26171,00,000,0110,870,13101,3
GMGupta AbhijeetIND26141,00,000,0110,870,13101,3

Round 2 pairing

Bo.No. NameRtgPts. ResultPts. NameRtg No.
IMSaduakassova Dinara 24951 1 GMRapport Richard 2719
GMCheparinov Ivan 27181 1 GMKunte Abhijit 2485
GMSwapnil S. Dhopade 24871 1 GMWang Hao 2711
GMFedoseev Vladimir 27071 1 IMVignesh N R 2464
IMIniyan P 24641 1 GMDubov Daniil 2691
GMAmin Bassem 26841 1 IMNguyen Anh Khoi 2454
IMHarsha Bharathakoti 24541 1 GMSargissian Gabriel 2680
GMLaxman R.R. 24491 1 GMKorobov Anton 2664
GMShort Nigel D 26591 1 IMNitin S. 2449
IMGukesh D 24401 1 GMAkopian Vladimir 2655
GMKravtsiv Martyn 26541 1 IMHalvax Georg 2437
GMMaghsoodloo Parham 26361 1 GMSundararajan Kidambi 2433
GMAdly Ahmed 26341 1 IMSadhwani Raunak 2424
FMRaja Rithvik R 24361 1 GMLupulescu Constantin 2619
GMVocaturo Daniele 26171 1 IMAkash G 2410
IMMammadzada Gunay 24261 1 GMGupta Abhijeet 2614
GMAndersen Mads 26011 1 IMRaghunandan Kaumandur Srihari 2404
IMIkeda Junta 24191 1 GMPantsulaia Levan 2587
GMJojua Davit 25831 1 Muthaiah Al 2391
IMDimakiling Oliver 24011 1 GMAravindh Chithambaram Vr. 2581