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Ratnakaran's unthinkable queen sacrifice lights up Goa!

by Sagar Shah - 20/06/2019

On 11th of June we witnessed a brilliant queen sacrifice by Karthikeyan Murali at the Asian Championships 2019 in Xingtai, China. Chess fasn across the world found the queen sacrifice so good that they compared it to Nezhmetdinov's positional queen sacrifice against Chernikov that took place 57 years ago. Well, just 9 days after Karthikeyan's sacrifice, we have one more brilliant queen sacrifice, this time by Ratnakaran Kantholi in round 3 of the Goa GM International 2019! According to the author of this article IM Sagar Shah, Ratnakaran's queen sacrifice was much more difficult to envisage and evaluate than Nezhmetdinov's and Karthikeyan's. We bring you this brilliant game as well as other highlights from rounds 2 and 3 of Goa GM International 2019.

A few years ago whenever someone would speak about a positional queen sacrifice, the first position that would spring to my mind was:


Nezhmetdinov vs Chernikov, 1962

Black has just played his bishop to c3 and Nezhmetdinov simply sacrificed his queen on f6

The compensation in this case was pretty clear - white has the nice d5 square for his knight. The bishop can relocated on the a1-h8 diagonal. There will be rook lifts via d3. While the sacrifice is spectacular, it is quite understandable and the compensation is obvious even to an amateur.

Rashid Nezhmetdinov (left), called by many as the greatest attacking player ever to have graced the game of chess!

The Nezhmetdinov immortal was played in 1962. Let's fast forward the clocks by 57 years and we arrive in 2019. On 11th of June 2019, a youngster from Tamil Nadu playing in Xingtai, China, decides to sacrifice his queen in the same way that Nezhmetdinov did!

Karthikeyan was playing against Alireza Firouzja at the 5th round of the Asian Continental Championships 2019 in China

Firouzja vs Karthikeyan, 2019

White has just moved his knight to b3 and Karthikeyan decides to unleash his brilliant idea. He takes on c3 with his queen and after bxc3 takes on e3.

You can see the similarities of the sacrifice between Nezhmetdinov and Karthikeyan. Both sacrificed their queen for two pieces and both had state weaknesses to play against. Karthikeyan has the weaknesses on the c file and nice square on c5 to play with.

It seemed like we won't have any other queen sacrifice like the one by Karthikeyan any time soon. Well, it took only eight days for another Indian player to execute a brilliant queen sacrifice, perhaps even more attractive than what Nezhmetdinov and Karthikeyan had achieved.

Meet Ratnakaran Kantholi, aka the Indian Tal! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

We coined the sobriquet of Indian Tal for Ratnakaran after we witnessed his amazing games over the years. Just like Tal, he had complete lack of respect for material in chess. More than calculation he would trust his intuition and in general he loved to trick his opponents from inferior or losing positions. On 19th of June at the 2nd Goa GM International 2019, Ratnakaran was sitting opposite Mikheil Mchedlishvili in round 3.

It was the evening round and the second one of the day. All the players looked a bit tired, but when the opportunity to sacrifice a queen arose, Ratnakaran's eyes were wide open! | Photo: Niklesh Jain

White has just taken on d5 with his pawn. We are in the opening still and this position had been reached in 8 games before and in all of the Black played Qxd5, which looks like a very normal move. But Ratnakaran sensed an opportunity here, an opportunity to create a game of eternal beauty!

He took on d5 with his knight, sacrificing the queen on d8! This was played after 11 minutes of thought!

Mchedlishvili moved his queen to b3 and now Ratnakaran had an important decision to make. He has to move his knight from c3. He was confused between Nxe2 and Nxd4 and Nb5xd4. In the first case he was winning a pawn but also activating the f1 bishop. In the second the bishop on f1 would be closed, but White could play e3 and dislodge the knight. It was not an easy decision but finally Ratnakaran decided to go for material with ...Nxe2.

The move Bc8-e6 was truly brilliant! Black has a piece and a couple of pawns (one of them is now falling on c7) but Ratnakaran believes in the activity of and harmony of his pieces!

Ratnakaran tried to kick the bishop off the h4-d8 diagonal so that he could 0-0-0. Here it was Mchedlishvili's turn to surprise his opponent! He played the move Bf6!? This move doesn't look sensible at first, but on deeper inspection you realize that White wants to give back his piece and at least create some weaknesses, or squares where he can park his pieces. after ...gxf6 the dynamism in Black's position would be reduced to some extent.

By this point Black is completely better

There were many ups and downs in the game, but Ratnakaran's compensation always remained. Better coordination and better activity! He went on to win this game. You will find detailed analysis of the game in PGN below, Ratnakaran's video during the final moments of the game, and Ratnakran's video of analyzing the game.
Final moments of the game between Mchedlishvili and Ratnakaran | Video: Shahid Ahmed
It's never easy to get Ratnakaran's interview after a game. We were lucky that he agreed to speak to us after his brilliant game!

I feel that Ratnakaran's queen sacrifice was much more difficult to understand and also play because it was more dynamic in nature. One wrong move and everything would just wither away. While in the case of Nezhmetdinov and Karthikeyan it was long term compensation and this is somehow much more easy for us to appreciate. This is the reason why we call Ratnakaran the Indian Tal. He understands the dynamics of the game really well.

P. Konguvel scored a big upset in round two, when he got the better of world's youngest GM D. Gukesh | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Earlier in the day P. Konguvel scored a fine win against Gukesh in round 2. The most impressive part of the game is how quickly Konguvel adjusted his mindset from being worse to winning the game when he was presented the opportunity. Often when we are in a difficult position, we are unable to adjust our thinking after the opponent blunders. Well, in this case Konguvel did so and the result was a very nice endgame where Gukesh had no chances.

12-year-old Bharath Subramaniyam was under tremendous pressure throughout the game against Abhijeet Gupta, but the youngster did not budge. He was able to extract half a point from the game! | Photo: Niklesh Jain
Final moments of Bharath Subramaniyam against Abhijeet Gupta

Great news for Sankalp Gupta as the youngster not just beat a very strong GM with the black pieces - Alexander Fier, but he also crossed the Elo barrier of 2400 and became India's latest International Master. | Photo: Niklesh Jain

Neelash Saha fough for over five hours in the second round to draw against Stupak Kiril | Photo: Niklesh Jain

Neelash Saha vs Kiril Stupak, Round 2

The move ...Re7! seemed like a game finisher because now there is a mate on a7 and also the h7 pawn is falling, but it turns out that Neelash had already seen everything in advance and immediately played the only move Bg7! Stupak had no option but to accept the draw with Re2.

Mitrabha Guha managed to beat Ziaur Rahman with the white pieces in a nice endgame display of technique | Photo: Niklesh Jain
Interview with Mitrabha after his win over Ziaur Rahman | Video: Shahid Ahmed

Standings after round 3

Rk.SNo NameTypsexFEDRtgClub/CityPts. TB1  TB2  TB3  TB4  TB5 nwwe
12GMPantsulaia LevanGEO2614GEO3,00,04,06,06,003332,49
229GMNeverov ValeriyUKR2470UKR3,00,04,05,55,503332,49
33GMTer-Sahakyan SamvelARM2611ARM3,00,04,05,05,003332,52
11GMPetrosyan ManuelARM2573ARM3,00,04,05,05,003332,51
28GMKostenko PetrKAZ2473KAZ3,00,04,05,05,003332,47
38IMMohammad Nubairshah ShaikhIND2436MAH3,00,04,05,05,003332,53
40Sammed Jaykumar SheteIND2431MAH3,00,04,05,05,003332,63
869FMMitrabha GuhaIND2341WB3,00,04,04,54,503332,07
919IMIniyan PIND2525TN3,00,03,55,05,003332,46
1012GMDeepan Chakkravarthy J.IND2557TN3,00,03,54,54,503332,49
62Sankalp GuptaIND2359MAH3,00,03,54,54,503221,10
1260IMViani Antonio DcunhaIND2362KAR3,00,03,03,53,503332,05
13130Ram S. KrishnanIND2152TN2,50,04,56,04,75232,50,51
145GMGupta AbhijeetIND2606DEL2,50,04,55,03,75232,52,54
31IMVignesh N RIND2459TN2,50,04,55,03,75232,52,52
54CMBharath Subramaniyam HIND2383TN2,50,04,55,03,75232,51,97
1722GMAnurag MhamalIND2497GOA2,50,04,54,53,25232,52,43
1826GMKunte AbhijitIND2478MAH2,50,04,05,54,50232,52,48
157Karthik RajaaIND2080TN2,50,04,05,54,50232,50,36
209GMJojua DavitGEO2580GEO2,50,04,05,03,75232,52,54


Pairings of round 4

Bo.No. NameRtgPts. ResultPts. NameRtg No.
129GMNeverov Valeriy 24703 3 GMPantsulaia Levan 26142
23GMTer-Sahakyan Samvel 26113 3 IMMohammad Nubairshah Shaikh 243638
311GMPetrosyan Manuel 25733 3 Sammed Jaykumar Shete 243140
460IMViani Antonio Dcunha 23623 3 GMDeepan Chakkravarthy J. 255712
519IMIniyan P 25253 3 FMMitrabha Guha 234169
662Sankalp Gupta 23593 3 GMKostenko Petr 247328
71GMIturrizaga Bonelli Eduardo 2637 IMShyaamnikhil P 243439
85GMGupta Abhijeet 2606 IMGusain Himal 240448
949Koustav Chatterjee 2404 GMIdani Pouya 25976
109GMJojua Davit 2580 CMBharath Subramaniyam H 238354


Photo Gallery by Amruta Mokal

Did they all decide to make the moves together!

Debashis Das sporting the "Apna Time Ayega" t-shirt

GMs also need rest!

The Boris Gelfand effect?

Getting the stare from Deepan!

The young super talent from Nagpur - Divya Deshmukh

Trivia - Who is it that Kiran Panditrao is greeting with folded hands?

GM Pravin Thipsay it is!

We have been doing Live Commentary for the event for all the rounds. You can check the live commentary videos for round 2 and 3 below | Photo: Niklesh Jain:
Round 2 live commentary
Round 3 live commentary

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