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IM Raghunandan shows how to handle the pressure of winning the final round to make a GM norm

by Sagar Shah - 04/05/2019

GM norms are extremely difficult to achieve. You need a performance of 2600 in an event to get this distinction. IM KS Raghunandan scored his maiden GM norm at the Dubai Open 2019. This result in itself is creditable, but what make Raghunandan's achievement even more noteworthy, is the fight back he showed after losing two games. After a 4.5/5 start, he lost two of his games. It could have been very easy to just give up at this point. But Raghunandan fought back. He drew his eighth round game. In the final round he was in a must-win situation against the strong Indian GM Sandipan Chanda. These last round must-win situations are extremely stressful, but Raghunandan rose to the occasion like a champion and achieved his maiden GM norm! Here's the article that tells you about how Raghu achieved his norm along with the boy's annotations of his final round victory.

17-year-old Raghunandan achieved his maiden GM norm at the Dubai Open 2019

Raghunandan's 4.0/4 start at the Dubai Open caught the attention of the world as the youngster beat three strong GMs, Adly Ahmed (2620), Vahap Sanal (2513) and Alan Pichot (2566) in three back to back rounds. We dedicated an entire article to this feat and analyzed all three of Raghunandan's victories in some depth.

Raghunandan's three wins against Ahmed Adly, Vahap Sanal and Alan Pichot gave him the perfect platform to score his maiden GM norm. But two losses to Kuzubov and Abdusattorov put his norm in jeopardy. Two rounds were left and Raghunandan needed to score 1.5/2.

Oliver Dimakiling, IM from Philippines, was Raghunandan's opponent in the eighth round. Raghunandan played a great game of chess and got an excellent attacking position. As Raghu mentions in his annotations, "In this game one of my biggest weaknesses showed up - rechecking the same variations again and again." Have a look at his analysis given below.

A draw in the eighth round meant that Raghunandan was in a must win scenario now. If he won his final round he would get the GM norm, if he drew or lost, it would have gone out of his grasp.

Strong Indian GM Sandipan Chanda was Raghunandan's final round opponent | Photo: Niklesh Jain

Let's go over this game in detail and try to see how Raghunandan tried to navigate his way in this high pressure game.


Raghunandan vs Sandipan Chanda

Sandipan played the 2...c5 line of the Caro Kann that has been quite popular. If you would like to learn this from black side, then you must surely check out the YouTube video recorded by IM Nubairshah Shaikh.

Raghu developed all his pieces quickly getting them on the best squares

The knight spends a lot of time moving from g8-e7-g6-f4, but getting the light squared bishop is worth the loss of time

The queens come off the board. Black attacks the e5 pawn with all his might, but White has got it covered.

Raghu: "The problem with this move is that, after white plays b5, black's light squared bishop is dead. His pieces get discoordinated and he creates a potential weakness for himself on a4."

Black has just moved the bishop to e8. White to play. What would you do here?

Re4! An excellent move. The rook attacks the a4 pawn and prevents Nc4. Also the knight is pushed to b3 from where its influence on the game is relatively low.

Rook took on d6 and the knight moved to b3. It is now White's turn to move. What would you play here? Raghunandan thought for nearly 30 minutes here in this critical position.

h4! would have been extremely strong. It clears the back rank mate ideas and at the time plans to hassle the knight on g6. If Black plays ...h5 here then White follows it up with g4! and gets a big advantage. Raghu: "I was sure that after this move I would be better, but firstly I was very attracted by Rc4 and could not save the position for Black and secondly after spending about half an hour calculating it (Rc4) I did not want to play something else."

Raghunandan played the move Rc4, not seeing how Black would refute his idea.

Sandipan bravely took the pawn on b5

The rook moved to c7 and the bishop took on f1

Raghunandan pushed the pawn threatening Rc8+ and Black had to defend with ...Ne7

White took the bishop on f1 and now threatens to push his pawn to d8 and win the knight on e7

Raghunandan found the best move in the position, the centralizing Nd4! The knight can go to b5 and create a lot of threats. Raghu: "I took 18 minutes for this move which was not necessary, the problem was that I had seen Nd4 in my calculations and was the reason I decided to go for Rc4 but after reaching this position, I completely forgot which move I was calculating and I started calculating again and started doubting myself and was rechecking the same lines again and again."

Sandipan's move ...b6 was a good one. He prepares a square for his knight on c5. This is the move that Raghunandan had missed.

We reach a critical moment in the game. What should Black play here? The best move for Black is ...g6! or ...g5! Both the moves have the same idea - to create luft for the king on g7. Why is this important? Well, let's say Black plays...g6. White now goes Nb5. The idea is to play Na7 and Rc8. Black cannot take on d7 because the e7 knight would be hanging. So the right move after Nb5 is to play ...Kf8! Now the d7 pawn is hanging and so White has to play Bxc5 bxc5 and now Na7. The threat is Rc8 and it seems like Black is busted. However, now we see the real use of the move g6! Black plays Kg7! and now Rc8 makes no sense because the d7 pawn is hanging! Raghu: "we could not imagine this (...g6!!) would be the move even while discussing it after the game." 

Sandipan blundered in this position and played Kf8. How did Raghunandan finish the game?

Nc6! The king on f8 is misplaced. Black took the pawn on d7 but after exchanges on d7 the knight on e7 was lost.

White won the piece and the rest was not so difficult for Raghunandan to convert!

Have a look at the game with Raghunandan's analysis:

What a win, what a game and what a confidence booster for the 17-year-old Raghunandan. As on 1st of May 2019, he has an Elo of 2424 and one GM norm. We wish him the best in achieving the remaining two norms soon!

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