World Juniors 10+11: Aravindh Chithambaram tangoes to the top
After eleven rounds of nerve-wracking chess, the World Junior Championship finally came to a close. Even though India's little star, R Praggnanandhaa was unable to win the event and clinch the GM title, he played amazingly well and proved yet again what a world class player he is. Not to mention, he finished fourth on the leaderboard. Aravindh Chithambaram, who had fallen prey to an upset in the very first round of the event, made a startling comeback. Winning both of his last two games, he finished joint first and clinched the bronze medal. Here's an illustrated report on the performance of the Indian battalion.
What a spectacular finish it was to the World Junior Championship! After eleven hard fought rounds, it was the Norwegian GM Aryan Tari who won the title of World Junior Champion. But the road to victory was hardly an easy one. Going into the final round, he was paired against the top seed of the tournament, GM Jorden van Foreest and was held to a draw. This gave a field of six players the chance to catch up with the leader by winning their game. Oh the six, however, only two were able to succeed -- Manuel Petrosyan and Aravindh Chithambaram. The three were now tied for first. After the tiebreak was applied, Tari was declared first, Petrosyan second and Chithambaram third.
R Praggnanandhaa, who had been chasing not only the title but also the GM title (which is awarded to the winner if he is not already a Grandmaster), was only able to draw his game against German GM Rasmus Svane and finished fourth.
After suffering a setback in the very first round of the tournament, he had made a strong comeback by winning his next four games. In the next three rounds, however, his pace slowed down as the Chennai lad conceded three draws in a row. But then on, there was no looking back. Making his way to the top once again, Chithambaram began demolishing one opponent after another and joined the leaders in the last round beating strong Grandmasters like Kirill Alekseenko and Xu Xiangyu on the way.
Chithambaram's tenth round game was a long struggle that lasted for 79 moves. Playing with the whites against the Russian GM Kirill Alekseenko, Chithambaram went for the Ruy Lopez. The game was fairly balanced post the opening but soon afterwards, on move 27, Alekseenko faltered and Chithambaram got an edge. Continuing energetically, Aravindh got a winning advantage within just three moves. Perhaps the players were in time trouble at this time as Aravindh blundered a piece in a complicated position on move 40, the last move of the first time control. After this, Aravindh was still better but far from winning. Also, the position was razor sharp. At several points, both GMs faltered. Although Chithambaram was never in trouble during the game, he did miss opportunities to finish the game off sooner.
In his final round game, again Chithambaram totally dominated his Chinese opponent, Xu Xiangyu. With the hope of getting a non-theoretical position and also to a certain extent to surprise his opponent, Chithambaram went for the Knight's Tango with the black pieces against 1.d4. The position eventually transposed into a kind of a Queen's Gambit later. From the opening itself, Xu had been playing ambitiously. Perhaps, this was justified given that if he won, he would finish among the tournament toppers. In order to avoid allowing his opponent get counterplay, Xu gave up his castling right and recaptured a bishop with his king, thus leaving his king in the centre. Aravindh was quick to take advantage of his opponent's misplay and soon began generating a menacing attack on the white king. A neat tactical stroke on the 37th move forced the Chinese GM to tap out.
Being merely 12 years old in a field of opponents under 20 years of age, Praggnanandhaa finished fourth with an unbeaten score of 8.0/11. Also, this was his chance to earn the GM title for himself as the sole winner of this tournament is awarded the title if the concerned player is not already a GM. In his final two games, Praggnanandhaa was only able to secure draws. Of course, for any player, this is a very good finish given the strength of the field. However, a closer look at his last two games gives the impression that maybe Praggna could have bettered his score had he just been able to keep his nerves in control in the final moments.
Especially noteworthy was Praggna's penultimate round game against the Russian IM Semen Lomasov. With the whites in hand, Praggna went for the non-committal 1.Nf3 and the game soon transposed into the Chigorin Defence. In the middle game, the Russian deployed some sneaky tricks and maneuvres to get a slightly better position. But Praggnanandhaa defended tenaciously and reached an endgame where both sides had a queen, a rook and a bunch of pawns. By now Praggnanandhaa even seemed to be slightly better given that the Russian's king was exposed. And just then, Lomasov blundered horribly and allowed Praggna to get his pieces into the black camp. From the very face of it, it looked busted. It seemed Praggna will cruise to victory and join Tari in the lead.
Alas, that was not to be. Completely misevaluating the position on the 57th move, Praggnandhaa repeated the position and signed the truce with his opponent when he had a winning attack. If only he had seen how easily he could have won, he would have led the tournament and kept decent chances of becoming the sole winner and the world's youngest Grandmaster.
Despite this mishap, Praggnanandhaa kept excellent chances for himself to finish at least joint first. But for that to happen, he would have to win his last round game against the German GM Svane Rasmus. Rasmus went for a pawn sacrifice early in the opening to create chances. Praggnanandhaa also did not back down and took the pawn. But as things panned out, Praggnanandhaa ended up giving back his extra pawn and keeping equal chances. By the 24th move, the players had reached an endgame where neither side was able to generate any chances and by move 32, peace was signed.
This meant that Praggnanandhaa had missed a great opportunity to get his GM title. But on the brighter side, he was able to match the wits of players much higher rated than him. In the fourth round, he even beat the top seed of the tournament, Jorden van Foreest and finished fourth on the leaderboard with an unbeaten score of 8.0/11. Besides, the boy made a GM norm with a round to spare. For a 12-year-old, that is a mighty high achievement.
Also, India's overall performance at this event just goes on to show the powerhouse of talent the country possesses. Among the top ten finishers of the event, three were Indians: Aravindh Chithambaram finished joint first (third on the final standings), Praggnanandhaa was fourth and Murali Karthikeyan finished seventh! The only other country to get these many players among the top ten was Russia -- a country which has a rich chess legacy. As for Praggnanandhaa's Grandmaster title requirements are concerned, he still has around three and a half months to break Karjakin's world record. And even if Praggnanandhaa isn't able to break it, it doesn't change the fact that Praggna is a world-class player and will soon be seen locking horns with the creme-de-la-creme of the chess world.
Round 11 Results
|1||1||GM||Van Foreest Jorden||2616||7½||½ - ½||8||GM||Tari Aryan||2581||5|
|2||21||IM||Xu Xiangyu||2543||7½||0 - 1||7½||GM||Aravindh Chithambaram Vr.||2572||7|
|3||11||GM||Alekseenko Kirill||2563||7½||0 - 1||7½||GM||Petrosyan Manuel||2554||16|
|4||3||GM||Svane Rasmus||2587||7||½ - ½||7½||IM||Praggnanandhaa R||2509||26|
|5||6||GM||Karthikeyan Murali||2578||7||1 - 0||7||IM||Zanan Evgeny||2471||37|
|6||30||IM||Lomasov Semen||2490||7||½ - ½||7||FM||Liu Yan||2422||56|
|7||45||GM||Kobo Ori||2460||7||0 - 1||7||FM||Sorokin Aleksey||2483||32|
|8||33||GM||Gagare Shardul||2482||6½||½ - ½||6½||GM||Oparin Grigoriy||2606||2|
|9||29||GM||Moroni Luca Jr||2506||6½||0 - 1||6½||GM||Martirosyan Haik M.||2561||12|
|10||17||GM||Bai Jinshi||2553||6½||1 - 0||6½||IM||Livaic Leon||2470||40|
|11||48||IM||Kevlishvili Robby||2445||6½||0 - 1||6½||GM||Sarana Alexey||2543||20|
|12||49||IM||Lobanov Sergei||2435||6½||0 - 1||6½||GM||Tran Tuan Minh||2538||22|
|13||72||Zhao Yuanhe||2377||6½||0 - 1||6½||IM||Triapishko Alexandr||2508||28|
|14||4||GM||Sunilduth Lyna Narayanan||2585||6||1 - 0||6½||IM||Bilguun Sumiya||2460||46|
|15||35||GM||Salomon Johan||2476||6||0 - 1||6||GM||Donchenko Alexander||2567||9|
|3||7||GM||Aravindh Chithambaram Vr.||IND||2572||8,5||0,0||66,0||70,5||5||7,0||2645||8,5||7,41||1,09||10||10,9|
|5||1||GM||Van Foreest Jorden||NED||2616||8,0||0,0||71,0||77,0||5||7,0||2631||8||7,78||0,22||10||2,2|
|14||22||GM||Tran Tuan Minh||VIE||2538||7,5||0,0||64,5||69,0||6||6,0||2577||7,5||6,87||0,63||10||6,3|
|16||12||GM||Martirosyan Haik M.||ARM||2561||7,5||0,0||63,5||68,5||6||5,0||2599||7,5||6,93||0,57||10||5,7|
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