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Indians at the London Chess Classic 2016

by Siddharth Gopakumar - 23/12/2016

Strong Indian contingent made their presence felt in the open and the super rapidplay tournament. Faltering at crucial moments made the players miss out on a podium finish. Siddharth Gopakumar witnessed all the action live in London and sent us an illustrated report. It includes not only results and pictures, but also tales from the venue and video interviews with star players like Vishy Anand, Abhijeet Gupta, and others.

 Photos by Lennart Ootes

8th London Chess Classic FIDE Open and Super Rapid

The London Chess Classic is into its 8th year and this edition saw the FIDE Open and Super Rapid coincide with the Grand Chess Tour. The tournament was held in the Kensington Olympia as has been done in the past. GM Abhijeet Gupta, a former winner of this tournament in 2011, was spearheading the Indian challenge.

 

The tournament in a way can be divided into two halves. The first was the storm created by 17th seed Aravindh Chithambaram as he went on a rampage to lead the event scoring 6.5/7. He scored wins over strong grandmasters like Ilya Smirin and Sebastien Bogner with the white pieces. Unfortunately, he was not able to hold on, and losses to French GM’s Bacrot and Maze in the final two rounds derailed his tournament. He had to be content with a 6.5/9 score. A rating performance of 2653 is great, but considering the start he had Aravindh would have expected more.

Aravindh missed out on the title due to an unfortunate finish. This was quite similar to the National Premier, which ended a few days ago where he was leading and lost it out in the last round to Murali Karthikeyan.

Sixth seed Abhijeet Gupta did not get off to the best start as he lost to Swedish GM Jonny Hector in round three. However, Abhijeet made a strong comeback and was back in contention with wins over GM Fabien Libiszewski and GM Hrant Melkyuman in rounds six and eight respectively. The game with Melkyuman in particular was a treat to watch as Abhijeet surprised his opponent in the opening and completely outplayed the Armenian.

 

This left Abhijeet with a 6.5/8 score before the final round. In round nine, a quick draw was agreed with Etienne Bacrot and Abhijeet had to settle for a shared third place. Sebastien Maze joined Etienne Bacrot on 7.5/9, after he won against Aravindh Chithambaram in the last round.

GM Abhijeet Gupta, finished in a tie for third with 7.0/9

 

 A short interview with Abhijeet, which shows how much psychology is involved when two top level players fight it out against each other

Two-time national champion GM Murali Karthikeyan also finished on 7/9 with a good final round win over American GM Alex Lenderman. (photo by Priyadarshan Banjan)

The youngest IM ever R. Praggnanandhaa didn’t have a great tournament and finished on just 5.5/9. I am sure the kid will bounce back strongly in the next event!

P. Karthikeyan made a strong step towards reaching the 2500 mark with a 6.0/9, and a rating performance of 2580 which included draws against Melkyuman and Cornette and a win over GM Jules Moussard

WGM’s Soumya Swaminathan (above), Mary Ann Gomes and WIM P.V. Nandhidhaa finished on 5.5/9 and in a share for second place for the women’s prizes.

Chessbase India caught up with Deepan Chakravarthy and WIM P.V. Nandhidhaa after the tournament to hear their thoughts on their performance in the event and the year.

 

For Deepan Chakravarthy, winning the Commonwealth Bronze medal was the high point of 2016

 

Kudos to Nandhidhaa for beating Jonathon Hawkins (2590). She missed a WGM norm by a whisker.

Final Ranking after 9 Rounds

Rk. SNo     Name Rtg Pts.
1 2   GM Bacrot Etienne FRA 2689 7,5
  9   GM Maze Sebastien FRA 2608 7,5
3 4   GM Smirin Ilya ISR 2669 7,0
  5   GM Iturrizaga Edoardo VEN 2652 7,0
  6   GM Gupta Abhijeet IND 2634 7,0
  10   GM Bok Benjamin NED 2598 7,0
  12   GM Istratescu Andrei FRA 2596 7,0
  18   GM Bogner Sebastian SUI 2564 7,0
  25   GM Karthikeyan Murali IND 2530 7,0
10 7   GM Melkumyan Hrant ARM 2633 6,5

Complete rankings list

Super Rapidplay

On conclusion of the FIDE open, the Super rapidplay event took place on the 17th and 18th of December. The time control was 25+10 with five games being played on each of the the two days. The rapidplay was extremely strong with 45 GMs taking part, including the likes of Gawain Jones, David Howell, Luke McShane, etc. This tournament was held in the memory of Michael Ureily, a nine-year-old junior, who passed away in 2015.

Winner of the 2016 Super Rapidplay: Valentina Gunina from Russia 

The runaway winner of the event was surprisingly the 33rd seed Valentina Gunina from Russia who stormed to a 9.0/10 performance by beating GMs Howell, McShane, Nunn, Iturrizaga and Smirin. What a performance! She won the first prize of £5,000 as gained 85 elo points! She was in command of the event from start to the end and finished a half point ahead of Azeri GM Safarli Etlaj.

 

From an Indian perspective, the main hope was the 14th seed Abhijeet Gupta. However ‘Bhaiyu’ could only muster up 7 points and finished out of the prizes. He suffered a shock defeat in the second round similar to his early defeat in the FIDE Open and was close to repeating his superb run following that. A win in the final round against Hungarian GM Tomas Fodor would have seen him finish in a tie for third, like he did the Open, but it was not to be, as he was unable to convert a better position in time pressure and ended up losing.

 

An interesting story to note during the rapidplay was the rapport between the top players. As the first round in the rapid open was finishing, Abhijeet and I were grabbing lunch and viewing the games on our phones. We saw that the top seed in the rapid Hrant Melkumyan was only able to draw against a 1950 rated player. As we came back to the tournament hall before round two we bumped into Melkumyan and Abhijeet started needling him. It was very funny to see the banter between the Indian and the Armenian GMs. As we all went to our boards, Abhijeet asked Melkyuman, “Do you know where board 108 is, do you want me to escort you?”.  Round 2 concluded and the tables had turned! Melkyuman won, moving to 1.5 points while it was Bhaiyu who lost and was still on 1. So what does Melkumyan do? During the round three game, he goes to Bhaiyu’s board and has a good laugh! Goes to show anything can happen in rapid chess!

The friendship between Abhijeet and Hrant is still intact! Siddharth Gopakumar, GM Abhijeet Gupta and GM Hrant Melkyuman.

GM Deepan Chakkravarthy also had a difficult start to the tournament as he lost to a 2200 player and in round five played an interesting game with his friend V. Haribalu in which both players had winning chances before a draw was agreed. On day two, Deepan was on fire and had a good win against GM Eduardo Iturrizaga with black, but unfortunately a loss against GM Ilya Smirin in the final round halted his run for the prizes.

 

The standout performance by the numerous Indians in the fray was easily that of 13-year-old Dushyant Sharma, rated a mere 1425 in rapids. He finished day one scoring 3.0/5, including wins over 2000+ rated players, but it was day two when he created quite a storm. In round eight, he let English IM Jovanka Houska escape with a draw in a completely winning position. I was in the room when Dushyant came to check the game and saw his frustration at not being able to convert this game. However the kid showed fantastic fighting spirit and didn’t let this affect him and instead in round nine crushed GM Aravindh Chithambaram with the black pieces. This was good enough for a 2nd place in the U1600 category. In fact this category saw a clean sweep for Indians as IM R. Praggnanandhaa (his rapid rating is 900 points below his classical one!) and Vardan Nagpal picked up first and third respectively.

Young Dushyant was on fire in the rapid tournament

Final Ranking after 10 Rounds

Rk. SNo     Name Rtg Pts.
1 33   GM Gunina Valentina RUS 2491 9,0
2 9   GM Safarli Eltaj AZE 2653 8,5
3 3   GM Bacrot Etienne FRA 2700 8,0
  4   GM Fressinet Laurent FRA 2676 8,0
  5   GM Howell David Wl ENG 2671 8,0
  7   GM Istratescu Andrei FRA 2657 8,0
  11   GM Jones Gawain Cb ENG 2631 8,0
  13   GM Cornette Matthieu FRA 2597 8,0
  19   GM Moussard Jules FRA 2571 8,0
  21   GM Shabalov Alexander USA 2542 8,0
  22   GM Svane Rasmus GER 2532 8,0
  28   GM Blomqvist Erik SWE 2509 8,0
  35   GM Fodor Tamas Jr HUN 2476 8,0

Complete rankings list

Meeting the legend Vishy Anand

One of the best parts of the London Chess Festival is that players playing in other festival events bump into the Super GMs, as it is held at the same venue. I had an opportunity to catch up with Vishy at the end of the tournaments and here are his thoughts-

 

Vishy Anand is relatively happy with how the year 2016 went for him

 

About the author:

Siddharth Gopakumar is a Chartered Accountant and graduate from the London School of Economics. He grew up in Muscat, Oman, before moving to the UK for studies. He has recently come back to chess and hopes to improve as a player and play many more tournaments in 2017.


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