Egyptian GM Bassem Amin has won the 24th Abu Dhabi Masters with 7.5/9 and is now only 7 rating points short of becoming the first African 2700 player. Nigel Short is only 2 points away from returning to the 2700 club himself at the age of 52, and would have made it if he’d won a good position against Amin in the final round. Instead he was lucky he offered a draw in time to avoid defeat and finish half a point behind in 2nd place. 7 players finished another half point back, including 12-year-old Nodirbek Abdusattorov, who claimed his 2nd GM norm.
It’s been a great summer for 28-year-old Bassem Amin, who defeated Igor Kovalenko in the final round to claim clear first in the Lake Sevan tournament and has now taken the $13,000 prize for clear first in the 24th Abu Dhabi Masters. You can replay all the games from the tournament below:
Nigel Short entered the tournament as the top seed and had put in some hard preparation…
…but you just needed to keep following his Twitter to see that the opening hadn’t gone so well!
His first two opponents were Indian teenager Arjun Kalyan and not-yet-even-a-teenager Sadhwani Raunak.
They were both worse in the games but managed to hold on in technical endings, perhaps helped by the fact there was no additional time at move 40 in Abu Dhabi, so the games had to be completed using only the 30 seconds a move increment.
Others suffered as well, with another Indian, D Gukesh, born in 2006, even having the better of a draw against the 2nd seed and eventual winner Bassem Amin. In Round 2 co-second seed Rauf Mamedov also suffered at Indian hands, but his conqueror was no unknown quantity but Indian women’s no. 2 Harika Dronavalli.
She outplayed Rauf on top board to take the lead after two rounds, and although she suffered some setbacks later a last-round win was enough to give her the prize for the top finish by a female player.
After that slow start, though, the star players began to make their mark. After the Round 1 draw Bassem Amin won his next five games to take the sole lead on 5.5/6.
A draw in Round 7 allowed local hero Saleh Salem to catch him, but then Bassem scored a crushing miniature win in their individual encounter in Round 8.
Saleh played a risky line of the Giuoco Piano and found himself lost by move 17. Black has captured a pawn on c4, relying on the fact that it can’t be recaptured immediately, but Bassem had seen the knockout blow:
19.Nxg7! Ng4 (19…Kxg7 20.Qxh6+ Kg8 and all you need to remember is to play 21.Qg5+! before capturing the bishop on c4 – otherwise 21.dxc4? Bxf2+! 22.Kxf2 Ng4+ wins the queen) 20.Nxe6! Here Black did capture on f2, but when the dust had settled White had everything defended and was a rook and an exchange up.
Nigel Short, meanwhile, also got back into the flow with five wins in the next six games:
One of them in particular, his Round 5 game against Ivan Rozum, was memorable:
In the penultimate round Ahmed Adly had White, but after misplaying the opening he saw his over-extended centre fall apart, with Short’s 20…b5! encouraging a desperate response:
21.b4!? was a pawn sacrifice that Nigel accepted, and though White struggled on to move 44 he never looked like generating any counterplay.
That meant an ideal situation for spectators before the final round – Short had White but was on 6.5/8, knowing he needed to beat Bassem Amin (7/8) to win first prize:
There was an anti-climax on board 2, where Saleh Salem and Rauf Mamedov drew in 9 moves to ensure they both finished in a tie for second or third place, but the top board encounter was a thriller. Short won a pawn in the Ruy Lopez and thought he was in complete control and winning, but there was turbulence ahead:
Bassem complicated matters with 26…Bxe4! 27.Nxe4 Nf3+! Nigel commented:
I thought it was game over - then this continuation Bxe4 and Nf3+. I thought it had to be completely winning for me, then the more I thought about it the more practical difficulties I saw with the position.
After 28.Kh1 Nxe1 29.Qxe1 d5! it soon became very tough for White to play:
The pawn would continue its march, mistakes were made, and in fact when the game ended on move 45 Black has a winning position:
As we mentioned, though, there was no additional time after move 40, and with seconds on his opponent’s clock White’s last move came accompanied with a draw offer. Nigel felt it was a few moves too late, but Amin wasn’t in the mood to gamble with the $13,000 first prize and accepted. Short summed up:
An up-and-down game. Very good chances for me at some moment and then I got a lucky escape at the end.
He also told a story about how he’d got ready for the game:
It was very funny. When I was preparing I saw some game in the King's Gambit and I thought, "Which idiot played the King's Gambit against him?", and I discovered it was me!
They’d played once before when Nigel gave a simultaneous display in Libya. You can watch that interview and the final day’s commentary from the inimitable Dmitry Komarov below:
Nigel received $7,500 for finishing in 2nd place, with the final standings as follows:
It’s tough for prodigies, though, as we measure them against equally prodigious achievements. At around 12 years and 8 months old Nodirbek isn’t going to beat Sergey Karjakin’s record as the youngest ever grandmaster, since Sergey managed that at 12 years and 7 months. Praggnanandhaa may well conquer that summit, but the path to success is paved with disappointments. He was one final round draw away from his first of three GM norms at the HZ Open, but instead lost a tough 70-move game to tournament winner Eduardo Iturrizaga. To add insult to injury in his next tournament, the Spanish League, Iturrizaga managed to sleep in and forfeit a crucial final game! The Praggnanandhaa show has moved to Barcelona:
Still, Nodirbek has every chance of beating the next two youngest ever grandmasters, Parimarjan Negi and a certain Magnus Carlsen, who achieved the title at 13 years, 4 months and 22 and 27 days respectively. Nodirbek picked up his second norm in Abu Dhabi with an impressive 3.5/4 finish, including winning his final game with Black against Georgian GM Luka Paichadze. He’d been pressing almost the whole game until he was able to finish things off after 45.Ne3?
45…f2+! 46.Rxf2 Rh1+ and White resigned with heavy material losses inevitable.
Another Match of the Millennials star, 15-year-old Indian GM Aryan Chopra, finished third, while compatriot Nihal Sarin and Iran’s Alireza Firouzja fell just short of GM norms. Another Iranian youngster, Parham Maghsoodloo, already has the GM title, but finished on the wrong end of a great game…
This game was promoted by the tournament winner:
It’s simply overflowing with great moves. Adham Fawzy had already sacrificed a knight before starting the final assault with 19.f5!:
19…gxf5 20.Qh5! and 19…exf5 20.e6! are bad news, but Maghsoodloo fought on with 19…Nxe5! There are too many moments worth a diagram (e.g. 26.b6!) – you need to replay it in full - but one has to be shown:
28.Qxf5!! gxf5 29.Nf6+ Kd8 30.e7+ Black resigns
The kind of game that justifies a whole tournament!
Bassem's next tournament is the World Cup in 10 days' time. His first round game is against Hungary's Viktor Erdos. If he gets through that clash Peter Svidler most likely awaits in Round 2!