With the 42nd Chess Olympiad in Baku less than a week away, some players are making a stop-over in the capital of the United Arab Emirates for the 23rd Abu Dhabi Chess Festival. Players from 32 nations have gathered here to be a part of this strong annual Masters tournament, where first prize is USD 13,000. Of the 130 participants in the Masters more than 100 are titled players. Top seed is Russian Grandmaster Dmitry Andreikin, followed by Chinese GM Wang Hao.
Both these 2700+ players had trouble scoring full points in the early rounds. In fact, Andreikin dodged a bullet in Round 2 while defending a pawn down rook ending against Indian IM Srinath Narayanan, whom he out-rates by 250 Elo points:
The position was difficult for Andreikin, playing Black, but after his last move 58...Kg8, it would have been just lost had his opponent found 59.Ra8+ Kh7 60.Rf8 winning the f7 pawn.
An important detail is that after 60...Rf1+ White must go 61.Kg5 (denying the black king the g6-square) Rg1+ and approach the rook via 62.Kh4, when Kg6 is no longer possible.
In the game, Narayanan played 59.Re4 and the game was drawn 20 moves later.
After six rounds of fighting chess, four players were leading with 5 points: third seed GM Adhiban Baskaran — winner of the 21st Abu Dhabi Masters — along with GMs Yuriy Kuzubov, Kamil Dragun and Alexandr Predke.
In the seventh round, Dragun managed to win a breathtaking game and became the sole leader, although — to paraphrase Wang Hao — as one of the strongest open tournaments in the world, it is likely not to be decided before the last round!Unfortunately for Wang, he's not going to be among those fighting for first on Monday after falling to Predke in the eighth round when he turned a winning position into a losing one in a single move: 63.Kc3? (either b2 or c2 are fine) was swiftly punished with 63...Ra3+ 64.Kc2 Rxd3! when the rook is untouchable due to the skewer Bc4+.
Hao does not make the Chinese Olympiad team despite his lofty rating, but several players in the Masters tournament will be representing their countries in Baku, such as Adhiban (India), Amin Bassem and Ahmed Adly (Egypt), Anton Kovalyov (Canada) and Salem AR Saleh (UAE) and more.
According to another prominent Indian player, IM Tania Sachdev, whose team will be the 5th seeds in the women’s Olympiad, Abu Dhabi is just the perfect preparation for her. It's almost like a replacement for a team training session, with so many Indian players in attendance, and many teammates for whom busy tournament schedules make organized group training infeasible.
Tania herself has been kept busy — and successfully so — winning Gold in the women's section of the Commonwealth Championship in Sri Lanka earlier this month.
She also noted the surprisingly large number of Indian participants here, due to the high level organization in the UAE, and the fact that the flights are just three and a half hours — short by Indian international travel standards!
Adhiban is one of the up-and-coming talents in the deep Indian bench, and showed his mettle in Round 8, blasting through to Dragun's king to reclaim a share of first place going into the last round:
32...Bxf4 33.Nxf4 Re3! and White is in for heavy material losses.
India has an unusual way of supporting its players. As Sachdev explained, the government has a system for high level sportsmen which makes them employees of certain companies, for instance in the oil, gas, or railway industries. As long as players continue to compete and do well, they don’t have to actually go to their "normal" jobs and yet retain the benefits of any other employee. Meanwhile they always have the option of working within the company — essentially a job is always waiting for them.
Nevertheless, Tania has been working with soft drink maker Redbull. She feels working with Redbull has pushed her to be a better chess player and also helps grow awareness about chess in India, where she says, chess is now more popular than hockey is in Canada!
While it's possible some Canadians may object, the number of people playing chess in India is undoubtedly rising. Almost every child in school knows how to play, and chess is prized by parents as a tool to develop the mind — particularly critical thinking skills. Who wouldn’t want such a hobby for their child?
In addition to the three main 9-round events (Masters, Open under-2100 and Junior under-16), a few side events were held as well including a blitz tournament on August 28th (which was won by GM Adly). On the free day, Wang Hao played simultaneous games with locals, alongside a family tournament where a parent plus a child could form teams to compete with other families.
The final Round 9 on Monday is a morning round, with Adhiban, Andreikin and Predke leading on 6½ points.
You can of course follow the games here on chess24:
IM Dorsa Derakhshani contributed reporting from Abu Dhabi