Howell, Akopian remain at the top

Three-time British champion Grandmaster (GM) David Howell and two-time Armenian champion GM Vladimir Akopian remained the only players with perfect scores after registering emphatic wins in the fourth round of the Dubai Open Chess Championship – Sheikh Rashid Bin Hamdan Cup at the Dubai Chess and Culture Club.

In matching his clean sweep of his first four games at last year’s edition, the fifth-seeded Howell fought off severe time pressure and an energetic attack by Spanish GM David Anton Guijarro to bring home the full point after 68 moves. Guijarro went all in against Howell’s French Defence with a knight sacrifice to open up the h-file and a pawn storm against the black fortress. Howell tried to create breathing space around his king by exchanging pawns on f5, but it only presented more options for Guijarro to continue the attack. After Howell returned the piece for an extra pawn, Guijarro had an opportunity to press further by lining up his queen and rook on the h-file, but the Spanish grandmaster decided instead to win the exchange and liquidate into an endgame.

A few more exchanges later, Guijarro was left with two rooks against Howell’s rook and bishop, but it was the Brit who gradually took over the driver’s seat as his two kingside passed pawns proved more than adequate against the active rooks. The game remained balanced though until Guijarro carelessly allowed the black king to penetrate the f4-square, after which Howell only had to slowly but surely roll his extra pawns to the finish line.

Howell also had a hot four-win streak at the start of last year’s championship, where he was the top-seed, but a succession of draws in the final half of the tournament and an inferior tiebreak relegated him to the runner-up spot in the final standings.

Akopian took the Russian GM Boris Savchenko to school in a Sicilian Moscow variation, winning a textbook game in 41 moves. The Armenian punished Savchenko’s adventurous queen foray deep into white’s queenside with a neat tactic that netted two pawns. Savchenko managed to upset white’s kingside pawns in return, but Akopian quickly neutralised Savchenko’s attempt to harass the white king and then went on to launch an irresistible counterattack in the centre to claim the win.

The game between Grandmaster Mustafa Yilaz and Gawain Jones ended in a draw
The game between Grandmasters Mustafa Yilmaz and Gawain Jones ended in a draw

The other third-round leaders – GM Gawain Jones of the UK, GM Yilmaz Mustafa of Tukey, GM Ivan Sokolov of the Netherlands, GM G. N. Gopal of India and GM Zaur Mammadov of Azerbaijan – drew their matches to join a huge chasing pack of 3.5-pointers. Jones and Mustafa played out a rook endgame for 94 moves – the round’s longest game – before signing a truce, while Sokolov and Gopal also drew their match. Mammadov halved the point with Egypt’s GM Bassem Amin.

UAE players

Meanwhile, tournament officials announced that UAE number one player GM Salem AR Saleh had to withdraw from the tournament due to health reasons. Saleh had been the leading scorer among the UAE entries with 2.5 points after three rounds.

2015 UAE champion FM Saeed Ishaq leads the UAE contingent
2015 UAE champion FM Saeed Ishaq leads the UAE contingent

His withdrawal leaves Fide Master (FM) Saeed Ishaq to lead the UAE campaign in the tournament. Looking to score a grandmaster norm in the event, Ishaq, however, suffered a setback in the fourth round after fumbling against Indian International Master Rathnakaran K. to stay at two points. FM Nabil Saleh won his match against Sudan’s Haitham Mahmoud to hike his tally to two points, while Candidate Master (CM) Nagueb Saleh has 1.5 points after dropping his game against Bangladesh’s GM Hossain Enamul.

The tournament has attracted nearly 200 players from nearly 37 countries, including 46 grandmasters, of which 24 are rated above 2600. There are also eight Woman Grandmasters (WGM) and 39 International Masters.

The tournament offers a total cash purse of US$50,000, with US$13,000 and the Rashid Bin Hamdan Cup going to the champion. The rest of the top 15 players will also receive cash prizes. There are also special awards for the top Arab and UAE players and to women players. A blitz tournament will be held today (April 15) with a total prize fund of US$4,000.

Dubai Open Chess Championship Top 10 standings after four rounds

1 Akopian Vladimir ARM 2656 4
2 Howell David ENG 2678 4
3 Sokolov Ivan NED 2626 3.5
4 Gopal G.N. IND 2544 3.5
5 Yilmaz Mustafa TUR 2594 3.5
6 Jones Gawain C B ENG 2650 3.5
7 Adhiban B. IND 2663 3.5
8 Ali Marandi Cemil Can TUR 2473 3.5
9 Sethuraman S.P. IND 2658 3.5
10 Sengupta Deep IND 2554 3.5