Russia’s GM Boris Savchenko grabs solo lead heading into the final round of the Dubai Open Chess Tournament – Sheikh Rashid Bin Hamdan Cup

Dubai blitz chess champ GM Gawain Jones and four other grandmasters give chase

Top 10 standings after eight rounds

Rank  Title Name FED Rtg Pts.
1 GM Savchenko Boris RUS 2607 7
2 GM Akopian Vladimir ARM 2656 6.5
3 GM Jones Gawain C B ENG 2650 6.5
4 GM Pantsulaia Levan GEO 2604 6.5
5 GM Fier Alexandr BRA 2619 6.5
6 GM Darini Pouria IRI 2496 6.5
7 GM Sokolov Ivan NED 2626 6
8 GM Yilmaz Mustafa TUR 2594 6
9 GM Vidit Santosh Gujrathi IND 2648 6
10 GM Sargissian Gabriel ARM 2693 6

Russia’s Grandmaster (GM) Boris Savchenko picked up his fourth win in a row at the expense of Dutch GM Ivan Sokolov to grab the pole position with seven points heading into the final round of the Dubai Open Chess Tournament – Sheikh Rashid Bin Hamdan Cup at the Dubai Chess and Culture Club.

GM Gawain Jones of England and GM Vladimir Akopian of Armenia, who shared the eighth-round lead with Savchenko and Sokolov, drew their match to drop to a share of second place with three others, each toting 6.5 points. Sokolov dropped to a tie at third with six others with six points each.

Savchenko sprang an opening surprise against Sokolov’s Open variation of the Ruy Lopez with the rarely seen bishop retreat to c2 on move 11. The Dutch GM responded energetically by pushing his d-pawn to white’s third rank and centralising his queen to d5.

After blitzing out his first dozen moves, the Russian then sank into a deep think, using up nearly half his remaining time on 13.Ng5. Sokolov, who currently  serves as the UAE national coach, continued his aggressive intentions by planting a knight deep into white territory – on e2 and protected by the d3-pawn – but with the Dutch’s king still in the centre, Savchenko had some deadly tactics at his disposal to launch a counter offensive, forcing Sokolov to give up his rook for a bishop to buy time and whisk away his king to safety in the kingside.

But by this time Savchenko’s material advantage was already substantial, although Sokolov was still presented an opportunity to complicate matters with 28…Nxc1, taking away the bishop that was guarding black’s passer on d3. The Dutch grandmaster missed his opportunity, allowing the Russian to cruise to victory after 43 moves.

Grandmaster Boris Savchenko of Russia is a sole leader with one round to go
Grandmaster Boris Savchenko of Russia is a sole leader with one round to go

Jones defended with the hyper-aggressive Dragon variation of the Sicilian against Akopian and both played more than a dozen moves of theory. After neutralising the Englishman’s offensive attempt in the queenside, Akopian lunged his h-pawn forward to open the file and create mating threats against the black king. While Jones had enough resources to keep Akopian’s attack at bay, the resulting pawn exchange on g6 left black’s camp with serious structural deficiencies – three isolated pawns on a7, c6 and e7.

Akopian continued poking at black’s weaknesses, but the Englishman was able to partially improve his pawn structure with a rook exchange on d6 and eventually held the line in a drawn-out endgame on the 71st move.

Grandmaster Gawain Jones ties for the second place after 8 rounds
Grandmaster Gawain Jones ties for the second place after 8 rounds

Joining Akopian and Jones at joint second place are 2007 Dubai Open champion GM Levan Pantsulaia of Georgia, GM Alexander Fier of Brazil and Iran’s GM Darini Pouria.

Pantsulaia opened with the Reti against India’s GM S. P. Sethuraman and embarked on a positional pawn sacrifice that left the Indian’s pieces in a bind. Sethuraman returned the pawn to create some breathing room, but Pantsulaia stepped up the offensive with his two bishops dominating the open diagonals. The Indian was already under severe pressure when Pantsulaia unleashed a visually appealing bishop sacrifice on the 33rd move that would lead to a forced mate in six, after which Sethuraman promptly resigned.

The 39th-seeded Darini took down 11th-seed GM Eltaj Safarli of Azerbaijan in 60 moves of a French Defence, while Fier overpowered Indian International Master (IM) Shardul Gagare in 38 moves of a Benoni opening.

Savchenko will have the black pieces against Jones on board one in Tuesday’s final round, while Pantsulaia will have white against Akopian on second board. Fier will have white against Darini. All six players have a shot at claiming the championship.

UAE and Arab and results

Fide Master (FM) Mayed Alrashedi scored an upset win over Woman Grandmaster (WGM) Mona Khaled of Egypt to hike his tally to four points. FM Saeed Ishaq, however, continues to hold on to the lead in the UAE standings with 4.5 points after beating India’s Sanjeev Nair.

Egypt’s Bassem Amin remains the top Arab player with five points after beating Kazakhstan’s GM Petr Kostenko.

Longest game with a twist

The round established a new record for the tournament’s longest game as GM Mollah Abdullah Al Rakib of Bangladesh and IM Eduard Kanter of Russia battled for six hours and 170 moves in a game that ultimately ended in a draw – but perhaps with a heart-breaking twist. Al Rakib was doing well on the defensive end of a textbook rook-and-bishop vs. rook endgame – which is a theoretical draw, but is much harder to handle over the board – until a number of inaccuracies allowed the Russian to reach a winning set-up. After Kanter played his 170th move, Al Rakib was left with two choices: allow mate or give up his rook. Neither was required as the Bangladeshi GM successfully claimed a technical draw – he would be making his 50th move on his next turn, and by playing any move that does not involve a capture, he could invoke the 50-move rule.

International Arbiter (IA) Mahdi Abdul Rahim, the tournament’s seasoned chief arbiter, declared a draw, explaining that any player can claim a draw if 50 moves have been played without a single capture or pawn move. He further said that the arbiter can step in and declare a draw if 75 moves have been made without any capture or pawn move.

Championship prizes

The tournament offers a total cash purse of US$50,000 with US$13,000 going to the champion, as well as the Sheikh Rashid Bin Hamdan Cup. The rest of the top 15 finishers will also receive cash prizes. There are also special awards for the top Arab, UAE and women players, as well as top scorers in the 2400-2300, 2200-2100 and under 2000 rating categories.