Adhiban & Erigaisi reach the Champions Chess Tour

“I’m just so happy, because I’ve been waiting for almost a year to get this chance!” said Adhiban after beating Aravindh to reach the final of the Indian Qualifier and book a place in the June event of the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour. He’ll be joined on the Tour and in the final by 17-year-old Arjun Erigaisi, who bounced back from losing his first game to beat Gukesh in the remaining three games. 

You can replay all the games from the Indian Qualifier of the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour using the selector below.

And here’s the commentary on the semi-finals from Tania and Srinath – we’ve set it up to start at the moment Adhiban joins for the final interviews, though you can of course rewind to see more!

16 players began the Indian Qualifier and we’re now down to two – whatever happens in the final they’ve both already made it into the Indian Open, the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour event taking place from June 26th to July 4th.

Let’s look at how they did it.

Adhiban makes it look easy

Adhiban is still unbeaten in the Indian Qualifier and was the first player to reach the quarterfinals, semi-finals and now final! For his semi-final against two-time Indian Champion Aravindh he varied a little, only playing b3 on move 8 in Game 1 and on move 2 in Game 3. He later told Tania:

Basically the concept is to get b3 at some point – it doesn’t matter which moment, but you should get b3!

Adhiban let an advantage slip in Game 1, while Game 2 was a rollercoaster. Aravindh was very close to winning in a dozen moves, but 19.Nfe2?! proved too tricky for its own good. 19…dxc3 wasn’t possible because of 20.Rxd8, but 19…Qe7! left White needing to worry about the back rank instead.

Soon Black was winning, but Adhiban in turn allowed his advantage to slip until the game ended in 120 moves after Aravindh had tried to win the Rook + Knight vs. Rook ending.

Game 3 was drawn by repetition in 30 moves, though only after a dramatic trade of blows.

That left everything riding on the final rapid game, where Adhiban’s risky opening paid off. 21.g4? was the losing move, though the position after 21.Nc3! Ne4 would also have been uncomfortable.

21…Ne4! was already essentially game over. Play continued 22.Qd3 Qb4+! 23.Nc3 Qxb2 24.gxf5 and while keeping queens on with 24…Qxc1+ was objectively even stronger, Adhiban’s 24…Bxc3+! was a very pragmatic choice. When the dust had settled a few moves later, Black was simply up an exchange and a pawn.

Both players had time to come to terms with the inevitable outcome, and Aravindh had almost as big a smile as Adhiban by the end!

Adhiban said of his celebration at the end:

Just very happy. I had to control these emotions till the game was over.

He later talked about qualifying for the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour.

I’m just so happy, because I’ve been waiting for almost a year to get this chance, and now that I have finally got this, I’m really excited to play well there. Also it’s nice – me, Arjun and I guess Vidit and Hari, so we’ll have four Indians playing, at least to my knowledge. Four Indians are playing in the Indian Open and it’s going to be a lot of fun!

As Tania pointed out, there might be more if one of the Indians qualifies for the Tour from the Gelfand Challenge, the next Julius Baer Challengers Chess Tour event taking place from June 10-13. Praggnanandhaa qualified from the previous Polgar Challenge.

The Meltwater Champions Chess Tour is a chance for Adhiban to try out his pet openings against the very best.

That may include current World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen…

…though Adhiban was more interested in his rivalry with a certain Anish Giri!

Actually more than Magnus, I want to play 1.b3 against Anish, because just imagine, if I played b3 and beat him that’s it, his career is over! He cannot show his face in social media ever again, after all the trolling. I even told him, ok, Anish, I’m going to play b3, so he knows it’s coming. It’s like this. It’s like Thanos says, dread it, run from it and 1.b3 still arrives!

Anish wasn’t taking the threat seriously…

…or was he?

Arguably we may be seeing the start of an obsession!

Adhiban will be joined on the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour by 17-year-old Arjun Erigaisi, who is softly spoken off the board, but to be underestimated at your peril on it.

He went into his semi-final match against 14-year-old Gukesh unbeaten, and when he won the opening battle of the first game it seemed it was only a question of whether he’d go on to win. He admitted, however, that he’d completely missed the danger of 39.Re6+.

He blitzed out 39…Kd7, only for Gukesh to unleash 40.Rxf6!

The point is that after 40…gxf6 41.h6 Black isn’t in time to stop the h-pawn from queening, while after 40…Ke7 41.Rf5 in the game, Gukesh went on to make his extra piece count.

The position before the sacrifice was fascinating, however, since as Srinath explained in the commentary 39…Kc5! in fact draws, due to the amazing line 40.Rxf6 gxf6 41.h6 bxa4! 42.h7 Rb8 43.Bg8? and usually you’d stop your calculations here, since White is queening a pawn.

In fact after 43…axb3! 44.h8=Q b2 it’s White who can resign. The beauty of the black king on c5 is that White doesn’t have a single check, while with the king on d7 after 39…Kd7 the same position is an easy win for White, starting with 45.Qg7+.

When Gukesh then got an excellent position with Black in the next game it looked as though the shock of losing a first game might have unbalanced Erigaisi and Gukesh would qualify with ease, but instead the world’s second youngest grandmaster ever lost the thread and ended up on the defensive. A draw seemed likely, but suddenly Arjun’s c-pawn broke clear.

You don’t need to be Magnus Carlsen not to believe in this fortress as it’s just a choice of how to give checkmate. Arjun chose 61.Bxf7 and Gukesh resigned without waiting for Be6# next move.

To describe Game 3 as a rollercoaster would be something of an understatement. Erigaisi was very close to winning out of the opening, before Gukesh took complete control and only needed to apply the final touches. Instead he would live to regret many moments that followed.

42.Qxd7 Bxd7 43.Ra8 and picking up the a-pawn isn’t a trivial win, but only White could win the endgame and the chances would be high. Gukesh instead decided to keep the queens on the board with 42.Rd8?, and although that particular move was a mistake it was hard to criticise since soon Gukesh had achieved a totally won position with his pawn on a7. Erigaisi kept finding resources, while Gukesh kept missing chances to finish him off.

The misses were understandable given the pressure and the lack of time, but when Erigaisi managed to gain solid positions for all his pieces it was effectively game over. There was no defence for White.

Gukesh now needed to win with Black and, after playing the Dutch Defence, he got real chances. He couldn’t find a path to exploit his advantage, however, and the position became a clear draw. He needed to push anyway, which involved weakening his position, but the tension was maintained all the way until 61…Qf4?, which walked into the fork 62.Nh5+.

It had been a great comeback by Erigaisi, while Gukesh will of course be back – in fact he could even qualify for the Tour event through the Challengers.

Erigaisi will have a great chance to make a name for himself on the Tour. Srinath earlier noted that he’s no less talented than some of the better known Indian juniors, though for now he’s a man of few words.

Before the Tour itself, there’s the final against Adhiban, of which Erigaisi commented, “He’s my nemesis, to be honest!” Srinath explained, “Adhi has beaten Arjun more times than he has played 1.b3 in his life!” Adhiban himself helpfully added:

But he has a plus score in bughouse – that counts, right!? In Bughouse Arjun has 2600.

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p class=”p1″>There’s still cash and pride on the line in Monday’s final, but what’s clear is that both of the participants are already winners. Don’t miss action from 15:00 IST (11:30 CEST) with live commentary from Tania Sachdev and Srinath Narayanan.

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