Indian Qualifier: Decision Day

The Indian Qualifier final takes place on Monday, but it’s Sunday’s semi-finals that will decide which two players earn a spot on the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour. 15-year-old Praggnanandhaa has already played on the tour, which may lessen the disappointment of losing to top seed Adhiban. The final will feature either Adhiban or Aravindh, who overcame Ganguly in a playoff. In the other half of the draw it’s a chance for a teenager, with 14-year-old Gukesh beating Mitrabha while 17-year-old Erigaisi overcame Harsha, who blundered on move 4 of the only decisive game.

You can replay all the Indian Qualifier games using the selector below.

And here’s the day’s live commentary from Tania and Srinath.

They were joined by Adhiban after his match was over, with the “Beast from the East” providing a lot of fun.

Adhiban powers on

Adhiban’s delaying his 1.b3 Chessable course is beginning to look more and more like a deep plan to qualify for the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour, as he continues to employ it even as the stakes rise!

In Game 1 against Praggnanandhaa he was close to winning in 10 moves before, after many adventures, finding himself a pawn up in an ending. There was perhaps just one fleeting moment to break through (53.g4!) but otherwise Pragg didn’t put a foot wrong as the game ended in a 92-move draw.

Game 2 was a Gruenfeld in which neither side got the upper hand, before Adhiban returned to 1.b3 for the 3rd game. This time White didn’t gain such a clear advantage out of the opening, but when Praggnanandhaa was tempted into playing aggressively Adhiban traded down into an endgame where his passed e-pawn proved to be a monster. It cost Pragg a knight and the game.

Game 4 was Adhiban’s crowning achievement. Needing only a draw he managed to sacrifice 3 pawns before finally gaining a winning advantage. 25…Nf4! was the decisive idea, that could also have been played earlier.

Black’s main threat is Rd1 mate, so that there was no choice but to play 26.Bxf4, after which 26…Qxf3! renewed the threat of mate. After 27.Bd2, taking the hanging rook on h1 would be sufficient, but 27…Rb8!, with mate-in-5, was more clinical!

Adhiban’s opponent in the semi-finals will be 21-year-old Aravindh, who had the longest battle of the day, against Ganguly.

Aravindh struck first after Ganguly’s 15…Qb4? walked into a tactic.

It’s possible it was a deliberate trap, since after 16.Qd3! g6 17.Qxd7 Qxa4 18.Qxb7 Rac8 the white queen looks in danger, but Aravindh’s 19.Bd3!, giving the queen an escape on a6, was enough to hold the advantage. In fact 17.Nxb6 first was winning a full piece, but only if you spotted that after 17…Qxb6 18.Qxd7 Rad8 White has a winning blow.

19.Rxc6! is the clincher, but in the game Aravindh soon gave up his queen for two rooks and went on to win smoothly anyway.

The youngster was very close to opening up a 2:0 lead after Ganguly miscalculated a sacrifice in the next game, but the 38-year-old used all his experience to hold a draw. The match should then have been over in three games, but Aravindh went astray in a winning position.

White has an overwhelming position, though some caution is required, since for now, for instance, the g6-rook can be captured by the queen on c2 if the f5-knight moves. Aravindh, who got down to 5 seconds on his clock, instead took a radical approach with 35.Rxh6? only to run into 35…Rxf5!, and Black was close to a draw. Ganguly made one false step after that – 39…Ke8? allowed 40.f6! – but when that chance was missed the game ended in a draw.

Ganguly now had to win on demand in the final rapid game, and that’s just what he did, after exploiting a slip by his opponent in a heavy-piece endgame.

That meant a blitz playoff, and the first game was perhaps the most dramatic of the match. Ganguly was the one pressing for a win with the black pieces, but he let his advantage slip, then completely lost the thread in a position he should have been able to draw with ease. Aravindh took over, but complicated his life greatly by going for a queen vs. rook position which seems always to have been winning but could easily have gone wrong at blitz speed. In the end, however, mate ended the game!

Aravindh now only needed to draw to win the match, but shocked our commentators by going for the tricky 5…Ba5 line of the already incredibly sharp Winawer French.

Don’t try this at home, but Aravindh went on to win in style, with his king’s knight going on quite a journey before delivering the killer blow.

Adhiban-Aravindh has the potential to be a lot of fun!

The other final will be between two teenagers, with 17-year-old Arjun Erigaisi accepting a gift in his match against Harsha Bharathakoti.

Three games were tight draws, although Arjun could have played on to win in the final game if a draw hadn’t been enough. The reason it was enough, however, was Game 3, where things went disastrously wrong for Harsha after 5.Nd2, a move Anish Giri had played in his last round Candidates Tournament game against Kirill Alekseenko.

The almost instant reply 5…dxc4?? was a terrible blunder that lost on the spot to 6.Qa4+ Nc6 7.Bxc6+ and the bishop on b4 will be lost next move.

Erigaisi’s opponent in the semi-final will be 14-year-old Gukesh, who had a real battle against 19-year-old Mitrabha Guha.

Mitrabha was winning the first game with his rooks against the white queen, but in the absence of any obvious plan he was tempted into a blunder.

59…Rxg5? walked into 60.Qf6! Rxd5? (it was essential to take the bishop on g4) 61.Be6!!

A surprise blow, after which Black has to switch to defence. Mitrabha instead failed to coordinate his pieces so that Gukesh was soon winning. The final moment was well-calculated.

71.Qxa5! bxa5 72.Kxd2 Ke6 73.Kc3! and Black resigned, since it won’t be possible to stop the white king getting to the a5-pawn and winning that pawn and the game (f4!, putting Black in zugzwang, is a key resource if Black tries to hold the a-pawn).

That was a tough blow for Mitrabha, but he hit back straight away to win the next game convincingly, before Gukesh got nothing with White in an 18-move draw in Game 3. It seemed to be advantage Guha, but instead Gukesh ground out an endgame win with Black to win Game 4 and the match. 

It was an impressive game, even if there was a shaky moment near the end when Mitrabha could have survived.

Waiting with 62.Ra7! or 62.Ra6! draws, but it’s only after the line in the game that you understand exactly why 62.Kf3 was a losing move. Play continued 62…Bc1! 63.Rb8+ Kc2 64.Rc8+ Kb1 65.Rb8+ Bb2 66.Ra8 and now not 66…a1=Q?, which would throw away the win, but 66…Be5!

The bishop covers check from b8 and ensures the f-pawn will survive and win the game when the a-pawn is traded for White’s rook. After e.g. 62.Ra7! White could here play either 67.Rb7+ or 67.Kxe5 to draw. No wonder Gukesh was relieved!

That means one of Gukesh and Erigaisi will earn a place on the Champions Chess Tour, where they’ll be joined by either Adhiban or Aravindh. Don’t miss the semi-finals on Saturday from 15:00 IST, live commentary from Tania Sachdev and Srinath Narayanan!

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