2016 Asian Nations Cup: The Tiger and the Dragon

by Priyadarshan Banjan
4/9/2016 – Organized by the UAE Chess Federation, the Asian Nations Cup 2016 was held at the Novotel Abu Dhabi Al Bustan hotel with 20 countries competing for the right to represent Asia in the World Team Championship. The top two nations were China and India, dominating the top places and medals, and ChessBase India provided daily in-depth coverage. Here is a report with analysis.

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The standard competition was played as a Swiss System of nine rounds for the Open section. The Women's section meanwhile was a ten-team round-robin affair. The rapid and blitz championships was conducted in a five-round Swiss as a qualification to choose four teams to play in knockout Semi Final and Final.

The race, once again, was expected to be between the two Asian giants—India and China.

Besides politics and economics, the two countries have had contrasting stories to narrate when talking about their development as chess superpowers as well. For the longest time, chess in Asia has always meant China and India. While the Chinese began their domination first in the women’s events, with the Women’s World Championships, India had a one-man army answering the name of Viswanathan Anand. Then, at the 2014 Olympiad, the world order rearranged itself. China took gold while India was bronze, their first podium finish in chess history.

At the Asian Nations Cup, in the Open, China, with an average rating of 2694, and India, with an average rating of 2652, cleaned up their opponents in the first round. Similar was the case in the women’s section as well.

The India women’s team with coach IM Vishal Sareen

In the women’s section, the India-China affair was something everyone was looking forward to, and they faced each other in the second round.

White to play

The match ended in a scintillating 2-2 draw, thanks to WGM Soumya Swaminathan who saved the day for India with the white pieces here.

Soumya - Lei

[Event "2016 Asian Nations Cup"] [Site "?"] [Date "2016.03.29"] [Round "?"] [White "Swaminathan, Soumya"] [Black "Lei, Tingjie"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B83"] [PlyCount "85"] [EventDate "2016.??.??"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nc6 5. Nc3 Qc7 6. Be2 Nf6 7. O-O Be7 8. Be3 d6 9. f4 O-O 10. Kh1 Nxd4 11. Qxd4 b6 12. Bf3 Bb7 13. Rf2 Rfd8 14. Nb5 Qb8 15. c4 a6 (15... d5 16. cxd5 exd5 17. e5 a6 18. Nd6 Bxd6 19. exf6 Bc5 20. Qd3 g6 $11) 16. Nc3 Nd7 17. Qd2 Qc7 18. Rc1 Rac8 19. b3 Qb8 20. f5 Bf6 21. fxe6 fxe6 $14 22. Bg4 Re8 23. Nd5 Bc6 24. Nxf6+ Nxf6 25. Rxf6 $1 gxf6 26. Bd4 Qc7 27. Bxf6 Qf7 28. Rf1 Qg6 29. Bh3 Bxe4 30. Qxd6 Rc6 31. Qe5 h6 32. Re1 Bd3 33. Re3 Rc5 34. Bxe6+ Kh7 35. Qd4 Rc7 36. h3 Rf8 37. Qd6 Qxf6 38. Qxc7+ Kh8 39. Rf3 Qa1+ 40. Kh2 Rxf3 41. Qd8+ Kg7 42. Qg8+ Kf6 43. Qh8+ 1-0

After this match, the roads diverged for both the teams.

While the Indian women’s team was satisfied with holding the Chinese 2-2, in the open, their team was left fuming against the Mongols, whom they played in the second round. India was expected to outrun, if not outplay, the Mongolian team. Each member outrated his opponent by two hundred points, if not more. Yet, like death, chess is a great leveler.

“At some point we really lost control. We were even very close to losing the match. You could have congratulated a different champion maybe,” says Adhiban. "It was a bit surprising for us. But the Mongolian chess players increased their level lately and they were very strong when playing against us. I was also playing in that round and I saw the games. I think we are actually lucky to have made a draw," Vidit recounted. The Chinese, meanwhile, romped home with an easy win over Bangladesh.

It was imperative that India went all guns blazing against Kazakhstan, and that is exactly what they did. This was followed by another win, against UAE-1, by a comfortable margin.

Of note was Vidit’s classy victory on the third board in the third round clash against Kazakhstan

Kazhyelgev-Vidit (notes by IM Sagar Shah)

[Event "Asian Nations Cup 2016"] [Site "?"] [Date "2016.03.31"] [Round "?"] [White "Kazhgaleyev, Murtas"] [Black "Gujrathi, Vidit"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "E61"] [Annotator "Sagar Shah"] [PlyCount "128"] [EventDate "2016.??.??"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. g3 Bg7 4. Bg2 O-O 5. Nc3 {White's somewhat cunning move order has stopped Vidit from playing his favourite Grunfeld Defence. But as we have seen recently, this young guy doesn't mind to experiment. King's Indian it is!} d6 6. e3 $5 {This is quite an odd line in the fianchetto variation of the King's Indian. Most of the times the knight goes to f3. However, Kazhgaleyev tries to play something off beat to trick his opponent.} e5 { Why not!} 7. Nge2 Nbd7 8. O-O Re8 9. h3 c6 10. Qc2 exd4 $5 11. Nxd4 (11. exd4 { looks more natural but it gives Black some valuable tempi to complete the development.} Nb6 12. b3 Bf5 13. Qd1 Ne4 $1 14. g4 Nxc3 15. Nxc3 Be6 $11 { Followed by d5 next move and Black shouldn't be worse.}) 11... Nb6 12. b3 c5 $1 {Very alert. The weakness on the h8-a1 diagonal will be exploited by Vidit.} 13. Nde2 Bf5 $1 (13... d5 14. cxd5 Nfxd5 15. Rd1 {causes some grief to Black.}) 14. Qd1 (14. e4 $2 Nxe4 $1 $17) 14... d5 $1 15. Ba3 (15. cxd5 Nfxd5 16. Bb2 Nb4 {And it seems like Black has the initiative. Although truth be told this position is somewhere around even. This was the best option for White.}) 15... dxc4 $1 16. Qxd8 Raxd8 17. Bxc5 Ne4 18. Bxe4 Bxe4 19. Bd4 (19. Nxe4 Bxa1 20. Nd6 $1 Rxd6 21. Bxd6 Bb2 22. bxc4 Nxc4 {is round about even but wasn't so easy to calculate for White.}) 19... Bd3 20. Bxg7 Kxg7 21. Rfc1 g5 $5 {One could say that this move can be made either by a very strong player or a complete amateur. Why exactly did Black push his g-pawn at a moment when there could have been other pressing matters to attend to? Well there isn't much to do and hence Vidit limits the scope of the e2 knight to some extent and also gains space on the kingside.} 22. Nd4 h5 23. Rd1 Bg6 24. Rac1 {White has been playing quite logically and the position is round about equal.} a6 25. bxc4 Nxc4 26. Na4 b5 27. Nc5 Rd6 28. Rc3 g4 29. h4 Kf6 30. Rdc1 Ne5 31. Ra3 Ra8 $6 ( 31... Kg7 32. Rxa6 Rxa6 33. Nxa6 Ra8 $11) 32. Nxb5 $1 {White has won a pawn.} Nf3+ 33. Kg2 Rd2 {Black has some activity but with accurate play things can be kept under control by White.} 34. Nc3 Kg7 35. Rxa6 Rc8 $5 {A practical decision by the Indian player. He attacks the c5 knight and White has only one way to keep his edge.} 36. Nb3 $2 (36. Ra5 $1 {This keep control and Black is struggling to prove his compensation.}) 36... Rd3 $1 37. Ne2 Rxc1 38. Nbxc1 Rd1 {Suddenly the bishop is coming to e4 and a mating net is getting formed around the White king.} 39. Ra4 Ne1+ 40. Kh2 Nf3+ 41. Kg2 Bf5 (41... Nd2 $1 {is an excellent move. It prepares Be4+ which cannot be stopped.} 42. Nb3 Be4+ 43. Rxe4 Nxe4 $17) 42. e4 Bd7 43. Ra6 Bb5 44. Rb6 Bc4 45. Rc6 Bb5 46. Rb6 Bc4 47. Rc6 Ne5 $5 {A bold decision by Vidit to continue the game but absolutely correct as the White pieces are completely tied down.} 48. Rc5 Kf6 49. a4 Re1 { The knight cannot move as c1 hangs.} 50. Rxc4 Nxc4 51. f3 gxf3+ 52. Kxf3 Rf1+ 53. Kg2 Ne3+ 54. Kh2 Ke5 55. a5 Kxe4 56. a6 Rf6 57. Nc3+ Kf3 58. a7 Ra6 59. N1e2 Rxa7 60. Kh3 Ng4 61. Nd4+ Kf2 62. Nd1+ Kg1 63. Ne2+ Kh1 $1 {This is aesthetically beautiful!} 64. Nf4 Ra2 {A very interesting battle where we could see how the superfluous knights are completely useless defending each other. Vidit made full use of that factor.} 0-1

Four rounds had ended and China was perched at the top — a usual sight in Asian chess — while India was placed second. The toughest of the fights in any battle is always fought in the middle — of the tournament. India took on China in what was proclaimed to be the summit clash that could decide it all.

The Chinese team led by Bu Xiangzhi (2724), Wang Yue (2718), Wei Yi (2714), Zhou Jianchao (2624)
and Lu Shanglei (2620) [Photo: Kema Goryaeva]

China was not fielding its A-team, which is clear by looking at the lineup they stationed at Abu Dhabi. Then again, nor was India, sans Vishy and Harikrishna. That said, although the Chinese were not playing their Olympiad winning team, India was basically the (almost) same tight-knit group that had scored the bronze medal in 2014 Olympiad. The clash lived up to the expectations.

India vs. China Match [Photo: Bhakti Kulkarni]

"We are hoping to push with white and steady with black," was coach Ramesh's plan to tackle the Chinese problem before the game. The first result was witnessed on the third board, where Vidit Gujrathi destroyed Wei Yi, with the black pieces! On the second board, S.P. Sethuraman collapsed in the endgame, despite having the white pieces. On the fourth board, Krishnan Sasikiran had an advantage that slipped into a draw.

The scores were tied 1.5-1.5, but until then, Adhiban had already drummed up a winning advantage with the black pieces (!), against Bu Xiangzhi. The former did win eventually, and India beat China 2.5-1.5.

Wei Yi - Vidit

[Event "Asian Nations Cup 2016 - Men"] [Site "Abu Dhabi"] [Date "2016.04.01"] [Round "5"] [White "Wei, Yi"] [Black "Vidit, Santosh Gujrathi"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "C50"] [WhiteElo "2714"] [BlackElo "2648"] [PlyCount "68"] [EventDate "2016.??.??"] [EventCountry "UAE"] [WhiteTeam "China"] [BlackTeam "India"] [WhiteTeamCountry "CHN"] [BlackTeamCountry "IND"] [TimeControl "40/5400+30:1800+30"] 1. e4 {0} e5 {0} 2. Nf3 {106} Nc6 {0} 3. Bc4 {611} Bc5 {3} 4. d3 {30} Nf6 {20} 5. c3 {85} O-O {78} 6. O-O {171} d5 {79} 7. exd5 {12} Nxd5 {3} 8. Nbd2 {161} Nb6 {230} 9. Bb5 {188} Bd6 {61} 10. Re1 {806} Bg4 {33} 11. h3 {652} Bh5 {13} 12. Ne4 {58} f5 {30} 13. Ng3 {435} Bxf3 {16} 14. Qxf3 {6} Qd7 {9} 15. a4 {1165} a6 {58} 16. Bxc6 bxc6 {30} 17. c4 {11} Rab8 {547} 18. a5 {997} Nc8 {15} 19. c5 {15} Bxc5 {79} 20. Rxe5 {3} Bd4 {353} 21. Re1 {75} Nd6 {670} 22. Ne2 {88} Rfe8 {284} 23. Bf4 {50} Bxb2 {163} 24. Rab1 {9} Nb5 {118} 25. Ng3 {138} Bc3 {566} 26. Rxe8+ {41} Rxe8 {6} 27. Be3 {74} g6 {73} 28. Qd1 {122} Bxa5 {1498} 29. Ra1 {14} Bb6 {260} 30. Bxb6 {26} cxb6 {2} 31. Rxa6 {6} f4 {142} 32. Ne2 {38} f3 {33 } 33. Nf4 {153} Nd4 {54} 34. Ra1 {43} Rf8 {126} 0-1

Coach GM R.B. Ramesh was overjoyed about the result. Going into the business end of the tournament, he highlighted, “Important thing is that no one is playing loose moves. Keeping control of the game throughout is a very good thing. Young players are consistently improving in playing strength–a good sign."

Meanwhile, things began to go haywire for both India and China in the women’s section. In the fifth round, India suffered a shock defeat in the hands of the Vietnamese, and then again lost to Kazakhstan, virtually knocking them out of the race. China lost to Uzbekistan, a team India had earlier blanked 4-0, in the sixth round.

After the win in round five in the open section, for India, it was a matter of doing the needful and winning the remaining games against much weaker opposition. "Once we beat China, we knew it was a tournament for us to win or lose. Every player understood the responsibility and did not let it reach the extent that it became a burden," commented Coach R.B. Ramesh.

'We had very good camaraderie, we prepared together a lot of times,
we shared ideas and analysis too, which is very rare,' Vidit shared,
summarizing India's performance.

In the next three rounds, India beat Iran, Bangladesh and Uzbekistan by a very comfortable margin. China was held to a 2-2 draw by Kazakhstan in seventh round. Going into the ninth and the final round, India just had to draw, at least, to score enough for a gold medal. "We were the favourites going into last round against Vietnam. Each player knew their role and was eager to fulfill it. We had no special plans — just wanted to play good chess and that's what the boys did,” said R.B. Ramesh. The result was 3-1 decimation in India's favour.

The Indian team on the podium

Final men's standings

Rk SNo Team Gms   +    =    -   TB
1 2 India 9 8 1 0 17
2 1 China 9 7 1 1 15
3 3 Kazakhstan 9 6 2 1 14
4 4 Iran 9 6 0 3 12
5 8 Uzbekistan 9 5 1 3 11
6 7 Mongolia 9 4 2 3 10
7 6 Bangladesh 9 5 0 4 10
8 9 UAE 1 9 5 0 4 10
9 5 Vietnam 9 4 1 4 9
10 11 Kyrgyzstan 9 4 1 4 9
11 10 Iraq 9 3 3 3 9
12 12 Lebanon 9 4 1 4 9
13 16 Afghanistan 9 4 1 4 9
14 14 Oman 9 4 1 4 9
15 15 Sri Lanka 9 3 2 4 8
16 13 Jordan 9 4 0 5 8
17 17 Palestine 9 3 1 5 7
18 19 UAE 2 9 3 1 5 7
19 20 Nepal 9 0 5 4 5
20 18 Kuwait 9 2 1 6 5
21 22 Tajikistan 9 0 3 6 3
22 21 UAE 3 9 0 2 7 2

The Chinese Women’s team [Photo: Ju Wenjun’s Facebook]

In the women’s section, China recovered well from the shock sixth round loss and won the remaining matches, fixing the gold medal in their favour.

Final women's standings

Rk SNo Team Gms   +    =    -  TB 
1 10 China 9 7 1 1 15
2 8 Uzbekistan 9 7 0 2 14
3 1 Kazakhstan 9 6 1 2 13
4 6 India 9 5 2 2 12
5 9 Vietnam 9 5 1 3 11
6 7 Mongolia 9 5 0 4 10
7 4 Iran 9 4 1 4 9
8 3 UAE - 2 9 1 1 7 3
9 2 Sri Lanka 9 0 2 7 2
10 5 UAE - 1 9 0 1 8 1

Rapid and Blitz Events

Except for the open section, where they finished second to the Indians,
all the remaining events — women’s section, rapid and also blitz in men’s
and women’s section — were won by the Chinese!

GM Ju Wenjun, who recently won the Teheran Grand Prix 2016, won it all! She
was the first board for the Chinese and took home six medals — gold for Standard,
Rapid and Blitz, and also gold on the first board in the all the three formats!

Note: The first two rounds witnessed poor media management as the Asian Chess Federation failed to broadcast the games properly. The official website carried almost zero pictures from the tournament and such an important tournament was almost non-existent in the social media.


Links

The games are being broadcast live on the official web site and on the chess server Playchess.com. If you are not a member you can download a free Playchess client there and get immediate access. You can also use ChessBase 13 or any of our Fritz compatible chess programs.



Priyadarshan Banjan is a 23-year-old club player from India. He works as an editor for ChessBase News and ChessBase India. He is a chess fanatic and an avid fan of Vishy Anand. He also maintains a blog on a variety of topics.
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