Grandelius wins Abu Dhabi Masters 2015

by Sagar Shah
9/3/2015 – While the Sinquefield Cup was taking place in the United States, a strong open event with many 2600+ players was happening in the Middle East. After nine rounds of grueling chess five players tied for the top spot. Nils Grandelius of Sweden had the best tie-break and went on to win the title – the biggest result in his career. We have an interview as well as annotations from the winner.

Nils Grandelius wins Abu Dhabi Masters 2015

Report from the tournament venue by IM Sagar Shah

The Abu Dhabi Masters was held from the 23rd to 31st of August 2015 in the capital city of UAE. 120 players from as many as 35 countries, with 44 grandmasters, participated in this event. 22 players had a rating of more than 2600. It was s a nine round Swiss tournament with the rate of play being one hour 30 minutes + 30 seconds increment per move. There were ten prizes and they were not shared. The winner took home US $12,000. This is the final report. You can read the previous articles on this tournament here.

Early morning, at 10 a.m., the last round of the Abu Dhabi Masters began. GM Nils Grandelius was going strong throughout the event, but his penultimate round loss to Alexander Areshchenko had left the tournament wide open. Going into the final round, as many as nine players had the chance to win the title. This is what the top five board pairings looked like:

Martyn Kravtsiv
- Alexander Areshchenko
Richard Rapport
- Dariusz Swiercz
Tigran Petrosian
- Baadur Jobava
Nils Grandelius
- Vladimir Akopian
Peter Prohaszka
- Aleksandr Rakhmanov

10 a.m. round = sleepy faces, even if thousands of dollars are at stake!

The top board clash between the two Ukrainians Kravtsiv and Areshchenko ended in a 20-move draw in the Poisoned Pawn Variation of the Sicilian Najdorf. Already 19 games have been played until the final position of this encounter, and 18 of them had ended in draws. So, it can be guessed that the players had come with peaceful intentions.

Dmitry Komarov lightens up the mood in the commentary box with his trademark humour,
as Martyn Kravtsiv (left) and Alexander Areshchenko analyze their game for the viewers

The quick end of the first board game gave great chances to other players on six points to try for a win and claim the title. The fifth board between Peter Prohaszka and Aleksandr Rakhmanov also ended in a draw. As Peter said after the game, “It looked like I had a small edge, but my opponent (Rakhmanov) is just too solid a player for one to have any realistic chances of winning from that position.”

This left three important games on boards two, three and four to be completed. And thanks to great fighting chess displayed by the gladiators, all the battles turned out to be decisive. The first one to finish was Petrosian versus Jobava, which Baadur won with a beautiful pawn sacrifice. Richard Rapport’s game against Dariusz Swiercz was filled with ups and downs. With very less time on the clock Swiercz missed the draw and went on to lose the game.

Nils Grandelius versus Vladimir Akopian – the last game to end turned out to be the most interesting and important from a competitive point of view, as the winner of the event was decided from this encounter. In an extremely complicated battle Nils maintained his calm and went on to beat his experienced opponent. So it was a five-way tie at the top with Grandelius, Kravtsiv, Jobava, Areshchenko and Rapport all scoring 7.0/9. The first tie-break was the direct encounter, but it would only be applied if all the five players had played against each other. As it turned out, a few of them had not, and hence the winner was decided on the basis of the average rating of the opponents. Grandelius had the highest rating average and emerged as the champion of the 22nd Abu Dhabi Masters 2015.

After the game the author of these lines (above right) was able to get hold of the winner, Nils Grandelius, and asked him to shed light on his thought process during the final round game. Below on our JavaScript board you can find the analysis provided by Nils. Pay special attention to his insights. If you switch on the engine it will only show you evaluation like +/- 1.20 or +- 2.50. This is worthless. What is important for the practical and improving player is that you can read the thinking and emotions of a nearly 2650 player during the game, and learn from them; not just lifeless variations provided by the silicon monster!

[Event "22nd Abu Dhabi Int. Chess Festival Mas"] [Site "Abu Dhabi"] [Date "2015.08.31"] [Round "9.4"] [White "Grandelius, Nils"] [Black "Akopian, Vladimir"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D17"] [WhiteElo "2628"] [BlackElo "2647"] [Annotator "Nils Grandelius"] [PlyCount "165"] [EventDate "2015.08.23"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCountry "UAE"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 dxc4 5. a4 Bf5 6. Ne5 Nbd7 7. Nxc4 Qc7 8. g3 e5 9. dxe5 Nxe5 10. Bf4 Nfd7 11. a5 f6 12. a6 b5 13. Ne3 Be6 14. Bg2 Rd8 15. O-O Qb6 16. Qc2 Bb4 {Diagram [#]} {I had to create something because positionally he is better thanks to my weak a6 pawn and his centre control, and I am ahead in development as he has not castled yet. So in the end I decided to play Na2.} 17. Na2 Bc5 (17... Be7 18. Nf5 $14 {If I win the bishop pair it is a pretty long-term advantage and very important in an open position like this.}) 18. b4 (18. Nf5 {was also very interesting and I was considering something like this} O-O 19. b4 Bxf2+ $5 20. Rxf2 Ng4 $13 {Here I can defend my rook in several different ways but he will get rook and pawn for two pieces and some activity. I thought that my pieces are just too spread out like knight on f5, knight on a2, a6 is hanging and d-file is in his control. Maybe I am better but I couldn't see clearly what to do.}) 18... Bd4 19. Rad1 g5 ( 19... Bxe3 $5 20. Bxe3 Qxa6 21. Nc3 {The knight is going e4-d6, the rook is coming to a1 to attack the a7 pawn, the dark squares are weak and I have quite some play for the pawn. Maybe this is the best try for him to defend a slightly worse position.}) 20. Nf5 {Now I am the one who gets the initiative and especially if you consider morning rounds - it is very important to get the initiative!} (20. Bxe5 Nxe5 21. Nf5 {Now the problem is} Bxf2+ $1 22. Kh1 { with maybe some compensation but it is not at all clear.} (22. Rxf2 Rxd1+ 23. Qxd1 Bxf5 $17)) 20... Bxf5 21. Qxf5 gxf4 22. gxf4 (22. Qe6+ Kf8 23. Qd6+ Kf7 24. Qxd4 {was also possible, but I liked what I did in the game.}) 22... O-O ( 22... Ng6 23. Qe4+ $16) 23. fxe5 Nxe5 24. e3 Bb2 25. Rxd8 Qxd8 26. Qc2 {Now I win the c6 pawn. The bishop on b2 is short of squares, but my knight on a2 is not really a great piece.} Nc4 27. Bxc6 Kh8 {My bishop is active on the long diagonal, but he has excellent activity with Rg8 followed by Qc8-g4. In short it's a crazy position.} 28. Rd1 {[Sagar Shah asked to Nils whether at any point he thought about offering a draw to which Nils replied, "No, not at all. This was a very interesting position and I had to play it."]} Rg8+ $6 ({He could have waited with the check.} 28... Qc8 $1 {In the game he had already played Rg8 so Bd5 came with a tempo. Here Bd5 is not really great as it is met with Qg4+.}) 29. Kh1 Qc8 30. Bd5 {Gaining time.} Rd8 (30... Rg5 {was better.} 31. Bxc4 bxc4 {and I cannot take on b2 as Qc6 would be mate.}) 31. Bb7 {This allows me to exchange the rooks and reduce his attacking potential. Even though he retains drawing chances, it is clear that I am better now.} Rxd1+ 32. Qxd1 Qf5 33. Qd8+ Kg7 34. Qe7+ Kg8 {Here, I have the initiative and I am a pawn up, so I should be a lot better. The only problem is my stupid knight on a2!} ({There was pretty cute mate if he goes to h6 which I had calculated during the game.} 34... Kh6 35. Be4 Qxf2 36. Qxh7+ Kg5 37. Qg6+ Kh4 38. Qh6+ Kg4 39. h3+ $1 Kg3 40. Qg6+ Kxh3 (40... Kh4 41. Qg4#) 41. Bf5+ $18) 35. Qe8+ ( 35. Be4 Qh5) 35... Kg7 36. Be4 Qe5 37. Qd7+ Kf8 38. Qxh7 $18 Nd6 39. Bc6 Qe6 40. Qh8+ {I decided to give a few checks so that I wouldn't lose on time!} ({ Here I really wanted to take the a7 pawn but I couldn't see everything clearly after Qc4.} 40. Qxa7 Qc4 $1 (40... Qxa2 $2 41. Qb8+ Kg7 42. Qxd6 Qb1+ 43. Kg2 Qg6+ 44. Qg3 $18) 41. Bg2 (41. Kg1 Qxc6 42. Qb8+ Kf7 43. a7 Qd5 $1) 41... Qxa2 {Didn't look so good.}) 40... Kf7 41. Qh5+ Kg7 42. Bd5 Qc8 43. Qe2 Qf5 44. Bb3 Ba3 45. Kg1 Kh6 {Even though I am two pawns up, it is difficult for me to improve the position with the little time I had on the clock. If I got an extra half an hour after 40 moves I would have easily won this position, but with just seconds on the clock it is an entirely different matter.} 46. f3 $6 ( 46. Bc2 {was better.}) 46... Qg5+ 47. Kf1 Nf5 {This was a little bit too forcing. He should have maintained the pressure with Qh4.} (47... Qh4) 48. f4 $1 Qh4 49. Kg2 {The queen on h4 doesn't really have any squares to go to.} Nd6 50. Bc2 f5 51. Qf3 Qf6 52. Qd5 Nc4 53. Kf3 {Here was another critical position. He could simply wait with Qb6 but he went for the counterplay with Qa1, leaving his king in the open.} Qa1 {I found a way through little checks to exchange the queens.} 54. Qe6+ Kg7 55. Qd7+ Kh6 56. Qe6+ Kg7 57. Qe7+ Kg8 58. Qg5+ Kh8 59. Qd8+ Kg7 60. Qd4+ Qxd4 61. exd4 {Of course I should be winning, but my pawn structure is ruined to some extent. If the pawn were on e3 then I would have simply pushed it to e4 and activated my king. But here I have to find a way out. I am not 100% sure that this is winning.} Nd6 62. Ke3 Bb2 63. Bb3 Kg6 64. Bd1 Ne8 65. Bf3 Nc7 (65... Nd6 66. Kd3 $18 {[%cal Ga2c3]}) 66. Bb7 Kh5 67. Bc8 Nd5+ 68. Kf3 Ne7 69. Bd7 Bxd4 70. Bxb5 Kh4 71. Bf1 Nd5 72. b5 Ne3 73. Bd3 Kh3 74. Nc1 {Question from Sagar, "After nearly 57 moves your knight finally moved from a2! You played Na2 on the 17th move. Were you ever regretting it any point during the game that you went Na2?" To this Nils replied, "That's the point with this time control - you do not have enough to regret about anything! Maybe that is one of the reason's why I do well in these time controls. I only think forward and not about any prior moves that I made. If the knight is on a2, it's on a2. Why I put it there is not relevant any more!"} (74. Bxf5+ $1 {was a cute little tactic.} Nxf5 75. Ke4 Kg4 76. h3+ $18) 74... Kxh2 75. Ne2 Bb6 76. Ng3 Kh3 77. Bxf5+ Kh4 78. Bd7 Bd8 (78... Nd5 { leads to a nice variation.} 79. Nf5+ Kh5 (79... Kh3 80. Ne7+ $18) 80. Be8# { Mate!}) 79. Be6 (79. Nf5+ $2 Nxf5 80. Bxf5 Kh5 $11 {should be a draw.}) 79... Bc7 80. Kxe3 Kxg3 (80... Bxf4+ {would have been quite a shock for me as I hadn't seen it. But it was still winning.} 81. Ke4 (81. Kxf4 $11) 81... Bxg3 82. b6 Bb8 83. Kd5 $18) 81. f5 Bd8 82. Ke4 Kh4 83. f6 {This is very similar to many of my games in this tournament: random positions which I just played and won in the end!} 1-0

Interview with the winner Nils Grandelius

SS: How does it feel to win such a strong event?

NG: This was definitely the biggest win of my career. It feels really good to win such a strong tournament.

SS: What were your expectations when you played this tournament?

NG: I came with no particular expectations. I hadn’t played for quite some time, five to six weeks, which is quite unusual for me. So, I didn’t know what to expect. But at the same time I was quite hungry to play a game of chess, and my motivation was higher than usual.

Nils went home richer by US $12,000 – a pretty sum indeed

SS: Were you following a specific schedule during the event?

NG: The games started at six in the evening. I prefer a time around two or three in the afternoon. But with regard to my own schedule, I did nothing particular apart from going to the gym every day, which I don’t usually do in every tournament. The days were so long that I had to spend my time somehow. But I had to be careful. If you spend too much time in the gym it will tire you out. And if you do not indulge in any physical activity it will tire you out too – in a different way! There should be a balance, which I was able to achieve in this event.

The time that I was spending for preparation was very little, because this single time control with ninety minutes and thirty seconds increment is almost like rapid. I preferred to save my energy and get it all in the game. If the time control was longer, say additional thirty minutes after forty moves, then I would have prepared more.

Nils gained 19 Elo points and is now up to 2647 in the live rating list

SS: Going over your white games we find that you opened two of them with 1.e4, one with 1.Nf3, one with 1.c4 and the last round game with 1.d4. What was your idea behind playing a different opening in almost every game?

NG: Part of the idea was to surprise the opponents, and partly it depended on what they would play. For example take my last round game against Akopian. He plays five to six different openings against 1.e4, and for the ten o’clock game it doesn’t really make sense to prepare so much. So I decided to play 1.d4 as he is slightly less flexible there. Thus, my opening choices would be dependent on my opponent’s repertoire but also on my mood and repertoire – when I sat down to play the first game of the tournament I played 1.Nf3 to start a bit safer, a bit slower, as I was playing after a long time.

SS: Are you not scared of getting caught in some line which you haven’t prepared deeply when you play so many openings?

NG: Yes, it’s possible, but it is also much more difficult for the opponents to prepare against me. It’s a trade-off which I am willing to undertake.

SS: Which was the most critical game of the tournament for you?

NG: It was definitely my fourth round game against Vladimir Belous. I was worse, maybe even lost. But he couldn’t convert it in the best possible way and I took my chance to fight back. Finally we reached an endgame position where I was a pawn up which was drawn. But I kept playing, he made mistakes and I managed to convert it into a full point! Winning the game from a lost position is definitely a sweet feeling, and that too with the black pieces and in the second round of the day. You can understand why this was the most critical game of the tournament. If I would have lost this game, my performance could have gone in a completely different direction.

[Event "22nd Abu Dhabi Int. Chess Festival Mas"] [Site "Abu Dhabi"] [Date "2015.08.25"] [Round "4.2"] [White "Belous, Vladimir"] [Black "Grandelius, Nils"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "E10"] [WhiteElo "2566"] [BlackElo "2628"] [PlyCount "157"] [EventDate "2015.08.23"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCountry "UAE"] [WhiteClock "0:05:27"] [BlackClock "0:03:27"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. g3 Bb4+ 5. Bd2 Bd6 6. Bg2 c6 7. Nc3 Nbd7 8. O-O dxc4 9. Bg5 O-O 10. Ne4 Be7 11. Nxf6+ Bxf6 12. Bxf6 Qxf6 13. Qc2 e5 14. Qxc4 Nb6 15. Qb4 exd4 16. Nxd4 Be6 17. Nxe6 Qxe6 18. a4 Rab8 19. e3 Nc4 20. Rfd1 g6 21. b3 Ne5 22. Rd6 Qf5 23. Rad1 Rfe8 24. Qc3 Ng4 25. Qb2 Ne5 26. Qe2 Re6 27. R6d4 Ree8 28. h3 g5 29. Rd6 Re6 30. Qh5 h6 31. e4 Qf6 32. R6d2 Kg7 33. Rf1 Rd8 34. Rxd8 Qxd8 35. f4 gxf4 36. gxf4 Nd3 37. Kh1 Qd4 38. Qf3 Rf6 39. f5 Kf8 40. Qg3 Rd6 41. f6 Ne5 42. h4 h5 43. Qg7+ Ke8 44. a5 Ng6 45. Qg8+ Nf8 46. Qg5 Ng6 47. a6 bxa6 48. Qf5 Re6 49. Qxh5 Rxf6 50. Rd1 Qf2 51. Qg5 Qxh4+ 52. Qxh4 Nxh4 53. Bh3 Nf3 54. Ra1 Nd4 55. Rxa6 Rf3 56. Kg2 Rxb3 57. Rxa7 Re3 58. Bd7+ Kf8 59. Ra4 c5 60. Rc4 Re2+ 61. Kf1 Rc2 62. Rxc2 Nxc2 63. Ke2 Ke7 64. Bg4 Kd6 65. Kd3 Nd4 66. Kc4 Nc6 67. Be2 f6 68. Bf1 Ne5+ 69. Kb5 Nf3 70. Bd3 Nd2 71. Bc2 Nf3 72. Bd3 Nd4+ 73. Kc4 Kc6 74. Bf1 Nf3 75. Kd3 Ne5+ 76. Kc3 Kc7 77. Be2 Nd7 78. Kc4 Kc6 79. Kc3 {This is not the final position of the game. There were a few more moves which were not recorded. But Nils says that he managed to get his king to e5 and his knight to d6 after which he was more or less winning and he managed to convert it into a full point.} 0-1

Fourth round battle against Belous – the game that changed Nils’ fortune in the tournament

The game that I won against Rapport was special, but I think my opponent played quite strangely. For example this move f3-f4, closing his own bishop and allowing h5, was just too ambitious. After that I am clearly better.

[Event "22nd Abu Dhabi Int. Chess Festival Mas"] [Site "Abu Dhabi"] [Date "2015.08.29"] [Round "7.1"] [White "Rapport, Richard"] [Black "Grandelius, Nils"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A45"] [WhiteElo "2671"] [BlackElo "2628"] [Annotator "Sagar Shah"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "r2qk2r/pp3pp1/2nbp2p/3p4/PP4PP/2PQPPB1/4N3/R3K2R w KQkq - 0 18"] [PlyCount "8"] [EventDate "2015.08.23"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCountry "UAE"] [WhiteClock "0:00:31"] [BlackClock "0:12:21"] {[#]} 18. f4 $6 {An over-ambitious move.} (18. Bxd6 Qxd6 19. Kf2 O-O $15 { Gives Black a slightly favourable position but nothing extraordinary.}) 18... h5 $1 {Securing the light squares, especially the f5 square for his knight.} 19. g5 {[%csl Ge4,Gf5,Rg3]} g6 (19... Ne7 {was maybe stronger.} 20. e4 dxe4 21. Qxe4 Qc7 $17) 20. e4 dxe4 21. Qxe4 Qc7 {[%cal Gc6e7,Ge7f5] Black has a clear advantage and he went on to win the game in 41 moves.} 0-1

From the point of view of final standings this was an extremely important game, winning with black on board one. But I still think my game against Belous was the most critical and the favourite one from the event.

SS: You lost the penultimate round against Areshchenko when you were leading the tournament by half a point. How did you take in the loss and come back strongly in the last game?

NG: Areshchenko is a very strong player, especially with the white pieces, so losing to him is very much a possibility. It was not like I missed a big chance in the game. He won the game in a clean fashion and this makes it easier to forget the loss. Had I been winning and blundered, it would have been much more difficult. So I went to the last round just to play. I did not check the standings or the possibilities of winning the tournament. When I went for the complications I just asked myself, “What are the demands of the position?” It required me to play energetically and take some risks, and I am not one of those players who shirks away from that.

SS: How did you find the organization of the event?

NG: It was excellent organization. Everything started on time and the conditions were very good. Being from Sweden I found the climate a little bit too hot for my liking, but the hotel was great and so it was not such a huge problem.

Nils’ tweet at the end of the tournament

Zuhair Ahmed, the chief coordinator of the event, made sure that all the details were taken care of

SS: What are your future plans?

NG: I am keeping to my rhythm of not playing too much. The next thing that I know for sure is that I will play is World Rapid and Blitz in Berlin during mid-October. I will take the event seriously and prepare for it in these intervening six weeks. It will be a very interesting challenge.

SS: And before I let you go, when can we expect the dreadlocks to be back?

Which do you like better: Nils in 2015 or Nils in 2011? [Latter picture by Calle Erlandson]

NG: (laughing) It’s going to take quite a while! I had these dreadlocks for more than five years. Enough of the old look, I will go for something new!

SS: Thanks a lot Nils, and enjoy your success.

Top final rankings (after nine rounds)

Rk. SNo Ti. Name FED Rtg Pts.  TB2   TB3  w-we rtg+/-
1 12 GM Grandelius Nils SWE 2628 7.0 2609 53.0 1.92 19.2
2 24 GM Kravtsiv Martyn UKR 2599 7.0 2601 53.5 2.16 21.6
3 5 GM Jobava Baadur GEO 2664 7.0 2596 51.5 1.24 12.4
4 7 GM Areshchenko Alexander UKR 2661 7.0 2565 50.0 1.11 11.1
5 4 GM Rapport Richard HUN 2671 7.0 2550 48.0 0.86 8.6
6 27 GM Salem A.R. Saleh UAE 2595 6.5 2571 48.5 1.44 14.4
7 22 GM Prohaszka Peter HUN 2602 6.5 2553 45.5 1.09 10.9
8 10 GM Jones Gawain C B ENG 2647 6.5 2529 46.0 0.37 3.7
9 17 GM Gupta Abhijeet IND 2619 6.5 2517 49.0 0.53 5.3
10 13 GM Iturrizaga Bonelli Eduardo VEN 2625 6.0 2584 50.5 0.78 7.8
11 3 GM Kryvoruchko Yuriy UKR 2697 6.0 2574 48.5 -0.19 -1.9
12 19 GM Swiercz Dariusz POL 2617 6.0 2568 49.5 0.60 6.0
13 9 GM Akopian Vladimir ARM 2647 6.0 2556 45.5 0.14 1.4
14 15 GM Petrosian Tigran L. ARM 2623 6.0 2526 47.5 0.16 1.6
15 37 GM Vaibhav Suri IND 2552 6.0 2526 45.0 0.91 9.1
16 16 GM Rakhmanov Aleksandr RUS 2620 6.0 2504 46.5 -0.13 -1.3
17 6 GM Sjugirov Sanan RUS 2664 6.0 2489 44.5 -0.67 -6.7
18 2 GM Almasi Zoltan HUN 2700 6.0 2479 43.0 -1.06 -10.6
19 18 GM Onischuk Vladimir UKR 2618 6.0 2455 43.0 -0.56 -5.6
20 48 IM Sadzikowski Daniel POL 2480 6.0 2359 40.0 -0.07 -0.7

Part two of this report with portraits of the runners-up will follow in a few days

Pictures by Amruta Mokal

ChessBase is providing detailed coverage of the Abu Dhabi Masters 2015. The games are being be broadcast live on the official web site and on the chess server If you are not a member you can download a free Playchess client and get immediate access. You can also use ChessBase 12 or any of our Fritz compatible chess programs.

Sagar Shah is an International Master from India with two GM norms. He is also a chartered accountant and would like to become the first CA+GM of India. He loves to cover chess tournaments, as that helps him understand and improve at the game he loves so much. He is the co-founder of the ChessBase India website.
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ChessPlease ChessPlease 9/4/2015 06:57
Nils replaced his unlucky dreadlocks and is now growing beardlocks...that's why he won.