How Surya Sekhar Ganguly won the Belt and Road Open 2019

by Sagar Shah
8/8/2019 – He was rated 2630, he was the 15th seed, and yet he went on to win the Belt and Road Hunan Open 2019 with a clear half point margin. How did Surya Sekhar Ganguly manage to do it? It is said that a chess tournament has a life of its own. In order to understand a success story, you have to study it from all angles. In this article, IM SAGAR SHAH tells you about Surya's frame of mind during the event, the games that he played, the opponents he faced and how he managed to come out strong and win the first prize of US$50,000. | Photos: Ganguly's Facebook page

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Ganguly claims US$50,000 first prize

The Belt and Road Hunan Open 2019 in China, held from July 29th to August 6th, was one of the strongest chess opens on the 2019 calendar. The one thing that made this tournament absolutely unique was the prize fund. The first prize was a whopping USD $50,000. Just to put things into perspective — when MVL won the Paris leg of the Grand Chess Tour, he took home home $37,500! Even after 20% local taxes, it was the highest prize money ever won by any Indian chess player apart from Anand.

With such a high prize money is at stake, you are bound to get strong players participating in your event. The organizers decided to implement a rating cut off of 2400 and above (there were also B and C category tournaments) and drew 73 players from 15 countries to take part in the A-category event, which included 43 grandmasters. Of those, 24 were above an Elo of 2600 and the top seed was Wei Yi (2737). Other 2700+ players included Yu Yangyi, Wang Hao, Le Quang Liem, Bassem Amin and Maxim Matlakov. The tournament, however, was won by the 15th seeded Indian GM Surya Sekhar Ganguly.

Player info

Name Ganguly Surya Shekhar
Title GM
Starting rank 15
Rating 2638
Rating national 0
Rating international 2638
Performance rating 2876
FIDE rtg +/- 0,0
Points 7
Rank 1
Federation IND
Ident-Number 0
Fide-ID 5002150
Rd. Bo. SNo   Name Rtg FED Pts. Res.
1 15 51 IM Taher Yoseph Theolifus 2460 INA 4,0 w 1
2 4 30 GM Lagno Kateryna 2549 RUS 5,0 s 1
3 2 17 GM Nguyen Ngoc Truong Son 2636 VIE 5,5 w ½
4 2 2 GM Yu Yangyi 2736 CHN 6,5 s ½
5 2 1 GM Wei Yi 2737 CHN 6,0 w 1
6 2 5 GM Amin Bassem 2707 EGY 6,5 s ½
7 1 11 GM Cheparinov Ivan 2666 GEO 6,0 w 1
8 1 3 GM Wang Hao 2725 CHN 6,0 s 1
9 1 7 GM Vallejo Pons Francisco 2687 ESP 6,0 w ½

This was one of the best performances of Ganguly's chess career. He performed at an Elo of 2876 and gained 27.5 Elo points, taking his live rating to 2657.5.

Ganguly with tropjy

A look at Ganguly's score card shows that he was extremely solid — no losses with five wins. Well, as we look over the games, you will realize that this was not the true picture. The games were filled ups and downs, with some brilliant play interspersed with good fortune.

This is not a tournament report. We are not covering all the players or winners of the event. This report focuses on Ganguly's journey — how were his games, what were the openings he choose, what were the things he did right and what were the things that fell in place for him so that he could take home the winner's purse. As you will see, the tournament was filled with ups and downs and Surya weathered the storm clouds, and on sunny days he was in his element!

It must be mentioned that Surya was not at all in a good state of health and winning a tournament in such a condition makes it even more impressive.

Ganguly's biggest supporter, his wife, Sudeshna was present at the event, but that's no fancy drink — it's Betadine, a drink for keeping infections away!

Ganguly in recovery mode

A strong start

To win such a strong tournament you more often than not need to have a strong beginning. In the first round Ganguly was up against a talented young Indonesian player IM Yoseph Taher (2430) from Indonesia.


Usually in such Accelerated Dragon structures, Black plays the move a5 after exchanging the knight on d4. As Yoseph hadn't done so, Surya immediately jumped with 10.db5! Having the knight on b5 was a big thorn in black's neck and Ganguly slowly but steadily expanded on the kingside with f4 and soon won without any issues. It was quite a flawless game.


In round two Ganguly faced the very strong Kateryna Lagno (2549). It was a tremendous theoretical battle, with Ganguly having done his homework as deep as move 20 in the French Winawer! The move that really impressed me was 17...d7:


White has just launched in with the move g4 and gxh5 is threatened, but Ganguly just coolly develops his piece! What's the point of this move? This is definitely home preparation and if you are an owner of the Correspondence database you will see that five games have been played with this move before. So Surya definitely had done his homework. The point of this move is quite subtle. When White takes 18.gxh5, Ganguly will go for the move 18...f6 and after 19.exf6, he will play the move 19...xf4! 20.xf4 e5!


And now we begin to see the point of the move ...Bd7. The e8 square has to be used by the rook from a8. Lagno tried hard to keep the balance in the position, but when your opponent is so well prepared and it is not so easy to keep your cool. The Russian GM faltered soon enough and Ganguly took his second win of the event.


Two important draws

After a solid start, it was important to keep the momentum going. In round three Ganguly faced Vietnam no.2 Nguyen Ngoc Truongson (2636). Surya played the four knights in the Sicilian and after just 19 moves was in a worse position. 


It looks as though White has some initiative on the kingside, but this can be easily extinguished with some prophylactic moves beginning with 19...♝xh6 20.♕xh6 and ♞e8! The knight on e8 is excellently placed and next Black is going to begin his onslaught with ...c4! White has no real way to fight this effectively.

As it turned out the Vietnamese GM hurried a bit, played direct 19...c4 in the above position and soon an equal position was reached. Ganguly didn't react accurately and Black kept the initiative. Until the very end Black had his chances in the game and somehow couldn't convert it into a full point. Ganguly hung in there and and a draw was the final result.


Ganguly's fourth round opponent was the inform Chinese GM Yu Yangyi! One only needs to remember his play at the Norway Chess 2019 to know what a world class player he is. In the game Surya made an interesting opening choice.


This same position above is often reached without the insertion of the moves h6 and Bh4. Because of the inclusion of these moves, after 8.f3 Ganguly could play 8...h7. However, it didn't really change the nature of the position much. After 20 moves we reached the following position.


Black has no real play and White can improve his position as he wants. But perhaps it's positions like these that make Yu Yangyi the most uncomfortable. He thrives on tactical play and the fact that he he had to go for some long term strategic moves, didn't really suit his style. We can say that if Carlsen was handling the white pieces, he would convert this position without too many difficulties. Credit also goes to Ganguly for hanging in there and finding some very important tactical resources to force a draw. Yu Yangyi wasn't happy at all and played on for 128 moves, but the result of rook vs rook and knight endgame was never in doubt.


Top class preparation to beat Wei Yi 

To catch Wei Yi in the opening is never easy, as the Chinese youngster himself is quite an opening expert. But Ganguly did that, and in fact the critical mistake came as early as move nine!


In this position Wei Yi played the natural 9...c5. Believe it or not, this is a losing mistake! The point is that after 10.f4! White doesn't really care about his f2 pawn. He asks Black as to what is he going to do about his e5 knight and the weak dark squares on d6 and c7. The complications in the next seven moves were immense, but Ganguly had it all under control. 


Guess what Wei Yi did here?

15...♛g1!! Ganguly took the queen with his king of course, 16.♖xg1?? will have to wait for some other day to allow a ♞h2#!

The double exclamations are not for the quality of the move, but for the sense of humour of the Chinese GM. He knew that his position is completely lost. A move like 15...♞e3+ is refuted by the calm and level headed ♔g1!. Seeing that there is no way to save his position, Wei Yi made the practical joke! Both the players smiled!

What is really heartening to see, is Wei Yi's ability to smile at his mistakes. We all know his strength as a chess player, but now after this episode we also know that the Chinese GM has the ability to digest his losses with a fine sense of humour! Wei Yi is surely going to be a force to reckon with at the highest level very soon!


IM Sagar Shah analyzes the crazily complicated game betweeen Ganguly and Wei Yi

A lucky escape

I don't usually like to use the word lucky describing any chess player or a chess game, because mistakes are quite common even by the best players in the world. But in his sixth round encounter against Bassem Amin, there was no other way to describe the mate that was missed by the Egyptian GM.


White has to give 36.♕h6+ and after 36...♚g8 follow it up with 37.♗e6+ The bishop has to be taken and after 38.♘xe6, it is all over! The mate cannot be averted. The game was so unpredictable that after a few moves, it was Ganguly who was suddenly winning with an extra piece. All the drama was a bit too much for both the players to handle as they agreed to split the point after 75 moves!


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Ganguly's favourite game!

After the tournament Surya was asked, which was his favourite game from the event and he pointed towards his win against Cheparinov in round seven. This game was excellently played by Ganguly, with strong play in the opening, middlegame and endgame.


Here Surya could have continued with 17.bxc4, but he continued in style with 17.xc4! After dxc4 18.xd8 fxd8 and 19.xc4, Black was losing a piece and had to play an endgame with a pawn deficit. Ganguly handled the endgame well. At some point it did seem that Cheparinov had drawing chances, but he wasn't able to play accurately. With this win Ganguly shot into the sole lead after seven rounds, and the tournament victory was now very realistic.


Hanging in there

Wang Hao has won several open events in his career and he knows that the penultimate and final rounds is where he has to maintain his cool. But that is precisely what he wasn't able to do in his game with Surya. 


Let's have a look at this position in some depth. What do you think about the evaluation? Let's try to understand the imbalances.

  1. White has more space thanks to his e5 pawn and his knight can jump to a nice outpost on d6. The space issue doesn't handicap Black completely because there are not many pieces on the board. However, still it does look a tad uncomfortable for Black.
  2. The c-file is completely in White's control. He can double his rooks, but because c7 is always guarded it is not such a big issue.
  3. White has doubled pawns on the kingside and this is not a big drawback. In fact it can be used to launch a slow attack on Black's king with ideas like g4-g3-♚g2 and so on.

All in all it seems like White should have a small edge here. It is quite amazing that in 15 moves, White loses the game.


You have to find the move 37...e7! The knight is badly pinned and after 38.♖e4, Surya got his queen to d5 with 38...d5. Black was completely winning and Wang Hao threw in the towel.


IM Sagar Shah explains how Wang Hao went wrong in the game and how Ganguly managed to take advantage of it

The nervy final round

Surya was now leading the tournament with half a point. Only Bassem Amin was half a point behind Surya, the rest were a full point behind. The tournament situation definitely had an impact on Ganguly's last round play. He was facing the strong Spanish GM Vallejo Pons. Ganguly's indecisive choice of the opening led to an easy equality for Black. Slowly Vallejo started to turn on the