Abu Dhabi Masters: Dubov takes the title

by Aditya Pai
8/15/2018 – The race for the title between Daniil Dubov, Anton Korobov and Salem Saleh ended in a deadlock between the three GMs after a nailbiting final round. Due to his better tiebreak, Dubov was declared the winner while Korobov and Saleh were placed third and fourth, respectively. The tournament also witnessed two Indian teenagers, Nihal Sarin and Arjun Erigaisi earn their grandmaster titles at its conclusion. | Photo: Abu Dhabi Masters Twitter

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Three horse race

This year, nine rounds of classical chess turned out to be inadequate to determine a clear winner at the 25th Abu Dhabi Masters. At the conclusion of the final round, Daniil Dubov, Anton Korobov and Salem AR Saleh had finished with an unbeaten score of 7½/9. After the tie-breaks were applied, Dubov was declared the winner while Korobov and Saleh took the second and third places respectively.

By the seventh round, Korobov and Dubov had emerged as tournament leaders and were pitted against one another. If either player had won, he would have taken sole lead. But the clash of the leaders turned out to be a rather dull affair. The players shook hands just 18 moves into the game. 

Saleh, who was only half-a-point behind, made the most of this development by scoring a convincing win over tournament’s top seed, Le Quang Liem with the white pieces. A Queen's Indian Defence had led the players into the following position. Saleh, as could be seen, had begun to build pressure on the kingside.


The position had already begun to tip in White's favour by this point when Le made a decisive error in playing 25...Re7. Saleh instantly pounced in sacrificing a full rook after 26.Nxh7 Nxh7 27.Rxh7 Kxh7 and 28.Be5 with deadly threats to the black king. Le limped on for around ten more moves in what was just a mopping up operation for white.

Salem Saleh and Le Quang Liem after their seventh round game at the Abu Dhabi Masters 2018

No matter what the result, chess players are always happy playing chess | Photo: Abu Dhabi Chess Festival Twitter


While Saleh had joined Korobov and Dubov as the joint leader of the tournament, this leader trio did not last too long. Korobov raced past his two co-leaders by defeating Richard Rapport in his very next game. Saleh and Dubov drew among themselves in the meantime.

In their game, Korobov and Rapport also discussed a Queen’s Indian Defence. Korobov had the white pieces and was pushing all through the game. He had given up a pawn on his 27th turn in order to break into Black’s queenside. He even switched wings with his 32.g4 to find something concrete. But while he had the better position, it wasn’t clear how he was to convert it. And then, on his 49th turn, Rapport cracked. 


White is better here but there’s still a lot of work to be done. After Rapport’s 49…g5, however, White just got a winning position. Play continued 50.Rxd6 Rxd6 51.Nxd6 Kxd6 52.fxg5 hxg5 53.hxg5 and it was curtains. 

Anton Korobov during his eighth round game against Richard Rapport

Korobov sped past his rivals with a fine win against Rapport in the penultimate round | Photo: Abu Dhabi Masters Twitter


This development in the penultimate round naturally made Korobov the favourite to win the tournament. If he had managed to win just one more game, he would have finished as the sole leader. But Korobov did not even try to win in the finale. He agreed to a draw with black against Gabriel Sargissian only ten moves into the game. This draw gave Saleh and Dubov a chance to reunite with Korobov in the first place and both grandmasters made the most of the opportunity. 

GM Saleh had the black pieces against Aravindh Chithambaram of India on board three and was struggling in a Sicilian Najdorf for a large part of the game. The Indian teenager made some errors, however, and allowed Saleh to come back in the game. On his 33rd turn, Saleh came up with an enterprising queen sacrifice that complicated the game significantly. 


Black just took on b2 with his knight here. When white went 33.Rb4, Saleh uncorked 33...Rxb4! After 34.Nxb4 Rxe3, black is suddenly threatening a mate on e1. 35.Re2 was necessary here but Aravindh blundered immediately with 35.Nc6? and ended up resigning three moves later.

GM Aravindh Chithambaram during his final round game at the Abu Dhabi Masters 2018

Aravindh Chithambaram fell prey to some razor sharp tactics of GM Salem Saleh in the final round | Photo: Marwa Safar


On board two, Dubov drifted away from the well-trodden paths of theory in an Open Catalan on his seventh turn and gave up a pawn with 7.b3. 


The computer evaluates this sacrifice to lead to an equal position. However, by the middle-game, Dubov found himself in serious trouble.


White is seriously worse here. Black's a-pawn looks particularly threatening while White's kingside attack is still a long way from leading anywhere. Nonetheless, play on the king's wing was all White had and that's all he could hustle with. Over the next few moves, that's exactly what Dubov did — he tried to scare black with an attack. 


White is downright busted here, but that is easy to say with an engine by your side; the position is razor sharp. White has just played 42.Rh3, letting the 'a' pawn run down the board. Play continued 42...a2 43.Rh3 and after 43...Qh5, the human reaction against White's threat of a queen invasion on h7, the position turns equal!

The computer suggests 43...Kg8 here. After 44.Qh7, black has 44...Kf8 45.Qh6+ and 45...Qg7 and all of White's pyrotechnics fizzle out.

After the text move, however, black lost two queens back to back — the one he has on the board and the one he had acquired by promoting his 'a' pawn. Dubov proceeded with 44.Qf4 a1=Q 45.Rxh5 gxh5 46.Rxa1 Rxa1. 


From being clearly winning, Black has reached a complex position in a span of just five moves. But even here, the complications did not end. A couple of moves later, Cheparinov inexplicably gave up an exchange and ended up resigning after Dubov managed to hack off Black's queenside pawns.


Norms galore

Teymur KuybokarovWhile featuring all the spectacular battles between the bigwigs, the 25th Abu Dhabi Masters also witnessed several young talents earn GM and IM norms. In fact, two teenaged International Masters — Nihal Sarin and Arjun Erigaisi — earned their Grandmaster titles in the Emirati capital!

Sarin had had a splendid start to the tournament. Having scored 5 points in his first seven games, Sarin only needed half-a-point in the penultimate round to clinch his final GM norm — and with it, the Grandmaster title — with a round to spare.

Fortunately for him, his opponent, IM Teymur Kuybokarov, was also in a similar situation. He too needed a draw to earn his GM norm with a round to spare. The result of the game, quite obviously, therefore, was a tepid 21 move draw.

Nihal Sarin at the Abu Dhabi Masters 2018

Nihal Sarin became India's 53rd Grandmaster after a quick draw in the penultimate round | Photo: Marwa Safar

Arjun Erigaisi was another young Indian to score his final Grandmaster norm in Abu Dhabi. Interestingly, Arjun did not have even an IM norm to his name at the start of the year. All of his six norms — three IM norms and three GM norms — have come within just eight months! Needless to say, he also crossed the 2500 rating threshold in this time. 

In the final round of the tournament, Arjun was in a must-win situation against IM Krishan Teja and won a fine game on demand!

IM Arjun Erigaisi

Arjun Erigaisi had to score in a must-win situation to get his final GM norm | Photo: Amruta Mokal


IM P Iniyan was yet another Indian teenager to have scored his GM norm. In the first eight rounds, Iniyan had scored 4.5 points, which included a win against GM Sanan Sjugirov who was rated more than 200 points over him! The only loss Iniyan had suffered this far was in the second round against the eventual winner of the tournament, GM Daniil Dobov. In the penultimate round, Iniyan faced Martyn Kravtsiv against whom the 16-year-old played a sharp tactical battle.

In a Classical Sicilian, Iniyan was forced to give up his queen in order to avoid mate in the middlegame. Kravtsiv was clearly winning after this but a blunder on the 46th move allowed Iniyan to wriggle out with perpetual checks and earn his title with a round to spare.

P Iniyan at the world youth championship 2017

With a lot of determination and a bit of luck, IM P Iniyan managed to hold Martyn Kravtsiv in round 8 | Photo: Amruta Mokal


Harsha Bharathakoti was the fourth GM norm scorer of the tournament. On his way towards making his final GM norm, Harsha scored four straight wins in his last four rounds, defeating strong GMs like Daniele Vocaturo and Levan Pantsulaia. He also gained 20 rating points on the way, taking his rating up to 2470. All he needs now to become a grandmaster is 30 rating points. 

Harsha Bharathakoti at the Abu Dhabi Masters 2018

Harsha Bharathakoti earned his final GM norm scoring 4/4 in his last four games | Photo: Marwa Safar

Final standings (top 20)

Rk. Name Pts.  TB1 
1 Dubov Daniil 7,5 0,0
2 Korobov Anton 7,5 0,0
3 Salem A.R. Saleh 7,5 0,0
4 Sargissian Gabriel 7,0 0,0
5 Rapport Richard 6,5 0,0
6 Wang Hao 6,5 0,0
7 Cheparinov Ivan 6,5 0,0
8 Fedoseev Vladimir 6,5 0,0
9 Amin Bassem 6,5 0,0
10 Maghsoodloo Parham 6,5 0,0
11 Karthikeyan Murali 6,5 0,0
12 Jojua Davit 6,5 0,0
13 Harsha Bharathakoti 6,5 0,0
14 Abdusattorov Nodirbek 6,5 0,0
15 Debashis Das 6,5 0,0
16 Aravindh Chithambaram Vr. 6,0 0,0
17 Erigaisi Arjun 6,0 0,0
18 Akopian Vladimir 6,0 0,0
19 Puranik Abhimanyu 6,0 0,0
20 Short Nigel D 6,0 0,0

All games



Aditya Pai is an ardent chess fan, avid reader, and a film lover. He holds a Master's in English Literature and used to work as an advertising copywriter before joining the ChessBase India team.


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