Adhiban: From a Challenger to a Master!

by ChessBase
2/19/2016 – For the Challengers section at the Tata Steel Tournament the biggest attraction was the winner qualifying for next year's Masters. The winner in a thrilling finish was Indian GM B. Adhiban. The 23-year-old has sent us some superb game annotations that will give you an insight into the mind of one of the best emerging talents in the world – and perhaps get you 50 rating points, if you study his quiz questions carefully.

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The 78th Tata Steel Chess Tournament took place from January 15 to 31, 2016, in the coastal village of Wijk aan Zee, North Holland. It was one of the most prestigious events in the international chess calendar. The tournament had two main player groups, each with 14 players: the Tata Steel Masters and the Tata Steel Challengers. The former was won by World Champion Magnus Carlsen, the latter by Indian GM Adhiban Baskaran.

Final photo with the winners and organizers (click on image for high-res version)

Adhiban sent us a detailed account of his exploits in Wijk, with some superb game annotations. This two-part series on his victory will give you an insight into the mind of one of the best emerging talents in the world.

From a Challenger to a Master!

By GM Adhiban Baskaran

It was a lazy afternoon in the month of July and I was planning my Euro trip. The year 2015 was looking dull compared to my previous year’s achievements. Also my rating had stagnated a bit, since every good performance would be ruined by a bad one, bringing me back to where I was! But luckily I got a wake-up call in the form of a mail from Jeroen van den Berg (organizer of the prestigious Tata Steel event) asking if I would like to participate in the Tata Steel Challengers. Winning this event would bring me closer to my first super Round Robin event, as I would qualify for the masters. Needless to say I immediately agreed and was happy to be given such a golden opportunity.

Breaking into the Top 100

I won the Benasque Open, tied for first in the Biel Open, helped my Spanish team Solvay to win the Spanish league for the first time in ten years, increased my rating to 2674, and for the first time broke into the top 100 on the FIDE rankings. The first step in a very long journey!

All these achievements put too much hope and expectations on myself, which lead to disaster in the World Cup 2015 where I was knocked out in the first round by Vladimir Fedoseev. Year 2015 also ended with a poor performance at the Qatar Masters (losing 15 Elo) which was a real pity, since the event was one of the strongest I had ever been in.

Adhiban after winning the Benasque 2015 ahead of Granda Zuniga and Jorge Cori

A new beginning

I didn’t have much time to recover from Qatar and had to immediately shift my focus on the upcoming event Tata Steel challengers, where I had to bring back my best if I hoped to win the event. I had a brief thought about what went wrong and swore to myself that I won’t make the same mistakes again. Incidentally that was also my New Year’s resolution for 2016!

The Zeeduin hotel where I stayed

My dad accompanied me this time. The last time he was with me was way back in the 2011 Asian Continental, which didn’t go so well (with the exception of a nice win against Wesley So, but back then he hadn’t become the monster we now know him to be!). Besides, I really wanted my dad to see me win a strong event.

My messy room – normally it is worse, but my father had made sure not to let things get out of hand!

Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu was the top seed and I started as the shared second seed with Eltaj Safarli. We both had the same rating of 2653. Being one of the top seeds could be really counter-productive since you expect yourself to win the event, which just puts lot of unnecessary pressure and that really doesn’t help your cause at all. But luckily I had a forerunner who showed that such things don’t matter in the least if you can keep your focus! It was Wei Yi and he became a super star from the same tournament in 2015. So instead of worrying about how to win the event I just decided to take it game by game.

Explosive start

Usually I start a tournament slowly, drawing my first round, but in Wijk Aan Zee things were different. I knew that I was going to need every point that I could get! I got into the beast mode right from the start! (For some reason one of my nicknames is Beast and I have no idea why it is catching on!)

Editorial note: Before you embark with Adhiban on his round by round journey we would like to let you know that the 23-year-old Indian has sent us some extremely meticulously annotated games from the first seven rounds, including training questions. For all those who have ChessBase software installed on your computer, (and those don’t can always use the free ChessBase reader) you can download the CBV file here and solve the training questions. We thoroughly recommend doing this and are of the opinion that this exercise will make you stronger by at least by 50 Elo points!


Round one: B. Adhiban – Nijat Abasov

I chose an interesting variation in the 4.Qc2 Nimzo Indian and there was a
crucial moment where I would recommend the readers to find out the right way.

How should White continue?

[Event "Tata Steel Challengers"] [Site "?"] [Date "2016.01.16"] [Round "1"] [White "Adhiban, B."] [Black "Abasov, Nijat"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "E34"] [WhiteElo "2653"] [BlackElo "2556"] [Annotator "Adhiban"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "rnb1r1k1/p4ppp/1p6/2pP4/2P5/P4P2/1B1QBq1P/2KR2R1 b - - 0 19"] [PlyCount "4"] 19... Rxe2 (19... g6 {I hadn't found a clear refutation of this when I played Qd2 on the previous move but felt I must have sufficient compensation.} 20. Qc3 $1 (20. Rde1 Nd7) 20... Qe3+ 21. Qxe3 Rxe3 22. Rde1 {Now the main point is that Black cannot challenge the e-file.} {Possibly the best try is} Bf5 $5 ( 22... Nd7 23. Bd1 $1 {[%cal Gd1a4] The star move!} Rxe1 24. Rxe1 Kf8 25. Ba4 $16) 23. Bd3 Rxe1+ 24. Rxe1 Nd7 25. Bxf5 gxf5 26. Rg1+ (26. Re7 Rd8 27. Be5 $5) 26... Kf8 27. Rg7 $14 {I assumed that I must be better here.}) {[%tqu "What is the strongest way for white to continue?","","",Rge1,"Once you force your mind out of the pschological barrier of the queen en prise and the tempting Rg7+, then it is pretty easy to find this.",10]} 20. Rge1 $3 {Once you force your mind out of the pschological barrier of the queen being en prise on d2 and the tempting Rg7+, then it is pretty easy to find this.} Qh4 21. Qxe2 {and the rest was easy.} 1-0

Round two: Miguoel Admiraal – B. Adhiban

I used an interesting line in the Italian and was able to win a nice game. There was one moment where I had to find an interesting idea which I would like you to find as well.

White has just played his rook to e3 and looks to increase
the pressure on the e5 pawn with Rae1. How should I deal with this?

[Event "Tata Steel Challengers"] [Site "?"] [Date "2016.01.17"] [Round "2"] [White "Admiraal, Miguoel"] [Black "Adhiban, B."] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "C54"] [WhiteElo "2446"] [BlackElo "2653"] [Annotator "Adhiban"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "3r1rk1/2p2pp1/pp4np/3Ppq2/2P5/1Q2RN1P/PP3PP1/R5K1 b - - 0 22"] [PlyCount "13"] {Here I started to feel that I might be worse due to the pressure on the e5 pawn and the threat Rde1 and If I go Rfe8 White can follow with Nd4 due to the pin on the e-file.} {[%tqu "Find the best way to neutralise white's intiative.","","",f6,"After some calculations I realised that the threats along the a2-g8 diagonal weren't so dangerous.",10]} 22... f6 $1 {After some calculations I realised that the threats along the a2-g8 diagonal weren't so dangerous.} (22... Kh8 $5 {was the safer way but I decided to have faith on my calculations and play f6.}) 23. d6 {Tempting but maybe not the best.} (23. c5 bxc5 24. d6+ Rf7 $5 25. dxc7 Rc8 {Black is slightly better.}) 23... cxd6 24. Qxb6 Qc8 $1 {A nice retreat which I liked. The queen keeps the queenside pawns under protection while also c4 is not so easy to defend without making concessions.} (24... Rb8 $5 {was also interesting.} 25. Qxa6 Rxb2 $15) 25. Nd2 ({Safer was} 25. Qb3 Nf4 $15 {with a strong position for Black.}) 25... Nf4 { [%cal Gc8a8] After this I was sure that Black was already taking over the intiative.} 26. Rae1 Qa8 27. Rg3 Rb8 28. Qe3 $6 ({Better was} 28. Qxd6 { but still Black is clearly better after} Rxb2 $5 (28... Rbd8 29. Qb4 Nd3 $17) ( 28... Rfd8 29. Qc7 Nh5 30. Rb3 $1) 29. Kh2 Qd8 $17) 28... Rxb2 $17 {and I converted easily.} 0-1

Round three: B. Adhiban – Benjamin Bok

It was an interesting middlegame with many ups and downs, but it was the endgame which was really interesting.

Bh5+ looks like the natural move here. But there was a
deep point why I wanted to provoke g6. Can you guess why?

[Event "Tata Steel Challengers"] [Site "?"] [Date "2016.01.18"] [Round "3"] [White "Adhiban, B."] [Black "Bok, Benjamin"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A32"] [WhiteElo "2653"] [BlackElo "2607"] [Annotator "Adhiban"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "3qb3/5kp1/7p/1p2Q3/p4P2/P3K1P1/1P2B3/8 w - - 0 48"] [PlyCount "46"] {[%tqu "How to increase White's advantage?","","",Bh5+,"I will soon explain why this needed.",10]} 48. Bh5+ $1 {It is important to expose Black's king further and also in some lines the pawn on g6 is advantageous for White.} g6 49. Bf3 Qb6+ (49... Bc6 50. Bxc6 Qb6+ 51. Ke4 Qxc6+ 52. Qd5+ Qe6+ 53. Kd4 $1 Qxd5+ ({Black's best try lies in} 53... h5 54. Qxb5 Qe1 $1 $16) 54. Kxd5 Kf6 55. Kc5 Kf5 56. Kxb5 Kg4 57. Kxa4 Kxg3 58. b4 Kxf4 (58... h5 59. f5 $1 { This was why Bh5 was needed. With a pawn on g7 it would have been a draw, but now it is winning. This is the answer also to the question that I posed at the start.}) 59. b5 Ke5 60. Ka5 $18) 50. Kd3 Bc6 51. Bg4 Qd8+ 52. Kc3 Bd5 53. Be2 $6 {I decided to prevent Bc4 and to shift my focus to the b5-pawn, but I overlooked a strong idea for myself.} (53. f5 $1 gxf5 54. Qxf5+ Kg7 55. Qd7+ $1 ) 53... Qc8+ 54. Kd4 $6 {In the last moment I hesitated and changed direction.} (54. Kb4 $1 {was the original intention and the best way.} Bc4 55. Bxc4+ Qxc4+ 56. Ka5 {Compared to the game white king has a nice safe spot on a5 where it can't be troubled by the black queen.} Qd3 57. Qc3 $16 {and Black is clearly struggling.}) 54... Bc4 55. Bf3 {[%cal Gf3d5] I thought this more clear, since I am trying to reach a winning endgame mentioned in the 47...Bc6 variation, but soon I found that} Qh3 $1 {was very strong and now there wasn't any way to get an advantage.} 56. Qc7+ Kf6 57. Qc6+ Kf7 58. g4 Qh2 $1 {The last good move which Black had to find.} 59. Bd5+ Bxd5 60. Qxd5+ Kf8 {White can't make any progress.} 61. Qd8+ Kf7 62. Qd7+ Kf6 63. Qd6+ Kf7 64. Qc7+ Kg8 (64... Kf8 65. Ke5 {gives some hope although} Qxb2+ 66. Ke6 Kg8 67. Qf7+ Kh8 68. Qxg6 { should also be a draw.}) 65. Qb8+ Kf7 66. Qb7+ Kf6 67. Qb6+ Kf7 68. Qc7+ Kg8 69. Qd8+ Kf7 70. Qd7+ Kf6 1/2-1/2

Round four: Ju Wenjun – B. Adhiban

This was a funny game. It started off with Queen’s Indian, went into Benoni and finally we settled on Nimzo Indian. A lot of the pieces were exchanged leading to an equal endgame. I managed to slowly improve my position and eventually converted it after some inaccuracies on her part. There was only one moment where it was interesting and I had to be little bit careful.

White's king doesn't seem to be doing so great how would you exploit it?
(There are a few more interesting points in the solution below)

[Event "Tata Steel Challengers"] [Site "?"] [Date "2016.01.19"] [Round "4"] [White "Ju Wenjun"] [Black "Adhiban, B."] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A32"] [WhiteElo "2548"] [BlackElo "2653"] [Annotator "Adhiban"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "2r5/3p1p2/1p2p2k/2n5/PKP2N1P/R5P1/2R5/5r2 b - - 0 41"] [PlyCount "11"] {[%tqu "White's king doesn't seem to be doing so great how would you exploit it?","","",d5,"Utilising the loosely placed pieces of white.",10]} 41... d5 $1 {Utilising the loosely placed pieces of White.} 42. a5 ({The critical line was } 42. cxd5 {[%tqu "You should have seen how to proceed, otherwise it was bad idea to go for d5 :).","","",Rb1+,"",10]} Rb1+ 43. Kc3 {[%tqu "How to make use of the discovered attack on the c-file in the most convincing way?","","",e5, "",10]} e5 $1 {That's an important move and White is unable to hold on to all his pieces.} 44. Ne2 (44. Ng2 Nb3+ 45. Kd3 e4+) 44... Nb3+ 45. Kd3 e4+ $19) 42... Rb1+ 43. Kc3 bxa5 44. cxd5 (44. Rxa5 d4+ $1 $19) 44... e5 $1 {The cool point. Inclusion of the additional threat of e5-e4 proves too much for White. I had seen this idea in the variation 42.cxd5.} 45. Ng2 Nb3+ 46. Kd3 e4+ { A nice technical win!} 0-1

Round five: B. Adhiban – Anne Haast

Anne Haast showed what a fighter she was in our round five encounter

Up until round five Anne was on 0.0/4. So how do you play against someone who is not in the best form? The main thing I had to do was to expect a strong fight and maintain my level of play not thinking about my opponent’s score. I managed to get a good position and converted it convincingly though there were some tense moments.

This looks like a normal Gambit Variation of the Slav. Black’s last move was f7-f5!? Your task is to find
the best way of trying to take advantage of Black’s lag in development. Think deep, not just one move ahead.

[Event "Tata Steel Challengers"] [Site "?"] [Date "2016.01.20"] [Round "5"] [White "Adhiban, B."] [Black "Anne, Haast"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D31"] [WhiteElo "2653"] [BlackElo "2390"] [Annotator "Adhiban"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "rnbqk2r/p5pp/2p1p3/1p1nPpN1/P1pP4/2P5/3B1PPP/R2QKB1R w KQkq f6 0 11"] [PlyCount "41"] {[%tqu "How would you continue with white?","","",Qh5+,"",10,exf6,"was possible but somehow the game continuation felt stronger.",0]} 11. Qh5+ $5 (11. exf6 {was possible but somehow the game continuation felt stronger.}) 11... Kd7 $5 {This move shows a lot of guts and confidence! She had lost all the previous games and instead of getting depressed Anne was just playing in her own style without any fear! Big respect!} (11... g6 {[%tqu "Show the idea behind Qh5+.","","",Qh6,"",10]} 12. Qh6 Qe7 {[%tqu "The key point of the queen excursion!","","",h4,"",10]} 13. h4 $1 Qf8 14. Qxf8+ Kxf8 15. h5 Kg7 16. hxg6 hxg6 17. Rxh8 Kxh8 {Here White has two promising options.} {[%tqu "There are two ways with which white can keep his advantage.","","",g4,"trying to get the bishop to g2 in the most awesome way!",10,Nf7+,"getting the knight to d6 where it will control the queenside :).",10]} 18. g4 $5 {Trying to get the bishop to g2 in the most awesome way!} (18. Nf7+ {Getting the knight to d6 where it will control the queenside} Kg7 19. Nd6 {also looked good.})) {[%tqu "Although I was impressed by kd7, I had to be objective (at least during the game :)) and try to refute it. How would you continue?","","",g4,"Without this, things wouldn't be so clear but now white slowly takes over.",10]} 12. g4 $1 {Without this, things wouldn't be so clear but now white slowly takes over.} Qe8 13. Qxe8+ (13. axb5 $5 {But for now I decided to refrain from adding this inclusion.}) 13... Kxe8 {As she aptly put it, "Anyway I am worse but at least here I have a extra pawn."} (13... Rxe8 14. gxf5 exf5 15. Nxh7 $16) 14. gxf5 exf5 15. axb5 h6 (15... cxb5 $142 $5 16. Bg2 Bb7 17. Ne6 Kf7 18. Nc7 Nxc7 19. Bxb7 a6 20. Bxa8 Nxa8 21. d5 Nc7 22. d6 {Here black can try to create a light square blockade.} Ne6 $16 (22... Nd5)) 16. Nh3 Bd7 $6 (16... g5 17. bxc6 $1 { is the accurate way.} (17. Bxc4 Nb6 (17... Be6 18. bxc6 Nxc6 19. Bb5 $1) 18. Be2 f4) 17... Nxc6 (17... f4 18. Bg2) 18. Bxc4 $16) 17. Bxc4 Nb6 18. Bb3 { Now its clear.} cxb5 (18... g5 19. f4 $5 g4 20. Nf2 cxb5 21. d5 $18) 19. Nf4 ({ Also winning is} 19. d5 g5 20. e6 Bc8 21. d6 Bb7 22. O-O $18) 19... g5 20. Nh5 (20. Ng6 Bc6 $1 {I didn't like this.} 21. d5 (21. Rg1 Rh7) 21... Rg8 $1) 20... Bc6 21. d5 Bb7 22. Be3 Kd8 (22... N8d7 23. e6 Ne5 24. O-O-O $1 $18 {was finally what I decided on.} ({My first intention was} 24. Bxb6 axb6 25. Rxa8+ Bxa8 26. Ng7+ Ke7 27. Nxf5+ $16)) 23. Rxa7 $1 Nxd5 24. Rxb7 Nxe3 25. fxe3 Kc8 26. Bd5 $1 (26. Rxb5 Ra1+ 27. Bd1 Rd8 {would allow some unnecessary hope for Black.}) 26... Rd8 27. Rxb5 Ra1+ 28. Ke2 Rxd5 29. Rxb8+ Kxb8 30. Rxa1 Rxe5 31. Nf6 1-0

I tried to relax on the rest day but was also eager to extend my lead and hence I ended up overworking on the rest day! But somehow even a full day didn’t seem enough to prepare all your lines!

Round six: Mikhail Antipov – B. Adhiban

I went for the Taimanov and got a very good position, but I missed out a couple of details
in the crucial moments and my opponent’s tenacious defence was rewarded with a draw.

[Event "Tata Steel Challengers"] [Site "?"] [Date "2016.01.22"] [Round "6"] [White "Antipov, Mikhail"] [Black "Adhiban, B."] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "B40"] [WhiteElo "2567"] [BlackElo "2653"] [Annotator "Adhiban"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "r2q3k/pp3p1p/5pr1/2pp4/5Q2/1P3P1b/P1PP2PK/R4R2 w - - 0 23"] [PlyCount "13"] 23. gxh3 (23. Kxh3 Qd7+ 24. Kh2 Rag8 25. Rf2 Qe6 $17 {[%cal Ge6e5]}) {[%tqu "Which is the best way to continue?","","",Qd7,"",10,Qb6,"This was my opponent's suggestion and possibly the best way to continue.",0]} 23... Qd7 ( 23... Qb6 $5 {This was my opponent's suggestion and possibly the best way to continue.} 24. Rae1 Rag8) 24. Rg1 Re8 25. Rae1 Kg7 26. h4 {[%tqu "White is threatening h5 would you tempt white to proceed with his plans or prevent it?", "","",b6,"Provoking h5 but it was probably not a good decision.",10,Rxe1,"",0]} b6 $5 {Provoking h5. But it was probably not a good decision.} (26... Rxe1 $1 27. Rxe1 b6 $17) 27. h5 Rxe1 28. h6+ $1 Kh8 (28... Kg8 29. Rxe1 Qd8 30. Re2 ( 30. Rg1 Kf8 31. Rg2)) 29. Rxe1 {The pawn on h6 turned out to be strong force which helped White to achieve a draw.} 1/2-1/2

Round seven: Adhiban – Alexey Dreev

Everyday a special guest would be invited to hit the gong which signifies the beginning of the round, and this time it was done by Judit Polgar. It was time to pay tribute to her! And the following game did really do justice to such a great legend and one of my best games in the event! The win was especially sweet as I beat the co-leader and shot into the sole lead.

This position is not new to opening theory: seven games have reached this point. Bb5, Be4 and Rb1 have all been tried, the last one being Giri’s choice against Mamedyarov in 2012. I came up with a completely new idea.

[Event "Tata Steel Challengers"] [Site "?"] [Date "2016.01.23"] [Round "7"] [White "Adhiban, B."] [Black "Dreev, A."] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D45"] [WhiteElo "2653"] [BlackElo "2644"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "r2qk2r/p2n1ppp/1p3b2/2pb4/8/3BPN2/P1Q2PPP/R1BR2K1 w kq - 0 15"] [PlyCount "15"] 15. e4 $5 $146 {My stunning novelty!} c4 {[%tqu "How would you continue? Take on c4 or return back with the bishop?","","",Be2,"",10,Bxc4,"was the refutation I only found it after playing Be2 :( and computer's top choice.",10] } 16. Be2 $1 (16. Bxc4 $1 {was the refutation I only found it after playing Be2, the computer's top choice.} Bxc4 17. e5 $1 {Black is not in time to coordinate his forces.}) 16... Bxa1 17. Rxd5 Qc7 {[%cal Ge8c8] I understimated the possibility of a queenside castling.} (17... Qe7 18. Qa4 b5 {(otherwise Black will be crushed)} 19. Rxb5 O-O 20. Ba3 Qxe4 21. Bxc4 {I felt it should be around equal, but with some chances for a pull due to my active pieces and the vulnerable f7 spot.}) 18. Ba3 $1 {The only way to prevent 0-0-0 and also keep the intiative running.} Bf6 $2 {After this I knew I should be better!} ( 18... Nc5 19. Bxc5 $1 bxc5 20. Qa4+ Ke7 21. Qxc4 Rac8 22. Qc1 $18) (18... O-O-O 19. Bd6 Qc6 20. Bxc4 $18) 19. Bxc4 Be7 {Now white needs to be accurate to deliver the killing blow.} (19... Rc8 20. Qa4 {is possibly the strongest with no hope of survival for black since Be7 is met by Re5.}) {[%tqu "Find the strongest continuation for white.","","",Qa4,"",10]} 20. Qa4 $1 Bxa3 21. Rxd7 Qxd7 22. Bb5 {with a clear advantage.} 1-0

The beginning of the end

I had won against my main contender (Dreev) and it looked like I was in great form. It felt like nothing could go wrong – but unfortunately I was mistaken. I had to fight a lot of mental battles with myself and what followed next would be nothing short of a miracle…

Adhiban’s story from round 8-13 will be continued in Part II, which will be published soon. Stay tuned!

Pictures by Alina l’Ami


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