Strong multi-format tournament running in Sharjah with Yu, Sjugirov, Nihal and Salem

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
11/30/2023 – A 4-player multi-format tournament is taking place from November 27 to December 6 in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. Yu Yangyi, Sanan Sjugirov, Nihal Sarin and Saleh Salem first face each other in double round-robin tournaments in classical and rapid chess, and then in a triple round-robin blitz event. After three rounds of classical games, Yu leads the standings with 15/18 points (in classical, a win grants 6 points). | Photo: Aditya Sur Roy

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Classical, rapid and blitz

Four strong grandmasters are participating in a peculiar tournament organized by the Sharjah Cultural and Chess Club. The Alef Super Stars is a multi-format event consisting of classical, rapid and blitz competitions. For the classical and blitz sections, the players face each other twice, while in blitz they play three times against each other.

Naturally, points are awarded differently in each format:

  • Classical (win and draw; time control): 6 pts, 3 pts; 40 moves in 90 minutes plus 30 minutes with an increment of 30 seconds from the first move.
  • Rapid: 4 pts, 2 pts; 15 minutes plus 10-second increments.
  • Blitz: 2 pts, 1 pts; 3 minutes plus 2-second increments.

The rating average of the four participants amounts to a very respectable 2688. The experienced Yu Yangyi (29 years old), Sanan Sjugirov (30) and Saleh Salem (30) are joined by 19-year-old Indian prodigy Nihal Sarin in the event with a US$ 15,000 prize fund (the winner will take home US$ 6,000).

All four players belong to the sometimes neglected group of very strong grandmasters (nearing the 2700 rating mark) which rarely get invitations to participate in closed events.

Also remarkable is the fact that the organizers have invited foreign players from three different countries to face local hero Salem, the rating underdog in the field. While Yu and Nihal are household names in China and India respectively, the Russian-born Sjugirov has been representing Hungary since August 2023.


  • Classical: November 27 to December 3 (December 1 is a rest day)
  • Rapid: December 4-5, with three rounds each day
  • Blitz: December 6

The action kicks off daily at 16.30 local time (13.30 CET, 7.30 ET).

Alef Chess Super Stars 2023

Spectators following the games outside the playing hall | Photo: Aditya Sur Roy

Yu leads after three rounds

Three out of the first six classical games played in Sharjah had decisive results. Yu, the rating favourite, defeated Sjugirov and Salem, both with white, while Nihal got the better of Salem, also with white, in the first round.

Nihal’s beat Salem in their first-ever classical-chess confrontation (Nihal had won twice in rated blitz games). Salem’s 14...d5 was a costly mistake.

The only way to defend the isolated d-pawn is with the ugly-looking 14...Ne8. Understandably, Salem rejected playing this move, but his 14...d5 nonetheless turned out to increase White’s advantage (giving up the pawn via 14...a6 or 14...Qa5 were better alternatives).

Nihal grabbed the pawn with 15.exd5, getting a strong central passer.

When Black resigned 14 moves later, that very pawn remained on the board, creating a strong outpost (to say the least) for the dark-squared bishop.

Alef Chess Super Stars 2023

Nihal Sarin and Saleh Salem | Photo: Aditya Sur Roy

Alef Chess Super Stars 2023

Chess enthusiasts witnessing Saleh Salem and Sanan Sjugirov analysing their round-2 game | Photo: Aditya Sur Roy

Current standings - Classical

All games

Video content by ChessBase India

A tour of the playing venue

Nihal Sarin v Saleh Salem — commentary by IM Sagar Shah

Intense post-game analysis


Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.