Serbia Open: Kovalenko and Nihal in the lead

by André Schulz
7/7/2021 – A very strong open is currently being held in Belgrade. Over 280 players are taking part in the Masters event, including over 30 grandmasters. One of the favourites to win the tournament is Nihal Sarin, who travelled from the Silver Lake Open to Belgrade with a group of Indian players.

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Nihal in Belgrad

A large Indian chess tour group is currently travelling in the Balkans. It is led, in terms of playing strength, by 16-year-old Nihal Sarin. The wunderkind turns 17 on July 13 and, together with Praggnanandhaa, is one of the best-known Indian talents. Besides these two high-flyers, however, there are a number of other young Indian players from whom we will hear a lot in the future.

In the ChessBase Online Player Database, you can get an overview. For example, here is a list of Indian players up to 20 years of age with a 2400+ Elo rating. There is also a new Anand — Anand Pranev, currently 15 years old.

Viswanthan Anand has been the trigger to this incredible chess boom in India. He is the only player to have become world champion in all formats — FIDE world champion in the knockout format in 2000, winner of the World Championship tournament in 2007 and winner in matches against Kramnik (2008), Topalov (2010) and Gelfand (2012). In his home country, Anand is one of the best-known sportspersons and has received many honours. With his personality, Anand has also ensured that chess enjoys a high reputation in India.

While his predecessors as world champion, Kasparov and Kramnik, have already retired from tournament chess, Anand, who is now over 50 years old, is still playing and is one of the 15 best players on the planet.

Furthermore, the Indian idol is not that far away from some of his admirers at the moment. Anand is staying in Croatia and playing in the Grand Chess Tour, which started today in Zagreb. 

The group of Indian players in Serbia is staying at the Metropol Palace Hotel, where the Serbia Open is being held. Besides Nihal, the winner of the Silver Lake Open, the group includes three other grandmasters: Puranik Abhimanyu (born 2000), Arjun Erigaisi (born 2003), who recently reached the knockout stage at the Goldmoney Asian Rapid tournament, and Raunak Sadhwani (born 2005).

The top boards

The chess festival in Serbia includes two tournaments, a Masters event and an Amateur event. About 280 players are taking part in the Masters. The rating favourite is Russian GM Vladimir Fedoseev (2696).

Vladimir Fedoseev

More than 30 other grandmasters are competing for the tournament title. After 7 out of 9 rounds, Igor Kovalenko and Nihal Sarin are in the lead. Both have collected 6 points so far.

In the seventh round, Nihal defeated Turkish GM Vahap Sanal.


White has sacrificed a pawn in the opening and is looking for compensation.

21...Nd7 22.c4 To open lines in front of the black king. [Better was 22.Nf1 Bc5 23.Qd3. Black then has 23...g5]

22...Bc5 23.Qa1 [23.Qd1 Bxe3 24.Bxe3 dxc4 threatening Ne5.]

23...d4 Avoiding lines from being opened on the queenside.

24.Bd5 White goes for it. [24.Bf1 g5 and Black is on the attack.]


24...Kb8 Black has time, since the d5-knight has no safe square to retreat. [Also 24...exd5 25.cxd5 Bxd5 26.Bf5 was playable for Black. After 26...Rhe8 27.Rxc5+ Qxc5 28.Rc1 Black still has 28...Bc4]

25.Rd1 Bd2 is a threat now.

25...exd5 26.e6+ Ka8 27.cxd5 [27.exd7 dxc4–+]

27...Bxd5 28.exd7 Rxd7


Black has untangled and has two extra pawns and the better position. The white position is now quickly dismantled.

29.Bf5 Re7 30.a4 Rhe8 31.Rbc1 Bc6 32.Bg4 d3 33.Rxd3 Qb4 34.g3 Qe4 35.Rf3 Bxf2+ 36.Kh2 [36.Kxf2 Qe2+ 37.Kg1 Bxf3 38.Bxf3 Qxf3 39.Rf1 Qxh5–+]

36...Bd4 37.Qa3 f5 38.Rxc6 fxg4 White will be mated soon. 0–1

The two leaders, Nihal and Kovalenko, are facing each other in round 8.

There are a number of well-known players in the field who are obviously happy to return to the (physical) boards in a strong over-the-board tournament. Among them, for example, is the first European Women’s Champion, Natalia Zhukova.

Natalia Zhukova

Standings after round 7

Rk. Name Pts.  TB1 
1 Kovalenko Igor 6,0 0,0
2 Nihal Sarin 6,0 0,0
3 Shevchenko Kirill 5,5 0,0
4 Petrosyan Manuel 5,5 0,0
5 Indjic Aleksandar 5,5 0,0
6 Aleksandrov Aleksej 5,5 0,0
7 Fedoseev Vladimir 5,5 0,0
8 Basso Pier Luigi 5,5 0,0
9 Safarli Eltaj 5,5 0,0
10 Pranav V 5,5 0,0
11 Makhnev Denis 5,5 0,0
12 Hovhannisyan Robert 5,5 0,0
13 Nenezic Marko 5,5 0,0
14 Bernadskiy Vitaliy 5,5 0,0
15 Warmerdam Max 5,5 0,0
16 Nikitenko Mihail 5,5 0,0
17 Aditya Mittal 5,5 0,0
18 Ter-Sahakyan Samvel 5,0 0,0
19 Sanal Vahap 5,0 0,0
20 Kuzubov Yuriy 5,0 0,0

...287 players

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André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.


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