Nigalidze is Al Ain Classic champion!

by Sagar Shah
12/28/2014 – It is not every day that you see the 28th seed of a tournament winning it. And even rarer when there are 17 players rated above 2600. For many it might seem like an impossible dream, but not for a player who is ambitious and dedicates eight hours of his day religiously to perfecting his art. GM Gaioz Nigalidze is the man of the moment. Final report from Al Ain by Sagar Shah.

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Gaioz Nigalidze is the Al Ain Classic champion!

Report from the Gulf by Sagar Shah

It is not every day that you see the 28th seed of a tournament winning it. And even rarer when there are 17 players rated above 2600. For many it might seem like an impossible dream, but not for a players who is ambitious and dedicates eight hours of his day religiously to perfecting his art. GM Gaioz Nigalidze is the man of the moment. After winning the Georgian Championships consecutively in 2013 and 2014, he capped off a wonderful year by winning the Al Ain Classic.

The closing ceremony was short and to the point

Many dignitaries attended the ceremony

The video shown at the closing ceremony to the players – it is well worth watching!

Gaioz Nigalidze receives the champion’s trophy at the hands of Sheikh Sultan Bin Shakhboot

Gaioz, who wpm the Georgian Championships consecutively in 2013 and 2014, scored a healthy 7.0/9 and was tied for the top spot with three more players: Tigran Petrosian, Vladimir Onischuk and Sergei Zhigalko. He was ajudged the champion on the basis of a superior tie-break. His rating performance was a hefty 2763 and he gained 30 Elo points from the tournament.

Gaioz (2536) went home richer by $11,000.

After the prize-giving ceremony, I managed to conduct a short interview of this 25-year-old rising Georgian talent. Here are excerpts:

Sagar Shah: How does it feel to win this tournament?

Gaioz Nigalidze: This is the first time I have won such a big event! It feels crazy!

SS: What was your expectation when you came to this tournament?

GN: I just wanted to play good chess.

SS: What were the turning points of the tournament?

GN: I was a little lucky in two games of the event. One was against Abhijeet Gupta and the other against Yuri Kuzubov.

SS: The game against Kuzubov was a delight for the viewers. You unleashed a novelty in a well-known position which had already appeared in 300 games. Take us through your thought process?

GN: My game against Kuzubov was the best one in the tournament. I was leading with a score of 4.5/5 and it was the crucial encounter. I saw that if White was allowed to play Bf3, it would give him control over the position. Hence, I decided to complicate play by changing the character of the game. I found Nxe4 over the board. It was one of those cases where thinking with your own brain is better than pregame preparation. I was able to find this interesting idea which otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to if I was prepared. The resulting position was slightly advantageous for White. Although I must add that it was easier to make moves with the black pieces as they were quite natural. (You can find the annotated game over here).

SS: What was the schedule that you were following during the tournament?

GN: I and my room-mate, Mikheil Mchedlishivili, were following the same schedule every day. We would wake up, have our breakfast, prepare for three to four hours before the game and then do some physical activity like working out in the gym or in the pool after the game.

The gymnasium of the hotel was well equipped and used by many players

SS: You became a GM in 2014, the Georgian champion consecutively in 2013 and 2014. How did you bring about this sudden improvement in your play?

GN: In the past year I had no other distractions, so I decided to devote my time completely to chess. I did not have a trainer or training partner. I was working all alone but consistently for seven to eight hours every day. I think this is the main reason behind my recent successes. And thanks to that I am now a fulltime professional chess player.

SS: How did it feel when you were paired against your room-mate (Mchedlishivili) in the last round?

Roommates: Mikheil Mchedlishivili and Gaioz Nigalidze

GN: Well, what to do? This is how it was. I was fighting for something big.

SS: What’s next on your agenda?

GN: I will be playing the Georgian Championship in January 2015.

SS: I wish you all the best and hope you score a hat-trick at the Georgian Championships!

GN: Thank you.

Tigran Petrosian vs Gaioz Nigalidze in the eighth round (1-0)

The only person to beat the champion of the tournament was Tigran Petrosian. He remained unbeaten in the event and scored 7.0/9, finishing second. One of the key features behind Petrosian’s success was his simply amazing endgame technique. His patience was immense and he would wait for his opponents to make mistakes in seemingly equal positions. Here is one of his fine endgame victories. Please pay attention to his unambitious opening choice and how he was aiming for just an equal position from which he could outplay his opponent.

[Event "Al Ain Classic 2014 -19-27 December"] [Site "Al Ain"] [Date "2014.12.24"] [Round "7.4"] [White "Kovchan, Alexander"] [Black "Petrosian, Tigran L"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B08"] [WhiteElo "2577"] [BlackElo "2651"] [Annotator "Sagar Shah"] [PlyCount "138"] [EventDate "2014.12.19"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCountry "UAE"] [WhiteClock "0:04:50"] [BlackClock "0:23:23"] {The opening chosen by Petrosian is the Pirc, which is known as not really a main stream opening. Efforts of players like Marin, Moskalenko, Vigus, etc. have helped making this opening much more popular. And surely wins like this by strong players like Petrosian improve the image of the opening. Yet it is obvious that it was the endgames skills of the Armenian and not opening which gave him the full point.} 1. e4 d6 2. d4 Nf6 3. Nc3 g6 4. Nf3 Bg7 5. Be2 a6 6. a4 O-O 7. O-O b6 8. e5 Nfd7 9. Bf4 Nc6 10. Re1 Bb7 11. Bc4 dxe5 12. dxe5 e6 13. Qe2 h6 14. h4 Qe7 15. Bd3 Nc5 16. Be4 Rad8 17. Rad1 Rxd1 18. Rxd1 Rd8 19. Rxd8+ Qxd8 20. Qe3 Nxe4 21. Nxe4 Qd1+ 22. Kh2 Ne7 23. Nf6+ Bxf6 24. exf6 Nf5 25. Qc3 Bxf3 26. Qxf3 Qxf3 27. gxf3 c6 28. Kh3 h5 29. Be3 b5 30. axb5 axb5 31. f4 $2 { A bad move that opens the path for the black king to take part in the game. Of course the right move here was to play Bc5 to stop the black king from approaching the queenside. Is the position won after that? Let us have a look:} (31. Bc5 $5 e5 $1 {Stopping f4 and keeping the option of g5 in the future.} ( 31... Kh7 32. f4 $1 $11 {After this it is all clear. There will be no g5 break and the king cannot come out on f8. There is no way for Black to make progress. }) 32. c3 Kh7 {The threat now is to play g5 followed by Kg6.} 33. Ba7 $1 (33. Be3 Nd6 (33... Nxe3 $2 34. fxe3 $18 {is an endgame where White wins!} Kh6 35. f4 e4 36. Kg2 Kh7 37. Kf2 Kg8 38. b4 Kf8 (38... Kh7 39. c4 bxc4 40. Ke2 Kg8 41. Kd2 Kf8 42. Kc3 $18) 39. Kg3 $1 Kg8 40. f5 $1 $18) 34. Kg2 Ne8 35. Bg5 Nc7 36. Kf1 Ne6 37. Be3 (37. Ke2 Nxg5 38. hxg5 Kg8 $19) 37... g5 $1 38. hxg5 Kg6 $17 { Black will win this.}) (33. Bb4 $2 g5 34. hxg5 Kg6 $17) 33... g5 34. hxg5 Kg6 35. Bb8 $1 Kxg5 36. Bxe5 {White is a pawn up but the tripled pawns mean nothing much.} c5 37. Bc7 (37. Kg2 Nh4+ 38. Kg3 Ng6 $17) 37... Kxf6 38. b3 Ke6 39. Bf4 Kd5 40. Be3 c4 $1 41. b4 Ke5 42. Bd2 Ne7 43. Be3 Nd5 44. Bd2 Nxb4 $1 45. cxb4 Kd4 $19 {From the above analysis you can definitely conclude that Black was better and even with the best defence he could have won the game. But for that he would have to show considerably higher level of technique than what he had to show in the game.}) 31... Kf8 $1 32. Bc5+ Ke8 {The rest was nicely done by Tigran Petrosian and requires no comments.} 33. f3 Kd7 34. b4 Kc7 35. c3 Kd7 36. Bf8 Ne3 37. Bc5 Nd1 38. Bd4 Kd6 39. Kg3 Kd5 40. f5 exf5 41. Kf4 Nb2 42. Ke3 Nc4+ 43. Kf4 Ke6 44. Kg3 Nd6 45. Kf4 Ne8 46. Kg5 Nc7 47. Bb6 Nd5 48. Bd4 f4 49. Kh6 Nxf6 50. Kg5 Nd5 51. Bh8 Ne7 52. Bd4 Nf5 53. Bf2 Ne3 54. Bg1 Ke5 55. Bf2 Nf5 56. Be1 Ng3 57. Bf2 Ne2 58. Ba7 Nxc3 59. Bb8+ Ke6 60. Bxf4 Nd5 61. Bd2 Ne7 62. Be1 f6+ 63. Kf4 g5+ 64. hxg5 Nd5+ 65. Ke4 fxg5 66. Kd4 h4 67. Kc5 Nf4 68. Kxc6 Nd3 69. Bd2 h3 0-1

Showing technical brilliance just like his namesake, ninth World Champion Tigran Petrosian

23-year-old Vladimir Onischuk (2614) was tactically alert in all his games, and
with wins over strong players like Parligras, Grover and Volkov, he finished third

Here is a game that shows a little combination by the Ukrainian player:

[Event "Al Ain Classic 2014 -19-27 December"] [Site "Al Ain"] [Date "2014.12.25"] [Round "8.3"] [White "Onischuk, Vladimir"] [Black "Volkov, Sergey"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C12"] [WhiteElo "2614"] [BlackElo "2599"] [Annotator "Sagar Shah"] [PlyCount "73"] [EventDate "2014.12.19"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCountry "UAE"] [WhiteClock "0:10:04"] [BlackClock "0:11:48"] 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 {Sergey Volkov is one of those players who have been a firm adherent of the French Defence.} 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bg5 Bb4 {The Maccutcheon Variation. More common are the move Be7 or dxe4. This move Bb4 is tricky and also pretty sound.} 5. e5 h6 6. Bh4 {Onischuk comes up with a relative side line, but 162 games have been played in it nonetheless.} (6. Bd2 {is the main line here.}) 6... g5 7. Bg3 Ne4 8. Nge2 f5 9. f3 Nxg3 10. hxg3 Bd7 11. a3 Bxc3+ 12. Nxc3 Nc6 {White has a small advantage thanks to his space, but Black is pretty solid.} 13. f4 g4 14. Qd2 Qe7 15. Nd1 $1 {A nice idea of rerouting the knight to d1-e3 before 0-0-0 and breaking open with c4.} O-O-O 16. Ne3 h5 17. O-O-O Kb8 18. c4 dxc4 19. Bxc4 Nxd4 $6 {The start of a flawed tactical operation by Volkov.} (19... h4 20. gxh4 Rxh4 21. Rxh4 Qxh4 22. d5 exd5 23. Bxd5 Bc8 $14 {was a better way to play as Black.}) 20. Qxd4 Ba4 21. Rxh5 $1 { exploiting the back rank weakness and just winning a pawn!} (21. Qc3 Bxd1 22. Nxd1 $14 {would give White a small edge, but Onischuk's move is better.}) 21... Rhe8 (21... Rxh5 22. Qxd8+ $18) (21... Bxd1 22. Rxh8 Rxh8 23. Qxd1 $16) 22. Qc3 Bxd1 23. Nxd1 {Due to the small tactical operation started by Volkov on move 19 he has been left with a lost position. White has two pieces for a rook and black has no pawns in return.} Qc5 24. Rh7 Qg1 25. Bb3 c5 26. Qa5 $1 {The White queen closes in for the kill.} Qxg2 27. Bxe6 $1 {accurately calculated.} Rd4 (27... Rxd1+ 28. Kxd1 Qf1+ 29. Kc2 Qe2+ 30. Kb1 Qd1+ 31. Ka2 {and the checks would come to an end.}) 28. Bxf5 Red8 29. Bc2 (29. Bxg4 $18 {was stronger.}) 29... Rd2 30. Qc3 c4 31. e6 Re2 32. Rd7 Re8 33. f5 a6 34. Ba4 Rc8 35. e7 b5 36. f6 Qc6 37. Qd4 {A nice clean game by Onischuk which showed two facets of his skills: smart opening preparation and great tactical alertness.} 1-0

Slimmest players of the event?! Amruta Mokal (photographer)
with GM Sergei Zhigalko,who finished fourth

Sergei Zhigalko from Belarus also remained unbeaten with a score of 7.0/9. He finished off the tournament with a strong win over Anand’s second Sandipan Chanda.

Vishy Anand’s second and strong grandmaster Sandipan Chanda

Top seeded Yuriy Kryvoruchko, above with his wife WGM Vita Kryvoruchko, finished fifth

Top final ranking (after nine rounds)

Rk. SNo Ti. Name FED Rtg Pts.  TB1   TB2   TB3 
1 28 GM Nigalidze Gaioz GEO 2536 7.0 51.5 40.75 2617
2 6 GM Petrosian Tigran L. ARM 2651 7.0 50.0 39.00 2572
3 16 GM Onischuk Vladimir UKR 2614 7.0 49.0 37.25 2557
4 3 GM Zhigalko Sergei BLR 2672 7.0 46.5 35.75 2557
5 1 GM Kryvoruchko Yuriy UKR 2688 6.5 52.0 36.50 2590
6 4 GM Areshchenko Alexander UKR 2661 6.5 45.5 33.00 2513
7 10 GM Gupta Abhijeet IND 2632 6.5 44.5 33.50 2454
8 12 GM Vidit Santosh Gujrathi IND 2625 6.5 44.5 31.50 2521
9 13 GM Oleksienko Mikhailo UKR 2621 6.5 44.5 31.00 2558
10 21 GM Parligras Mircea-Emilian ROU 2580 6.5 42.5 32.00 2444
11 22 GM Ter-Sahakyan Samvel ARM 2580 6.5 42.5 31.00 2413
12 15 GM Pashikian Arman ARM 2617 6.5 40.0 31.75 2432
13 2 GM Kuzubov Yuriy UKR 2681 6.0 48.0 32.00 2542
14 34 GM Grover Sahaj IND 2505 6.0 46.5 31.25 2553
15 8 GM Shankland Samuel L USA 2642 6.0 46.5 31.25 2525
16 33 GM Abasov Nijat AZE 2509 6.0 46.0 30.00 2596
17 18 GM Sandipan Chanda IND 2599 6.0 45.5 32.00 2481
18 23 GM Kovchan Alexander UKR 2577 6.0 45.0 31.50 2455
19 19 GM Volkov Sergey RUS 2599 6.0 44.5 30.50 2476
20 11 GM Mchedlishvili Mikheil GEO 2625 6.0 44.0 30.75 2430
21 20 GM Gopal G.N. IND 2580 6.0 43.5 29.50 2526
22 36 GM Ankit R. Rajpara IND 2494 6.0 43.5 29.25 2399
23 37 GM Bajarani Ulvi AZE 2494 6.0 43.0 29.50 2373
24 30 GM Moskalenko Viktor ESP 2528 6.0 42.0 26.75 2378
25 63 IM Lodhi Mahmood PAK 2328 6.0 41.0 26.75 2383
26 5 GM Mamedov Rauf AZE 2658 6.0 40.5 29.00 2395
27 48 IM Petrosyan Manuel ARM 2407 6.0 39.0 26.75 2346

The first and the second prize for the best women players went to
Eesha Karavade (right) and Atousa Pourkashiyan respectively

There was a special prize for the best score sheets. Prior to the tournament I was wondering how the winner of this prize would be selected. The organizers carefully went through the score-sheets of all the rounds and found two worthy candidates.

IM Vijayalakshmi Subbaraman (left) and Rucha Pujari had the best handwriting in the Al Ain Classic!

The Romanians: Mircea Emilian Parligras and the recently married couple Constantin and Mirela Lupulescu

Eight Armenians took part in the event. Some of them are seen here (from left clockwise): GM Levon Babujian, IM Manuel Petrosyan, GM Tigran Petrosian, GM Sergei Zhigalko (BLR), GM Arman Pashikian, GM Ter-Sahakyan Samvel, GM Sergey Volkov (RUS), chief arbiter Ashot Vardapetyan and GM Hovik Hayrapetyan.

Eleven Ukrainians came to Al Ain: WIM Irina Andrenko, GM Andrey Baryshpolets, GM Alexander Kovchan, GM Mikhailo Oleksienko, GM Vladimir Onischuk, GM Martyn Kravtsiv, GM Alexander Areshchenko and GM Eldar Gasanov

Azerbaijan sent a huge squad of 23 players. In the picture above we see WGM Gulnar Mammadova,
WIM Khayala Abdulla, GM Nijat Abasov, Narmin Soyunlu and WFM Narmin Khalafova

But as is usually the case in terms of sheer quantum Team India was the winner with 31 participants! Above in the front row are Akash Thakur, WGM Soumya Swaminathan, GM Abhijeet Gupta, IM Sagar Shah, Amruta Mokal; in the back row: IM S. Vijayalakshmi, IM Eesha Karavade, GM Deep Sengupta, GM Vidit Gujrathi, GM Vishnu Prasanna, GM Shyam Sundar, GM Arun Prasad, GM G. N. Gopal

There is one little story about two Indian players which I must tell. Both of them were in the joint second position in the tournament after seven rounds, with 5.0/7.

They were GM Vidit Gujrathi (2625) and GM Deep Sengupta (2566). While they fought hard in the tournament, and also against each other in the eighth round, both of them were thanking their lucky stars that they were alive and well. The reason?

Just before they left for the airport from Kerala, India, after finishing the Indian National Premier Championships to catch their flight to Dubai, they met with an accident. Their driver had dozed off and the car had slammed into the wall on the side of the road. As you can see in the picture above, it was badly damaged. Both the players were injured and taken to the hospital. The injuries however were not so serious. Both players were discharged in an hour and they limped their way to catch the flight to Dubai to play in the Al Ain Classic!

The 3rd Al Ain Classic 2014 came to an end on 26th December 2014 and I go back home with some very nice memories from the tournament.

The hotel staff of the Hili Rayhaan hung a Christmas sock outside the doors of every chess player. The sock contained little gifts like fruits, nuts, chocolates and cookies! Its little gestures like these that make your stay truly a memorable one!

The organizers and their team (in the picture above: Sonia Lalaouna, Mariyam Dad, Fatima Algelda) must be applauded for making the third Al Ain Classic 2014 a grand success. I definitely intend to back there next year!

Game analysis of rounds seven and eight by GM Dmitry Komarov

All pictures by Amruta Mokal


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Topics: Al Ain Classic

Sagar Shah is an International Master from India with two GM norms. He is also a chartered accountant and would like to become the first CA+GM of India. He loves to cover chess tournaments, as that helps him understand and improve at the game he loves so much. He is the co-founder of the ChessBase India website.
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KOTLD KOTLD 4/14/2015 03:28
Well said, AppleFloof.
AppleFloof AppleFloof 4/14/2015 12:49
"It is not every day that you see the 28th seed of a tournament winning it. And even rarer when there are 17 players rated above 2600."

And during the interview, "How did you bring about the sudden improvement in your play?"

Clever foreshadowing from Mr. Shah. These days, due to the heavy punishments dealt to caught cheaters, we tend to give players the benefit of the doubt, but kudos to you for noticing the suspicious patterns in Nigalidze's career.