Salem Saleh wins Asian Continental 2015

by Sagar Shah
8/24/2015 – The Asian Continental Championships 2015 were held from the 2nd to the 10th of August 2015 in Al Ain, UAE. Five qualifications spots from the open section for World Cup 2015 and one for the women for World Cup 2016 were at stake along with a total of US $75,000 (50,000 for open and $25,000 for women) in prize money. It was won by host nation's only grandmaster.

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Salem Saleh wins Asian Continental 2015

It is the world’s largest and most populous continent. Chess-wise it is the fastest growing one with a five time ex-world champion at the helm and a 16-year-old lad becoming the youngest 2700 in the history of the game. Yes, we are talking about Asia and the most important Asian event – the Asian Continental Championships 2015 were held from the 2nd to the 10th of August 2015 in Al Ain, UAE. Five qualifications spots from the open section for World Cup 2015 and one for the women for World Cup 2016 were at stake along with a total of US $75,000 (50,000 for open and 25,000 for women) in prize money.

The open event was extremely strong with a rating average of 2377. 36 grandmasters and players from 28 countries participated in this event. The top seed was the Vietnamese GM Le Quang Liem. The women section had 57 participants with an average rating of 2142. There were nine IMs and 14 WGMs and the top seed was WGM Tan Zhongyi (2512) from China.

The current article will focus on the open tournament with part two covering the women’s event.

Performing on your home turf is often quite difficult. There are hopes of the people, and the media tends to give you extra attention – especially if you are the only grandmaster that your country has ever produced. All this did not affect GM Salem Saleh as he went on to confidently claim the title with a score of 7.0/9.

On the podium: Salem Saleh (gold), Surya Shekhar Ganguly (silver) and S. P. Sethuraman (bronze)

Salem had quite a slow start. After draw in the second round to Xu Yinglun and a loss to Lin Chen in the fourth, it seemed as if he was out of the gold medal contention with a score of 2.5/4. But then he picked up pace and scored four wins in a row – two of them against 2600+ players Sethuraman and Nguyen Ngoc Truong Son. A last round agreed draw against Vidit Gujarathi was good enough for him to seal first place based on a better tie-break (most number of wins).

Determination and fighting spirit were the qualities that helped Salem Saleh
become the first Asian Champion from his country

The official website of the Asian Continental published a small interview with Salem after he won the event, which we reproduce here:

Salem, congratulations on winning the Asian Continental Championship 2015! How do you feel?

Salem: It was a very tough tournament. Actually, I was not hoping that I will win. Regardless, now I am really happy.

You have won a Continental Championship which was organized in your own country! I believe you are feeling great?

Yes. Actually Al-Ain is a very good place for me. I have very nice memories. I won a tournament here in 2007 – Asian Championships U-14. In 2014, I won the rapid tournament. I like to play here.

The 2014 Al Ain Rapid champion

Is this your first adult Continental Championship that you have won?

Yes, this is the first one. I finished sixth in Asian Continental Championship 2014 and third in 2013. I have already qualified for the World Cup. This means I have sealed qualification to the World Cup twice. This is the first time I am winning the Asian Continental Championship!

Congratulations once again. You made a quick draw in the last round. Did you anticipate that you need just a draw to become a champion?

Yes, actually, my coach told me yesterday about the situation. It was obvious that I would need only a draw to get the gold medal. So, I decided not to take any risk. I played so many games in this event, and if a draw is enough, I took a correct decision. Even if Ganguly or Gupta would win, I would still be ahead on tiebreak. First definition is by direct encounters and second is by greater number of wins. I have won more games than them.

Your next tournament is the World Cup, I believe, right?

No, I will participate in the Abu Dhabi Masters now, and after that I will play in the World Cup. Actually I had already qualified for the World Cup before this Asian Continental Championship.

Meaning your plans will not change to thoroughly prepare for the World Cup?

No, I will follow my original plan. I had a big break before the Asian Continental Championship. I have been working enough, now I want to play.

How will you prepare for the World Cup?

By playing the Abu Dhabi Masters. We will know the pairings soon and with the help of my coach Ivan Sokolov we will make preparations according to who I will play.

Salem has a tough first round opponent in the form of Wei Yi

We know that during the Asian Championships you got help not only from your coach Sokolov. It’s not a secret to share with us who else was helping you?

Yes, I have been working with GM Alexey Dreev and my coach GM Ivan Sokolov.

Once again congratulations! We are very happy for you. We wish you all the best in future competitions.

Salem also won the Asian Blitz Championships with a score of 7.5/9.
Zhang Zhong (left) finished second and Haridas Pascua (right) was third.

Top final rankings (after nine rounds)

Rk. SNo Ti. Name FED RtgI Pts.  TB2   TB3  rtg+/-
1 3 GM Salem A.R. Saleh UAE 2682 7.5 7.0 2535 30.0
2 9 GM Zhang Zhong SIN 2595 7.0 7.0 2541 40.4
3 46 IM Pascua Haridas PHI 2399 7.0 7.0 2511 70.6
4 6 GM Ghaem Maghami Ehsan IRI 2616 7.0 6.0 2509 29.6
5 23 GM Sethuraman S.P. IND 2502 7.0 6.0 2503 49.0
6 21 GM Al-Sayed Mohammed QAT 2520 7.0 6.0 2479 19.7
7 17 GM Vidit Santosh Gujrathi IND 2550 6.5 6.0 2538 34.8
8 5 GM Khusnutdinov Rustam KAZ 2617 6.5 6.0 2524 22.6
9 30 GM Vakhidov Jahongir UZB 2492 6.5 6.0 2502 40.4
10 13 GM Zhou Jianchao CHN 2569 6.5 5.0 2503 23.4
11 1 GM Le Quang Liem VIE 2828 6.0 6.0 2543 -28.8
12 11 GM Lalith Babu M.R. IND 2577 6.0 6.0 2388 -15.6
13 26 GM Rahman Ziaur BAN 2495 6.0 6.0 2379 6.0
14 35 GM Debashis Das IND 2445 6.0 5.0 2536 45.2
15 7 GM Gupta Abhijeet IND 2610 6.0 5.0 2421 -13.4
16 16 GM Batchuluun Tsegmed MGL 2551 6.0 5.0 2394 -8.2
  • Full final standings can be found here.

Salem’s has a very aggressive and active style of play. No wonder, there were many little combinations in his games from the tournament. Here we have selected three of them. Try to test yourself and see if you can play as well as the Asian champion.

Nitin,S (2404)-Salem,A (2595), Round 1

It’s sacrifice time! Black to play.

[Event "Asian Continental Chess Championship 20"] [Site "?"] [Date "2015.08.02"] [Round "1.11"] [White "Nitin, S."] [Black "Salem, A.R. Saleh"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A00"] [WhiteElo "2404"] [BlackElo "2595"] [Annotator "Sagar Shah"] [PlyCount "64"] [EventDate "2015.08.02"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCountry "UAE"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Qf3 g6 7. h3 Bg7 8. Be3 O-O 9. O-O-O Bd7 10. Kb1 Nc6 11. Nd5 Rc8 12. g4 Nxd5 13. exd5 Ne5 14. Qg2 Nc4 15. Bxc4 Rxc4 16. Rhe1 Qc7 17. f4 Rc8 18. Rd2 a5 19. Bg1 Bf6 20. g5 Bxd4 21. Bxd4 Bf5 22. Ree2 a4 23. Qf2 a3 24. b3 Rc3 25. h4 b5 26. Bb6 Qb7 27. Bd4 Rh3 28. Ba1 Qb6 29. Qe1 Qc5 30. Qc1 b4 31. Rh2 {Diagram [#]} Qxc2+ $1 {Sometimes a bishop is stronger than the queen!} 32. Qxc2 (32. Rxc2 Rxh2 $19 {[%cal Gf5b1]}) 32... Rxc2 $1 (32... Rxh2 $2 33. Rxh2 $18 (33. Qxf5 $2 Rh1+ $19)) (32... Rxc2 33. Rxh3 (33. Rxc2 Rxh2 $19) 33... Rxd2+ $19) 0-1

Liu,C (2353)-Salem,A (2595) , Round 5

Black (to play) is a rook down, but he has a nice little trick to finish off the game

[Event "Asian Continental Chess Championship 20"] [Site "?"] [Date "2015.08.06"] [Round "5.13"] [White "Liu, Chang"] [Black "Salem, A.R. Saleh"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A00"] [WhiteElo "2353"] [BlackElo "2595"] [Annotator "Sagar Shah"] [PlyCount "58"] [EventDate "2015.08.02"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCountry "UAE"] 1. c4 e5 2. g3 Nf6 3. Bg2 c6 4. Nf3 e4 5. Nd4 d5 6. cxd5 Qxd5 7. e3 Bc5 8. d3 Qe5 9. dxe4 Nxe4 10. O-O O-O 11. b3 Na6 12. Bb2 Nf6 13. Nd2 Bg4 14. Qb1 Qh5 15. a3 Rad8 16. Nc4 Rfe8 17. Re1 Bh3 18. Bf3 Bg4 19. Bg2 Bf8 20. Qc2 Nc5 21. e4 Ncxe4 22. Bxe4 Bc5 23. Nxc6 Nxe4 24. Nxd8 Bf3 25. h4 Qg4 26. Kh2 {Diagram [#]} Ng5 $1 {The squares around the white king are like Swiss cheese. Black is even ready sacrifice a rook for the attack on the light squares.} 27. Rxe8+ Bf8 28. Rxf8+ Kxf8 29. Ne6+ fxe6 {The checks have run out and mate is inevitable.} ( 29... fxe6 30. hxg5 Qh5+ 31. Kg1 Qh1#) 0-1

Nguyen,N (2662)-Salem,A (2595)

Salem (Black) is completely winning here. He took the bishop on f1 with his queen.
What do you think about the move? Does it win or is it a blunder?

[Event "Asian Continental Chess Championship 20"] [Site "?"] [Date "2015.08.09"] [Round "8.2"] [White "Nguyen, Ngoc Truong Son"] [Black "Salem, A.R. Saleh"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B91"] [WhiteElo "2662"] [BlackElo "2595"] [Annotator "Sagar Shah"] [PlyCount "97"] [EventDate "2015.08.02"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCountry "UAE"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. g3 e5 7. Nde2 Be7 8. Bg2 O-O 9. O-O Nbd7 10. a4 b6 11. Nd5 Bb7 12. Nec3 Rc8 13. Bh3 Rc4 14. Qe2 Bxd5 15. Nxd5 Rxe4 16. Nxe7+ Qxe7 17. Qxa6 Nc5 18. Qxb6 Nd5 19. Qb5 Nc7 20. Qa5 Ra8 21. Qd2 Rexa4 22. Rxa4 Rxa4 23. Bg2 h6 24. b4 N5e6 25. c3 Qd7 26. Qd3 d5 27. f4 Qb5 28. Qc2 e4 29. f5 Ng5 30. Bf4 Ne8 31. Rb1 Nf6 32. Bf1 Qb6+ 33. Kg2 Ng4 34. c4 Qd4 35. Bxg5 hxg5 36. Kh1 Ra1 37. Rxa1 Qxa1 38. Qe2 dxc4 39. Qxc4 Ne3 40. Qe2 { Diagram [#]} Qxf1+ $1 {A nice simplifying idea which needs to be calculated accurately.} 41. Qxf1 Nxf1 42. b5 e3 $1 {The only move to win. A direct route of the knight does not win. Hence, Black has to entice the white king and take a longer route to stop the b-pawn.} 43. Kg2 (43. b6 e2 44. b7 e1=Q 45. b8=Q+ Kh7 $19 {The white king will be mated soon.}) 43... e2 $1 44. Kf2 Nxh2 45. b6 ( 45. Kxe2 Ng4 $1 46. b6 Ne5 47. b7 Nc6 $19) 45... Ng4+ 46. Kxe2 Ne5 47. b7 Nc6 $19 {The knight comes just in time to stop the pawn.} 48. Kf3 Kf8 49. Kg2 0-1

The runner-up of the event Surya Shekhar Ganguly

Ganguly had a great event scoring 7.0/9, the same as the winner, but was relegated to the second spot because of scoring less wins than Salem. He remained unbeaten with a performance of 2734 and adding 14 Elo points to his rating of 2631. Ganguly scored wins over many strong grandmasters (Sharavdorj, Gundavaa, Vakhidov, Darini) and as he has done in many tournaments he finished the event with a last-round victory – this time it was over GM Zhang Zhong. Incidentally: he faces GM Vladislav Artemiev in the first round of the World Cup.

After the tournament Ganguly wrote to us, “The last round game was very important to win, so that’s my favourite. Although I am perfectly aware how badly I played in the opening phase of the game!”

[Event "Asian Continental Chess Championship 20"] [Site "?"] [Date "2015.08.10"] [Round "9.2"] [White "Ganguly, Surya Shekhar"] [Black "Zhang, Zhong"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A62"] [WhiteElo "2631"] [BlackElo "2628"] [Annotator "Sagar Shah"] [PlyCount "85"] [EventDate "2015.08.02"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCountry "UAE"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. d5 e6 4. Nc3 exd5 5. cxd5 d6 6. Nf3 g6 7. g3 Bg7 8. Bg2 O-O 9. O-O Re8 10. a4 Na6 11. Re1 Nb4 12. Bf4 Ne4 13. Nxe4 Rxe4 14. Bg5 Qf8 15. Nd2 Re5 16. Bf4 Rxd5 17. Bxd5 Nxd5 18. Ne4 Nxf4 19. gxf4 Bxb2 20. Rb1 Bf5 21. Qd5 Bxe4 22. Qxe4 Bc3 23. Red1 b6 24. Qd3 Bb4 25. Qxd6 Qe8 26. Qd5 Rb8 27. Qd6 Ra8 28. Qd5 Rb8 29. Kf1 a5 30. Rb3 Qxa4 {Diagram [#] Materially Black is doing not so bad. He has three passed pawns on the queenside. His only problem is the sparsely defended king. Look how Ganguly hurls his f and h-pawns in order to destroy his opponent's king cover.} 31. f5 $1 Re8 32. Rf3 {The f7 pawn is under pressure now.} Rf8 {The rook is passive here but the f-pawn is defended.} 33. fxg6 hxg6 34. h4 $1 {Time for the second pawn to join in the battle.} Kh8 ( 34... Qe8 35. h5 Qe6 {was the only way to defend, but here too White has a nearly winning advantage.}) 35. Qe5+ Kg8 36. Qd5 {Trying to gain some time and reach the 40th move.} Kh8 37. h5 $1 g5 38. Qe5+ f6 {Diagram [#] The position is completely winning but only if you can find the next move.} 39. Rd8 $1 {A very nice little deflection.} Rxd8 (39... fxe5 40. Rdxf8+ Kg7 41. R3f7+ Kh6 42. Rh8#) 40. Qxf6+ Kh7 41. Qg6+ Kh8 42. Qh6+ Kg8 43. Qxg5+ {It will be mate in a few moves! Look at the queen on a4 and bishop on b4. They just stood there and watched as their king was ripped to shreds by the white forces.} 1-0

It’s never a good feeling to come under a devastating attack–
Zhang Zhong from Singapore finished 17th with 5.5/9

The reigning Indian national champion, GM S. P. Sethuraman, finished third

Sethuraman has been in great form recently. He was instrumental in the Indian team winning the bronze medal in the Tromso Olympiad 2014. As the 2014 National Champion, he had already qualified for the World Cup 2015. Sanan Sjugirov will be Sethuraman’s first round opponent at the World Cup.

Regular contributor to our website and super-solid GM Vidit Gujrathi (above) scored 6.5/9, remained unbeaten and finished fourth. He crossed 2650 on the rating charts and has qualified for World Cup 2015. He will face Bruzon Batista from Cuba in round one.

GM Zhou Jianchao (above) also was unbeaten in the event. His last round victory against GM Abhijeet Gupta helped him to finish fifth. He faces a stiff challenge in the form of Dmitry Andreikin in round one of the World Cup.

Although there were only five berths for the World Cup, two more players qualified as Salem and Sethuraman had already booked their seat on the basis of Asian Continental 2014 and National Championships 2014 respectively.

The surprise package from the tournament was the 15-year-old IM Parham Maghsoodloo (2416) from Iran. Parham started the tournament pretty normally with 1.5/4. A win against 2100 player in round five was followed by a draw against GM Ghaem Maghami in six. 3.0/6. And then came the three blistering strokes. Parham beat GMs Gopal (2562), Ziaur Rahman (2509) and Sandipan Chanda (2585) to finish with 6.0/9 and not only gain 25 Elo points and a GM norm but also a mini match against Wesley So in the first round of the World Cup 2015! What a dream tournament for the young lad.

GM Lalith Babu from India took the last World Cup spot by finishing seventh. The best quality about Lalith is no matter how badly he starts, he always stages a comeback. The same was the case in Al-Ain. After 3.0/5 and two losses, he drew two and won his last two games to miraculously qualify. He will face Radoslaw Wojtaszek at the World Cup.

Top final standings (after nine rounds)

Rk. SNo Ti. Name FED RtgI Pts.  TB2   TB3  rtg+/-
1 11 GM Salem A.R. Saleh UAE 2595 7.0 6.0 2505 14.6
2 6 GM Ganguly Surya Shekhar IND 2631 7.0 5.0 2537 14.4
3 5 GM Sethuraman S.P. IND 2635 6.5 6.0 2506 4.6
4 3 GM Vidit Santosh Gujrathi IND 2644 6.5 4.0 2541 7.0
5 10 GM Zhou Jianchao CHN 2600 6.5 4.0 2505 9.7
6 48   Maghsoodloo Parham IRI 2416 6.0 5.0 2532 24.9
7 15 GM Lalith Babu M.R. IND 2570 6.0 5.0 2474 2.6
8 28 IM Lin Chen CHN 2494 6.0 4.0 2602 24.2
9 8 GM Gupta Abhijeet IND 2619 6.0 4.0 2529 5.0
10 30 GM Kunte Abhijit IND 2493 6.0 4.0 2518 16.8
11 32 GM Debashis Das IND 2489 6.0 4.0 2344 0.3
12 1 GM Le Quang Liem VIE 2699 6.0 3.0 2555 -2.5
13 4 GM Sasikiran Krishnan IND 2640 6.0 3.0 2491 -1.0
14 19 GM Vakhidov Jahongir UZB 2525 5.5 5.0 2497 6.7
15 21 GM Khusnutdinov Rustam KAZ 2510 5.5 4.0 2501 7.1
16 25 GM Darini Pouria IRI 2501 5.5 4.0 2483 7.6
17 7 GM Zhang Zhong SIN 2628 5.5 4.0 2458 -9.1
18 45 IM Karthikeyan P. IND 2426 5.5 4.0 2434 10.1
19 12 GM Sengupta Deep IND 2594 5.5 3.0 2459 -4.6
20 13 GM Koneru Humpy IND 2585 5.5 3.0 2449 -7.5
21 37   Utegaliyev Azamat KAZ 2469 5.5 2.0 2554 16.4


GM Lin Chen (above) from China played a beautiful tournament. He not only beat the eventual tournament winner Salem Saleh but also S. P. Sethuraman and Vishnu Prasanna. He also made draws against Vidit, Sasikiran, Surya Shekhar Ganguly and Deep Sengupta. His only loss against Abhijeet Gupta proved costly as he missed the qualification by a whisker. But surely he is one of those Chinese players whose name we shall be hearing quite a bit in the near future.

The top seed of the event Le Quang Liem found the going tough.
He remained unbeaten but could score only three wins, finishing twelfth.

Krishnan Sasikiran played a steady event
but in spite of remaining unbeaten could only finish thirteenth.

Second seed Nguyen Ngoc Truong Son was doing quite well with a score of 5.0/7. But two consecutive losses relegated him to the 31st spot! However, he won the Asian Rapid championships.

Winner of the Asian Rapid Nguyen Ngoc Truong Son (centre)
with Sandipan Chanda (silver) on the left and Debashis Das (bronze)

Top final ranking (after seven rounds)

Rk. SNo Ti. Name FED Rtg Pts.  TB2   TB3  rtg+/-
1 2 GM Nguyen Ngoc Truong Son VIE 2724 6.0 5.0 2528 19.4
2 8 GM Sandipan Chanda IND 2573 5.5 5.0 2537 28.8
3 11 GM Debashis Das IND 2561 5.5 5.0 2408 9.6
4 32 IM Lin Chen CHN 2494 5.5 4.0 2550 22.6
5 1 GM Le Quang Liem VIE 2771 5.5 4.0 2508 -1.0
6 5 GM Ganguly Surya Shekhar IND 2619 5.5 4.0 2479 14.0
7 10 GM Ghaem Maghami Ehsan IRI 2562 5.5 4.0 2429 15.4
8 44 IM Rathnakaran K. IND 2429 5.0 4.0 2536 52.2
9 35   Xu Yinglun CHN 2463 5.0 4.0 2531 19.1
10 4 GM Sasikiran Krishnan IND 2638 5.0 4.0 2445 -6.6
11 3 GM Zhou Jianchao CHN 2645 5.0 3.0 2508 4.2

GM Alexey Kuzmin came to Al Ain as the coach of the Qatar Federation.
Unfortunately Qatar could send only one player to the tournament – Aziz Nezad Husein.

GM Ziaur Rahman holds the distinction of highest rating achieved by a Bangladeshi player (2570)

Iran number one Ehsan Ghaem Maghami recently completed his education in sports
education from the University of Tehran. He already holds the degree of Bachelor of Law.

 International Master from Pakistan: IM Mahmood Lodhi

The playing hall of the tournament

Photographs from the official facebook page

Replay and download a selection of games

Select games from the dropdown menu above the board

Official tournament site

Topics Al Ain, UAE

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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Denix Denix 8/24/2015 06:31
Congratulations Salem! Best wishes from Kuwait!
Sagar Shah Sagar Shah 8/24/2015 12:28
Thanks Ulyssesganesh for that correction and liking the report.
ulyssesganesh ulyssesganesh 8/24/2015 04:07
as usual, excellent coverage by sagar....a small correction...pakistan has one more IM...Shahzad Mirza!