Sunway Sitges: Alekseenko takes the title

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
12/23/2022 – Kirill Alekseenko secured first place at the main event of the Sunway Chess Festival by drawing Hans Niemann with white in Thursday’s final round. Meanwhile, Amin Tabatabaei caught up with Niemann by beating Adhiban Baskaran — thus, a playoff match for second place between Niemann and Tabatabaei followed, with the US grandmaster winning in Armageddon after trading victories in two 5-minute games.

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Alekseenko wins in sunny Sitges

Kirill Alekseenko grabbed the sole lead in round 6 of the Sunway Chess Open and never looked back. After confirming his status as sole leader with a seventh consecutive win — over Karen Grigoryan in round 7 — the Russian grandmaster entered cruise control and drew his three remaining games to secure the title. Fittingly, in the last three rounds he faced both the first two seeds and an in-form Amin Tabatabaei, confirming that his tournament victory was definitely well deserved.

Just when Alekseenko entered his 3-game drawing streak, second seed Hans Niemann began his charge for the lead, scoring back-to-back victories over Aravindh Chithambaram and Cem Kaan Gokerkan to go into the final round in sole second place, a half point behind the leader.

In the deciding encounter, Niemann had the black pieces against Alekseenko, and managed to get a slightly superior endgame with two minor pieces per side.

 

Black has a space advantage and the more active minor pieces. However, converting such a small edge is never easy, while risking too much might end up opening lines for White’s bishop. This is the kind of position that might give Black a victory in a game between engines, but one that is unlikely to finish decisively in a matchup between strong grandmasters, especially with so much at stake.

In fact, a draw was agreed seven moves later, which meant Alekseenko had secured overall victory and the €5.000 first prize.

Prior to Thursday’s action, which kicked off a whole seven hours earlier than the previous rounds, seven players stood a half point behind Niemann in shared third place. Out of the seven, only Tabatabaei ended the classical portion of the event with a victory, as he got the better of the ever-dangerous Adhiban Baskaran with the white pieces.

 

Defending this asymmetrical position — a pawn down with four rooks still on the board — was definitely a tall task for Black. Moreover, Adhiban’s 31...Rg4, trying to get counterplay by grabbing White’s e-pawn, only increased his opponent’s advantage.

Tabatabaei did not take long to enter the sequence 32.Rxh5 Rxe4 33.Rh6 Rf8 34.Rh7 Rc8 35.Rf7, and White will get two connected passers on the kingside.

 

Perfect coordination by the pair of white rooks. Adhiban continued fighting until move 42, but to no avail — Tabatabaei had too much of an advantage and managed to convert it into a win.

A feature of the tournament in Sitges — besides its abundance of side events — is the fact that all top places in the main event are decided in blitz playoffs. This year, a blitz mini-match decided who got second place and a blitz mini-tournament decided who got to finish fourth to eighth in the standings.

Niemann defeated Tabatabaei in Armageddon to claim second place, while the remaining top spots were thus distributed:

  1. Kirill Alekseenko
  2. Hans Niemann
  3. Amin Tabatabaei
  4. Manuel Petrosyan
  5. Vasif Durarbayli
  6. Yu Yangyi
  7. Vitaliy Bernadskiy
  8. Karthikeyan Murali

Final standings (before playoffs)

Rk. Name Pts.  TB1 
1 Alekseenko Kirill 8,5 64
2 Niemann Hans Moke 8 60,5
3 Tabatabaei Mohammad Amin 8 58,5
4 Petrosyan Manuel 7,5 61,5
5 Yu Yangyi 7,5 61,5
6 Durarbayli Vasif 7,5 59,5
7 Karthikeyan Murali 7,5 59
8 Bernadskiy Vitaliy 7,5 58,5
9 Dardha Daniel 7,5 58
10 Esipenko Andrey 7,5 57
11 Moussard Jules 7,5 56
12 Tin Jingyao 7,5 55,5
13 Willow Jonah B 7,5 54,5
14 Boyer Mahel 7,5 51
15 Puranik Abhimanyu 7 61,5
16 Korobov Anton 7 59,5
17 Adhiban B. 7 58,5
18 Svane Frederik 7 58
19 Cheparinov Ivan 7 58
  Kollars Dmitrij 7 58
21 Jones Gawain C B 7 57
22 Sankalp Gupta 7 56,5
23 Woodward Andy 7 56
24 Arjun Kalyan 7 56
25 Van Foreest Jorden 7 56

...326 players


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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.
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