Sunway Sitges: Alekseenko and Karthikeyan co-leaders

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
12/17/2022 – Halfway through the 10-round main tournament in Sitges, Kirill Alekseenko and Karthikeyan Murali still have a perfect score, after beating Abhimanyu Puranik and Aditya Samant respectively. Five players stand a half point back, including second seed Hans Niemann, who on Friday drew Karen Grigoryan with the black pieces. | Pictured: The great-looking analysis room in Sitges

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Five players in the chasing pack

Kirill Alekseenko and Karthikeyan Murali are the only players who have scored five wins in as many games at the Sunway Festival’s main tournament in Sitges. In their direct encounter on Saturday, Alekseenko will get the white pieces, a day before the participants get to rest prior to the final four rounds of the event.

A five-player chasing pack stands a half point back, all rated 2600 or above. Two Armenians belong to this group — Karen Grigoryan, who drew second seed Hans Niemann on Friday, and Manuel Petrosyan, who will face Niemann in the next round. Needless to say, the American rising star is also among the chasers, with Eltaj Safarli and Anton Demchenko the remaining two players currently on 4½/5 points.

No fewer than 32 players have collected 4 points in the first 5 rounds, including top seed Yu Yangyi, 2021 Tata Steel Masters winner Jorden van Foreest and Ukrainian star Anton Korobov. Two players from the starting rank’s top ten have struggled in Sitges, as they have only managed to obtain 3½ points so far in Catalonia: 2020 tournament winner Ivan Cheparinov and living legend Vasyl Ivanchuk

In round 5, Alekseenko bravely went for a direct attack with the black pieces against Abhimanyu Puranik, and ended up succeeding. However, the Indian got a chance to turn the tables on move 26.


Black has sacrificed a bishop on h3, creating trouble for his opponent, although engines do not consider the sacrifice to have been a good idea. While the bishop sortie was imprecise yet justifiable, Alekseenko’s follow-up, 26...Nh5, was simply a mistake.

Finding the refutation was no easy task though — 27.Qg4 Nf3+ 28.Kh1 Qxg4 29.hxg4 Nxe1 30.gxh5 leaves White in a better position with two minor pieces for a rook and a dangerous, mobile pawn chain on the queenside.


Abhimanyu did not find this variation, and played 27.Ne2 instead. The knight jump does not lose immediately, but Black gets to keep up the pressure in an uncomfortable position for the white king. 

The Indian GM faltered decisively three moves later. Former Candidate Alekseenko did not falter again, and grabbed a 43-move victory that allowed him to remain as co-leader halfway through the 10-round event. 

A dynamic endgame from round 4 was instructively annotated by star analyst Karsten Müller. Eltaj Safarli found the precise path to convert his advantage in a sharp pawn race with rooks and bishops still on the board.


Standings after round 5

Rk. Name Pts.  TB1 
1 Alekseenko Kirill 5 13,5
  Karthikeyan Murali 5 13,5
3 Niemann Hans Moke 4,5 15
4 Safarli Eltaj 4,5 14,5
5 Demchenko Anton 4,5 14
6 Grigoryan Karen H. 4,5 13,5
7 Petrosyan Manuel 4,5 13
8 Puranik Abhimanyu 4 15,5
9 Aravindh Chithambaram Vr. 4 15,5
10 Samant Aditya S 4 15,5
11 Yu Yangyi 4 14,5
  Van Foreest Jorden 4 14,5
13 Svane Frederik 4 14
14 Aryan Chopra 4 14
15 Durarbayli Vasif 4 14
16 Sidhant Mohapatra 4 14
17 Sumets Andrey 4 13,5
  Firat Burak 4 13,5
19 Gines Esteo Pedro Antonio 4 13
20 Adhiban B. 4 13
21 Sanal Vahap 4 13
22 Abdisalimov Abdimalik 4 13
23 Esipenko Andrey 4 13
  Kollars Dmitrij 4 13
25 Fataliyeva Ulviyya 4 13
26 Tahay Alexis 4 13
27 Dardha Daniel 4 12,5
28 Korobov Anton 4 12,5
  Sankalp Gupta 4 12,5
30 Jones Gawain C B 4 12
31 Tabatabaei Mohammad Amin 4 11,5
  Kraemer Martin 4 11,5
  Rendle Thomas E 4 11,5
34 Gokerkan Cem Kaan 4 11
35 Tin Jingyao 4 11
36 Pablo Mari Alejandro 4 11
37 Arjun Kalyan 4 10,5
38 Moussard Jules 4 10
39 Jubin Jimmy 4 10

...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.