The blitz segment of the Tata Steel Chess India 2021 promised to be an exciting event with India No. 2 in Women’s, Harika Dronavalli, and young sensations, D. Gukesh, Nihal Sarin & Raunak Sadhwani joining the field of players. With Adhiban missing out due to health issues, the organizers decided to swap in Rapid group winner, Arjun Erigaisi, making the field more enthralling. In round one, India No. two Vidit Gujrathi and Iranian GM Parham Maghsoodloo were the only players to win the game as the other three boards ended in a draw. Gujrathi pressed against Raunak Sadhwani in an equal pawn endgame with rook and bishop and board and eventually got the better of the Indian Junior. Maghsoodloo won against Shankland as his pawn rolled down the centre threatening to queen towards the end of the game.
Round two saw much more dynamic results as four of the five boards produced results. It was a battle between the Indian men and women No. 2’s as Vidit Gujrathi edged past Harika Dronavalli in an exchange Slav game. Rapid tournament winner Arjun Erigaisi continued his good form after converting an early advantage, winning against Shankland in the Berlin Defence of the Ruy Lopez opening. Erigiasi showed great composure to romp home in 53 moves. Sadhwani came back after his first round loss, overcoming Maghsoodloo in a great contest extracting activity along the e file with both his rooks. In a great result, young Gukesh got the better of former World Blitz Champion, Le Quang Liem after the former won a couple of pawns and a queen for the pair of Rooks. One of the tournament favorites, Nihal Sarin made a steady start to the event with two draws against Erigaisi and Aronian in the first two games.
Former World Blitz Champion, Le Quang Liem came back with a win against Vidit Gujrathi as his advanced pawns on the queenside proved to be the difference in the endgame. Gukesh continued his good form with a huge win over Nihal Sarin after the latter blundered a piece on move 44. Sam Shankland still couldn’t get his blitz campaign underway as he suffered yet another loss against Levon Aronian. Harika Dronavalli showed her class as she held on to her pawn advantage till the endgame to topple Raunak Sadhwani.
Le Quang Liem continued to play good chess as he edged past Harika Dronavalli in a Queen vs Double Rook endgame, thanks to his extra two pawns.Leading the event by half a point, Gukesh drew his game against Shankland in a seemingly better position, unable to convert the game. Parham Maghsoodloo won his game against the second seed, Levon Aronian, while Gujrathi launched a successful attack against Sarin’s to join Gukesh in the lead.
Both joint leaders D. Gukesh and Vidit Gujarathi suffered setbacks. Sam Shankland found his first win of the event against Gujrathi, while new tournament leader, Parham Maghsoodloo got the better of Gukesh. 2013 World Blitz Champion Le Quang Liem won his third game on the trot as he played a brilliant game against Raunak Sadhwani to join Maghsoodloo in the lead. He crashed through with a piece sacrifice to burst open the kingside, launching a deadly attack. Erigaisi held Aronian to a draw, consolidating his joint second position along with Gukesh and Gujrathi.
This round featured three decisive wins, all for the players with the black pieces. Tournament leader Parham Maghsoodloo came from behind to beat India’s No.2 Vidit Gujrathi. Vidit was clearly better in the Dutch defence but misplayed in the middlegame. Maghsoodloo converted with precision to gain the full point in 53 moves. Arjun Erigaisi registered a crucial win against D. Gukesh with a great display in the semi-slav variation. With two dangerous passed pawns on the queenside, the winner of the rapid segment spotted a nice tactic to win the pawn on e3 which was sufficient to decide the game. Elite GM Levon Aronian scored a much needed resounding victory for his title hopes. The Armenian threw the kitchen sink at Raunak, and was close to checkmating the 16-year-old. Two moves before an imminent checkmate, Sadhwani stretched out his hand in resignation.
The top two players, Parham Maghsoodloo and Arjun Erigaisi, continued their outstanding run as they registered yet another victory over Harika Dronavalli and Vidit Guhrathi respectively. Gujrathi lost momentum as he slipped to fourth position after three losses in a row. While a lot was expected of young Nihal Sarin, he slumped to yet another defeat, this time at the hands of his fellow junior, Raunak Sadhwani. Sam Shankland halted GM Le Quang Liem’s run as he positionally navigated his way through the middlegame to get an advantage in the endgame. The game ended in Shankland’s favour on move 70 after the Vietnamese was unable to promote his pawn.
Round 8 was an explosive affair that saw fireworks on every board. Leader Maghsoodloo erred against 2013 World Blitz Champion Le Quang Liem, going down in 30 moves after losing a piece right out of the opening. Arjun Erigaisi was unstoppable yet again as he exploited Harika’s isolated queen pawn in the Alapin variation of the Sicilian Defense. He showed great technique to seal the game comfortably on move 55. Levon Aronian capitalised on Vidit’s dip in form as he overcame the Indian No. 2 in an explosive game where his queen and knights ran riot around the first player’s king. The Armenian’s middlegame manoeuvres were too powerful, as the game ended on move 31 handing Vidit his fourth straight loss in a row! Youngster Raunak Sadhwani employed the Rossolimo variation and was able to edge past D. Gukesh in a fiercely competitive match up Sadhwani won a nice game in 46 moves to move up from the bottom of the table. In what was a much needed victory, Nihal Sarin expertly turned thimgs around in a bishop and knight endgame, converting a pawn advantage against American Grandmaster Sam Shankland.
The last round of the day was enthralling, to say the least. The players fought their hearts out, much to the delight of the fully packed local crowd at the National Library here in Kolkata. Four out of the five games produced decisive results as the only draw was in the game between tournament leader Arjun Erigaisi and 2013 World Blitz Champion Le Quang Liem. The youngster had the active pieces in an equal endgame, but it wasn’t enough to force a win, as the champion of the Rapid event remained unbeaten, leading the blitz event by half a point after day one. Armenian GM Levon Aronian and Indian youngster Nihal Sarin ended the day on a high with back to back wins in the last two rounds. While Nihal got the better of Sam Shankland and Parham Maghsoodloo, the two-time World Cup Winner edged past Vidit Gujrathi and Harika Dronavalli. It was an unusual sight for the viewers as India No. 2 lost his way in the event, unable to score in the last five games of the day. In the ninth round, the Nashik Lad missed a tactic against Indian youngster D. Gukesh in an equal rook and knight endgame, losing a pawn, that proved decisive.
GM Le Quang Liem and GM Maghsoodloo had a steady start as they finished the day in third and fourth position respectively.
Youngster Raunak Sadhwani had his moments in the day winning three important games against Nihal Sarin, D. Gukesh, and former World Junior Champion, Maghsoodloo.
It was a tough outing for the only women player, Harika Dronavalli, who ended the day with a solitary win and three draws. She would be looking for a fightback in the last nine games on Day two.
Photos by Lennart Ootes