Grandmaster Aravindh Chithambaram grabbed the pole position in the eighth round after spoiling erstwhile undefeated GM Arjun Erigaisi’s 19th birthday on Saturday.
The 13th-seed Chithambaram defeated Erigaisi in 45 moves to improve to seven points, giving him a half point lead going into the final round of the Dubai Open Chess Tournament at the Dubai Chess and Culture Club.
A back-to-back champion of India in 2018 and 2019, Chithambaram zoomed to the top of the standings with his fourth straight win after successive draws in rounds three and four.
The other seventh-round co-leaders GM Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa of India and GM Alexandr Predke of Russia settled for a relatively uneventful draw on the first board, relegating both to a two-way tie at second place.
Having earlier demonstrated his deep preparation in a sideline of the Sicilian Defense in round five, Erigaisi this time employed the King’s Indian Attack, an opening system characterised by strategic placement of pieces in a closed position that can sometimes lead to violent mating attacks.
Chithambaram avoided such skirmishes by exchanging pawns on e4 by move eight, releasing the tension in the centre, but a queen sacrifice for a rook and a bishop by Erigaisi on move 19 created a new twist to an otherwise balanced game.
Despite being a queen up, Chithambaram assessed the position as equal until a pawn grab by Erigasi on the 23rd move, which the new tournament leader considered too risky.
“I think he over pushed,” Chithambaram told Khaleej Times. “He unnecessarily took on a7, which I felt was a little bit dangerous for white.”
Chithambaram had actually offered his rook for one Erigaisi’s bishops, which the second seed declined, opting to keep his bishop pair and more pieces on the board.
“Maybe Be6 (taking the rook) was the safe option for him,” said Chithambaram. Erigasi’s rejection of a piece trade gave Chithambaram time to launch an offensive with his queen and knight, taking advantage of the weak light squares around the white king.
Chithambaram will try to go for the title with the white pieces against Praggnanandhaa in the final round on Sunday, which will start at 10am, a potential a challenge for many players who have been used to the 5 pm sessions.
“I have been sleeping late, but today I have to sleep early (for tomorrow’s morning game),” said Chithambaram. “It’s going to be a difficult day.”
Against Praggnanandhaa’s Queen’s Gambit, Predke went for the Ragozin Defence, where black deploys his kingside bishop to a more aggressive square on b4. By move 30, the Russian offered a draw in a position he felt he may have a slight pull with his pair of bishops.
Praggnanandhaa gave it a thought before accepting. “The position was equal and I had less time,” Praggnanandhaa said. “He offered a draw and I thought it’s okay to take it.”
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