Former champions in red-hot form at Dubai Open Chess Tournament

1999 winner Vladimir Akopian and 2011 champion Abhijeet Gupta post fastest wins in the second round

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Vladimir Akopian at the Dubai Open on Sunday. (Supplied photo)
Vladimir Akopian at the Dubai Open on Sunday. (Supplied photo)

By Team KT

Published: Sun 28 Aug 2022, 11:09 PM

Former world championship finalist Vladimir Akopian and former world junior champion Abhijeet Gupta scored the fastest wins in the second round of the Dubai Open Chess Tournament as both aim to become the first player to win twice in Dubai since English grandmaster Gawain Jones won back-to-back titles n 2016-17.

Akopian, the tournament’s inaugural champion in 1999, was among those pitted against a fellow grandmaster and he wasted no time in scoring the round’s first point, beating GM Rajaram Laxman of India in 26 moves.

Gupta, who ruled here in 2011, followed suit shortly, outplaying Iranian teenage talent, Fide Master (FM) Arad Nazari, in a Ruy Lopez game.

“It would be nice to win it again after 10 years,” Gupta tells Khaleej Times, but pointing out that getting back into form is his main goal. “I just want to play good chess because I haven’t been playing that well of late. I just feel that if you play good chess, good things will happen.”

Gupta, wielding the black pieces, opted for an early queen sortie against Nazari’s Exchange variation of the Ruy Lopez, and then followed it up by castling queenside and unleashing an aggressive pawn push to g5 for an all-out kingside attack.

The position remained double-edged until the Iranian decided to exchange bishops, a move Gupta criticised, revealing that white’s best chance to keep the game dynamically balanced was to launch a direct assault against black’s king.

The game proceeded to a massive liquidation of pieces and an endgame where Gupta’s two queenside passed pawns proved decisive.

Confronted by Rajaram Laxman’s dangerous Torre Attack, Akopian came well-prepared against the Indian grandmaster’s pet line, responding by fianchettoing his kingside bishop and tucking his queen to the e8-square, avoiding the dangerous pin that is the trademark of the Torre Attack.

Laxman started to lose the thread a dozen moves into the game when he gave up the bishop pair, and then inexplicably allowed the former Fide knockout world chess championship finalist to win a piece in the kingside on the 17th move.

Akopian’s advantage increased to a full rook when Laxman decided to call it a game on the 26th move.

While many familiar names, including top-seed GM Alexandr Predke of Russia, GM Arjun Erigaisi and GM Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa of India, also won and joined Gupta and Akopian in the lead with two points, the round also saw its first top 10 player going down with a loss.

GM Sandro Mareco, seeded fifth in the tournament, was outplayed by another talented Iranian teenager, FM Seyed Kian Poormosavi, who countered the Argentinian grandmaster’s Sicilian Defence with a seldom-played variation where white pushes a pawn to the b3-square and fianchettoes his bishop in the queenside.

The game remained balanced though, until Mareco declined a repetition of moves, which would have resulted in a draw, and instead allowed an exchange of queens.

The resulting endgame was comfortably better for the Iranian, who gradually increased his advantage anchored on his powerful pair of bishops and solid grip on the open d-file.

In a minor upset, third-seed GM Amin Tabatabaei of Iran was held to a draw by Uzbekistan teenager FM Mukhiddin Madaminov, while Olympiad silver medallist GM Samvel Ter-Sahakyan, the ninth seed, settled for a draw with IM Julien Song of France.

The third round will start at 5pm on Monday at the Dubai Chess and Culture Club.

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