Aditya Sur Roy / ChessBase India

7th Sharjah Masters Round 4: Tie for First Between Niemann, Salem, Aravindh

ChessAnalysisChess PersonalitiesOver the boardTournament
No perfect scores in the 7th Sharjah Masters as the top 4 boards drew their games in round 4.

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IM Irene Sukandar is covering the event for Lichess on our YouTube and Twitch at 11:00 UTC until 22 May!



After Four Rounds

After a peaceful round 4, which saw the top 4 boards draw, there is a threeway tie for first between Hans Moke Niemann, A.R. Saleh Salem, and Chithambaram Veerappan Aravindh, who all sit on 3.5/4. The group chasing the top players is huge, though, with ranks 4–15 on 3/4. The chasing pack includes pre-tournament favorites Arjun Erigaisi and M. Amin Tabatabaei, established players such as Sam Shankland, Vladimir Fedoseev, and Alexey Sarana, up-and-coming Javokhir Sindarov, Volodar Murzin, Bardiya Daneshvar, Gupta Sankalp, and Mahammad Muradli, as well as well-known players like Abhimanyu Puranik and Daniil Yuffa. With five more rounds to go, the field is wide open and it is indeed anyone's tournament to win.

Round 1

The tournament started off without any huge surprises as some of the favorites won, while other rating favorites drew — of course, a very expected result as the 2650–2700 rated players were paired against 2550–2600 rated players. Arjun Erigaisi, M. Amin Tabatabaei, and Vladimir Fedoseev won their games against Eltaj Safarli, Venkatesh Pranav, and Fernando Peralta, respectively, while the remaining seven of the top ten boards drew their games.

Erigaisi played a rather positional approach against the Najdorf, but that did not stop him from getting a big advantage by move 17. His pawns started rolling and he won an exchange soon enough, achieving a technically winning position. Erigaisi duly converted, sealing the game in 45 moves.

Tabatabaei channeled his inner Morphy and went on a brutal kingside assault against Pranav's king — all of that from a Giuoco Pianissimo, an often rather tame opening. After sacrificing an exchange to achieve light-squared dominance, a sacrifice Pranav declined, Tabatabaei sacrificed a knight to crash through on the kingside. Pranav also declined the offer, but, when faced with a queen sacrifice on move 30, instead of declining the sacrifice, Pranav resigned as he would get mated in two moves were he to take the queen.

Round 2

Round 2 also followed a similar script, with the rating favorites largely scoring wins this time, more so than draws — well, with the exception of board 1, where Arjun Erigaisi lost to Nikolas Theodorou.

Commentator Irene Sukandar was surprised by how quickly Theodorou dispatched Erigaisi. The Semi-Tarrasch is usually a very solid opening, but when White is able to get e5 in (usually as a pawn sacrifice), kingside attacks, which usually include rook lifts, abound. On move 21, Theodorou got in e5 and while the engine assessed the position as equal, it was clear that Erigaisi would be on the back foot. Erigaisi blundered just a few moves later, resigning on move 28.

Ever creative chess legend Vasyl Ivanchuk played a rather unique Anti-Nimzo-Indian setup against Tabatabaei, but he was not able to get any sort of advantage as Tabatabaei played logical, positional moves. A mistaken rook trade on move 31 made Ivanchuk's position difficult, where he then proceeded to blunder in an endgame.

Perhaps taking some inspiration from Praggnanandhaa's Schliemann Defense Deferred in the recently concluded 2024 Candidates tournament, Jakhongir Vakhidov essayed the Siesta Variation against Niemann's Ruy Lopez, which is quite similar to the Schliemann. Unfortunately for Vakhidov, his preparation did not work at all as Niemann played sensible moves and quickly got a winning advantage by move 10.

Round 3

The game between Fedoseev and Salem took the spotlight as Salem sacrificed a rook and then a queen to deliver checkmate against Fedoseev's suddenly unsafe king. Boards 3, 4, and 5 also saw decisive games, with Niemann, Aravindh, and Puranik winning against Theodorou, Krzyzanowski, and Maghsoodloo, respectively.

After a somewhat topsy-turvy game, Fedoseev seemed to have an advantage with 26. Nf6+, which IM Irene Sukandar was analyzing during the live commentary. However, he played the rather uninspiring and slow 26. Qh3, giving Salem the opportunity to take the initiative with the incisive sacrifice 26...Rxb3!!. With a queen sacrifice leading to forced checkmate, Salem won in brilliant style.

Opposite-colored bishop endgames are drawish, certainly, but that is definitely not so for opposite-colored bishop middlegames, or queenless middlegames for that matter. Niemann proved that once again the side with the initiative in these positions can get a rather sizeable advantage, and with precise positional play, Niemann was able to convert his advantage against Theodorou in crushing style.

Aravindh also played a wonderful positional game against Krzyzanowski, but Aravindh's king was somewhat awkwardly placed, so there was always danger to look out for. Said king placement, though, afforded Aravindh's pieces a lot of activity, and as long as he was careful about any tactics, he would have a very stable and large advantage. With the center closed, Aravindh launched a kingside attack, which Krzyzanowski could only stop by ... resigning.

Puranik played a similar setup with an early Nd5 against the Najdorf as his compatriot, Erigaisi. Puranik had an advatange throughout the game, but he lost said advantage at multiple points as well. After two questionable queen moves by Maghsoodloo in 52...Qf3 and 54...Qe4, though, Puranik was back in the driver's seat and won the game with a nice tactic.

Round 4

As in any open tournament, the leaders often decide to take strategic breaks to rest up and prepare for their next games. Thus, it was not surprising to see the first four boards see rather quick and tame draws — well, other than board 2, where Tabatabaei had a winning advantage against Aravindh, one which he was not able to convert.

Blink once and you will miss Salem and Niemann's 13-move energy-conserving draw.

You can check out the remaining games here:

On board 5, though, Erigaisi was playing for a win as he had to recover from his round 2 loss. Playing one of his favorite openings, the French Defense, he was able to castle long and get into an opposite-side castling position where he could play for a win. With an exchange sacrifice in the endgame, which Petrosyan saw best to give back immediately, Erigaisi had a winning rook endgame and proceeded to win on move 46.

Boards 7-10 were also decisive. Notable among them was Krzyzanowski vs. Sindarov, where Sindarov also played a rather strong game, simply piling on pressure against Krzyzanowski's king.

Again, make sure to catch our live coverage of the event on YouTube and Twitch!

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