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IM Mahdi Gholami Orimi wins Road to Sharjah 2024

9,000+ players, 37,000+ game of chess, one invitation and $1,100 on the line

Road to Sharjah 2024 took place online on Lichess, from 22nd to 31st March 2024. Sharjah Cultural & Chess Club, for the first time, offered an invitation to Sharjah Chess Masters, with accommodation covered, to the winner of an online series of tournament, open to all, regardless of rating. From this series, the Iranian IM Mahdi Gholami Orimi emerged winner, beating GM Boris Savchenko 1.5-0.5 in the finals. Let's dive deeper into this series of tournaments:

The format

Stage 1:

Three arenas with a 3+0 time control took place, on 22nd, 23rd and 24th March 2024, with a total participation of 9000+ players from all over the world. From these arenas, the top 10 untitled players of each, qualified to Stage 2.

Stage 2:

The players qualified from stage 1 were joined by titled players, in an 11 rounds swiss tournament on 30th March, with a time control of 5+2. 217 players in total joined the fight, for 8 spots to the 3rd and final stage - and a guaranteed share to the prize fund.

Stage 3:

The top 8 players from stage 2 participated in a knockout tournament; The matches consisted of 2 games of 10+2, and in case of a tie, additional 2 games of 5+2; The players competed for their share of a $1,100 prize fund, and an invitation to Sharjah Chess Masters 2024, with accommodation covered by Sharjah Cultural & Chess Club.

Sharjah Chess Masters 2024

Sharjah Chess Tournament 2024 will take place from 13th May (arrival) to 23rd May (departure). The players will be split in three sections this year: Masters (2500+ FIDE standard rating), Challengers (1900-2499) and Futures (up to 1899). The total prize fund is $65,800, out of which $52,000 for the Masters section, $8,800 for Challengers and $5,000 for futures. If you missed your chance to qualify through Road to Sharjah don't worry - you can still sign up until 25th April! You can find the regulations here and the registration form here.

The chess action

Stage 2

In stage 2, 217 players participated, with an average Lichess blitz rating of 2501(!). GM Boris Savchenko finished first, undfeated, with 9/11, tied with IM Rudik Makarian. Five players were tied for 3rd - 7th position; IM Mahdi Gholami Orimi, later to be the overall winner, FM Goutham Krishna H, IM Ilamparthi A R, Georgijs Germanovs - the only untitled player to go through, with an impressive 3/3 in the final rounds and FM Reza Mahdavi. The fight for the 8th player was very intense, with 5 players tied at 8/11, and one qualifying spot remaining. GM Sabino Brunello went through due to superior tiebreaks, with the Dutch GM Thomas Beerdsen nearly missing it, despite his 3/3 run in the final round and his clinical conversion of his round 11 endgame edge:

Stage 3 - Quarterfinals

The quarterfinals opened with a GM clash, between Savchenko and Brunello; In the first game, Brunello managed to get a significant advantage out of the opening, with superior king safety and pieces activity. However, a few mιssteps in white's atttack followed by Savchenko's clever resources were enough for this advantage to evaporate, with the game later ending in a draw. With the 2nd game of the match decided by a tactical oversight of the Italian GM, Savchenko went through to the semifinals.

IM Gholami Orimi managed to outplay his opponent, Germanovs in their match. After losing the first game, Germanovs tried to create complications for his opponent in the rematch, having already sacrificed a pawn in the opening for the initiative - however Gholami Orimi managed to simplify the position and later went on to win the game and secure his spot in the semifinals.

With the first game of the match between FM Reza Mahdavi and IM Rudik Makarian ending in a rather uneventful draw, the ticket to the semifinals was meant to be decided in an adrenaline-filled rematch. With both players having less than a minute since move 25 - and only 2 seconds increment, Makarian managed to seal the win -and his semifinals spot- in a complicated, chaotic endgame.

Having won the first game of the match vs Ilamparthi A R, Goutham Krishna H tried to go for the kingside initiative with the white pieces against his opponent's dutch. However, with only 2 seconds on the clock, a natural-looking move, 36. Kh2?? was enough to cost him his queen, the game, and later on the qualification, as his compatriot, IM Ilamparthi A R emerged winner from the blitz tiebreaks.

Stage 3 - Semifinals

The match between Savchen Ilamparthi A R opened with a highly complicated imbalanced game, where white decides to give two pieces for a rook and 2 pawns:

Navigating this middlegame, neither of the players got a significant advantage, and the game concluded with white drawing a 3 pieves against rook and 3 pawns endgame.
In the rematch, Savchenko managed to get the advantage early on, both on the board and on the clock, and went on converting it into a win.

The second pair of the semifinals, Gholami Orimi vs Makarian, evolved with a dramatic twist; The later on winner of the tournament, after missing a winning opportunity, succumbed to his opponent's pressure, losing the first game and getting himself into a must-win situation with the black pieces. That barely was a problem for him, however - he managed to convert his slight opening edge into a full win, sending the match into the tiebreaks. With the catalan played in the first game of the tiebreaks, Gholami Orimi outmanauvered his opponent in a seemingly equal game, and, drawing the rematch, he secured the second ticket to the final.

Stage 3 - Final

The finals certainly did not disappoint us in terms of chess action. In the first game, Gholami Orimi, playing with the white pieces against Savchenko, executed on the board a practically quite interesting - despite the computer evaluation - sacrifice on the board:

Savchenko would need to find many consecutive single moves in order to survive this position and maintain an equality - however this is not what happened in the game. The Iranian IM managed to convert his overwhelming attack into material and positional advantage, and later on a win.
In the second game, Gholami Orimi went for the unusual choice to give two pieces for a rook and pawn. However Savchenko did not manage to get a big advantage out of it, later on got into a worse position, with the game eventually ending in a draw.

Mahdi Gholami Orimi, winning the finals with a score of 1.5-0.5, won the Road to Sharjah 2024 - and together with that, a prize of $400, and a spot in Sharjah Chess Masters 2024, with accommodation covered by Sharjah Cultural & Chess Club. As usually, you will be able to follow all the chess action in Sharjah Chess Masters on Lichess - the link will be shared soon.

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