Struggling for form, Arjun Erigaisi produced a scintillating finish to his campaign in the $45,000 Masters section of the premier Sharjah Masters chess tournament and emerged an impressive winner on Thursday.
The eighth seed, placed seventh among eight leaders after the penultimate round, scripted a dominating 27-move victory over Uzbekistan’s Yakubboev Nodirbek on the third board for a winning tally of 6.5 points from nine rounds.
The final-round triumph for the 2022 Chess Olympiad’s individual silver medallist over the gold medallist proved decisive as four of the top five boards, involving other overnight leaders, ended in draws.
The title was worth $10,000, a gold medal and a trophy. More importantly, this success should help Arjun regain the confidence that was instrumental in his meteoric rise since March last year.
Arjun gained about nine points to make amends for the points lost in the Tepe Sigeman tournament earlier this month and moved fractionally ahead of his starting rating of 2701.
Unbeaten second seed D. Gukesh (6) was third following a top-board draw with Iran’s Amin Tabatabaei. He received the bronze medal and $7,000, behind overnight leader USA’s Samuel Sevian, after a seven-way tie for the second spot.
Nihal Sarin topped a 10-player bunch at 5.5 points to finish ninth.
Other Indians at 5.5 points were S. L. Narayanan (13th), R. Praggnanandhaa (15th) and B. Adhiban (18th). Aryan Chopra (5), the player to spoil Arjun’s unbeaten run, was 19th. However, the biggest disappointment was third seed Vidit Gujrathi, who finished 47th.
In this unique event, where all 78 participants representing 31 countries were Grandmasters with an average rating of 2617, Arjun raised his game in the second half and eventually stood the tallest.
After starting with a win against Poland’s Kacper Piorun, rated 100 rating points below at 2601, Arjun drew with Turkey’s Mustafa Yilmaz (2641) and Czech Republic’s Nguyen Thai Dai Van (2645).
In the fourth round, Aryan delivered a crushing blow that sent Arjun down to the 38th spot. On the brighter side, this also proved to be the wake-up call that his youngster needed. In the remaining five rounds, Arjun was to score a whopping 4.5 points.
Arjun’s resurrection began with a win over Spain’s Hipolito Asis Gargatagli (2519), a draw with Armenia’s Shant Sargsyan (2630) and then a hat-trick of wins over the Russians Sergie Azarov (2582), Vladislav Kovalev (2612) and Uzbek Yakubboev (2630).
Gukesh, rated 2732 and one of the front-runners for the title, stayed among the leaders for the better part of his campaign but draws in the last three rounds against eventual runner-up USA’s Samuel Sevian (2684) and Grigoriy Oparin (2667) followed by the one against Tabatabaei (2677) slowed him down. Gukesh gains 5.5 rating points by performing at the highest level 2781 in the competition.
How the 16 Indians fared:
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