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Surprise Winner in Al Ain Print E-mail
By Diana Mihajlova   
January 3, 2015
Every now and then, an obscure player from the lower echelons lifts the cup leaving behind a pack of much higher rated GMs. That was the case at the Al Ain Classic held from December 18-27, in which Georgian GM  Gaoiz Nigalidze emerged as a surprise winner in a field of 43 GMs. Having started as a 28th seed, by the 6th round he was already a sole leader with 5,5/6 and a performance of 2889.

Among his victims were  GMs above 2600 including Alexander Areshchenko, Abhijeet Gupta and Yuriy Kuzubov. Nigalidze kept the winning streak till the end and won the first place and 11,000 dollars. Petrosian Tigran (ARM), Onischuk Vladimir (UKR), Zhigalko Sergei (BLR), Kryvoruchko Yuriy (UKR) followed. Find the full ranking list here.


Photo: Nigalidze and the cup

Kuzubov,Yuriy (2536) - Nigalidze,Gaioz (2681) [B92]
Annotations by 
Sagar Shah

The two players had previously met at the European Individual Championships in 2014 and Nigalidze had got the better of Kuzubov with the white pieces. The 2014 Ukrainian champion must have been itching for revenge.
Kuzubov usually opens with 1.d4 but today decides to play 1.e4.
1...c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be2 e5 7.Nb3 Be7 8.0-0 0-0 9.Be3 Be6 10.a4 Nbd7 11.a5 Rc8 12.Qd2 Qc7 13.Rfd1

This opening position is very popular in the Najdorf. It has already been reached 300 times and the likes of Anand, Gelfand, Svidler, Mamedyarov have played it. But nobody could come up with the following bold sacrifice played by Gaoiz Nigalidze.

Objectively this is not so strong, but White has to defend with extreme care if he would like to retain an advantage. Not an easy task when you have been surprised in a position that you had previously studied well.
14.Nxe4 Qxc2 15.Qxc2 Rxc2

Black has two pawns for the piece, the b2 pawn is hanging and so is the knight on b3.
16.Nc1 d5 17.Ng5 Bxg5 18.Bxg5 Rxb2
Now Black has three pawns. But the extra pawn on the queenside doesn't really count, as the a5 pawn paralyses both the a6 and b7 pawns. So in effect it's only like being two pawns up. White should be better here.
19.Be7 Rc8 20.Bd3

Better was to tuck in the bishop on f1. [20.Bf1!]
20...Nc5 21.Bxc5 Rxc5 22.Bb1
22.Bxa6!? was a nice little tactical shot. 22...e4 (22...bxa6 23.Nd3+-) 23.Bf1
For the next few moves Gaoize tries to play around in the position trying to provoke mistakes from Kuzubov. The difficult part for White is that his minor pieces have neither real weaknesses to attack nor any real outposts.
23.Nd3 Re2 24.Kf1 Re4 25.Ne1 Reb4 26.f3 g5 27.Bd3 Rc5 28.Be2 e4 29.Rd2 f5


The avalanche of pawns begins to descend on White. Already the position is much easier to play as Black, and he might well have the advantage.
30.Rc2 Rxc2 31.Nxc2 Rb2 32.Nd4 Kf7 33.Ke1 Kf6 34.Kd1 Ke5 35.Kc1 Rb4 36.Nxe6 Kxe6 37.Kc2?!
37.fxe4 fxe4 38.Rb1 offering the rooks for exchange is a logical idea. 38...Rxb1+ 39.Kxb1 This endgame is objectively a draw. It is true that Black's task is much easier: White has to find the exact configuration of his pieces. But for a player of Kuzubov's standard this would not have been difficult. 39...Kd6 40.Kc2 Kc5 41.Kd2 d4 42.Bg4 h6 43.Bf5 e3+ 44.Kd3 b6 45.axb6 Kxb6 46.Kc2 Kc5 47.Bd3 a5 48.Kb3 g4 49.Ka4 Kb6 50.h3 gxh3 51.gxh3 h5 52.h4 Kc6 53.Kxa5 Kd5 54.Kb4 Ke5 55.Kc4 Kf4 56.Be2 Kg3 57.Bxh5 Kxh4 58.Kxd4 Kxh5 59.Kxe3= Not a forced line but you get an idea of how the play could have proceeded.
 37...d4 38.g4 d3+ 39.Bxd3 exd3+


This rook endgame now is extremely difficult for White to defend. He is a pawn down and the black rook is very active. Nigalidze plays the rest of the game to perfection.
40.Kc3 Rf4 41.Rb1 Rxf3 42.Rxb7 Rh3 43.Rb6+ Ke5 44.gxf5 Kxf5 45.Rxa6 Rxh2 46.Kxd3 h5 47.Ra8 h4 48.Ke3 Kg4 49.a6 Ra2 50.a7 h3 51.Rd8 Rxa7 52.Kf2 Ra2+ 53.Kg1 Kg3 54.Rd3+ Kh4 55.Rd4+ g4 56.Rb4 Re2 57.Ra4 Kg3 58.Ra3+ Kf4 59.Ra4+ Kf3 60.Ra3+ Re3 61.Ra1 g3 62.Rf1+ Kg4 63.Rb1 h2+ 64.Kg2 Re2+ 65.Kh1 Kh3

This game teaches us that even if your opening idea is not 100% sound, if you believe in it and try to follow up in the most accurate manner, it is possible to beat the strongest opposition. 0-1

GM Sam Shankland was the only representative from the USA. Sam has been hopping around tournaments for a while, even breaking into the World's top 100 players, before landing in Al Ain. He played at the Qatar Masters that had finished just a few days earlier and came to Al Ain after a short holiday in India.

Early in the New Year, he will be heading to the Wijk-aan-Zee, for the Tata Steel Challengers.

Sam Shankland

It was not Sam's best tournament but he still pocketed $700 for his 15th place, with 6/9. 

Shankland , luggage

Sam collecting his prize, with his rucksack, ready to catch the transport to the airport.

Shankland,Samuel L (2642) - Bajarani,Ulvi (2494) [C11]

Al Ain Classic 2014 -19-27 December Al Ain (4.4), 21.12.2014
Annotations by 
Sagar Shah

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4 c5 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.Be3 a6 8.Qd2 b5 9.dxc5 Bxc5 10.Bd3
It was earlier thought that this move was not possible because of the pawn fork with d5-d4. But White gets excellent compensation after d4 and it was proved in the game Karjakin vs Topalov 2013. Black players usually refrain from playing d4 and instead focus on completing the development.


10...d4?! 11.Nxd4 Nxd4 12.Ne4! Qh4+ 13.Bf2 (13.g3 Nf3+-+) 13...Qg4 14.Bxd4 Bxd4 15.Nd6++- was seen in Karjakin-Topalov in which the white player won a miniature.]
11.Bf2 b4 12.Na4 Bxf2+ 13.Qxf2 Qxf2+ 14.Kxf2

This is not a new position. This has already been played by many strong players, most notably by Karjakin against Carlsen, Potkin and So with a score of 2.0/3.

14...0-0 might well be the safer alternative.
15.Rac1 Bb7 16.c4 Ne7

16...dxc4 17.Bxc4±
17.cxd5 Bxd5 18.Bb5

We are just out of the opening and Black is already struggling. He cannot castle and threats like Nb6 are in the air.
18...Rb8 19.Nd4 Kd8 20.Rhd1 Nb6 21.Nc5!


And Black resigned. A very interesting position mainly because there is no defense against the mating threat of Nxe6![21.Nc5 Rc8 (21...Nf5 22.Nc6++-; 21...Ng6 22.Nc6++-) 22.Ndxe6+ fxe6 23.Nxe6# is a very nice mate!]  1-0

Some curiosity: few years back, I reported on a unique prize awarded at the Paris Open Championship - for the most elegantly dressed player. Here, in Al Ain we have another dalliance from the usual awards: two players were awarded a prize for a ‘best score sheet'.      

It is a logical demonstration of national characteristics - France insists on elegance and neat appearance, and the Arabs insist on neat handwriting, inspired by their appreciation of calligraphy.  Considering how ineligible some score sheets can be (a psychology branch holds ineligible handwriting a mental disturbance) it is a worthy attempt to encourage a ‘clean' presentation of your moves.  


Awarded for their handwriting: Indians, IM Vijayalakshmi Subbaraman and WFM Rucha Pujari 

The Al Ain Classic ended  with a grand prize giving ceremony attended by the Sheikh Sultan bin Khalifa Shakhboot Al Nahyan, who is President of the Al Ain Chess and Culture Club and also of the Asian Chess  Federation, which is an official branch of FIDE.    

Al Ain, which means ‘spring', is at 120 km south of Dubai. It is a far cry from the bustling opulence of  Dubai. You will not see a skyscraper. Its main attributes are flowers, parks and palms, which gave it its nickname: a ‘Garden City'.  

A typical architecture of the villa type houses with geometric lines and monochromatic hues of cream and light brown shades predominate in this genteel city in the Arabian Desert.

The ‘winter' is 25 degree Celsius daytime with slightly cooler evenings.  

The 5-star hotel Rotana Hili accommodated the majority of players and also contained the playing venue.  Equipped with high class amenities - a restaurant with sumptuous, varied buffet meals, large gym, a heated outside swimming pool, plenty of refreshments and snacks during the game - contributed to the atmosphere.


A flavor of the exquisite Emirati traditional music and dance can be sampled from the video of the Opening ceremony which was grand, rich with cultural and historical presentations and was held in the presence of representatives of the Royal family. For many of us it was a first time acquaintance with the Emirati traditional ‘stick and hair dances'. 

Video: Opening ceremony


It is not to early to make plans for the next edition. Dr. Saif Alnuaimi, head of the organizing committee,  hinted that next year's prize fund would be further increased, the Al Ain Classic could be a tournament to be ticked in your chess calendar.

Video: a summary video, players and closing ceremony



The ever diligent tournament director Tarek Al Taher in a rare moment of relaxation at the restaurant with Diana Mihajlova, Photo: Amruta Mokal


A beautiful face of my new friend at the Al Ain's Camels market