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The fight for India number one!

by Sagar Shah - 22/02/2016

Ever since Anand's substandard performance at the Gibraltar Masters, analysts have been keeping a keen eye on the live rating list. Reason? There has been a sharp race between Harikrishna and Vishy on who would become India number one on the Elo rating charts. Hari came close on many occasions but was not able to overtake the five-time World Champion. On 21st February 2016, the two met each other across a chess board in the ninth round of the German Bundesliga. Read the article to know what happened in this thrilling game and who is the current numero Uno of Indian chess. 

Since the past few weeks, we have been witnessing quite an intense race between Vishy Anand and Pentala Harikrishna for becoming India's number  one player based on Elo ratings. The climax of the race took place on the 21st of February 2016 when Anand representing Baden Baden was up against Harikrishna, playing for Solingen, in the ninth round of the 2015-16 German Bundesliga.

Getting to the game

Anand who was on 2784 was leading the rating charts comfortably with a nearly 30 points lead over Harikrishna. However, in Gibraltar things started to get really close when Vishy lost 21 Elo points. Hari, on the other hand, played consistently and gained 3.5 Elo points. This meant that the gap had closed down and this is how the things stood at the end of the seventh round at the Gibraltar Masters:

A mere 1.3 Elo points separated the two!

But then Anand won both his games gaining 2.6 Elo points while Hari drew his games losing 1.7 Elo. The difference thus had widened to 5.6 Elo points.


Harikrishna then went to play in the fifth and sixth round of the Bundesliga and beat Lawrence Trent (2455) and Robert Kempinski (2620). This effort won him 4.5 Elo points. The difference narrowed down to just 1.1 Elo points. In the eight round of the Bundesliga where Hari faced Gabriel Christian (2494) with the white pieces, he had the golden opportunity to overtake Anand. A win would have given him 1.8 Elo points and taken him 0.7 Elo points ahead of the five-time World Champion. However, Hari wasn't able to convert the pawn up queen endgame and the duel ended in a draw. Hari thus lost 3.2 Elo points and the Elo difference between India number one and two increased to 4.3.

Anand and Hari chatting before the start of Gibraltar Masters 2016 [picture by Nisha Mohota]

The Game on 21st February 2016

It was as if fate wanted to end this cat and mouse race and preferred Anand and Harikrishna to decide for themselves who would be India number one. The two faced off against each other in the ninth round of the Bundesliga. Anand was playing on board one of the team OSG Baden Baden while Harikrishna was representing SG Solingen. Apart from being a crucial game for Indian fans, this was also an important game from the final Bundesliga standing's point of view, as Baden Baden and Solingen are two of the strongest teams in the event. A win for Harikrishna would rightfully make him India number one on the live rating list while a draw or a loss would keep Vishy on the top.

Anand playing on board one for OSG Baden Baden. Aronian played (and lost) to Rapport on board two (picture by Peter Baudrexel)
Anand playing white opened with 1.e4 and Hari replied with the Taimanov. Vishy played the relatively lesser played 8.f4 and soon showed that he was excellently prepared. He put a lot of pressure on Harikrishna and it seemed as if Black's position would break any moment. But Anand didn't continue resolutely and the game ended in a draw after some nice defensive moves by Harikrishna. "It was an unclear position. Some of his moves surprised me as White should go for a kingside attack. The endgame was fine for Black and I defended well with Kf8, Kg8 and Rb8", is how Harikrishna describes his game.
Without further ado let's have a look at this crucial encounter: (click on the magnifying glass on the top right corner of the chess board (if you are on laptop or desktop) to see the game in full-screen mode)
[Event "Bundesliga 2015-16"]
[Site "Munich GER"]
[Date "2016.02.21"]
[Round "9.1"]
[White "Anand, Viswanathan"]
[Black "Harikrishna, Pentala"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "B48"]
[WhiteElo "2816"]
[BlackElo "2737"]
[Annotator "Sagar Shah"]
[PlyCount "71"]
[EventDate "2015.09.18"]
[EventType "team"]
[WhiteTeam "OSG Baden-Baden"]
[BlackTeam "SG Solingen"]

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nc6 {Harikrishna goes for the Taimanov.}
5. Nc3 Qc7 6. Be3 a6 7. Qd2 Nf6 8. f4 $5 (8. O-O-O {followed by f3 is the main
line. Anand chooses a relative side line with the move f4.}) 8... b5 9. e5 b4
$1 {Meeting e5 with b4 is a knee-jerk reaction in the Sicilian, securing the
d5 square for the f6 knight.} 10. Ncb5 $5 axb5 11. Nxb5 Qb8 12. exf6 gxf6 13.
c4 {One of the important games in this line is Hansen against Shankland.} (13.
Nd4 Nxd4 14. Bxd4 Bb7 15. Bxf6 Rg8 $15 {Gives Black a clearly preferable
position.}) 13... bxc3 14. bxc3 (14. Nxc3 Ne7 {Followed by Nf5 leads to a
clearly fine position for Black.}) 14... Ba6 15. Rb1 Be7 $146 {The first new
move. Earlier games continued Bxb5.} 16. Rb2 Bxb5 $6 (16... O-O $5 $14) 17.
Bxb5 $16 {With the two bishops suddenly White seems to have a clearly
favourable position.} Qc7 18. O-O O-O 19. c4 Ra3 20. Bf2 (20. Qf2 {followed by
Bb6 was much stronger.}) 20... Rd8 21. Rc1 Na7 22. Rb3 Rxb3 23. axb3 {White's
structure is improved but Hari now is able to get rid of the important bishop
with Bc5.} Bc5 24. Ba4 Qb6 $6 (24... Bxf2+ 25. Qxf2 Nc6) 25. Bxc5 (25. b4 $5
Qxb4 26. Qxb4 Bxb4 27. Rb1 (27. Bxa7 Ra8 $11) 27... Bf8 {So that Rb8 later
doesn't come with a check.} 28. Rd1 $44) 25... Qxc5+ 26. Kh1 (26. Qf2 $1 {
Would have given White excellent winning chances.}) 26... Nc6 27. Bxc6 Qxc6 {
Now White's advantage is within control and the position soon peters out to a
draw.} 28. Qd4 Rb8 29. Rc3 Kf8 30. Qxf6 Qd6 31. Rc1 Rxb3 32. f5 Qf4 33. Ra1 Kg8
34. h3 Rb8 35. Rd1 exf5 36. Qd6 {An exciting game and one where Anand would be
disappointed that it ended in a draw. He had decent winning chances.} 1/2-1/2
Harikrishna (left) wearing the blue Solingen outfit (picture by Peter Baudrexel)
This is how things stand at the present moment 
1 Pentala Harikrishna Viswanathan Anand 0.5 : 0.5
2 Richard Rapport Levon Aronian 1 : 0
3 Markus Ragger Michael Adams 0.5 : 0.5
4 Robin Van Kampen Radoslaw Wojtaszek 1 : 0
5 Jan Smeets Peter Svidler 0 : 1
6 Chanda Sandipan Rustam Kasimdzhanov 0.5 : 0.5
7 Predrag Nikolic Etienne Bacrot 0 : 1
8 Alexander Naumann Arkadij Naiditsch 0.5 : 0.5
The important clash between Solingen and Baden Baden ended in a 4:4 draw
1. SG Solingen 17
. 2 OSG Baden-Baden 17
. 3 SK Schwäbisch Hall 15
. 4 SV Werder Bremen 14
. 5 SV 1930 Hockenheim 13
. 6 SK Tower Emsdetten 9
. 7 SV Mülheim North 9
8th. USV TU Dresden 7
. 9 SG Trier 6
10th SF Berlin 1903 6
11th Hamburger SK 6
12th Erfurt SK 5
. 13 SC Hansa Dortmund 5
14th FC Bayern Munich 4
15th SV Griesheim 1976 2
16th SK Norderstedt 1975 1

Thus, Solingen lead the standings right now on tiebreaks

As of now Vishy Anand maintains his India number one spot and we hope that he will be able to perform well at the Candidates 2016 like in 2014 where he won and gained 15 Elo points!
Priyadarshan Banjan looked through some of the games of the Bundesliga and he liked, in particular, Harikrishna's win over Robert Kempinski. Here is the game with annotations by Priyadarshan:
[Event "BL Hamburger SK SG Solingen"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2016. 02. 07"]
[Round "6"]
[White "Harikrishna, Pentala"]
[Black "Kempinski, Robert"]
[Result "1-0"]
[PlyCount "77"]
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 d6 {This
particular move order allows...} 6. g4 {The Keres Attack!} h6 7. h4 a6 8. Rg1 {
Keeping the pressure on the flank, almost forcing black to counter in the
centre.} d5 9. exd5 (9. e5 $2 {overextends, because} Nfd7 10. Qe2 Qb6 $17) 9...
Nxd5 10. Nxd5 Qxd5 11. Be3 Be7 12. Qd2 Bxh4 13. Qc3 Nd7 14. O-O-O Qc5 15. Qb3
Qa5 16. Bg2 (16. Nxe6 fxe6 17. Qxe6+ Be7 18. Qg6+ Kf8 19. g5 Ne5 20. Qe4 hxg5 (
20... h5 21. c3 Nf7 22. Rd5 $16) 21. Rd5 Qe1+ 22. Rd1 Qa5 $11) 16... O-O 17.
Rh1 Nc5 18. Qc4 Be7 {And now, White opens the h-file and the pressure is just
too much for black.} 19. g5 hxg5 20. Rh2 f5 21. Rdh1 Qa4 (21... Kf7 22. Nxf5
$18) 22. Qc3 Ne4 23. Bxe4 fxe4 24. Rh7 {threatening Nxe6 leading to mate.} Bf6
25. Rh8+ Kf7 26. Rxf8+ (26. Qc7+ $2 Bd7 27. Rxf8+ Rxf8 $11) 26... Kxf8 27. Rh8+
Kf7 28. Qc7+ {now, black cannot go ...Bd7 as in the previous line.} Kg6 (28...
Be7 29. a3 $1 {is the quickest, although the obvious Rxc8 is also working.})
29. Qh2 Kf7 30. Qc7+ Kg6 31. Rf8 Bd7 32. Rxa8 Bxd4 33. Bxd4 Qxd4 34. Rd8 Qxf2
35. Qxd7 Qf4+ 36. Kb1 Kh7 37. b3 g4 38. Qe8 Qe5 39. Rd1 {eventually losing the
queen.} 0-1
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