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Gibraltar Masters: The Indian Performance

by Aditya Pai - 07/02/2017

Out of the fifteen players who participated from India, only one was untitled. More importantly, seven of the players were Grandmasters! But given the fact that 12 of the 72 participating GMs were rated above 2700, the task ahead of the Indian contingent was a difficult one. And also, Indians played well in Amateurs and Challengers categories. Report.

Photos by John Saunders and Sophie Triay


Gibraltar Masters: The Indian Performance

World’s strongest open chess tournament, the Gibraltar Masters concluded recently with Hikaru Nakamura clinching the title for the fourth time. The 255-player-field included the cream of the World’s elite with big names like Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in the list of participants. Also worth mentioning is the fact that the tournament was open to anyone who could play chess and be willing to pay the entry fees. However, a small catch was that you had to apply way in advance for gaining entry as, otherwise, all the spots would be filled!


Playing at such an elite event is almost every chess player’s dream. No wonder representatives from almost 50 countries participated at the event and India also had a decent representation.


Out of the fifteen players who participated from India, only one was untitled. More importantly, seven of the players were Grandmasters! Some of the big Indian names in the tournament included GM Surya Ganguly, GM Abhijeet Gupta, and GM SP Sethuraman. But given the fact that 12 of the 72 participating GMs were rated above 2700, the task ahead of the Indian contingent was a difficult one.

Even the highest rated Indian, GM Surya Shekhar Ganguly (rated 2657 at the start of the event) was the 19th seed in the tournament. 

GM SP Sethuraman 

 GM Abhijeet Gupta

Round one, however, began with upsets for the top two Indians. While GM Surya Ganguly was held to a draw by the 2309 rated Scottish FM Alan Tate, GM Abhijeet Gupta lost his game against the German FM Frank Buchenau. And although GM Gupta did his best to overcome the upset by winning his next four games, his streak was broken by the French number one, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. Things started going downhill for him again as his lost his next two games to lower rated opposition. At the end of ten rounds, he finished with a score of 6.0/9 on the 57th spot.


GM Ganguly, on the other hand, lost consecutive games to Stefanova and Bobby Cheng and finished with a score of 6.5/10, losing 12 rating points.

GM Gupta in his round 1 game against FM Frank Buchenau

Surya Ganguly playing Antoaneta Stefanova in round 5

Seeing the experienced GMs struggle, Lalith Babu, SP Sethuraman, and GN Gopal took it upon their shoulders to score. GM Lalith Babu scored two major upsets during the 10-round event. In round 5, he drew the World Rapid Champion Vassily Ivanchuk and in the penultimate round, he was able to hold the 2702 rated Arkadij Naiditsch to a draw.  

[Event "Gibraltar Masters 2017"]
[Site "Caleta ENG"]
[Date "2017.01.28"]
[Round "5.10"]
[White "Lalith, Babu M R"]
[Black "Ivanchuk, Vassily"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "D02"]
[WhiteElo "2587"]
[BlackElo "2752"]
[PlyCount "71"]
[EventDate "2017.01.24"]
1. d4 d5 2. Nf3 c5 3. c4 dxc4 4. d5 e6 5. e4 exd5 6. exd5 Nf6 7. Bxc4 Bd6 8.
O-O O-O 9. h3 a6 10. a4 Bf5 11. Nc3 Nbd7 12. Nh4 Bg6 13. Nxg6 hxg6 14. Bg5 Qa5
15. Qc2 Rae8 16. Rad1 Re7 17. Bd2 Qc7 18. Rfe1 Ne5 19. b3 Rfe8 20. Bf1 c4 21.
Ne4 Nxe4 22. Rxe4 b5 23. axb5 axb5 24. Bc3 Rc8 25. Ba1 Qb7 26. Bxe5 Rxe5 27.
Rxe5 Bxe5 28. bxc4 bxc4 29. Bxc4 Bd6 30. Qe2 Rb8 31. g3 Qb2 32. Qf3 Qf6 33.
Qxf6 gxf6 34. Rd2 f5 35. Kg2 Kf8 36. Re2 1/2-1/2

GM GN Gopal locking horns with Hikaru Nakamura in round 3.

GM GN Gopal scored a major upset by holding the to-be tournament winner, Hikaru Nakamura to a draw.

[Event "Gibraltar Masters 2017"]
[Site "Caleta ENG"]
[Date "2017.01.26"]
[Round "3.1"]
[White "Nakamura, Hikaru"]
[Black "Gopal, G.N."]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "B94"]
[WhiteElo "2785"]
[BlackElo "2579"]
[PlyCount "85"]
[EventDate "2017.01.24"]
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bg5 Nbd7 7. Qe2 h6 8.
Bxf6 Nxf6 9. g3 e5 10. Nf5 Be6 11. O-O-O g6 12. Ne3 Rc8 13. Ned5 Nxd5 14. Nxd5
Rc5 15. b4 Rxd5 16. exd5 Bd7 17. h4 h5 18. Kb2 Bg7 19. c3 O-O 20. a3 f5 21. Ka2
Qc7 22. c4 e4 23. Qd2 a5 24. b5 Qc5 25. Qe3 Qxe3 26. fxe3 Be5 27. Rg1 b6 28.
Be2 Kf7 29. Rdf1 Ke7 30. Kb3 Rc8 31. a4 Rc7 32. Kc2 Rc8 33. Kd2 Rh8 34. Rf4
Bxf4 35. gxf4 Kf6 36. Kc3 Rc8 37. Kd4 Be8 38. Bd1 Bf7 39. Bb3 Rc7 40. Ba2 Rc8
41. Bb3 Rc7 42. Ba2 Rc8 43. Bb3 1/2-1/2

Lalith Babu during his controversial last round game against Hou Yifan

Lalith also won the game against the Women’s World Champion, Hou Yifan that was marred by a controversial protest by his opponent. By the end of the event, GM Lalith Babu had scored 7.0/9 and gained 9 rating point; not to mention that he’d secured an impressive 21st spot for himself (ahead of big names like Yifan, Naiditsch and Ivanchuk) having started as the 37th seed in such an elite event.

The Scintillating Sethu

Tied on an equal score with GM Lalith Babu was GM SP Sethuraman. And although he and Lalith Babu finished at an equal score, Sethu was clearly the star from the Indian contingent. In the course of his 10 games, he not only scored consistently but also played some really tantalizing games.


Be it his sneaky tactic to win the exchange against IM Stefan Docx or the amazing draw against the ultra-artistic Vadim Zvjaginsev, Sethu’s games always had the audience on their toes. And had he not missed the computer like tactic in his game against Mickey Adams, he might have been one a serious contender to finish among the top ten at the very least! 

In the game Docx-Sethuraman after 22. Bd6 Rfe8, White took the knight on d5, hoping for 23…Rxe2. Can you see how Sethu shocked his opponent and got a winning position?

Now, have a look at the draw he earned against Vadim Zvjaginsev.

[Event "Gibraltar Masters 2017"]
[Site "Caleta ENG"]
[Date "2017.01.28"]
[Round "5.6"]
[White "Zvjaginsev, Vadim"]
[Black "Sethuraman, S.P."]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "C24"]
[WhiteElo "2679"]
[BlackElo "2637"]
[PlyCount "61"]
[EventDate "2017.01.24"]
1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 Nf6 3. d3 Nc6 4. Nc3 Bb4 5. Nf3 d5 6. exd5 Nxd5 7. Bd2 Bxc3 8.
bxc3 Bg4 9. h3 Bh5 10. O-O O-O 11. g4 Bg6 12. Re1 Re8 13. a4 h6 14. a5 e4 15.
dxe4 Bxe4 16. a6 bxa6 17. Bg5 Nf6 18. Qxd8 Raxd8 19. Bxf6 gxf6 20. Nd4 Nxd4 21.
cxd4 Rxd4 22. Bxa6 Re5 23. c3 Rd8 24. f4 Re6 25. Bf1 Ra8 26. Bc4 Ree8 27. Ra6
Kg7 28. Rea1 f5 29. Rxa7 fxg4 30. hxg4 Rxa7 31. Rxa7 1/2-1/2

Playing against Adams in the penultimate round.

So even though none of the Indians made it to the main prize list, quite a few of our players proved that they are a force to be reckoned with, even for the very best in the world.

[Event "Gibraltar Masters 2017"]
[Site "Caleta ENG"]
[Date "2017.02.01"]
[Round "9.4"]
[White "Adams, Michael"]
[Black "Sethuraman, S.P."]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "A20"]
[WhiteElo "2751"]
[BlackElo "2637"]
[PlyCount "87"]
[EventDate "2017.01.24"]
1. c4 e5 2. g3 c6 3. d4 e4 4. Nc3 d5 5. Bg2 Nf6 6. cxd5 cxd5 7. Bg5 Nbd7 8. Qb3
Bd6 9. Nh3 h6 10. Bf4 Nb6 11. Be5 Ng4 12. Bxg7 Rg8 13. Be5 Nxe5 14. dxe5 Bxe5
15. Rd1 Be6 16. Nxe4 Qc8 17. Nf4 dxe4 18. Qb5+ Nd7 19. Rxd7 Qxd7 20. Qxe5 O-O-O
21. O-O Qc7 22. Qxe4 Kb8 23. Nxe6 fxe6 24. Qxe6 h5 25. Qf6 Rdf8 26. Qh4 Rf5 27.
Bf3 Rd8 28. Kg2 Rc5 29. b4 Rc4 30. Qxh5 Rxb4 31. Qg5 Qd6 32. Rc1 a6 33. h4 Rb5
34. Qg7 Rd7 35. Qh8+ Rd8 36. Qc3 a5 37. h5 a4 38. h6 Qxh6 39. Qc7+ Ka7 40. Rc4
Rd6 41. Rxa4+ Ra6 42. Rh4 Qf8 43. a4 Rb4 44. Rf4 1-0

Challengers-B: Chinmay Kulkarni (2208) in his final round encounter. Chinmay finished first with a perfect score of 5.0/5.

Amateurs-A: Andhra Pradesh's Sandhya G. (1745) finished first in the tiebreak with 4.5/5.

Chinmay Kulkarni, Anuprita Patil, and Eesha Karavade.

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