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Reports by GM Stuart Conquest | All pictures by Prashila Narsing Chauhan
For an additional gallery of photographs by Brendan O’Gorman – click here
For an article from the FT by Leonard Barden click here
Prizegiving pictures – new page
And so the ninth and final round of the Masters arrives, with three leaders at the start of play: Brandon Jacobson, Abhijeet Gupta, and Pengxiang Zhang, all on 6,5/8. Behind them follow Shreyas Royal, Deep Sengupta, and Eldar Gasanov on 6/8. The winner – or winners – must therefore come from these two groups, but the chasing players on 5,5/8 are also in the frame for a potential high placing and, with it, a good prize.
As for tame, quiet draws, we need not have worried. Of the top ten games, eight ended decisively, and the two in which honours were shared were hard fought and, though very different in tone, equally absorbing. First to finish was the board two clash, where Deep Sengupta’s French Defence looked about to spring a leak or two. His opponent, Pengxiang Zhang, had at least one golden chance to put the Indian under heavy pressure, perhaps even gaining an overwhelming advantage, but missed it, and the game spun forward in a new trajectory. The lines now levelled and in a curious manner the game ended in a repetition of checks, with neither side able to risk more. Thus Pengxiang’s final tally was 7/9, four consecutive draws following his five initial wins. The outcome of the top board game would decide whether he would finish in a tie for first.
The board three pairing of Shreyas Royal versus Eldar Gasanov guaranteed us an anxious but adrenaline-fuelled afternoon, for should Shreyas win he would secure his third and final GM norm, the title practically bestowed here and now (with just a few rating points needed to cross 2500). After a sedate opening phase the young man who has been in the news so much lately built up what appeared a comfortable plus. Down on time, Gasanov had little choice but to jettison the Exchange – an offer which Shreyas could enjoy the luxury of not immediately accepting. The excitement was palpable: was Shreyas about to claim victory, with all its rewards? And yet within a few moves the situation altered, Black regained the lost material, and the tension eased. Accurate defence from the Ukrainian proved a barrier on this occasion, and after passing the time control the players acquiesced in a draw. For Shreyas, then, a small set-back. Still, we feel that no-one will contradict us when we say that his performance here was beyond reproach. Everything indicates that a stellar career lies ahead of this young man, soon to turn fifteen and already with a legion of fans.
A remarkable game was that between Romain Edouard and Jonah Willow. We strongly recommend playing it through slowly and trying to fathom out what was going on! A rook down from move seven until the end of the game (twenty-one moves later), the Frenchman’s firebrand display propelled him into the main prize list. Joining him on 6,5/9 are compatriots Maxime Lagarde and Pierre Laurent-Paoli. The former overcame Daniel Fischer in a game in which Black seemed to slip up on move 40, Maxime investing an Exchange to force through two connected passed pawns – the finish is another we think well worth a look! Pierre’s odd-looking knight deployment on move four against last year’s winner brought him success, Sarunas Sulskis’s defensive skills insufficient in the long run.
IM norm candidate Borna Derakhshani sacrificed two pawns in a bid to complicate, but the flaws in Black’s strategy were exposed by Martin Petrov. Ameet Ghasi also reached 6,5/9, winning a long game against Matthew Wadsworth. We did see one norm achieved, for WIM, as China’s Bai Xue concluded her excellent tournament with a win over Tim Grutter from the Netherlands. On the adjacent board Laura Unuk drew with Mads Vestby-Ellingsen, meaning that Bai Xue scooped the top female award too. Another notable result was the victory of Freddy Gordon over Danny Gormally.
But what of board one? While the Slav Defence gave the game a solid foundation, it was soon apparent that both players were eager to fight, with Brandon Jacobson castling queen’s-side, then launching his h-pawn when Abhijeet Gupta chose to castle on the opposite wing. With little to choose between the two sides White took a risk, sacrificing a pawn in an effort to expose the Black king. The result however was that the Indian assumed the initiative, returning the pawn to activate his pieces. In surprisingly swift fashion White’s game was lost. Two pawns down, Brandon, who must have rued his aggressive actions earlier in the game, had little option but to resign. Abhijeet Gupta, seeded second in the initial rankings, and here in Hastings for the first time, played in a strong and convincing manner throughout, his score of six wins and three draws making him a deserving champion. We congratulate him!
Day Nine Gallery – new page
A pleasing aspect of this year’s Masters has been the low ratio of quick draws, not only among the top boards but across the whole event. Opponents have fought into the fifth and even sixth hour, young players being no exception. While it is probably true that shorter time controls are increasingly more common than the ”classical” control used at Hastings, many players in fact prefer tournaments where longer games occur more often. Spectators too – who perhaps cannot visit the venue until late in the session – have a better chance of finding more games in progress. Some of us grew up with adjournments, sealed moves, and games being resumed the following morning!
Our top board clash today between the two leaders, Brandon Jacobson and Pengxiang Zhang, lasted 98 moves: only then was the point shared. The American had been a pawn up at move thirty, but with three pawns against two on the same side, chances were high that a draw would be the final outcome. Even so, it may be that White missed a path to victory. The final drawn position, a rook ending where Black is two connected passed pawns down, is worth remembering.
On second board Abhijeet Gupta continues to impress. His victory over Sarunas Sulskis was deserved, and means Abhijeet now shares the lead on 6,5/8. With a persistent edge in the middle- and endgame the Indian kept up the pressure, capitalising in the run-up to move forty with a passed a-pawn. Sulskis, understandably dejected, played on for a few moves with just a knight for the new Queen.
Shreyas Royal might have reached 6,5/8 too, but his advantage, slight but on the verge of promising more, dissolved and the game frittered out to a draw. His opponent, Ameet Ghasi, gave up a pawn in the opening in search of unbalanced play. Shreyas, likely needing a win and a draw from his last two games for his third GM norm, will have to try and win tomorrow. Like him, Ameet also has two GM norms, and is just one result away from his title.
Another player with norm chances, but in the IM category, is Borna Derakhshani, who drew today with Romain Edouard. An ultimately emphatic victory was registered by Deep Sengupta over Joe Gallagher in the tangly, twilit jungle of a Najdorf Sicilian where Black grabbed a centre pawn. We must not forget to mention Bai Xue, whose protracted battle against endgame virtuoso Keith Arkell lasted 107 moves, and which saw the young Chinese, unknown to us before this event, collect the point and move to 5/8.
Tonight’s special event was a guest lecture by Hans Olav Lahlum on Chess Geniuses. Hans Olav is a tournament organiser, television personality, and crime author – three of many strings to his bow. Those of us who came to the White Rock Hotel were dazzled with anecdotes of the world champions and much more besides, including Mr. Lahlum’s thoughts on Magnus Carlsen and the transformation of chess in Norway.
The weather has improved! As the sun blazed unexpectedly, dark clouds hung over Pengxiang’s position, India’s Abhijeet Gupta seemingly poised to grab the lead. With the bishop pair and a powerful passed d-pawn the forecast for Black was very healthy indeed – yet somehow the Chinese GM found resources, happily (for him) reaching the firm ground of equality. With this ”save” Pengxiang remains undefeated and is clearly a strong candidate for first place.
On 6/7 we also have Brandon Jacobson, who won a key game against top seed Maxime Lagarde. The Frenchman played creatively in the opening, and perhaps stood better, but then – having sacrificed several pawns – lost his way with sharp play when it was time to curb his natural ambition. Black had to find a precise defence, but having done so the outcome was more or less decided. This means that we have joint leaders and they will face each other tomorrow.
The board two clash between Sarunas Sulskis and Shreyas Royal was a well-played game in which the adversaries trod a theoretical path (we suppose – although Shreyas was playing much faster) and no meaningful advantage seemed to accrue to either side. Accurate play led to a fair division of the point.
Romain Edouard pressed Deep Sengupta but the Indian held. Eldar Gasanov also defended a slightly inferior position against Martin Petrov. The next three boards were all won by Black. Pierre Laurent-Paoli gradually gained the upper hand against Alexander Cherniaev; Borna Derakhshani stood well when Viktor Mikhalevski elected to trade two rooks for a Queen – a decision which cost White the game; and Ameet Ghasi outfoxed Freddy Gordon, who following a scrappy middlegame blundered a few moves after the time control.
This evening we held our second blitz event, but under Pairs rules: teams of two, the average rating not to exceed 2200. Five rounds were played. The winning duo, the Hip Young Gunslingers, won three matches and drew two. GMs Keith Arkell and Danny Gormally took part, as did IM Richard Pert (who partnered his son Max), but the Gunslingers, we can reveal, were young Scots Freddy Gordon and Supratit Banerjee.
The top board clash did not disappoint. Shreyas Royal put tournament leader Pengxiang Zhang under real pressure, undoubtedly generating winning chances. The bishop pair might have tipped the scales decisively in White’s favour but Zhang defended resolutely – but then just after the time control Shreyas appeared to overlook a tactical shot – could he have won a piece for two pawns? From here the game fizzled out to a draw.
On board two Eldar Gasanov looked to be on the verge of beating Maxime Lagarde, whose provocative and unorthodox Leningrad Dutch set-up was challenged by h4-h5. With a dubious position for a long time Maxime nevertheless hung on, his reward, finally, a precious half point. Meanwhile Abhijeet Gupta’s choice of London System paid rich dividends, Freddy Gordon with no defence as White’s forces crashed through.
The next three boards also produced three decisive results. The victors were Brandon Jacobson, Sarunas Sulskis, and Romain Edouard. Sulskis won a strange game where he seemed to stand clearly worse. Brandon’s point came in a technical display where he made an extra pawn count. Some of the moves chosen by Andre Nielsen in his game against Romain Edouard were frankly astonishing! In the commentary room Congress chairman Stuart Conquest joined Richard Pert and this game was one they especially enjoyed. White’s brave play was however the instrument of his own downfall, as the French grandmaster coolly took over the initiative. White’s King, exposed, was mercilessly hunted down along various open files and scary diagonals.
Many members of Hastings & St. Leonards Chess Club take part in the Congress. An important role is that of the ”filler”, someone prepared to step in as a replacement if the number of players for any particular tournament and round is uneven, so that everyone has the chance of a game. Patrick Donovan is a former Club champion who has not played a competitive game of chess for, he thinks, at least ten years – until he agreed to play a game here, resulting in a cut-and-thrust draw. We hope he doesn’t wait another ten years until his next game!
Day Six Gallery – new page
The new year began with fireworks on board as five of the top six games saw decisive results. Pengxiang Zhang recorded his fifth straight victory, holding his nerve in a sharp middlegame against Pierre Laurent-Paoli. Keeping pace is Shreyas Royal whose quiet opening was perhaps chosen to avoid preparation. Jonah Willow fell behind on the clock and on material too as his isolated d-pawn could not be saved.
Maxime Lagarde won convincingly, as did Abhijeet Gupta. The genial Frenchman smoothly encircled Borna Derakhshani, dominating the dark squares to keep full control – a textbook lesson. The king’s-side assault, when it came, was lethal: Black could do nothing.
Keith Arkell saddled himself with a weak a-pawn which Abhijeet Gupta was happy to pocket. From this point the Indian did not give the Englishman any chances. This clean win with the Black pieces keeps the number two seed in full contention for one of the top places.
Sarunas Sulskis won a very interesting game against Laura Unuk in which he sacrificed a pawn. The Slovenian definitely had her chances, until the wily Lithuanian bamboozled her with a surprising rook move. We were delighted that both players joined Richard Pert in the commentary room, analysing the game for our physical but also (much larger) online audience.
In today’s Daily Mail, Dominic Lawson devotes part of his column to Hastings, focusing on Bodhana Sivanandan and Shreyas Royal. In her game Bodhana drifted into a lost position against Thomas Brown who picked up an Exchange. A few moves later however he gifted Bodhana an opportunity to launch a fierce counter-attack, after which the outcome of the game would have been highly debatable. Instead Bodhana captured a pawn with check, but after this natural-looking continuation there were no further chances.
The New Year tournaments began today. Two sections play in the morning, two in the afternoon, and yes – it’s entirely possible to play both mornings and afternoons. We see a number of entrants to the New Year morning events who are also playing in the Masters. Nigel Dennis, who takes part in the New Year under-1800, tells us he first played in Hastings in 1962/3, and that since then he has played in every Congress. We believe this must be his sixtieth appearance! Can anyone match that?
The results at the top of the Masters took an unexpected turn, with boards two to six all drawn. However, not all were without incident. Meanwhile China’s Pengxiang Zhang became sole leader with 4/4, an extra pawn proving enough to score the full point against Andre Nielsen.
For much of the first session it looked as though Shreyas Royal would also end the day on a 100% score. His opponent, French GM Pierre Laurent-Paoli, was very low on time, Shreyas finding the correct path through the complications to a won game – but then in the run-up to the time control an unfortunate slip by Shreyas proved costly. A missed opportunity but Shreyas continues to impress with his mature play.
Abhijeet Gupta might have won against Alex Cherniaev, the latter’s defence of a long ending which he started a pawn down proving up to the mark. A much briefer affair was the game Gasanov v Gormally, in which the Englishman was a rook down after just nine moves. We hope Danny recovers from this setback.
The Con Power tournaments finished this morning. Over four days six rounds were contested, in three sections according to rating. Congratulations to Andrew Brett (under-2250), Anh Nguyen and Gerben Van Pel (under-1950), and Luke Freeman (under-1650), all champions.
Today was of course the last day of the year. We wish all our readers a happy, healthy and prosperous 2024!
Day Four Gallery II – new page
After three rounds of the Masters we have four players with a perfect score: GMs Pengxiang Zhang and Pierre Laurent-Paoli, IM Shreyas Royal and FM Andre Nielsen. The Norwegian beat last year’s winner, Sarunas Sulskis, whose speculative Exchange sacrifice in an equal-looking ending did not work at all. The Frenchman, here for the first time, prevailed against Joe Gallagher, who has lost count of his previous Hastings appearances – they were that long ago! – while the Chinese continues his impressive start to the event.
Shreyas Royal has two GM norms, the most recent being a few weeks ago at the London Chess Classic. The 14-year-old gradually gained the upper hand after Brandon Jacobson’s positional pawn sacrifice, the hard-fought game lasting 63 moves.
English IMs Jonah Willow and Matthew Wadsworth secured draws on boards one and two against the two top seeds, Maxime Lagarde and Abhijeet Gupta. Maxime seemed to overlook a win at one point. Matthew looked to have a won ending but may have erred. Another long game was played by Laura Unuk, whose stubborn defence was rewarded with half a point versus Martin Petrov. Following a sharp middlegame Alex Cherniaev gradually proved the advantage of two minor pieces over a rook, inflicting defeat on three-times Hastings winner Deep Sengupta.
In the evening we staged our first of two blitz events, the 32-player field gathering at the White Rock Hotel on Hastings seafront. The FIDE-rated tournament was led from the front by top seed Maxime Lagarde, who over nine rounds only dropped half a point, an impressive display. A gale raged outside but inside the spirit was warm and festive.
We take the opportunity to wish everyone a happy New Year’s Eve!
The second round of the Masters brought us plenty of sharp chess with just two draws from the top 24 boards – surely some kind of record?
On board one top seed Maxime Lagarde sacrificed first a pawn, then an Exchange, a second rook, both bishops, and finally checkmated with his Queen. His young opponent, Scotland’s Freddy Gordon, gallantly played to the finish. On second board India’s Abhijeet Gupta also offered a pawn in the opening, for which he soon gained overwhelming pressure. A similar narrative was played out on board three, where Pengxiang Zhang essayed a thematic Grunfeld pawn sacrifice. Jack Rudd slipped up – and was duly punished. Brandon Jacobson also powered his way to 2/2 with an impressive display against Brazil’s Hugo de Melo Lux.
Such bloodthirsty chess would have pleased Mikhail Tal, the first of whose two Hastings Premier victories came in 1963/4. Local player Chris Hann, participating in one of the Con Power morning events, recollects how as a boy he operated the demonstration boards that year, doing the same when Paul Keres won in 1964/5, and also in 1965/6, which saw Spassky and Uhlmann share first.
Last game to finish today was between Francis Rayner and Alexander Cherniaev, the latter winning a long endgame after some six hours’ play. Alexander is the author of a book on Harry Nelson Pillsbury, victor of the celebrated tournament here in 1895. We only know the English version, but Alexander tells us the Russian version he wrote is much the better of the two.
Tomorrow morning at 9:30 we look forward to round four of the Con Power tournaments, with round five to follow at 2:15pm, which is also when round three of the Masters begins.
The Congress was jointly opened by Dominic Lawson, President of the English Chess Federation, and John Ashworth, CEO of Caplin Systems Ltd. Both welcomed the players, Dominic recalling the first time he came to the Congress, when former world champion Tigran Petrosian was one of the participants. John Ashworth made the ceremonial first move on board one for last year’s winner, Sarunas Sulskis. The Lithuanian, rated 2490, is “only” seeded 11th, but was allocated top board as defending champion.
Commentary on the top Masters games was provided by IM Richard Pert, who was accompanied by surprise guest GM Matthew Sadler, himself winner of the Hastings Premier in 1997/8. Interestingly, it was Richard’s son, Max, only thirteen, who was paired with GM Sarunas Sulskis, a sharp game which the latter won. On the next table French GM Maxime Lagarde (2640), our top seed, had a tricky game with Michael Binks, from Wales, who celebrates his 84th birthday just after the tournament!
As well as the Masters tournament, the Con Power Christmas events also began today, split into three sections by rating. These six round contests have their second round tomorrow morning. Round two of the Masters will begin at 2:15pm.
|For live commentary by IM Richard Pert and GM Matthew Sadler – https://www.twitch.tv/imcheckthis – with guest contributions and searing insights from @NatashaRegan123
HICC on Twitter / X / MuskVision – https://twitter.com/HIChCongress
For live game feeds — Chess24 | Lichess | Chess.com | Chessbase
For the Weekend Open: https://lichess.org/broadcast/hastings-weekend-open/fE8ZDAOl
For the Weekend Major: https://lichess.org/broadcast/hastings-weekend-major/0zPDMqUI