Wang, one of China’s top players, won the Sharjah Masters on tiebreaks over a world-class field.

Only a month after Sharjah, in the United Arab Emirates, played host to the first Grand Prix of 2017, many of the world’s best players were there for another world-class tournament: the Sharjah Masters.

At the end, Wang Hao, one of China’s top players, took first on tiebreak over Baskaran Adhiban and S.P. Sethuraman, both of India; Martyn Kravtsiv and Yuriy Kryvoruchko, both from Ukraine; and Saleh Salem, who is from the host country. All finished with 7 points out of 9, leading a strong field that included a number of past and present 2700-rated players, among them Radoslaw Wojtaszek of Poland, Arkadij Naiditsch of Azerbaijan, and Laurent Fressinet of France.

Given their 1-2 finish on tiebreaks, the battle on Round 7 between Adhiban and Wang was clearly one of the key games of the tournament. Going into the round Adhiban and Kravtsiv were tied for first with 5½ out of 6, with Wang and several others half a point behind. Adhiban had White against Wang, but things went badly from the start. His choice of 11. g4 was not an inspired one, and after 19. b4 he was probably lost. Black failed to make the most of his chances, however, and before White’s 28th move, all three results were still possible. Unfortunately for Adhiban, he uncorked a blunder. The game continued for another 27 moves, but it could have ended after Black’s reply.

Adhiban, Baskaran vs. Wang, Hao
1st Sharjah Masters 2017 | Sharjah UAE | Round 7.1 | 29 Mar 2017 | 0-1
1. Nf3 d5 2. e3 Nf6 3. c4 c6 4. Nc3 e6 5. Qc2 Bd6 6. d4 Nbd7 By a small transposition the game has reached the Anti-Meran variation of the Semi-Slav. White has many options here.
7. b3
7. Bd3 ,  )
7. Be2 and the now somewhat less popular  )
7. g4 are the main alternatives.  )
7... O-O 8. Bb2
8. Be2 is also common. The main idea is that now White can meet
8... e5 with
9. cxd5 cxd5 10. Nb5 Bb4+ 11. Bd2 . Even so, Black is not experiencing any real problems after
11... Bxd2+ 12. Nxd2 a6 13. dxe5 Nxe5 14. Nd4 Bg4 15. Bxg4 Nfxg4 16. O-O Rc8 , though every once in a while White is able to achieve something against the isolated d-pawn, either by exploiting it directly or by taking advantage of other opportunities that arise by Black's being tied down to its defense.  )
8... e5 9. Be2 Here
9. cxd5 has been far less successful than in the 8.Be2 line.
9... cxd5 10. dxe5 Nxe5 11. Nxe5 Bxe5 12. Bd3 Bg4 13. h3 Bh5 14. f4 d4! 15. fxe5 dxc3 16. Qxc3 Nd5  )
9... e4 10. Nd2 Re8 11. g4?! This sort of attacking approach is well-known - note again the option on move 7 - but it seems unlikely to succeed here, with Black's central pawn wedge restricting almost White's entire army.
11. cxd5 cxd5 12. Nb5 Nf8 13. Nxd6 Qxd6 White's possession of the bishop pair is fully balanced by Black's extra space, and all seven games to reach this position finished in a draw.  )
11... Nf8! 12. Rg1
12. g5 Ng4 13. h4 Be6  )
12. h3 h6  )
12... Bxh2! Prove it!
13. Rg2 Bd6 14. g5 Bh3! 15. Rg1 N6d7 16. O-O-O White can regain the pawn with
16. cxd5 cxd5 17. Nxd5 , but after
17... Rc8 18. Nc3 Bb4 he'll have too many problems with his own king to be able to scare anything up on the kingside.  )
16... Rc8 17. Rde1 b5! 18. c5 Bc7 19. b4?! Wrongly inviting ...a5.
19... Bf5?
19... a5! 20. a3 Ra8 21. f3 axb4 22. axb4 exf3 23. Bxf3 Nb8 followed by ...Na6.  )
20. f3!
20. a4!  )
20... exf3 21. Qxf5 fxe2 22. e4 dxe4
22... a5!  )
23. Ndxe4
23. Rxe2 g6!  )
23... a5! 24. a3 axb4 25. axb4 Ne6 26. Nxe2 Ndf8 27. Rd1
27. Rgf1 Qd7 28. N2c3! sets up a beautiful idea.
28... Nxd4 29. Qxd7 Nxd7 30. Rd1 Be5 31. Nd6 Bxd6 32. Rxd4 Bxc5 33. Rxd7 Re7 34. Rfd1 Bxb4 35. Rd8+ Re8 36. Rxc8 Rxc8 37. Rd7 Black has four pawns for the piece, but White's extra piece and superior activity let him maintain the balance.  )
27... Qd7 After fighting back from a poor position, Adhiban blunders a critical second pawn.
27... Ng6  )
28. N4c3??
28. N2c3 Ng6 29. Rgf1 Ngf4 30. Rh1 Nf8 31. Qxd7 Nxd7 32. Kc2  )
28... Nxc5! 29. Qc2 The problem is that the obvious
29. Qxc5 leaves White's queen trapped after
29... Bd6 30. Qb6 Rb8 31. Qa6 Ra8 32. Qb6 Reb8 It's an easy line to calculate; the problem was almost certainly that Adhiban assumed without checking that ...Nxc5 Qxc5 was the end of the story. Sometimes the key is suspecting that a tactic might be there.  )
29... Na6 White's problems mount up, and the rest of the game poses no particular problems for Black.
30. Qb3 Bd6 31. Rgf1 Nxb4 32. Rf3 Nd5 33. Rdf1 Re7 34. Kb1 Qe6 35. Nxd5 cxd5 36. Nc1 Nd7 37. Nd3 Nb6 38. Bc1 Nc4 39. Qa2 Qe4 40. Qf2 Rce8 41. Re1 Qg6
41... Qxd3+ and  )
41... Qxe1 were both strong options, but Black's position is so good that he need not create or allow any imbalances that might give White the tiniest of practical chances.  )
42. Rxe7 Rxe7 43. Rf5 Ne3 44. Bxe3 Rxe3 45. Qxe3 Qxf5 46. Qe8+ Bf8 47. Qxb5 Qxg5 48. Kc2 Qf5 49. Kc3 h5 50. Ne5 Qe6 51. Qb8 h4 52. Qd8 h3 53. Qh4 Be7 54. Qh5 Bd6 55. Ng4 h2 After
55... h2 Black threatens to take on g4 and make a new queen, and if
56. Nxh2 Black can continue
56... Qe3+ followed by ...Qf2+ and ...Qxh2.  )

Going into the last round, the key pairings were these:

Wang Hao (6½) – Kryvoruchko (6½)

Wojtaszek (6) – Adhiban (6½)

Naiditsch (6) – Kravtsiv (6½)

Salem and Sethuraman both had 6 and both won. Had any of the 6½ pointers managed to win, however, neither Salem nor Sethuraman would have tied for first. Wang Hao-Kryvoruchko was a low-risk affair drawn in just 28 moves, while only Wojtaszek had chances to win in his game with Adhiban, though it eventually ended in a draw.

In contrast to the other two games, Naiditsch-Kravtsiv, was a see-saw battle. Kravtsiv had the game, and tournament victory, in his grasp, but then it slipped away.

Naiditsch, Arkadij vs. Kravtsiv, Martyn
1st Sharjah Masters 2017 | Sharjah UAE | Round 9.3 | 31 Mar 2017 | 1/2-1/2
1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 e6 3. Bf4 d5 4. e3 c5 5. c3 Nc6 6. Nbd2 cxd4 7. exd4 Nh5 8. Be3 Bd6 9. Ne5 g6 10. Ndf3 Qc7 11. Be2 O-O 12. Bh6 Re8 13. Ng5 Bxe5 14. dxe5 Nf4 15. Nf3 Nxe5 16. Qa4 Nxg2+ 17. Kf1 Bd7 18. Qd4 f6 19. Kxg2 Nf7 20. Be3 e5 21. Qxd5 Bc6 22. Qb3 f5 23. Bc4 f4 24. Bc5 b6 25. Bd6 Qb7 26. Bxf7+ Qxf7 27. Qxf7+ Kxf7 28. h4 Rad8 29. Rad1 h6 30. b4 Re6 31. Bc7 Rc8 32. Bd6 Ba8 33. c4 Rxc4 34. Bb8 Rc3 35. Rh3 Re7 36. Rd8 Be4 37. Bd6 Re6 38. b5 Rxf3 39. Rxf3 g5 40. Bb8 Re7 41. Rc8 g4 42. Rc7 Bxf3+ 43. Kg1 Rxc7 44. Bxc7 Up to now both sides have had their chances in this up-and-down game, but now Black is clearly winning thanks to his 4-2 kingside majority. With a win Kravtsiv would take clear first, and if he can solve one last, key problem he will achieve his aim.
44... Ke6 45. Bb8 Be2 46. Bxa7 Bxb5 47. Bxb6 Opportunity #1: Black to move and win.
47... Kf5? 48. a3? Opportunity #2: Same task.
48... g3??
48... h5! was simplest and best. Perhaps it wasn't necessary right away, but it is necessary for Black to do this before playing ...g3. Black's opportunities to advance his kingside pawns aren't going to run away, so he can and should ensure the survival of his h-pawn - especially since it will promote on a square of the same color as his bishop. This means - crucially! - that it won't be enough for White to give up his bishop (and of his pawns, if necessary) for Black's e-, f-, and g-pawns, but it *will* be enough if Black loses his h-pawn.
49. Kg2 Bc6+ 50. Kh2 e4 51. Bc5 e3! 52. fxe3 g3+ 53. Kh3 Ke4! Threatening ...Kf3 and ...Bd7#!
54. Kg2 Kd3+ 55. Kf1 fxe3 56. Bb4 Kc2 57. Bd6 Kd1 58. Bxg3 e2+ 59. Kg1 e1=Q+ 60. Bxe1 Kxe1 And Black wins because the h-pawn has survived.  )
49. fxg3 fxg3 50. h5! The critical move. White will win either Black's g- or h-pawn, after which it's an easy draw.
50... Kf4 51. Bc5 Kg4 52. Be3 Kxh5 53. Kg2 Kg4 54. Bxh6 Bc6+ 55. Kf1 Kf3 56. Bd2 e4 57. Be1 Ba4 58. Kg1 Bb5 59. Bb4 e3 60. Bd6 Bc6 61. Bc7 g2 62. Ba5 Ke2 63. Bb4 Kd1 64. a4 e2 65. Kf2 Bxa4 66. Kxg2 White can even ignore the g-pawn:
66. Ba5 Bc6 67. Bb4 and Black will have nothing better than
67... g1=Q+ 68. Kxg1 e1=Q+ 69. Bxe1 Kxe1 , essentially as in the game. Black needed the h-pawn!  )
66... e1=Q 67. Bxe1 Kxe1

It was a missed opportunity, but a fine performance by the Ukranian star.


Dennis Monokroussos is a FIDE master who has written about chess on his blog “The Chess Mind,” since 2005. He has been teaching chess for almost 20 years and for the last 10 years has been making instructional chess videos, which can be found at Between 1995 and 2006, he taught philosophy, including a four-year stint at the University of Notre Dame.