Emirati Grandmaster GM Saleh A.R. Salem beat second seed GM Nguyen Ngoc Truong Son of Vietnam in the penultimate round to grab solo lead of the $87,000 Asian Continental Chess Championships 2015 at the Hilton Hotel in Al Ain, UAE. as erstwhile co-leaders GM Surya Shekhar Ganguly and GM Abhijeet Gupta of India played it safe with a draw.
Salem used the Sicilian Najdorf to win a Knight and pawn endgame in 49 moves. The Sharjah youth is alone with 6.5 points out of 8 rounds. Three Indian GMs are half a point behind, namely Vidit Santosh Gujarathi, Ganguly and Gupta.
Gujarathi, 21, goes up against Salem, 22, in the last round. The Indian youth needs to win to get the crown. Salem needs only a draw to clinch the title by tie break of more number of victories. This system encourages fighting chess where one win is has greater weight than two draws although both have a value of one point. Ganguly has to hurdle Zhang Zhong while Zhou tries to stop Gupta.
Six players follow within striking distance for silver or bronze medals and the top five slots to qualify for the World Cup next month in Baku, Azerbaijan. Tied at 5.5 points each are Indian GMs S.P. Sethuraman and Krishnan Sasikiran, top seed Le Quang Liem of Vietnam, Chinese GM Zhou Jianchao and IM Lin Chen and GM Zhang Zhong of Singapore.
Salem has already qualified for the World Cup from last year`s Asian Continental Championship. Le Quang Liem and Sethuraman have previously qualified from the Southeast Asian Zonal and Indian Zonal, respectively. Should they land in the top five, the next in line shall make the cut.
In this position, Salem playing Black exchanged Queens and played 41… Nxf1 42. b5 and it looks as if the Knight cannot stop promotion of the White b-pawn but the game continued 42 … e3 43. Kg2 e2 44. Kf2 Nxh2! 45. b6 Ng4+ 46. Kxe2 Ne5 47. b7 Nc6 48. Kf3 Kf8 49. Kg2 0-1
In the women`s division, WGM Vijayalakshmi Subbaraman of India drew with compatriot Mary Ann Gomes in a marathon 65 moves of a Queen`s Pawn opening to maintain her solo lead with 6.5 points. Five players are half a point behind. Tied at 6 points each are Gomes, WGM Pratyusha Bodda of India, WIM Mitra Hejazipour of Iran, IM Shen Yang of China and WGM Dinara Saduakassova of Kazakhstan. The champion shall represent Asia in the Women`s World Championship.
Shen Yang goes up against Vijayalakshmi in round 9. To encourage fighting chess, regulations prohibit last round pairings between players of the same country with more than 50% score.
Live running commentary by GM Tahir Vakhidov and WGM Zhang Jilin is followed worldwide on Youtube.