Andrey Esipenko, far left in yellow, and Bella Khotenashvili on the adjoining table, proved to be the stars for Ganges Grandmasters. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Ganges Grandmasters made it count as the Tech Mahindra Global Chess League enters the final stretch at Le Meridien hotel, Dubai, when they nudged out Balan Alaskan Knights 8-7 in a very close encounter on Thursday.

While the Grandmasters regained the leaderboard top perch in a see-saw battle against SG Alpine Warriors, the Knights’ campaign needs a miracle in fourth place.

With the elimination battle on, temperatures are running high and became evident in another close result in the other match of the day earlier. Triveni Continental Kings kept their faint hopes alive with a morale-boosting 10-9 at the expense of Chingari Gulf Titans.

The Grandmasters were dominating the league from the outset but then suffered two consecutive defeats, leaving them on 12 match points and in second place. The Knights started the round in the middle of the standings, on six match points. With a two-match winning streak behind them, and playing with white pieces in this match they had to push themselves further.

In a match where both sides held their own for a long time, the positions gradually started to look more favourably for Knights, but the team of Ganges Grandmasters were fighting back on all boards.

Uncomfortable situation

Vishwanathan Anand got into a somewhat uncomfortable situation on board one against Ian Nepomniachtchi. The two-time candidate for world champion managed to create two free pawns on the queenside but then came a pawn exchange where White ended a pawn up. Still, it was even and in the end, the honours were split.

Hou Yifan and Tan Zhongyi drew their game, and so did Teimour Radjabov and Leinier Dominguez. In the duel of prodigies, Andrey Esipenko of GG gained more initiative and had a rook for a knight against Raunak Sadhwani. Esipenko created a passed pawn on the queenside. In time trouble, Sadhwani could not keep on holding and the game went to team Ganges.

However, Nodirbek Abdusattorov struck one back for the Knights in a sharp game against the usually reliable Richard Rapport. The former ended with two pawns up and secured three important points for BAK.

For the second time in the day, the outcome of the match depended on the final table left. BAK’s Nino Batsiashvili took the early initiative against her compatriot from Georgia, Bella Khotenashvili. In the end game, Khotenashvili had an extra pawn after the exchanges but both could not force the momentum to go each’s way.

Sara Khadem of Triveni Continental Kings ponders her next move against Polina Shuvalova. Image Credit: Supplied

Triveni Continental Kings win

The Titans had sparked a revival by beating the formidable Ganges Grandmasters on Tuesday. They had two quick wins on the board with Black through Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Nihal Sarin, and it looked ominous for the Kings as Alexandra Kosteniuk of Titans drew with Kateryna Lagno. And then came the fightback.

“We knew we had to go all out. We are very low on game points so there is no option but to win all our games and see how it plays out,” said the Kings’ icon player Levon Aronian, who beat his counterpart Jan-Krzyztof Duda.

Then Wei Yi brought the Kings within striking distance with his win against Daniil Dubov. After a mistake in the early stages of the middlegame by Dubov, Yi got the initiative and ended up with as many as four free pawns on the queenside, and won the game.

At 7-9, all eyes from the Kings camp fell on substitute Sarasadat Khademalsharieh. Better known as Sara Khadem, she was playing her second game of the tournament as a late replacement for Nana Dzagnidze, who had to withdraw on health grounds.

In true spirit of the team’s approach, Khadem went in for the kill in the endgame against Polina Shuvalova and forced the result in her favour. “We have been lucky that we got a good replacement such as Sara and we must take it one game at a time from here,” Aronian said.

Match results

Match 21

Triveni Continental Kings 10-9 Chingari Gulf Titans

Queen of the match – Sara Khadem

King of the match – Levon Aronian

Match 22

Balan Alaskan Knights 7-8 Ganges Grandmasters

Queen of the match – Nino Batsiashvili

King of the match – Nodirbek Abdusattorov