Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Around the world in 80 days- Part I

There has been quite a lull on my blog since the past month. The reason?
Amruta and I were away for 80 days from the 5th of April to 24th of June 2015 and played in five tournaments, visiting nearly six different countries (maybe more) and doing some work which an Indian chess player has never done before. (more on that later!)

I share my experiences with you because I enjoy doing that, and also for the reason that someday if you do plan such a journey like ours, the information in the lines below will prove to be of some use.

The Dubai Open
5th-15th of April

Mumbai to Abu Dhabi takes three hours in a flight but because they are behind us by one and a half hours, the effective time is reduced to half!

Of course, travelling directly from Mumbai to Dubai is a better idea but when you take Etihad airlines, the destination is always Abu Dhabi. Besides they provide bus commute from Abu Dhabi to Dubai if you have booked your ticket up to Dubai. So, it is not such a huge hassle.

Idea!: The flight from Mumbai to Paris, France and return will cost you around Rs. 43,000. However, if you make a multi-destination flight from Mumbai to Paris with a 10 day halt in Dubai, it will still cost you Rs. 43000! Which means that if you are planning to play in Europe, it makes sense to start off with Dubai or any middle-east tournament as then your ticket from India-Dubai is free! This was a brilliant idea of Amruta which helped us save nearly Rs.34000/- (17,000 x 2)

The food and service in the Etihad airlines was top-notch

The main problem for every player who plays in the Dubai Open is the accommodation. (unless you are 2570+). Prices are high and hotels are quite far away from the playing venue. Travelling a lot before your game is not a good idea and I would put an upper cap of 30 minutes. After searching quite a bit on the internet, we were able to find a pretty good hotel. 

The Al Manar hotel apartment was our choice and the best part was that it was only two kilometres away from the venue. A 20 minute walk at the most.

The Al Manar hotel apartments is a four star property but not up to the mark. The pictures on the website are a bit misleading.

But you can judge for yourself. The bedroom...

....with a view into the kitchen! :)

The practice table! Jacob Aagaard's Endgame play was my constant companion throughout the trip.

The hotel was quite expensive at Rs.4,000 per night. But if you imagine sharing it with someone else, Rs.2000 per night doesn't really seem too much. Not to forget that you save your expenses on transport because you walk to the tournament hall. I guess the best place to book a room would be from booking.com over here

The wonderful part about staying in a "hotel apartment" is that you get the best of the world of both a hotel and an apartment. Apartment because you have a kitchen and you can cook your own food and hotel because someone comes everyday and cleans up your mess!

An amateurs attempt to make Pav Bhaji! :)

Taking a rice cooker has it's advantages. You can quickly make a rice preparation and eat it with curd! On the side you can see a speck of pickle. Well, it was an 80 day trip! Everything that was brought from India had to be rationed!

One of the lavish meals. Veg. Potato, wheat bread, curd and a side dish of sev kurmura

Idea!: If you are going on a long chess trip and you are a vegetarian, (or you want to save some money) it is an excellent idea to take a rice cooker with you. The best part about making rice in a rice cooker is that you do not have to keep an eye on it. Once you add the rice and water, it shuts off on its own after the rice is cooked! This is especially good if you have a lot of chess preparation to be done. This is the model of rice cooker that we took along with us and it was one of our best companions in the 80 day trip.

The Dubai Chess and Culture Club where the tournament was held is quite a famous structure in chess circles. Even if you haven't been to Dubai, I am sure that you have seen the "rook" like building in pictures.
The Dubai Chess and Culture Club in the evenings....

.... and in broad daylight

Bang opposite the playing hall, is the Century Mall that hosts Carrefour. You will be spoilt for choice over here. For everything that you need ten brands stare at your face!

The best part of the Dubai Open 2015 for me and Amruta was Amruta scoring her first win against a grandmaster in her chess career.

And not just any GM but GM Daniele Vocaturo (2594) who is Italy's numero uno! (good time to remind you that Fabi now plays for USA)

The game wasn't error-free and at one point Vocaturo had a decisive advantage. But he couldn't finish off the game and Amruta fought back to win in nice style.

For me playing in Dubai Open has never really been a great experience. The beautiful playing hall and a huge plethora of star players somehow overwhelm and distract me from my own game. When I would walk up to see games of players above 2650 I would suddenly be more interested in their play than my own! I know this is weird, but it can happen when the players for whom you have great respect and have read a lot about, are playing right in front of your eyes. For that reason I decided to be focused and not get up much from the board.

Trying to focus hard!

But unfortunately, I always had to break my link thanks to the namaaz break

Dubai Open might be the only tournament in the world where you have to stop your clocks after you are one hour into the game and go out of the tournament hall for ten minutes! Those who were religiously inclined would be praying to God while the rest would be chatting around. I wonder how many players would be discussing their positions with each other! Surely, Dubai open is a good place to have a very strong GM friend whom you can consult during this break!

While many players might have cheated unofficially during the prayer break, there was one guy who wasn't satisfied with this possibility of receiving minimal help.

Meet Gaioz Nigalidze, the man who used....

....his smart phone to get engine help.

I was quite involved in getting to the bottom of the entire story and for that....

I spoke with the chief arbiter...

....and also took the picture of the cubicle where Nigalidze would go every time. When he was caught his device was found in the garbage bin behind the toilet! 

For more information you can read the ChessBase report that I wrote on the cheating incident over here.

The tournament was going pretty decently for me till I was 4.5/7. But losses in the last two rounds spoiled the event and I lost around 15 Elo points. Amruta scored 3.5/9 gained 12 points. But considering that she had beaten a GM in the first round, the final result could have been much better.

Though chess wise the tournament was just normal, there were a few very special moments that I took back from Dubai. One of them was meeting Mr. Ramesh Natrajan.

Ramesh lived in Chennai before he shifted to Dubai and was a strong chess player in the 1980s (Anand generation). Though he doesn't play competitive chess anymore, he likes to follow the top games and regularly reads the articles that I write for ChessBase. On the penultimate day when he arrived at the playing venue as a spectator, he invited me and Amruta for a dinner in a superb Indian restaurant. Before this meet I did not even know him and after a few hours we became excellent friends! 

With Ramesh, a true chess lover!

Another incident worth mentioning is about the number two English player, David Howell. David was clearly better in the last round against Fedoseev. He misplayed the position and the game ended in a draw. Because of this he had to settle for the second spot. You can understand his disappointment at this point. But when I went to speak with him, he was so warm and spoke with such great interest. I felt a great sense of respect for David not only as a chess player but also as a human being. You can hardly find such strong players who are so humble and grounded.

A true gentleman: GM David Howell

The tournament ended on the 14th of April and the Prize giving ceremony was held on the 15th evening, as is the tradition at the Dubai Open. The strong Turkish GM Dragan Solak won the event. Amruta and I had a flight to catch and hence couldn't attend the ceremony. But we did make sure to visit the tallest man made structure in the world: The Burj Khalifa. Our next destination was France, something that I would cover in the part II of this series. 

Till then I would like to leave you with some chess positions from my games at the Dubai Open.

1. Sagar vs Allatar
White to play.
White has a clear edge in the position but what would be the best way to continue?

2. Sagar vs Sameer Kathmale
White to play
Black has just played Qd7. How should White continue?

And finally my favourite position from this trip.

Sagar- Mammadza Gunay 
Black to play
I have just played my bishop to d5. There is no question that Black is just better but what is the best way for her to convert her advantage? Calculate the consequences of 24...Nd4 25.Rxd6.

1. Sagar vs Alattar

For the tactically inclined, the right move in the position is definitely 19.e5! This move begs to be played thanks to the opposition of the bishop of c4 to the king on g8. After 19...fxe5 20.Nxe5 dxe5 21. d6+ Ne6 22. Bxe5! is a pretty cool move and Black cannot prevent the loss of his piece.
The e6 knight is badly pinned and will fall pretty soon.

Even though this solution is pretty simple and clear cut, I liked the idea that I came up with in the initial position.

I played the move 19. Nd2!

The knight is going on a long but rather fruitful journey to b5.

In the Benko, black's counterplay is linked with 'a' and the 'b' files. If you can get in a4 followed by a knight on b5, then black more often than not suffocates. This position is no exception and using the simple rule of improving your pieces, I found this idea of Nd2-b1-a3-b5! I was able to execute this well during the game and scored a fine win.

2. Sagar vs Sameer Kathmale

The first move that looks pretty obvious is 28.Ne5! and of course it is the best move in the position. Taking the knight with 28...fxe5 would not be so great as after 29.Rxb3 White just stands better. After 28.Ne5, the move to be considered is definitely 28...Qxa4. For quite sometime I tried to make the move 29.Qc2 work. With pressure down to the g6 pawn and pin, I thought this should be winning. But after 29...Rb4 there was nothing decisive in sight. It was then that I found a nice idea with 29.Ng4! and after 29...Rxh3 30.gxh3 we reached the following position:

It's black's turn to play, White is two pawns down and has a mangled kingside pawn structure. But it doesn't really matter. What matters is the quality of pieces. Thanks to gxh3, I no longer have to worry about my back rank weakness! Every cloud has a silver lining! After 30...Nd7 31.Qh6 is immediately decisive and after 30...Kg7 31.Rc7 is terminal. Sameer had to play 30...Re7 31. Nxf6+ Kg7 32.Ng4

The knight is coming to e5, queen to g5 and the rook on c8. The game ended within a few moves.

Sagar- Mammadza Gunay 

My opponent who is talented young girl finished me off with a wonderful tactic. Have a look at the annotations:

All the pictures in this article are taken by my lovely wife Amruta Mokal. She has a facebook page where you can view the work she has been doing since almost a year now. If you enjoyed her pictures, then do like her page.


  1. tnx for sharing !! great information

  2. tnx for sharing !! great information

  3. Nice and interesting information and informative too.
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  4. Nice and interesting information and informative too.
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