Junior Speed Chess Championship QF: Sarin Dominates Tabatabaei


Nihal Sarin prevailed over Amin Tabatabaei with a score of 23.5 – 4.5 in the last remaining quarterfinal match of the Junior Speed Chess Championship presented by ChessKid. Sarin scored an identical 7-2 crush in both the 5+1 and 3+1 segments, as the disheartened Tabatabaei gave up the final bullet segment of 1+1 with a disastrous 9.5-0.5 score. The match ended up as the most lopsided quarterfinal of the JSCC.

After this dominating win, Sarin will now get to meet GM Haik Martirosyan in the semifinal.

All Junior Speed Chess Championship broadcasts are available on youtube.com/chess.

It is quite easy to be overwhelmed by such a rich bouquet of a format, with a total of 28 games in more than 4 hours. But the match could easily be placed in perspective once the thread to Sarin’s domination was clear: consistent display of tactical sharpness right through all the formats.

From the very first game, material sacrifices, attacking the opponent’s king, and creating positions of imbalance seemed to be the young Indian grandmaster’s match strategy:

In the fifth game, Sarin boldly initiated complications which were not even entirely sound:

The sixth game of the 5+1 blitz was a particularly striking example: with the black pieces, Sarin seemed to create an attack on the kingside with surprising ease:

IM Nubairshah Sheikh, who was commentating on this game, was excited with Black’s gradual progress on the kingside, pointing out Chess.com’s evaluation marker on the left side of the board with the shout of, “The bar is falling! The bar is falling!” and finally with, “The bar has collapsed!” as Black achieved a winning position.

The seventh game of the 5+1 blitz was a curiosity:

With both the players having roughly equal time wth just more than about three minutes each, Sarin was not visible on the screen, and it wasn’t clear if he had left his chair voluntarily for a bio-break, or if the internet connection had snapped. This led to one of the commentators, Mike Klein, recalling a past instance of a player with the same predicament who didn’t get up from the chair for the bio-break: he simply found a solution ‘with a bucket involved’!

However, it indeed turned out that Sarin had lost his internet connection, and in a show of true sportsmanship, Tabatabaei proposed a draw here—an admirable gesture.

The ninth game seemed again to be going Sarin’s way, with another example of beautiful imbalance, a model Grand Prix attack from a Sicilian Defence:

But by this point, there was no doubt that Sarin seemed to be dominating the match, and he firmly confirmed the speculation with a brilliant eighth game, sacrificing his queen. This game is given later in the report while talking about the curious Catalan games.

Sarin mastered more than such tactics; he also showed his defensive prowess in the initial phase of the match, the third game of the 5+1 blitz being the best example:

At the half way stage of the match, it was obvious that Amin Tabatabei wasn’t really enjoying his time at all. Imagine – with a defeat of 2-7 in the 5+1 sector and a start of 0.5-4.5 in the 3+1 sector.

When one plays the same opponent so many times continuously, it is important to have a varied opening repertoire in one’s arsenal, but both the players seem to have come to the board with different philosophies for the occasion, considering their employed openings. Nihal went 1.b3 with the white pieces on six occasions (apart from the 1.c4 e5 2.b3 once), which served him well especially in the bullet segment, where he helped himself to a 4.5-0.5 score with the move. Tabatabei mixed it up with 1.d4, 1.e4, and 1.Nf3 in about equal numbers, apart from 1.f4 on one occasion.

On three occasions of Tabatabei’s 1.d4 with the white pieces, the audiences were served up with a delightful variation of the Catalan Opening. Both the contestants felt like proving their own version of the concept of “Search for Truth” over the board, a rare opening duel in a match with faster time controls. The debate started with the eighth game of the 5+1 blitz:

It continued in the first game of the 3+1 blitz segment:

Admirably, Tabatabaei repeated the same opening in the 7th game of the 3+1 blitz, this time getting his only victory of the entire event after 44 fighting moves. But curiously, it was Sarin who once again initiated complications:

When Tabatabaei finally won this game, it was his first victory after 3 hours and 10 minutes into the match!

Curiously, after the match, both the contestants confessed that they both had looked at this position during the breaks between each segments and chose to repeat them, boldly believing in their opening preparation. Bravo!

However, the 3rd and 4th game of the 3+1 blitz had broken Tabatabaei’s resoluteness to fight, as he threw the games away in a surprisingly easy fashion:

The fourth game was the shortest of the entire match:

The eighth game was an aesthetic beauty:

White’s memorable walk with his king was colourfully described as, ‘Castle, Uncastle, and Recastle’ by James Canty, commentator at the Chess.com stream.

The rest of the games, including the entire 1+1 segment which he lost 0.5-9.5 was sheer physical and psychological ordeal for Tabatabaei, who confessed after the tournament that “At some point I didn’t want to continue – I was suffering so much.”

As the match entered the 3+1 segment, it was obvious that Tabatabei was finding the going tough. Sarin would typically start looking for tactical possibilities at the start of the middlegame in every game even as Tabatabei would find it difficult to withstand the onslaught. He would start muttering to himself and blow his lips, invariably shaking his head after every loss, definitely not enjoying his life by this point. As the match entered the bullet segment, it got even worse, as Tabatabei made many simple blunders.

Priyadarshan Banjan and GM N. Srinath, Sarin’s manager and coach respectively, were both cautious in their prediction of the match. They noted that Sarin had good prospects if he played to his potential. But the match turned out to be a completely one-sided affair. Looking back at it, Sarin confessed that he likes the tournament, “This being a long match, I started playing well after I warmed up. I guess this format suits me.”

Nihal Sarin at the age of 10 (Pic by Sarin Abdulsalam, Nihal’s father)

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