Sivathanujan and Isuru: SL’s Davids against Goliaths!
The World Junior Chess Championship, one of the most prestigious events in the chess calendar, commenced last week in New Delhi, India. A strong Sri Lankan contingent, including the 2017 National Champion Minul Sanjula Doluweera and the reigning women’s National Champion Sayuni Gihansa Jayaweera, has started the tournament brightly, despite having to pit their wits against the best juniors in the world.
In the very first round, Minul (rated 2,191) drew with an Indian International Master with a FIDE rating of 2,449, while the 13-year-old Susal Tewjan De Silva (rated 1,879 and ranked 89th out of 94 participants in the Open section) created a huge upset by beating Martin Percivaldi, a Danish International Master with a rating of 2,391.
Another encouraging result came from S. Sivathanujan, the lowest ranked player of the tournament, who drew with an Indian FIDE Master rated 2,384.
Sivathanujan, a 19-year-old from Kokuvil Hindu College, is a late bloomer! He was rated in the low 1,200s three years ago. Currently, he has a rating of 1,766 after a string of impressive results in the last four months which saw him gain more than 200 rating points. The reward for his first-round heroics was a second-round meeting with the fifth-seed Cuban Grandmaster Daniel Albornoz Cabrera (rated 2,581), a player ranked 303th among all active players in the world. With more than 800 rating points between them, it was a true “David vs. Goliath” moment.
S. Sivathanujan (1,766)-Daniel Albornoz Cabrera (2,581)
World Junior Chess Championship 2019 – Round 1
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.c3 Nf6 4.Bc4 e6 (4… Nxe4 5. Qa4+ Nc6 6. Bxf7+ Kxf7 7.Qxe4) 5.d3 g6 6.O-O Bg7 7.Re1 O-O 8.d4 Nxe4
White decides to sacrifice a pawn instead of the obvious 9.Rxe4, a decision which reveals the state of the mind of Sivathanujan, who is clearly not intimidated by the higher ranked opponent.
9.d5!? exd5 10.Bxd5 Nf6 11.Bf4 Qb6 12.Na3 Nxd5 13.Qxd5 Be6
14.Rxe6! fxe6 15.Qxe6+ Kh8 16.Bxd6 Na6 (16… Nd7 17.Qxd7 Rad8 was probably black’s best chance) 17.Nc4 Qc6 18.Ng5 Rf6 19.Nf7+ Kg8 20.Nh6+ Kh8 21.Nf7+ Kg8 22.Nh6+ Kh8
A hugely creditable result no doubt, but right at the end, Sivathanujan missed his cherry-on-top moment. He could have sacrificed his queen with the fantastic 23.Ne5!
The queen cannot be taken in view of the delightful 24.Nef7#. A possible continuation would have been 23… Qe8 24.Nef7+ Rxf7 25.Nxf7+ Kg8 26.Nh6+ Kh8 27.Qd5 Bxh6 28.Be5+ Bg7 29.Bxg7+ Kxg7 30.Qxb7+ Kh6 31.Qxa6 when white would end up two pawns to the good.
In an era where youngsters concentrate more and more on remembering opening theory, the exciting yet unpolished playing style of Sivathanujan is a breath of fresh air. His uncompromising sacrificial play is reminiscent of some of the very best games played by the four-time National Champion Isuru Alahakoon. Just compare Sivathanujan’s game with the following “no-prisoners-taken” game played by Isuru against an International Master from India during the recent Asian Cities Chess Championship.
Isuru Alahakoon (2,099)-Guha Mitrabha (2,433)
Asian Cities Chess Championship 2019 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 e6 3.Bg5 c5 4.d5!? exd5 5.Bxf6 Qxf6 6.Nc3 d4 7.Nd5 Qd6 8.e4 Nc6 (8… dxe3 9. Nxe3) 9. Bc4 Be7 10. c3 dxc3 11. bxc3 O-O 12. O-O Bf6 13.Qc2 Be5 14. Rad1Qh6 15.Nxe5 Nxe5 16.Ne7+ Kh8 17.Nf5 Qg6 18.Rd6 and white has a powerful attack for the sacrificed pawn – the quintessential Isuru middle-game. With the black bishop stuck on c8, further sacrificial play is in the air.
19… f6 19.Bd5 Qe8 20.f4 Nf7 21.e5 Nxd6 22.Nxd6 Qe7 23.Rf3 g6 24.Qf2 a5 25.Qh4 Qg7
26.Ne8!! a brilliant blow! Now 26… Rxe8 27.exf6 Qf8 28.Rh3 and black is helpless.
26…Qe727. exf6 Qxe8
Can you see how Isuru finished his opponent off?
28. Qxh7+ and black resigned in view of 28… Kxh7 29.Rh3#, a delightful checkmate.