New Power Generation Shows Itself At Sharjah Masters (2024)

The strong Sharjah Masters in the UAE finished today in a four-way tie for first place among, in order of tiebreak, GMs Bardiya Daneshvar, Volodar Murzin, Sam Shankland, and Shamsiddin Vokhidov. With two of them being only 17 years old, it showcased the many excellent achievements by young players in this event.

Co-winner Shankland's summary of his tournament on Facebook revealed the remarkable age dynamics of this year's Sharjah Masters. While saying that he was very happy with his personal performance, the American grandmaster also noted the many successful young participants.

"I'm amazed at how young chess has become," wrote Shankland. "My 3 co-champions are 17, 17, and 22. My opponents' average age was 22, and I was the only player over 30 to finish with a plus score! At the prehistoric age of 32, I am proud to have represented the old guard successfully and honorably. Upward and onward!"

At the prehistoric age of 32, I am proud to have represented the old guard successfully and honorably.

—Sam Shankland

Sharjah Masters 2024 | Final Standings (Top 10)

New Power Generation Shows Itself At Sharjah Masters (1)

A key win for Shankland was his encounter with a compatriot, arguably the most famous American grandmaster at the moment, who was portrayed extensively by New York Magazine this week. The game was quite special because most of the action happened in the pawn endgame:

Perhaps the least familiar name among the winners is Daneshvar, a 17-year-old grandmaster from Iran and the country's 2022 national champion. He is probably best known for knocking GM Alexander Grischuk out of the 2023 FIDE World Cup in the second round. His win in the seventh round was an absolute heartbreaker for his Indian opponent:

A round before the end, 17-year-old IM Siddharth Jagadeesh became the fifth grandmaster from Singapore thanks to an excellent win against GM Andrey Esipenko. He had scored his first two norms at theVezerkepzo September GM tournament in Budapest, Hungary last year and the L R Global Grandmaster Aspirant 1 Chess Tournament in Dhaka, Bangladesh last February.

New Power Generation Shows Itself At Sharjah Masters (2)

Here's that decisive round-eight game of Jagadeesh, who used the increasingly popular Advance variation against the French. Esipenko wasn't fully ready for it, it seems, and got outplayed completely:

Another remarkable result was scored by the Russian FM Ivan Zemlyanskii, born in 2010 and already playing at world-class level. His performance in Sharjah was easily good enough for his fourth GM norm as his performance rating was an incredible 2770. His GM title is likely only awaiting FIDE approval, which means he would become a member of a select group of players who skipped the IM title on their way to grandmaster that includes GMs Anish Giri and Vladimir Kramnik.

In the final round, Zemlyanskii defeated 2024 Tata Steel Challengers winner GM Luke Mendonca:

Arguably the best game of the tournament was played by local hero GM Salem Saleh, who won a game with the black pieces in the style of GM Garry Kasparov, with wonderful King's Indian/Benoni-type dynamics. GM Rafael Leitao will provide the analysis:

There were also some missed opportunities that would otherwise have resulted in more success stories. To score their final GM norms, English IM Shreyas Royal needed a win in the final round, while Kazakhstan's IM Bibisara Assaubayeva needed a draw, but both fell short.

A More Competitive Open Tournament Circuit

As the players are getting younger and younger, it seems like it's getting harder and harder for grandmasters just below the absolute top level to make a living from chess. At least, that's what GM Jorden van Foreest suggested shortly before the tournament, sparking a conversation regarding tournament conditions for players these days. The 2021 Tata Steel winner, who had a peak rating of 2715 but has dropped to 2664 (and #72 in the world rankings), first noted in a thread of four tweets that Sharjah had better conditions last year and that this was a broader issue:

"I think there's a troubling trend: Open tournaments are getting stronger, but conditions and prize funds are stagnant or declining," Van Foreest wrote. "Makes me wonder how professionals are sustaining themselves in such an environment."

Sharjah Masters starts today with a strong field, including world #7 Arjun Erigaisi. However, financial conditions and prize funds are dire. Even 2600-2699 GMs are sharing rooms, with no coverage for flights. 1/4

— Jorden van Foreest (@jordenvforeest) May 14, 2024

The Dutch grandmaster also noted that the FIDE Circuit "seems to aggravate the situation rather than helping, as it encourages top players to play these opens, thus giving sub-top players less of a chance at the prizes."

A day later, the Azerbaijani grandmaster Vasif Durarbayli gave a what he called "controversial take" on the matter where he zoomed in on young Indian players particularly, who are often sponsored and can therefore more easily meet the costs that come with traveling to and staying at tournaments.

"The professional chess ecosystem is being undermined by sponsored players, particularly young Indian players," wrote Durarbayli. "These players' main goal is not to earn money—they receive enough from sponsorship contracts. Therefore, they want to play and don't care about the conditions. It may not seem like a big deal, but it disrupts the open system for professionals. Players like me, rated over 2600, lose our ability to negotiate. How can anyone ask for a single room and a starting fee when top 10 players like Erigaisi and others effectively play for pennies? These players are essentially destroying the market."

Let me share my controversial take on Jorden’s post.

In my 2022 blog post "Am I a Chess Tourist?", I brought the worsening conditions in the chess community to attention. I concluded that if things didn't change, I would become a chess tourist. Unfortunately, not much has…

— Vasif Durarbayli (@durarbayli) May 14, 2024

In the latest episode of their C-Squared podcast, GMs Cristian Chirila and Fabiano Caruana discussed the topic as well. "I think in general that it is becoming more and more difficult to be a chess professional only; at the same time there's more and more opportunities around the chess ecosystem, like being a chess professional, not necessarily just a chess player," said Chirila. "You can be teaching and because of the internet nowadays you can have so many more students from all over the world, you can be a Twitch streamer, you can be a content creator on other social media platforms. There's so many other avenues in which you can support yourself as a chess professional but yes, one thing [Van Foreest] is definitely right is [that it is] getting way more competitive in the open events."

"This is the thing: because people always say there's more money in chess and that has improved in let's say the last 10 years, 15 years and I can say that in some ways maybe that's true but it's not overall the case," said Caruana. "The way that money got increased is in online events mostly, not in terms of over-the-board events so much, and yeah, there's there's more competitiveness now."

GM Teimour Radjabov, who played his first classical open tournament since 2005, probably learned how much tougher these events have become: the 2019 FIDE World Cup winner lost 19.3 rating points and dropped out of the world's top 30 – exactly a year ago he was still in the world's top 10.

Why he played, he explained himself on X: to get to the necessary amount of games to be eligible for the Olympiad team this year.

Chess Federation of Azerbaijan, eagerly asking all the players who are eligible to join the Team by Rating, to play at least 18 games, before 1st July 2024 (every year from now on, each 6-12 months at least 18 games), to represent Azerbaijan in the Olympiad etc.. I fully support!

— Teimour Radjabov (@rajachess) May 3, 2024

The Challengers tournament, for players rated under 2500, saw a three-way tie with two female players among them: IMs Divya Deshmukh (India) and IM Leya Garifullina (Russia), alongside IM Sina Movahed (Iran).

The champion! 🏆🥇
📷: Aditya Sur Roy#chess #womeninchess

— Women's Chess Coverage (@OnTheQueenside) May 22, 2024

The Sharjah Masters International Chess Championship took place May 14-22, 2024, at the Sharjah Cultural & Chess Club. It consisted of three opens: a Masters, Challengers, and Futures tournament. The time control was 90 minutes for the whole game with a 30-second increment. You can find the games here: Masters | Challengers.

New Power Generation Shows Itself At Sharjah Masters (2024)
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