Sara Khadem debuts as Spanish champion in an open with 286 players from 50 countries

The Iranian-born grandmaster, 15th in the world at the age of 26, resumes an intense activity after settling on the Andalusian coast. (Originally published at

Eleven months after taking refuge in Spain after playing without a veil in the World Rapid World Championship in Kazakhstan, Saradasat Khademalsharieh (better known as Sara Khadem, pronounced Jadem), the Iranian is already a Spanish national champion. In addition, he has returned to intense training, and from today he will undergo a tough test to measure his fitness. It is the 4th edition of an open tournament, El Llobregat, in Sant Boi (Barcelona), which has become the most important of the hundreds that are played every year in Spain.

Khadem will not be able to compete with the women’s national team until 2024 due to the internal rules of the Spanish Chess Federation (FEDA) regarding new nationalized players. But her dedication to training is already daily, once she has settled in a place on the Andalusian coast, which she keeps secret for security reasons, with her husband, filmmaker Ardeshir Ahmadi, and their son (Sam, 20 months old). Her play at the Spanish Championships already indicated that she could be among the top ten in the world, as those who have worked technically with her, such as Spanish coach David Martinez, also agree, Divis.

And Sant Boi, very close to Barcelona airport, is a good place to confirm this growing dedication. Because among the 210 participants in the main tournament (there are 76 more in the B), there are 188 international title holders (including 41 grandmasters), which means that none of their nine opponents until day 8 will be easy.

The open Llobregat includes many other elements of great interest. For example, another player who has recently been competing under the Spanish flag, the Argentine Alan Pichot, runner-up in Spain for the last month. Or one who was naturalized many years ago, Alexei Shirov, who at 51 is still shining. Or Paco Vallejo, 41, undisputed best Spaniard until a few months ago, in crisis after the death of his father this summer. All three are among the favorites for the first prize along with two former Russians living in Spain since the invasion of Ukraine, Vladimir Fedoseyev (now playing under the Slovenian flag) and Kiril Alexeyenko (Austria).

The list of the top eight seeds is completed by three Indians because, as always for more than five years, India is the second country in number of players (18) as a consequence of the great chess boom in that immense country due to the enormous popularity of the five-time world champion Viswanathan Anand. They are Narayanan (winner this Wednesday of the previous tournament in the lightning mode), Aravindh and Puranik.

Another big attraction of the tournament is an Indian woman, Rameshbabu Vaishali, who has just qualified against the odds for the Candidates Tournament, to be held next April in Toronto, Canada. There she will meet her brother, the prodigious Praggnanandhaa, who qualified for the Candidates Tournament at the age of 18. Vaishali is the 2nd strongest woman in theory in Llobregat, after Khadem.

By Leontxo García, journalist specialized in chess for EL PAÍS.

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