Young International Master Nihal Sarin made his final stride towards the third and last Grand Master norm, defeating higher-ranked Grandmaster Parligras Mircea-Emilian of Romania in the sixth round of Abu Dhabi Masters on Monday.

Taking his tally to 4.5 points out of six rounds, Nihal currently clocks a rating performance of over 2700, and a fifty percent score in the last three rounds should get him the coveted GM title.

Playing the white side of a Queen pawn game, the 14-year-old Kerala boy was always in control as he capitalised on an opportunity to play in the centre and netted a pawn in the ensuing complexities arising out of the middle game.

The Queen’s gambit declined may have a solid reputation but Nihal proved that if consistent pressure is applied, a Grandmaster, way above him in ranking, could be tamed. Parligras realised that the endgame he ventured in to was not so easy and easily caved in when faced with the prospects of losing second pawn. The game lasted 67 moves.

Even as Daniil Dubov of Russia and Anton Korobov shot in to joint lead on 5.5 points apiece beating Levan Pantsulaia of Georgia and Wang Hao of China respectively, the focus was around the Indian youngsters trying to make their mark with a strong presence.

The two leaders are solely pursued by local hero AR Salem Saleh, who is a half point behind and as many as 16-players share the joint fourth spot on 4.5 points including SL Narayanan, Murali Karthikeyan, Aravindh Chithambaram and Sarin.

It looks like the Indians will earn a few norms as the tournament progresses while Nihal remains the top favourite for the GM norm. Meanwhile, Erigaisi Arjun and P Iniyan kept themselves in contention following draws against Adly Ahmed of Egypt and Davit Jojua of Georgia respectively.

Among those running for IM norms, Aaryan Varhsney came back from the jaws of defeat to win against Raunak Sadhwani and keep himself in contention while 12-year-old Pranav Anand was at his exceptional best, beating compatriot Grandmaster M Shyam Sundar.

Another Indian talent, Dushyant Sharma kept himself in the hunt after letting slip a position of advantage against GM S Kidambi.

(With inputs from PTI)