2019 Aeroflot Open

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Bobby Ang

Chess Piece

Aeroflot Open 2019 “A”
Cosmos Hotel, Moscow, Russia
Feb. 20-27, 2019

Final Top Standings

1-2. GM Kaido Kulaots EST 2542, GM Haik Martirosyan ARM 2616, 7.0/9

3. GM Krishnan Sasikiran IND 2678, 6.5/9

4-9. GM Wang Hao CHN 2714, GM Wei Yi CHN 2733, GM Maksim Chigaev RUS 2613, GM Ernesto Inarkiev RUS 2692, GM Alexey Sarana RUS 2630, GM David Anton Guijarro ESP 2642, 6.0/9

10-24. GM M.Amin Tabatabaei IRI 2590, GM Anton Korobov UKR 2687, GM Suri Vaibhav IND 2575, GM Sanan Sjugirov RUS 2663, GM David Paravyan RUS 2627, GM Aram Hakobyan ARM 2545, GM Denis Khismatullin RUS 2621, GM Bogdan-Daniel Deac ROU 2603, GM Constantin Lupulescu ROU 2610, IM Klementy Sychev RUS 2545, GM Zhou Jianchao CHN 2615, GM Tigran L Petrosian ARM 2595, GM SL Narayanan IND 2593, GM Parham Maghsoodloo IRI 2666, IM Nodirbek Yakubboev UZB 2569, 5.5/9

Total of 101 participants

Time Control: 90 minutes for the first 40 moves, then 30 minutes play-to-finish with 30 seconds added to your clock after every move starting move 1

Kaido Kulaots
GM Kaido Kulaots

The 17th edition of the Aeroflot Open was scheduled to start on Feb. 20 but a bomb threat forced the evacuation of the venue, the Cosmos Hotel, shortly after play had started. When the situation normalized the organizers announced that round 1 would start the next day and there will be a double-round day on the nearest Saturday to make up for the lost afternoon. As a consequence of that, the time control of the tournament, originally 100 minutes for 40 moves plus 50 minutes until the end of the game with a 30-second increment, was adjusted to 90 minutes for the first 40 moves plus 30 minutes till the end of the game with 30 seconds added to the clock after every move. This is to avoid unnecessary strain on the players.

The tournament then continued in earnest.

The surprise winner of the event was GM Kaido Kulaots, the champion of Estonia. He celebrated his 43rd birthday the day after the tournament ended. To give you some perspective, Vladimir Kramnik has just retired from tournament chess after a “long, fruitful and legendary” career. He is also 43 years of age.

The Aeroflot required a minimum rating of 2550 to ensure entry into the Top Section, the so-called “A” tournament. Based on that criteria Kulaots would not have qualified in the 100-player “A” section. Fortunately, after all the entrants had been processed and the players ranked from highest to lowest he was no. 62 out of 100, so he was allowed to play. I remember back in 2011 the Philippines sent a contingent of some of our top players (GMs Darwin Laylo, Richard Bitoon and John Paul Gomez) to Aeroflot, and all of them got bumped down to the “B” tournament! Then again this is Moscow, where even the cigarette vendors play decent chess.

The World Champion Magnus Carlsen weighed in on this result on twitter: “Congrats to Kaido Kulaots for an absolutely amazing underdog victory at the Aeroflot open! 19 years ago, he shared a flat with my father and I at the Gausdal tournament, and inspired an unrated 9-year-old by predicting that he would one day be rated 2650.”

Maghsoodloo, Parham (2666) — Kulaots, Kaido (2542) [B90]
Aeroflot Open A 2019 Moscow RUS (1.12), 20.02.2019

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Nb3

This is the pet line of Polish GM Mateusz Bartel, and he has been playing it with a lot of success. So much, in fact, that even Alexander Grischuk used it heavily during the World Rapid and Blitz Championships in 2016. The main idea is simply to wait and see how Black develops his forces. There is a secondary idea which I will show you later.

6…g6 7.Be2 Bg7 8.g4

This is the idea I was talking about. In many cases after White plays g2 — g4 Black has the counter …e7 — e5 with a double attack on the knight in d4 and the pawn on g4. By pre-emptively withdrawing his knight to b3 he gets rid of that possibility.

8…h6 9.Be3 Nbd7

Here is one of the original games with this line. It is quite instructive: 9…Nc6 10.f3 b5 11.Qd2 Be6?! (Maybe 11…Ne5 was better. The bishop does not seem to be particularly well-placed on e6) 12.0 — 0 — 0 Rc8 13.Kb1 Ne5 14.h4 Bc4 15.Bd4 Qc7 16.f4 (this is probably why Kulaots chose to move his b8 — knight to d7 followed by b6. With the knight on e5 White’s f2 — f4 pawn push is a nuisance) 16…Bxe2 (as GM Roiz points out 16…Nc6 17.Nd5 Bxd5 18.Bxf6 Bxf6 19.exd5 Nb8 20.g5 Bg7 21.h5 is winning for White) 17.Qxe2 Nexg4 18.e5 dxe5 19.fxe5 Black is losing a piece now. Bartel, M (2625)-Artemiev, V (2674) Moscow RUS 2016 1 — 0 40.

10.f3 Qc7 11.Qd2 b5 12.a3 Rb8 13.0 — 0 — 0 Nb6 14.Bd4 e5 15.Bxb6 Rxb6 16.h4 Be6 17.Kb1 0 — 0 18.Nd5 Nxd5 19.exd5 Bd7 20.h5 g5 21.Bd3 <D>


Black now gives up a pawn to open up the position for his bishops.

21…e4! 22.Bxe4 b4! 23.a4

[23.axb4 Qc4 24.Na5 Qxb4 25.Qxb4 Rxb4 26.b3 Bxg4 Black has the better position at no material investment]

23…Bxa4 24.Nd4 b3 25.cxb3?

[25.c3 is imperative]

25…Bxb3 26.Rc1 Qb7 27.Rh2 Rb8 28.Rc6 Rb4 29.Nxb3 Rxb3 30.Rc2 a5

Black is clearly winning. Opposite-colored bishops is drawish in the endgame, but in cases like this it is favorable for the attacking side — the b2 — pawn can be attacked by the Black bishop and cannot be defended by its White counterpart.

31.Kc1 Be5 32.Kd1

White has no time to save the h2 — rook because 32.Rg2? Bf4.

32…Bxh2 33.Qxh2 Qb6 34.Kc1 Qe3+ 35.Kb1 Qe1+ 36.Ka2

[36.Rc1 Qb4 37.Rc2 a4 it will be over soon]

36…Ra3+ 0 — 1

[36…Ra3+ 37.Kxa3 (37.bxa3 Qb1#) 37…Qa1#]

Besides the prize fund of €140,000, the Aeroflot Open provides a ticket to the Dortmund super GM tournament later this year. We hope Kulaots will continue his good form. Estonia has a great chess tradition — the chess legend Paul Keres is from there as is the two-time world correspondence champion (1983 and 1999) Tonu Oim. The famous chess coach Ivo Nei is also an Estonian. However, lately the country has been in a bit of a chess decline because their top players have left — Jaan Ehlvest, the former world championship candidate, now represents the USA and Lembit Oll passed away some years ago from an apparent suicide. Hopefully the successes of GM Kaido Kulaots will stir up new impetus to develop the next batch of hopefuls.

Finishing in second place was the 18-year-old Armenian GM Haik M. Martirosyan. He actually tied for first place but the tie-break system in use in Moscow was “most black,” meaning that the one who played Black more times is given a higher placing. Kulaots had five blacks (he actually killed with black — 4.5/5!) and Martirosyan had four. Some might say that the tie-break rule of “most blacks” is not fair, but it does not matter, for Kulaots undoubtedly deserved his gold medal. He was lower-rated in every single game but despite that scored wins against heavyweights Maghsoodloo, Alireza Firouzja, Daniil Dubov, Wei Yi and Khismatullin. Compare those names against GM Haik’s opponents: Shardul Gagare, Liu Yan, Manuel Petrosyan, Sasikiran and Tigran L. Petrosian.

Having said that, Martirosyan showed brilliant play as well.

Petrosian, Tigran L. (2595) — Martirosyan, Haik M. (2616) [C50]
Aeroflot Open A 2019 Moscow RUS (9.2), 27.02.2019

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.d3 Nf6 5.Bg5 h6 6.Bh4 a6 7.a4

Everybody is playing the Italian Slow Game now and so far the verdict is that Black is doing ok. Here is a warning though on how quickly the situation can change. 7.Nc3 g5 8.Bg3 d6 9.a3 Nd4 10.Nxd4 Bxd4 11.h4 Rg8 12.hxg5 hxg5 13.Rh6 Bg4 14.f3 Bd7 15.Qd2 Qe7 16.Bf2 0 — 0 — 0? (up to now Black is ok but he starts losing the thread here. Best is 16…Be6 to try and force the white-squared bishops off the board) 17.Bxd4 exd4 18.Rxf6! Qxf6 19.Nd5 Qe5 20.Qa5 b6 21.Nxb6+ Kb8 22.Nd5 Qg3+ 23.Kf1 Rc8 24.Bxa6 Bc6 25.Ne7 1 — 0 Pavlidis,A (2552)-Ashiku,F (2373) Batumi 2018.

7…d6 8.c3 Ba7 9.0 — 0 Qe7 10.Nbd2 g5 11.Bg3 Nd7 12.Bd5 h5 13.h4 g4 14.Ne1

[14.Ng5 Nd8 the white knight is in danger of getting trapped]

14…Nf8 15.d4 Ng6

[15…exd4 16.cxd4 Nxd4 17.Nc2 Followed up by Nc4. White is counting on assaulting the black king which is stuck in the center]

16.Nc4 exd4 17.Nd3 Nce5 18.cxd4 Nxc4 19.Bxc4 Bxd4 20.Nf4 c5 21.Nxg6 fxg6 22.b4

I believe 22.Qb3 followed by e4 — e5 would open up the position in White’s favor.

22…Be6 23.bxc5 dxc5 24.Bxe6 Qxe6 25.Rb1 b6 26.Qb3 c4 27.Qb4 Bc5 28.Qc3 0 — 0 29.Rfc1 Rad8 30.Rc2

[30.Qxc4 Rd1+! 31.Kh2 (31.Rxd1 Qxc4) 31…Qxc4 32.Rxc4 Rxb1 leaves Black a rook ahead]

30…Rd4 31.Re1 b5 32.axb5 axb5 33.Qa5?

Taking his own queen out of the action.

33…Qc6 34.Rb1 b4 35.Rxb4 Bxb4 36.Qxb4 Qxe4 37.Ra2 Qe6 38.Kh2 Rd7 39.Rc2 Rc8 40.Qc3 Rd3 41.Qa5 Rd1 42.Qg5 c3 43.Qh6 Qf5 44.Re2 c2 45.Be5 Rh1+! 46.Kg3 Rh3+! 0 — 1

More on this come Tuesday.


Bobby Ang is a founding member of the National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP) and its first Executive Director. A Certified Public Accountant (CPA), he taught accounting in the University of Santo Tomas (UST) for 25 years and is currently Chief Audit Executive of the Equicom Group of Companies.