Games from Aeroflot

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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. Grandmaster (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

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

The 17th edition of the Aeroflot Open was held from Feb. 20-27, 2019 at the Cosmos Hotel, Moscow. As recounted to you last Friday the Estonian GM Kaido Kulaots was the shock winner of the event and will be seeded to play in the SuperGM tournament in Dortmund July 13-21.

The previous Aeroflot winner Vladislav Kovalev, a 25-year-old GM from Belarus, went to Dortmund and tied for second with Jan Krzysztof Duda and Anish Giri with a score of 4/7, one point behind Ian Nepomniachtchi. This was a very good showing considering that the Belarussian was the lowest rated player in the field. Kulaots at 2542 will definitely be the lowest rated player (by far!) in the coming Dortmund event. We wish him well.

Here is one name you probably have never heard of — GM Boris Grachev. He is no longer a youngster, born March 27, 1986, which makes him 32 years of age now. His dad taught him chess when he was four. He became World Champion under 10 in 1995 and became Russian Champion under 10, under 16, under 18, and under 20. He is considered one of the very best in the world at bullet chess (one minute play to finish).

During these youth days he outstripped his contemporaries, for example he defeated Grischuk in a match in 2006 (five wins, three losses and three draws). The Russian Junior Championship he won in 2006 was against a very strong field which included Nepomniachtchi, Tomashevsky, Vitiugov, Lysyj and Boris Savchenko.

GM Grachev broke through the 2700 rating plateau in 2012 but since then has been rather inconsistent in his results and wallowed in the 2600-2700 range. Every tournament though he can be counted on to come up with a few beauties. I will show you one of his games.

Grachev, Boris (2626) — Gukesh, Dommaraju (2508) [D05]
Aeroflot Open A 2019 Moscow RUS (1.24), 20.02.2019

IM (International Master) Sagar Shah wrote this about the Indian youngster playing Black: In October 2017, Gukesh was a talented youngster with a rating of 2322 and no norms. In 16 months, he scored three IM norms, three GM norms, pumped up his rating to 2500 and became the second youngest GM in the history of the game.

On Jan. 15, 2019, Gukesh achieved his final GM norm at the Delhi GM 2019 and with it qualified for the GM title at the age of 12 years, seven months and 17 days (4617 days from his birth date, May 29th, 2006). The youngest GM in Indian chess history and the second youngest GM in the world, he missed Karjakin’s record of the youngest GM in the world by just 19 days!

Very impressive, but here in the first round of Aeroflot he gets a cold shower.

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.e3 e6 5.Bd3 Nbd7 6.0–0 Bd6 7.Nbd2

Sometimes the white knight goes to c3 and sometimes to d2. If you are playing a game with fast time control and don’t have much time for thought then it would be handy to remember this rule of thumb: If Nc3 then you have to exchange pawns first on c4 before pushing e6–e5. If Nbd2 then usually you can go straight ahead and push e6–e5.

7…0–0 8.e4 e5 9.cxd5 cxd5 10.Re1

The usual continuation is 10.exd5 exd4 and then either Ne4 or Nc4:


Black managed to equalize after 10…Qc7 11.exd5 exd4 12.Nc4 Nb6 13.Nxd6 Qxd6 14.Nxd4 Nbxd5 15.b3 Bg4 16.Qd2 Rfd8 17.Bb2 Nb4 18.Bc2 Rac8 1–0 (18) Lysyj, I (2655)-Petrosyan, T (2425) Yerevan 2014.

It appears to me that the safest line for Black is 10…h6 11.exd5 exd4 12.Ne4 Nxe4 13.Rxe4 Nf6 14.Rxd4 Bc5 15.Rc4 Qxd5 and Black might even be better here.

11.exd5 exd4 12.Ne4 Nxe4 13.Rxe4 Nc5

Giving up on the pawn. Gukesh would like to play 13…Nf6 so that if 14.Rxd4 Bc5 15.Rc4 Qxd5 regains the pawn right away, but after 13…Nf6 14.Bg5 is rather an uncomfortable pin 14…Rxe4 15.Bxe4 h6 16.Bxf6 Qxf6 17.Qxd4 wins the pawn just the same.

14.Rxd4 Nxd3 15.Qxd3 Bc5 16.Re4 b6 17.Rxe8+ Qxe8 18.Be3 Bxe3 19.fxe3 Bb7 20.Ng5!

The automatic continuation would have been 20.e4 to bolster his passed pawn, but then Black can put up some sort of blockade with 20…Rd8 21.Nd4 Qe5. Grachev sees an attack.


The only chance is 20…Qe5! 21.Qxh7+ Kf8 22.Qh5 Qxe3+ 23.Kh1 Bxd5 although even then White would have the advantage after 24.Rf1.

21.Qd4 Qe7 22.Ne4 f5 23.Nf6+ Kf7 24.Rc1 Rd8

Opposing with his rook on the c-file will not help. After 24…Rc8 25.Rxc8 Bxc8 26.Nxh7 and h2–h4 White penetrates on the dark squares.

25.e4 fxe4

[25…Qxf6?? 26.Rc7+]

26.Rf1 Ba6 27.Rf4 g5 <D>


28.Nh5+! Kg6

[28…gxf4 29.Qg7+ Ke8 30.Nf6+]

29.Rf6+ Kxh5 30.g4+ 1–0

[30.g4+ Kxg4 31.Qd1+ Kh3 32.Rh6#]

GM Krishnan Sasikiran of India started the tournament with 5/5 and looked liked a cinch to win the title but then could only finish with 3 draws in the final 4 rounds. It was still good enough for a creditable 3rd place.

In the early 2000s he was considered the heir apparent of World Champion Vishy Anand, not in the least because he like Vishy is a native of Madras, India. Champion of India in 1999, 2002, 2003 and 2013, Asian Junior Champion in Vung Tau 1999 (second-placer was Darwin Laylo from the Philippines), he was also the Asian Individual Champion in 2003. In 2007, after leading India to the team gold in the first ever chess competition at the Asian Games, he became the second chess player from India to exceed 2700 in rating.

I met him during the 1999 Asian Team Chess Championship held in Shenyang, China. The teams were quartered in a mountain resort and play was in the Shenyang Convention Center, which is at least 30 kilometers away. There were several buses ferrying the players from the resort to the convention center, but one morning the bus carrying the Philippine team and some other players, including Sasikiran, broke down halfway to the play area.

Sasikiran was very worried and said that the team was counting on him and he cannot let them down, so he got off the bus and started jogging towards the center. NM Ed Ortiz chased him to say that the repair was a minor one and should take only a few minutes, but he came back with a distressed look and told me, “I can’t catch him!”

Around 10 minutes later the driver got the bus to start and sped quickly to the playing venue. When we caught up with Sasikiran he was almost there already at the site. Wow!

I told you that story to illustrate to you his dedication to the sport. Anyway, somewhere between then and now Sasikiran got married and I don’t think he is as determined as before to become world chess champion, but he is still one strong dude. The following game is an overpowering performance over a very strong opponent.

Sasikiran, Krishnan (2678) — Korobov, Anton (2687) [B92]
Aeroflot Open A 2019 Moscow RUS (5.1), 23.02.2019

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be2 e5 7.Nb3 Be7 8.0–0 0–0 9.Re1

White has two major lines of play here. There is:

9.Be3 Be6 10.Qd2 Nbd7 11.a4 Rc8 12.a5 Qc7 13.Rfd1, or 9.Kh1 Nc6 10.f4 b5 11.Bf3 an approach which GM Suat Atalik calls “toothless.”

The game continuation’s idea is to get his b3 knight to e3 via d2–f1–e3.

9…Be6 10.Be3

White usually prefaces this move with 10.Bf3 to prevent Black’s pawn from advancing to d5, which causes the exchange of several pieces and leads to dull equality.


Korobov himself is playing for a win and avoids …d6–d5.

11.a4 Rc8 12.Bf3 Re8 13.a5 Qc7 14.Nd2 Nf8 15.Nf1 Ng6 16.g3 Qd7 17.Re2

Sasikiran will be putting this rook on d2, the e3–bishop on b6, and knight on e3.

17…h6 18.Rd2 Rxc3!?

Korobov was getting frustrated at his lack of counterplay and gives up the exchange to destroy White’s queenside pawns.

19.bxc3 Qc6 20.Rb1 Qxc3

Both players had to calculate that the e4–pawn cannot be taken: 20…Nxe4 21.Rb6 Qc4 22.Rb4 Nxc3 23.Rxc4 Nxd1 24.Rc7 White remains ahead.

21.Rxb7 Qxa5 22.Ba7 Qa4 23.Ne3 a5

[23…Nxe4? 24.c4! Qxd1+ 25.Rxd1 Nf6 26.Bc6 Rc8 27.Rb8 Rxb8 28.Bxb8 Black is stuck with a dreary endgame]

24.c4 Qc6 25.Qb1 Bc8 26.Rb6 Qa8 27.Bb8 Nd7 28.Rbb2 Nxb8 29.Rxb8 Qa7 30.Bg4! 1–0

White wins at least a piece after 30.Bg4 Qc7 31.Nd5 Qc5 32.Qb5.

From Moscow Sasikiran flew directly to Astana where he is representing India in the World Team Championships together with GMs Baskaran Adhiban, Surya Shekhar Ganguly, SP Sethuraman and Chithambaram Aravindh.

That tournament is what we will be covering next.


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.