11 February 2024

Fasten Your Seat Belts!

Part IV of the Aeroflot Open story by Dmitry Kryakvin


2016. Up to the lone kings

The highlight of the 2016 Aero was the participation of Boris Gelfand, the Israeli grandmaster who four years earlier had almost taken the crown from the fifteenth World Champion Vishy Anand (India). Boris Abramovich said at the time that his last participation in an open tournament had been as far back as in 1993!

A true professional, Gelfand's attitude to Aeroflot was as serious as possible. He fought for victory in every game as if it were the game of his life.

One event proved to be extremely frustrating for him. Gelfand, who had studied together with the President of the Russian Chess Federation, Andrey Filatov, missed the latter's ceremony for receiving the Legion of Honor award.

Boris was the last to finish his game and thus didn't make it to the ceremony.

Boris Gelfand tied for first place, but was not a winner and did not qualify for Dortmund. Ahead of him in the final standings was the European Champion and coach of the Russian women's national team, Evgeniy Najer. It was Evgeniy's ninth Aeroflot, but for the first time luck was on his side!


Fedoseev - Najer



The high tension of White's attack was maintained by 24.Qb7! N:e2+ 25.Kh1 Qc8 26.Qc6+ Kf8 27.N:g6+ Kf7 28. N:e7 Qe8 29.Qd6, leading to a completely unclear position.

24...N:e2+ 25.Kh1 Bf6! 

This pin wins the game on the spot.

26. N:d7 B:b2 27.R:c7 Rd8, and Black went on to convert his extra piece superiority.

By the way, it's interesting to note that in a crazy race of a blitz tournament that followed next, the Chinese Ding Liren overtook Nepomniachtchi by half a point. It was a local drama, but no one knew back then what an incredible challenge was in store for both opponents later in 2023!



The B and C tournaments were won by Ilia Iljiushenok and Gleb Apryshko, respectively.


2017. The rise of a new ceneration

A new generation of chess players entered the arena, in some ways more professional than those of the past. It was even said that champagne glasses were left untouched at the opening ceremony, and everyone was impressed by Grandmaster X, known for his romantic attitude to this process, who claimed that he had given up drinking once and for all.

By then, the arbiters were well trained. Thanks to GM Konstantin Landa (1972-2022), organizers were learning to combat the cheaters in all tournaments. Aeroflot was no exception, and the arbiters managed to stop one such attempt in a side tournament.

In 2017, the hall was full of young chess players in jackets and suits with an elegant embroidery reading ProfChessClub. The near Moscow chess club gathered many talented children from Russia and neighboring countries. The head of the club, Sergei Nesterov, and the ProfChessClub were already well known.

People whispered about Russian billionaires signing huge checks to train young superstars and that coaches were training geniuses at cosmic prices - some for as much as 10,000 rubles an hour.

Unfortunately, the club did not last long. A significant part of its members left during the difficult times, but a number of talented children (Andrey Esipenko, Volodar Murzin, Arseny Nesterov, Leya Garifullina) form the elite of Russian youth today. As for Sergei Nesterov, after a management internship at Sochi University, he is now the deputy rector of one of the country's most prestigious universities.

By the way, that year Andrey Esipenko shone in the blitz - he made it to the first table to face the future winner, Anton Korobov.

In the classical chess, the victory went to Vladimir Fedoseev of St. Petersburg, who managed to comeback against Evgeniy Najer. Before the key match, Najer met the Moscow legend Pavel Dvalishvili, who predicted him a golden double, but it was not to be.

In the race for Dortmund, Vladimir Fedoseev won another important game against Maxim Matlakov and landed ahead of Evgeniy Najer, Nikita Vitiugov and Vladislav Kovalev (Belarus).


Fedoseev – Matlakov


White’s pieces are more active, and it turns out to be a forced win! 

27.g3! fg+ 28.hg g6 

There is no time for 28...Bb7 29.Nd4+ Kf7 30.Nf5. 

29.f4 Bb7 30.f5+! Black stopped the clock in the face of huge material losses.

In the "B" tournament Gabriel Battaglini (France) was second to none, and the "C" tournament was won by the Russian player German Bazeev.


2018. Invasion from the East

The prize pool for the next tournament was 140 thousand Euros. As many as 83 players from India participated in all tournaments, which was quite a surprise! Not for nothing, the players from the East had a significant impact on the tournament race, with S.P. Sethuraman finishing in the top three. 

The Iranian Mohammad Tabatabaei was also on a good way, but in the last rounds he suffered a setback by going down to the future winner of the race, Vladislav Kovalev from Belarus, and then to the tournament’s revelation, the young Moscow grandmaster Dmitry Gordievsky.

Kovalev - Tabatabaei

The hasty 38.R:f5+? K:d4 39.R:f3 K:c5 gives away the victory. But Kovalev had already seen the final combination.

38.c6! bc 39.b6! and the white pawn makes it to the promotion square! 

It was funny that playing against Gordievsky with a two-pawn deficit in the rook ending, Tabatabaei’s last move was to blunder his own rook! Dima looked at him in surprise - did his opponent hope to win in such a strange way? The Iranian immediately resigned and it all ended with a smile.

The side tournament was won by Mikhail Mozharov of Moscow, and in the "C" tournament the victory went to yet another representative of Moscow, Gleb Apryshko. Apryshko had already distinguished himself in children's competitions, later in the RAPID Grand Prix stages. The strength of his play at the Russian Rapid and Blitz Championships sometimes surprised famous grandmasters to the point of convening the Ethics Committee! But just before the start of "Aero" the rating of the triumphant winner of the "C" tournament would somehow mysteriously drop, and Gleb was regularly admitted to the amateur event. ....

In the Blitz tournament, Ian Nepomniachtchi took his revenge for his last year’s failure in a most convincing manner, defeating none other than American Hikaru Nakamura!


2019. Life begins at forty!

The first prize of this tournament amounted to 18 thousand dollars. In 5 years, this green currency, so much hated by Vladimir Volfovich Zhirinovsky, will be abandoned, and this year the foreigners will receive their prizes in Yuan!

The tournament began, and an hour after the start of the first round they received a message of bomb threat in "Cosmos"!

The traditional venue became one of the unfortunate places "mined" that day, along with Kazan railway station, Ostankino TV tower and other landmark sites. According to Eteri Kublashvili, arbiters and participants did not take the voice from the loudspeakers as something serious at first, but soon the hotel director showed up in person to urge everyone out.

Many managed to get dressed in a nearby cloakroom, but some left in haste to the Charles de Gaulle monument without their warm clothes, so they were soon given blankets. The tournament participants and other Cosmos residents were chased away from the entrance, the building was sealed off, police, military, and fire trucks arrived. 

The hall was being checked for a long time, the round had to be canceled, and then on the fifth day they had to play two rounds. It was a pity, because in several games the players gained an overwhelming position within an hour. For example, Daniil Dubov almost defeated young Abdusattorov after a powerful novelty. But in the next game Nodirbek equalized easily, but Andrey Esipenko uncorked the novelty he had seen from Dubov and easily defeated the Chinese player. Unfortunately, as it turned out later, it was not without some theft during the evacuation, and there were those who had their phones or jackets missing. Fortunately, the outside temperature was still around zero, not a real Russian winter.

A real sensation was caused by Estonian grandmaster Kaido Kulaots, who was above forty years old by that time. He played reliably as White, defeating Alireza Firouzja, Wei Yi, Dubov, and Parham Maghsoodloo as Black on counterattacks. In the first round against Maghsoodloo, Kulaots had an underwhelming position, but in the game played after the bomb threat message he managed to win.

In the last round, the leader managed to grind down Denis Khismatullin in the endgame to take the first place, overtaking Haik Martirosyan (Armenia) due to his better "black-color" tiebreaker. Kaido made himself a great present for his 43rd birthday!


Kulaots - Khismatullin


Unbelievable, but the position is still tenable with 71...Qd4! - White can't improve his position further. 

72.Qg6+ Kh8 73.f6! gf 

It turns out that 73...Qd5+ 74.Qf5 is bad, whereas other continuations allow White to break through.

74.Qf7! Qf4

74...Qf2 75.g5 Qf3+ 76.Kh6, results in a checkmate.

75.Qe8+ Kg7 76.Qg6+ with the exchange of queens, and White wins.

Since 2002 no chess player with an Elo below 2500 ever won the tournament (Grigory Kaidanov, who usually played Swiss tournaments very well, shone there), but who could tell that this trend would continue. By the way, chess players rated 2700 have never won this tournament! Will something change in 2024?

"Congratulations to Kaido for his absolutely fantastic victory at the Aeroflot Open! 19 years ago, he stayed with my father and me at a tournament in Gausdal and inspired a 9-year-old unrated chess player by predicting that he would reach a rating of 2650," this is how World Champion Magnus Carlsen reacted to this success.

It is also interesting to note that Andrzej Filipowicz became the chief arbiter of the festival instead of Gert Gijssen - the Dutchman's health did not allow him to come. 

The "B" tournament was won by Stanislav Bogdanovich - a year later the talented Odessa grandmaster was found dead together with his girlfriend Alexandra Vernigora in a Moscow apartment. The official investigation findings read that the students were poisoned with laughing gas, but there was a lot of mystery in this tragic event - both Stas's mother and many others who knew the couple were not at all convinced...

Tournament "C" was won by Timofey Ilyin, a chess player from the city of Donetsk and now the native of Yamal, and one of the heroes of the Black Sea tournament series of these days. And the Blitz was won once again by Sergey Karjakin.


2020. The era of prodigies

The coronavirus pandemic intervened with all its associated restrictions. Life changed a lot, and even our chess federation was renamed from RCF to CFR (to comply with the new requirements by the Ministry of Sport).

Unfortunately, a number of strong participants, feeling unwell, dropped out immediately. The younger ones adapted to the new playing conditions more easily, as well as to the insidious coronavirus itself. The prodigies Volodar Murzin (Russia) and Bharat Subramaniam (India) played well, but the real sensation was the 14-year-old international master Aydin Suleymanli (Azerbaijan). 

His compatriot, Rauf Mamedov, was in the lead, but the youngster scored 3 out of 3 at the end and then stayed his ground as Black in their head-to-head encounter, securing the best coefficient (in terms of number of games played as Black)! He later admitted in an interview that he had never missed a single masterclass or lecture by Mamedov in his homeland, and perhaps this is what helped him in his confrontation with Rauf.

Maghsoodloo - Suleymanli


A fatal decision. Parham refuses to repeat the moves with 21.Rc3 Bb4 22.Rc1, but his position is immediately lost.

21...Bb1! 22.Re2 

After 22.Ra3 Cb4 23.Rb3 Rc2+ 24.Be2 Ba2 the rook is trapped!

22…Rc4 23.Rc2 

In case of 23.h4 R:a4 24.hg Ra1 the black a-pawn makes it to the promotion square, and a desperate attempt to change something helps neither.

23...Be1+ 24.K:e1 R:c2 25.h4 Rac8 26.Bd6 R8c3 27.hg Rb2 White resigns.

The first place was also shared by Aravindh Chithambaram (India) and Rinat Jumabayev (Kazakhstan). The "B" tournament was won by Tigran Harutyunyan (Armenia), and "C" was won by the Mongolian Erdenepurev Boldoo. 

At that time, it was not yet known that the pandemic was serious and would persist for a long time, and that the favorite tournament would have a big break. Who showed up at the tournament most often? It turned out that the arbiters outperformed the players in this respect. Ashot Vardapetyan (Armenia) and Viktor Goncharov (Russia) refereed 17 out of 18 Aeroflot events! Do you happen to know someone who has taken part in all 18 editions of Aeroflot? 

I hope that the "Aeroflot Open" will please us for many more years to come, and the number of records set there is going to increase!

Photo credit: Eteri Kublashvili, Boris Dolmatovsky, and archives of the 64 Chess Magazine