2nd Stars Cup in Iran

by Elshan Moradiabadi
7/26/2017 – The second edition of the Stars Cup recently took place, pitting once more a team of Iranian talents against experienced strong international players, to allow the Iranians a chance to learn and grow. This year, the international team included the likes of Shirov, Jobava, Bruzon Batista, and more, and Iran's lineup saw Maghsoodloo, who finished with a 2700+ performance, Firouzja, and more. Reporting on it, with a look into Iranian chess, is GM Elshan Moradiabadi. | Photos: chessstarscup.ir

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Iran Stars nearly equal World team

It seems that despite Iranian chess federation's problem paying its debts to FIDE for the Women's World championship this year, the Iranian chess engine is going forward full power. Thanks to its appeal as a strong educational tool, and a means to earn social recognition (top sportsmen in Iran receive media attention and coverage) chess has made its way into the Iranian community and almost every household.

Even the most optimistic proponents of developing chess in an undeveloped country with a ten-year absolute break from international scenes could not envision such a rise. The break in question refers to the 1979 revolution in Iran, shortly after which playing chess was banned in public and considered forbidden by senior clerics because it was associated with gambling. However, in 1988, Iran’s then supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, lifted the ban. Thanks to the “internet of things” and accessibility of open source materials in chess as well as neighboring ex-soviet states with a rich chess culture like Armenia and Azerbaijan, Iran’s chess federation now has six grandmasters and two GM-elects above 2500, all but one are below thirty years old.

Gilan Province hopes for a GM title, IM Khalil Mousavi who has shown his capacity and talent, notably beating Alexy Shirov last year in an open tournament in Iran! 

More interestingly, four of these players are below twenty. In addition, Iran's women, by no small stretch, are challenging the men's meteoric rise with two IMs and four WGMs. This is in spite of the fact that before the year 2000 women's chess didn’t receive in a fraction of budget men used to get in terms of training and participation.

Despite all these successes, chess in Iran faces its difficulties. As one of the first GMs and chess professionals who spent the first 26 years of his life in Iran, I still observe similar, albeit fewer, problems standing in the way of young Iranian players, coaches, enthusiasts and families who are willing to do everything within their power for their children.

Jobava is a true chess elevator. After solid results in Siegmen and a fantastic comeback in the European Championship, he simply ended up scoring -2 and losing a lefty 24 points. Here he is held comfortably by Iran's representative in the coming World Cup GM Pourramezanali.

As for Pourramezanali, he is definitely on fire. His consistent results in recent tournaments had made him a contender to become Iran's number 1! 

One of these many challenges is access to international chess. Although the Iranian Open team at the World Chess Olympiad finished 16th and won the Category B prize, players in the national team hardly take part in strong events where they get a chance to cross swords with experienced world class players.

To fill in this gap, the Gilan province chess association and Iranian Chess Federation joined forces with the Anzali Trade-Industrial Free Zone Organization and formed the “Stars Cup”, a Scheveningen event where the country's top players get a chance to play strong players from all over the world. The 1st edition of this event was a 10 vs 10 Scheveningen, while the second edition this year had a strange format where eight Iranian players faced seven strong and experienced GMs with an average rating of 2655! The reason for this format is unbeknownst to your author but I could venture to guess some visa issue or last minute problem prevented a chance for an 8 vs 8 match.

The Magnificent Seven of this event were: GM Baadur Jobava (Georgia), GM Loek Van Wely (Netherlands), GM Alexy Shirov(Latvia), GM Lazaro Bruzon (Cuba), GM Eltaj Safarli (Azerbaijan) GM Ivan Sokolov (Netherlands), GM Wen Yang (China) comprising a list of players from three different continents all with prolific and enviable resumes, most notably one of the most fearsome attackers of the late 90s and a 'theoretical' world championship contender Alexei Shirov.

Chess has its own ironies with respect to world politics: Bruzon, a Cuban, played in the World Open in the United States, and went right after to Iran to play in the Stars cup.

The Iranian guns in this event were: GM Parham Maghsoodloo, GM Pouya Idani, GM Ehsan Ghaem Maghami, GM Amirreza Pourramzeanali (zonal champion with a seat in the coming World Cup), GM-elect Amin Tabatabaei (soon a GM), Iran's chess phenomena 14 year-old IM Alireza Firouzja (with two GM norms), GM-elect Masoud Mosadeghpour (with four GM norms!) and IM Khalil Mousavi.

The experienced “Stars” had only one returning GM: Ivan Sokolov who is also Iran's national team coach.

IM Mosadeghpour, twice Asian U20 champion, lost a classical match against Mr 'Fire on the Board' ex-world championship contender GM Alexey Shirov

Once again, the world stars won against the Iranian youngsters, but with a less convincing result than last year: last year all ten matches finished in favor of the world team whereas this year the Iranian squad managed to win two matches and draw one out of seven rounds.

Also, just like last year, the highest performance belonged to Iran's number one GM Parham Maghsoodloo. Parham, who absolutely loves chess, plays non-stop one tournament after another, and scored 4.5/7 with a fantastic 2734 performance. He also elevated the record for the best head-to-head result in classical chess among Iranian players, dismantling the current European vice-champion, flamboyant Baadur Jobava from Georgia who went on to suffer a terrible performance losing 24 Elo points without scoring any wins!

Here are some select moments:

Baadur Jobava - Parham Maghsoodloo (annotated by GM Elshan Moradiabadi)

[Event "2nd Stars Cup"] [Site "Playchess.com"] [Date "2017.07.12"] [Round "1.1"] [White "Jobava, Baadur"] [Black "Maghsoodloo, Parham"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D76"] [WhiteElo "2707"] [BlackElo "2584"] [Annotator "GM Elshan Moradiabadi"] [PlyCount "73"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [WhiteTeam "Georgia"] [BlackTeam "Iran"] [WhiteTeamCountry "GEO"] [BlackTeamCountry "IRI"] [WhiteClock "0:00:24"] [BlackClock "0:03:44"] {This is not even close to Parham's peak of career, since he is only 17 years old, but it always feels good to set the bar higher!} 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 d5 4. cxd5 Nxd5 5. g3 Bg7 6. Bg2 Nb6 7. Nf3 O-O 8. O-O Nc6 9. e3 {My knowledge of my old days in this line tells me this line could be somewhere between 'benign' and extremely dangerous!} (9. d5 Na5 10. e4 c6 11. Bf4 Nac4 12. Qe2 Bg4 13. h3 Bxf3 14. Bxf3 cxd5 15. exd5 Re8 (15... Rc8 {is the main line.} 16. Rac1) 16. Rac1 e5 17. dxe6 Rxe6 18. Qc2 g5 19. Rfd1 Qe7 20. Bd2 Rd8 21. Nd5 Nxd5 22. Qxc4 Red6 23. Re1 Qf6 24. Qg4 h6 25. Rc8 Bf8 26. Bxd5 Rxd5 27. Bc3 Qg6 28. Re8 Rxe8 29. Rxe8 Qb1+ 30. Kh2 Qf1 31. Be1 Kg7 32. Qf3 {1-0 (32) Carlsen,M (2832)-Topalov,V (2749) Paris 2017}) 9... Re8 10. d5 {Jobava is always up for complications.} (10. Qe2 e5 11. dxe5 Nxe5 12. Nxe5 Bxe5 13. Rd1 Qe7 14. e4 c6 (14... h5 15. Be3 c6 16. h3 Be6 17. f4 Bg7 18. e5 f5 19. exf6 Qxf6 20. Qf2 Rad8 21. Kh2 Bf5 22. Bxb6 axb6 23. Qxb6 Rxd1 24. Rxd1 h4 25. g4 Bxg4 26. Rf1 Bc8 27. a4 Kh7 28. a5 Bh6 29. Qc7+ Qe7 30. Qb6 Qd6 31. Ne4 Bxf4+ 32. Kh1 Qe5 33. a6 bxa6 34. Qxc6 Rf8 35. Nc3 Qg5 36. Nd5 Bxh3 37. Bxh3 Qg3 38. Nxf4 {1-0 (38) Korobov,A (2692)-Salem,A (2656) Doha 2016}) 15. Be3 (15. f4 Bg7 16. Be3 Be6 17. Qf2 Nc4 18. Bc5 Qc7 19. e5 f6 20. exf6 Bxf6 21. Bd4 {with just a slight edge for White.}) 15... Be6 16. Bd4 Bxd4 17. Rxd4 Rad8 {with drawish tendencies.}) 10... Na5 11. Nd4 Bd7 12. b4 { Jobava had ventured with this move in the past.} Nac4 13. Qc2 Qc8 14. Rd1 Bh3 15. Bh1 a5 $146 {A meaningful novelty.} (15... Bg4 16. Nce2 e5 17. dxe6 Bxe6 18. a4 a5 19. Rb1 Bd7 20. b5 c5 21. bxc6 bxc6 22. Rd3 c5 23. Nb5 Bf5 24. e4 Bxe4 25. Bxe4 Rxe4 26. Bf4 Qc6 27. Nec3 Re7 28. Rdd1 Rae8 29. h4 h5 30. Kh2 Be5 31. Qe4 Qf6 32. Qf3 Qf5 33. Kg2 Bxf4 34. Qxf4 Qxf4 35. gxf4 Kg7 36. Nd6 Nxd6 37. Rxd6 Nc4 38. Rd5 Rc7 39. Rb5 Rec8 40. Ne4 Re8 {1/2-1/2 (40) Jobava,B (2668) -Ivanchuk,V (2720) Reykjavik 2015}) 16. b5 Bg4 17. Nce2 $6 {A positional error. Unlike his game against Ivanchuk, Jobava cannot keep his pawns mobile on the queen side, as a result of which his rook on a1 cannot find a safe haven with active play.} e5 18. dxe6 fxe6 $5 (18... Bxe6 19. a4 Bf5 {also looks good for Black but it seems that Parham has some deep preparation here.}) 19. Rb1 $6 {well e5 is a threat, so running into Bf5 does not seem so plausible.} e5 20. Nb3 {The computer prefers Bf8 and Qf5 but I find this move good too.} Bf5 21. e4 Bg4 {Now the fianchetoed bishops are doomed!} 22. Rd3 $2 {This move takes away the only safe square for the knight on b3 after a4, Nc5 happening. Jobava tends to play very fast and I am not surprised he missed this tactic.} a4 23. Na1 (23. Nc5 Bf8 {loses a piece.}) 23... Bf8 24. Nc3 Bc5 25. Nd5 Rf8 26. Be3 Nxe3 27. fxe3 Nxd5 28. Qxc5 Nb6 (28... Nf6 29. Qxe5 Bh3 {when Ng4 adds a lot of power to Black's attack against the king. Nb6 could easily prevent Parham from scoring this valuable point.}) 29. Qxe5 Rf7 30. Nc2 Qf8 {Silicon brains suggest the ugly Qa1!!} 31. Nd4 (31. Qa1 Bh3 32. Nd4 Qc5 33. Qc3 Raf8 34. Bg2 Qh5 35. Rd2 {And white is still alive!}) 31... Bh3 32. Bg2 Re8 33. Qg5 Bxg2 34. Kxg2 Rxe4 35. Rc1 Qd6 36. Kg1 Nd5 37. Rcd1 $4 {disgusted by his position and immediate blunder, Jobava resigned!} (37. Rcd1 Re5 38. Qg4 Rxe3 {and White will lose more than just a pawn} 39. Qg5 Rxd3 40. Rxd3 Nf6 41. Qe3 Re7 42. Qf4 Qxf4 43. gxf4 Re4 {and the second pawn will fall. A crucial victory in the Iranian yougster's career.}) 0-1

Solid and safe against the Indian openings: Play the Fianchetto

The King''s Indian and Grunfeld are notoriously tricky and theoretical openings. The Fianchetto variation avoids the main lines which Black players enjoy, and goes for a small but safe edge. GM Nick Pert played the Fianchetto variation for over 20 years, and at the time of recording was unbeaten with White since November 2011!


The Iranian Prodigy Alireza Firouzja: Aged 13 and Iran ex-champion! With two GM norms under his belt, and already crossed 2500 after this event, this young talent needs more of these tournaments to shine. Here we see him how he takes down Dutch No.2 Loek Van Wely with the black pieces.

Alexei Shirov - Alireza Firouzja (annotated by GM Elshan Moradiabadi)

[Event "2nd Stars Cup"] [Site "Playchess.com"] [Date "2017.07.15"] [Round "4.3"] [White "Shirov, Alexei"] [Black "Firouzja, Alireza"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "C92"] [WhiteElo "2656"] [BlackElo "2487"] [Annotator "GM Elshan Moradiabadi"] [PlyCount "123"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [WhiteTeam "Latvia"] [BlackTeam "Iran"] [WhiteTeamCountry "LAT"] [BlackTeamCountry "IRI"] [WhiteClock "0:01:53"] [BlackClock "0:00:43"] 1. e4 {In this game, Iran's yougest hope, Alireza Firouzja, takes Mr 'Fire on the Board' in the sharp Zaitsev variation of the Spanish Defense. In a tense theoretical, positional and tactical battle, Shirov manages to outplay his young opponent, but fails to convert his initiative into an actual advantage and the game finally ended in a draw!} e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. Re1 b5 7. Bb3 d6 8. c3 O-O 9. h3 Re8 $5 {Shirov loves the initiative and Firouzja offers a battle where Shirov's creativity and intuition should help him a lot. However, the Iranian seems have no fear and why should he? He is only 14!} 10. d4 Bb7 11. Nbd2 Bf8 12. a4 {main line} h6 13. Bc2 exd4 14. cxd4 Nb4 15. Bb1 c5 16. d5 Nd7 {Before checking the recent games spend some times and watch the four games from the last Kasparov-Karpov match and their game from 1991!} 17. Ra3 f5 18. g4 {Apparently fashionable.} (18. Nh2) (18. exf5 {used to be the main lines.}) 18... fxg4 19. hxg4 c4 20. Nf1 (20. g5 hxg5 21. Nh2 Nc5 22. Rg3 Nbd3 23. b4 Nxe1 24. bxc5 dxc5 25. Qxe1 Bd6 26. Rg2 Bxh2+ 27. Rxh2 Qxd5 28. Qe2 Qe5 29. Nf3 Qa1 30. Nxg5 {1/2-1/2 (30) Riccio,E (2610)-Voss,M (2665) ICCF email 2009}) 20... Nc5 21. g5 Nbd3 22. Bxd3 Nxd3 23. Rxd3 {naturally.} cxd3 24. Qxd3 Qd7 (24... Bc8 25. Ng3 Bg4 26. e5 dxe5 27. gxh6 e4 28. Rxe4 Rxe4 29. Nxe4 gxh6 30. Ne5 Bf5 31. d6 Ra7 32. Qd5+ Kh8 33. Qd4 Rg7+ 34. Ng3 Kh7 35. d7 bxa4 36. Be3 h5 37. Kh1 Bxd7 38. Nxh5 Bc6+ 39. Nxc6 Qxd4 40. Bxd4 Rc7 41. Ne5 Rc2 42. Nf6+ {1/2-1/2 (42) Oikamo,T (2461)-Percze,J (2541) ICCF email 2011}) 25. gxh6 gxh6 26. Ng3 Qh3 27. e5 Re7 28. exd6 (28. e6 {would have been my move but Shirov's move receives the same evaluation from computers: 0.00!} Rg7 29. b4 bxa4 30. Bb2 Rxg3+ 31. fxg3 Qxg3+ 32. Kf1 a3 33. Re2 axb2 34. Rg2 Qxg2+ 35. Kxg2 Bxd5 36. e7 Bxf3+ 37. Kxf3 Bxe7 38. Qb3+ d5 39. Qxb2 {should eventually end in a draw.}) 28... Rxe1+ 29. Nxe1 Qg4 30. Ng2 Bxd6 31. Nf5 Bf8 32. Bxh6 Rc8 33. axb5 axb5 34. f3 Qb4 35. d6 Bxh6 36. Nxh6+ Kg7 37. Nf5+ Kf8 $2 { Playing with fire.} (37... Kf6 $1 {and surprisingly Black's king is safer here.} 38. Nfe3 Kg7 $1) 38. Nfe3 (38. d7 {This does not win but gives White excellent winning chances and the readers a lot of fun material to watch!} Rd8 39. Kh2 Bxf3 $3 {The only defense, otherwise Black loses in beautiful fashion!} ( 39... Bc6 40. Qe3 $18 {with the idea of Qh6.}) (39... Qc5 40. Nf4 Qc7 41. Qa3+ Kg8 42. Qb3+ Qc4 {and now comes almost impossible!} 43. Qe3 $3 Qc2+ 44. Kg3 Qxf5 45. Qe8+ Qf8 46. Qg6+ Kh8 47. Qh5+ Kg8 48. Qg4+ {What beautiful geometry!} Kh7 (48... Kh8 49. Ng6+) (48... Kf7 49. Qg6+ Ke7 50. Qe6#) 49. Ne6 Qd6+ (49... Qe7 50. Nxd8 Qxd8 51. Qh4+ $18) 50. f4 Rxd7 51. Qh5+ Kg8 52. Qg6+ Kh8 53. Qe8+ Kh7 54. Qxd7+ $1 {Woah! That was deep!} Qxd7 55. Nf8+ { with a winning endgame!}) 40. Qxf3 Rxd7 41. Qc6 Rd2 42. Kg3 Rd3+ 43. Nge3 Rxe3+ 44. Nxe3 Qxb2 {And the position is theoretically drawn!}) 38... Kg7 39. Nf5+ Kf8 40. Nfe3 Kg7 41. d7 Rd8 42. Nh4 Kf6 43. Ng6 Ke6 $2 {This odd mistake which won't lose! Firouzja should feel lucky after this game! After all, Caissa loves youth and fearlessness!} 44. Kf2 Qxb2+ 45. Kg3 Qg7 46. f4 Kf7 47. Qf5+ Qf6 48. Ne5+ Ke7 49. Ng6+ Kf7 50. Ne5+ Ke7 51. Qh7+ (51. Qd3 Rg8+ 52. N3g4 Kd8 53. Qxb5 Rxg4+ 54. Kxg4 Qg7+ 55. Kf5 Qh7+ 56. Kg5 Qg7+ 57. Ng6 Qxd7 58. Qa5+ Qc7 59. Qa3 Bc8 {with probable draw.}) 51... Kd6 52. Qd3+ Kc7 53. Qxb5 Qg7+ 54. N3g4 Rxd7 { now it is all safe. The players will sign their scoresheet soon after!} 55. f5 Rd8 56. f6 Qf8 57. Qa5+ Kc8 58. Qb6 Qd6 59. Qxd6 Rxd6 60. f7 Rd8 61. Ng6 Bd5 62. f8=Q 1/2-1/2

All photos: chessstarscup.ir

Crosstable of match

(click image for full size)


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Elshan Moradiabadi is a GM born and raised in Tehran, Iran. He moved to the US in 2012. Ever since, he has been active in US college chess scenes and in US chess. is a veteran instructor and teaches chess to every level, with students ranging from beginners to IM. He can be contacted for projects or teaching.
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sayros87 sayros87 7/27/2017 02:48
Firouzja and Parham are really huge talents. Ehsan should not have played in the tournament , he should have given another talents like Gholami or Shahin the opportunity to play.
With the right trainers , Firouzja and Parham could make it to the top
sco-ish sco-ish 7/26/2017 05:22
If Iranian chess is thriving, then why is the author of this article: GM Elshan Moradiabadi, previously one of the strongest players in Iran, playing for the US now?