A pilgrimage to Moscow: The Aeroflot Open

by Sagar Shah
4/11/2016 – If you are a chess lover then you will love it at the Aeroflot Open in Moscow. Strong players, hard-fought games, good prize money, relaxed schedule and an excellent playing venue are some of the best things about the event. In this article we recap few of the most important things related to the Aeroflot Open 2016, which ended a month ago, and give you reasons why you should seriously consider adding this tournament to your calendar in 2017.

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A retrospective on one of the finest Open tournaments 

By Sagar Shah and Amruta Mokal

A quick summary: The 13th edition of the Aeroflot Open 2016 was held in Moscow, Russia from the 29th of February to 10th of March 2016. The official hotel of the event was Cosmos and the playing venue is also located at the same place. There were three tournaments that were simultaneously taking place: The A Group (2550 and above); the B Group (2300 and above), and the C Group (below 2300). The A Group (2550 and above) had 83 players, out of them 67 were grandmasters and the average rating of the tournament was 2585! The top seed of the tournament was Boris Gelfand with an Elo of 2735. Other star attractions were Bu Xiangzhi, Wei Yi and Ian Nepomniachtchi. They fought for the first place of €18,000. This tournament was covered extensively, round by round, on our newspage.

1. Strong playing field

The thing which differentiates the Aeroflot Group A from tournament like Gibraltar or Qatar is that there may not be as many super-elite players (like Carlsen, Anand, MVL, Nakamura, Kramnik, Giri etc.) playing in the Moscow event, but there are absolutely no free points. In a field of 86 players with Boris Gelfand (2735) at the top, the last seed had a rating of 2379. 40 grandmasters with a rating of 2600 and above participated. It was truly a fantastic achievement by Evgeniy Najer who was the 16th seed to play some of the best chess of his career and win the tournament with a score of +4.

Evgeniy Najer giving a video interview for ChessBase after the event was over.
A 2813 performance with an Elo gain 18 points and €16,000 was what he won for his efforts.

Najer started the tournament with wins over two talented youngsters: 17-year-old Jorden van Foreest (2557) and 20-year-old Urii Eliseev (2601). He followed it with a win in the third round against Vladimir Fedoseev. In such a strong field, to score three consecutive victories at the start gave the Russian a very solid platform from where he could potentially play it safe for the next few rounds. Four draws ensued against strong opponents: Maxim Matlakov, Boris Gelfand, Franscisco Vallejo Pons and Mateusz Bartel. By the end of the seventh round he was still in the lead with 5.0/7, but many players had caught up with him.

It was now time to make the final dash towards the finish line. In the eighth round Evgeniy was up against Vladimir Fedoseev who began the game with 1.e4. When Najer replied 1…c6, the young Russian tried to be cheeky with 2.Be2. What did Najer think about this move? “It is a good move…. For me! Not for White! My opponent sacrificed two pieces for an attack, but I calculated the lines pretty well and was able to win.” This was the much needed victory which gave him a half point lead over the field going in to the last round. A solid draw against Gata Kamsky was enough to clinch first place. Although Boris Gelfand did manage to win his ninth round game and join Najer at the top with 6.5/9, the latter’s rating average of opponents was much higher.

 I cannot let it go now! A totally focused Evgeniy Najer made sure that he didn’t give an inch to Gata Kamsky in the final round

“I have played the Aeroflot Open for nearly nine to ten times, and this was the first time that I won the tournament. I would say that this achievement is similar to that of winning the European Individual Championships 2015.” This win qualifies Evgeniy to the first super tournament of his life – the Dortmund. “It will be the first time I will be taking part in such a Round Robin. It will be the best tournament of my career till date!” A very modest Najer attributes that luck does play a part when you win two strong events like the European Individual 2015 and Aeroflot Open 2016. We congratulate him for his excellent achievement and wish him the best for Dortmund 2016. Here’s the short three minute video interview of Evgeniy Najer immediately after he won the event: 

Interview with the Aeroflot 2016 winner: Evgeniy Najer

After debacles of many prominent players in open events, Boris Gelfand’s second place
at the Aeroflot Open with a 4.7 elo gain seems like a pretty fine achievement

This man single-handedly lifted the stature of the entire event. How many times can we see a World Championship finalist playing in an open tournament? Boris got off to a slow start drawing his first two games but then picked up speed to win two consecutive games against Anton Demchenko and Lu Shanglei. (Believe me when I say that it was extremely difficult at this event to win two consecutive games).

In the last five rounds Boris scored two wins against Boris Grachev, employing a new opening idea in the Queen’s Gambit, and against Rinat Jumabayev in the last round. The most inspiring thing about Gelfand’s play was his sheer stamina. The 46-year-old grandmaster played three games for more than seven hours – against Boris Grachev, Mateusz Bartel and Rinat Jumabayev. After this he went on to play the Aeroflot Blitz – a grueling 18-round event, and commentated for more than four hours on the first day of the Candidates 2016! Boris truly loves chess!

This boy's autograph collection just became much more valuable!

Apart from Gelfand you could see many more legends of the game in action. Here are a few of them:

The Anish Giri at the Aeroflot?! Alexander Khalifman, FIDE World Champion in 1999, made nine draws
to end with 4.5/9. While it wasn't a particularly great event for him, it is still not easy to beat a 50-year-old war horse

Gata Kamsky, the 1996 World Championship finalist, played a good event,
scoring +3, and gaining six Elo points. He finished sixth.

 He was playing in the Aeroflot B-Group. He was the trainer of Boris Spassky in the 1992 return match
against Bobby Fischer. Identify the legend and do write your answers in the comments section below.

In 1999 when he became a grandmaster at the age of 13 years and 10 months,
Bu Xiangzhi was the youngest person in the world to achieve that feat!

Top three finishers at the event: Evgeniy Najer (R), Boris Gelfand, and Mateusz Bartel

Final standings

Tiebreak criteria: 1) most blacks 2) avg rating of opponents

 TB1   TB2 
Najer Evgeniy
Gelfand Boris
Bartel Mateusz
Sjugirov Sanan
Dubov Daniil
Kamsky Gata
Fedoseev Vladimir
Matlakov Maxim
Kobalia Mikhail
Zvjaginsev Vadim

For the complete standings click here

Best performers

There were many players who performed excellently at the Aeroflot Open. Here are a few of them:

The Polish grandmaster Mateusz Bartel not only finished third but also had “a breath of fresh air” feel to his play. The start of the year 2016 saw him at a rating of 2608 – the lowest he has been since six years. But he is now getting back in his groove and has already gained 32 Elo points in the last three months. One of the ideas the he employed against the Najdorf to beat Vladislav Artemiev and draw against Boris Gelfand will surely gain popularity thanks to his efforts.

Absolutely unprovoked White plays his knight to b3. The idea is that 6…e6 can be met with 7.g4!? with a Keres Attack like play. And the move 6…e5 can be countered with an immediate 7.f4!? We will see how popular this line becomes in the days to come, but if top players do start playing it, we can surely attribute it to Mateusz’s efforts. Incidentally he used the same move against Radsolaw Wojtaszek at the Polish Championships 2016 and won a fine game. This is what Mateusz wrote about it on Facebook after his win: (Use the translate button to understand what Mateusz has written in Polish)

Jak się okazuje, idea 6. Sb3 w Najdorfie wcale nie jest taka głupia, na jaką wygląda! Po uzyskaniu dobrych (świetnych)...

Posted by Mateusz Bartel on Sunday, April 3, 2016

22-year-old Sanan Sjugirov is showing steady and consistent performances at high level events. At the Qatar Masters 2015 he defeated Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in the final round to finish fifth, and here in Moscow he was able to remain undefeated and grab the fourth spot. He currently has a rating of 2674.

Alexander Predke is an untitled player. He has a rating of 2508, but he was not even an IM at the Aeroflot Open! He received his GM title at the recently completed FIDE congress in Moscow and he joined the league of very few players like Kramnik, Gelfand and some others who were able to become grandmasters without achieving the IM title. He played, what was, probably the best event of his life and performed at an amazing Elo of 2728! On the way to making his GM norm and gaining 28 Elo points he beat Anton Guijarro David, Urii Eliseev and Boris Savchenko. With a score of 5.5/9, he finished eleventh.

In the middle rounds of the event when absolutely no one was able to score two consecutive victories, Rinat Jumabayev from Kazakhstan scored three! He beat Temur Igonin (2470), Anton Korobov (2713) and Francisco Vallejo Pons (2677). What’s his secret?

Rinat always brought with himself a black flask with some drink in it.
We are as inquisitive to know what was in it, as you are!

Gelfand’s blue bottle vs Jumabayev’s black flask, 1-0

You will surely hear a lot about him in the future. 13-year-old Andrey Esipenko from Russia
made a GM norm by beating Nikita Maiorov, Denis Khismatullin and Kaido Kulaots. He has a live rating of 2463!

Another huge talent is Haik Martirosyan, a 15-year-old International Master from Armenia. He held Boris Gelfand to an effortless draw with the black pieces in the second round. Gelfand himself approved of the talent in this young kid by saying, “I think he is a very strong player and highly unrated. I am glad that after drawing against me, he proved himself by scoring +1 in the event.” Haik was on course to making a GM norm, but unfortunately for him his sixth round opponent Grigoriy Oparin didn’t turn up.

The 12-year-old Iranian National Champion Alireza Firouzja wasn’t able to shine at the event. He scored 3.5/9. But a word must be said about this young lad’s tenacity. After losing four games in first eight rounds, he came back and scored his first win in the last round against IM Wang Yiye. As his father Hamidreza rightly put, “This time control of seven hours is real chess!” This experience at the Aeroflot Open of facing high class opposition will only make Alireza stronger.

8th March - Women’s Day!

The great part about Aeroflot is that many women took part in the event. And the organizers showed their respect and admiration for the women players by...

...keeping a rose on the table of every female player in the tournament hall, on the 8th of March

Olga Girya is pleased to see the rose on her table!

IM Shen Yang (2466) played all the opponents above her rating in A category and scored 3.5/9

ChessBase is keeping an eye on the progress of this 15-year-old girl from India. R.Vaishali with a rating of 2354
is ranked eighth in India. She played in the B group and beat GM Andrei Deviatkin and IM Vahe Baghdasaryan.

IM Guo Qi was playing in the B category. She had a very exciting game in the third round against the young boy from Azerbaijan, Nail Bashirli. We present this game to you and ask you to have a look at the interesting themes that crop up.

[Event "Moscow Aeroflot op-B 15th"]
[Site "Moscow"]
[Date "2016.03.03"]
[Round "3"]
[White "Bashirli, Nail Qoshqar"]
[Black "Guo, Qi"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "B17"]
[WhiteElo "2332"]
[BlackElo "2435"]
[Annotator "Sagar Shah"]
[PlyCount "94"]
[EventDate "2016.03.01"]
[EventType "swiss"]
[EventRounds "9"]
[EventCountry "RUS"]
[Source "Chessbase"]
[SourceDate "2016.03.25"]

{This game was taking place on the board right next to me, so I thoroughly
enjoyed seeing the battle.} 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Nd7 5. Ng5
Ngf6 6. Bd3 Qc7 $5 (6... e6 {is the more common response.}) 7. N1f3 h6 8. Ne6
$5 {At first I thought that the white player had messed up the move orders in
his mind and made this losing move. But it turns out that almost nine games
have continued in his fashion and White has decent compensation.} fxe6 9. Bg6+
Kd8 {One of the reasons why I thought that White had blundered was because he
went into a long think at this point. Finally he decided to simply develop his
pieces.} 10. O-O {White's main compensation lies in the fact that Black is
throughly unco-ordinated and it will take a long time for the bishop on f8 to
come into the game.} b6 11. Qe2 c5 12. Ne5 $5 {I liked this decision very much.
You have to take this knight as Nf7+ is a huge threat.} Nxe5 13. dxe5 {This is
a highly interesting structure. The bishop on g6 takes care of the g7 pawn and
the pawn on e5 takes care of the e6 and the e7 pawn. It means that the bishop
on f8 will be trapped forever! Yes, that would be the case if White had a pawn
on h5 but here Black can at the right moment play h5 and get his rook to h6
and hope to activate his pieces.} Nd7 14. Rd1 Bb7 15. Bf4 c4 16. Rd4 {By this
point White player was extremely confident and making his moves with great
pleasure. Why shouldn't he! He is not a piece down, rather a rook up!} Bd5 17.
Rad1 Qc6 18. f3 $2 (18. Bf7 $1 $18 {With the idea of Rxd5 followed by Bxd5
would have ended the game.}) 18... b5 $1 {Now that the knight is coming to b6,
not many tactics are going to work here.} 19. h4 h5 $1 {Forced. Now the rook
will come to h6 to attack the bishop on g6 and after Bxh6 gxh6, the f8 bishop
will finally get to see daylight on g7.} (19... Nb6 {is a move that is
recommended by the computer but I doubt what it would do after} 20. h5 $18 {
Sealing the entire kingside. These are some kind of positions which it seems
like the engines cannot understand as yet.}) 20. Kh2 (20. b3 {Opening the
position immediately was necessary.}) 20... Kc8 21. Qf2 Nb6 22. Bg5 Rh6 $1 23.
Bxh6 gxh6 {Because of the secure centre, the advantage is with Black because
she has two pieces for a rook.} 24. Qg3 Bg7 25. Be8 Bxe5 26. Qxe5 Qxe8 27. Qg7
Kd7 28. Qxh6 Qh8 29. Qe3 Rf8 {All of Black pieces have started to work to
perfection and the game ends in a few moves.} 30. b3 Qg7 31. Qf2 Ke8 32. a4
cxb3 33. cxb3 Bxb3 34. Re1 bxa4 35. Rde4 Bd5 36. Re5 Qh6 37. Qe2 Qf4+ 38. Kg1
Qd4+ 39. Qf2 Qxf2+ 40. Kxf2 Rh8 41. f4 a3 42. f5 Rf8 43. g4 Nc4 44. R5e2 hxg4
45. Kg3 Rxf5 46. Ra1 Kf7 47. Rh2 Kg6 {I liked this topsy turvy battle of
material imbalances where understanding quality of pieces was extremely
important and the positions were not so easy to assess.} 0-1

The above game was very nicely played by Nail Bashirli. His only mistake was that after sacrificing the piece and getting a dominating position, he didn't finish off the game accurately. If you are suffering from a similar problem, then studying this 60- minute DVD by Timur Gareyev can be extremely useful.

Developing the Initiative

By Timur Gareyev

Languages: English
Delivery: Download
Level: Advanced, Tournament player, Professional
Price: €9.90

Dynamic play is what makes your chess effective and, most importantly, fun! You start the game taking the essential steps of developing pieces and focusing on the center. As the battle heats up one player assumes the defensive position while the attacker takes over the initiative. As you commit to your attack, keeping the initiative becomes like ''walking a tight rope''. There is no turning back and the path to success is narrow. You either come out victorious or you fall crushing down. This is the kind of chess we love to play!

Order Timur Gareev's Developing the Initiative in the ChessBase Shop

WGM Soumya Swaminathan has achieved all her three IM norms and started the tournament with a rating of 2384. Judging by her form it seemed as if she would achieve her IM title. However, the event didn't go so well for her and she lost 25 Elo points.

Melia Salome performed badly and lost 32 Elo points in the B section

Yuan Ye from China  

Hotel Cosmos

The temperature in Moscow during the Aeroflot Open was as low as -8 degrees Centigrade. However the good news is that you can stay and play in the same hotel. The hotel was built to serve the XXII Summer Olympic Games held in Moscow in 1980. It has 1,777 rooms – 1,718 standard, 53 double room suites and six four-room suites. That makes Cosmos the largest hotel in Russia.

I would rate it as a three star hotel. It is not as luxurious as a five star hotel but has all the things that you need

The room is basic but is clean and well kept 

It is really like a shopping mall....

....with so many shops like these inside

There are many restaurants as well as cafés in the hotel premises. This one is right outside
the tournament hall and is used by many players to grab refreshments during the game

The tournament playing hall is well lit and spacious. Groups A and B play their rounds together in the afternoon while Group C play in the morning.

A video that shows you the action from the final round of the event

The friendly environment in the tournament hall

As all the players were staying in the same hotel where tournament was staged, almost everyone arrived a few minutes before the start of the round. The players would talk and joke with each other, and this led to a warm and relaxed atmosphere at the playing venue.

Ekaterina Kovalevskaya and Aleksandra Goryachkina share a joke before the start of the game

"Today I am going to get to my opponent's king!" Wei Yi (right) and Wen Yang's final discussions before the game begins

Spot the odd man out amongst IM Eduard Kanter, Eltaj Safarli, Vladislav Kovalev, Alexander Khalifman and Dmitry Bocharov

Rauf Mamedov wasn't playing in the tournament, but he came to meet his dear friends Baadur Jobava and Ian Nepomniachtchi

And sometimes the smiles carried on even during the game. Wondering why Daniil Dubov is smiling? Here's the reason:

[Event "Moscow Aeroflot op-A 15th"]
[Site "Moscow"]
[Date "2016.03.09"]
[Round "9"]
[White "Kobalia, Mihail"]
[Black "Dubov, Daniil"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "A21"]
[WhiteElo "2632"]
[BlackElo "2634"]
[PlyCount "24"]
[EventDate "2016.03.01"]
[EventType "swiss"]
[EventRounds "9"]
[EventCountry "RUS"]
[Source "Chessbase"]
[SourceDate "2016.03.11"]

{This was the shortest and maybe the most entertaining game of the final round.
} 1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 d6 3. g3 g6 4. d4 exd4 5. Qxd4 Nf6 6. Nd5 $5 Bg7 7. Bh6 $5
Bxh6 8. Nxf6+ Kf8 9. Nd7+ {Attacking the h8 rook and hence the king has to move to g8!} Kg8 10. Nf6+ Kf8 (10... Kg7 11.
Ne8+ Kg8 12. Nf6+ $11) 11. Nd7+ Kg8 12. Nf6+ Kf8 {A nice sweet and short draw!}

Aeroflot Blitz

Usually we play blitz for fun. But you know that it is more than just fun when 5,000 is the first prize. An entire day was dedicated to the blitz tournament after the classical event came to an end. You play against nine opponents, but it's a mini-match of two games against each of them. Suppose you have the white pieces in the first encounter. As soon as the game ends, you and your opponent exchange seats and play the second game with opposite colour. Of course, playing 18 rounds of blitz is tiring, but it is also quite unique and it gives you a chance to take immediate revenge if you have lost the first game!

Ding Liren (centre), who came to specially play in the Blitz event, won the tournament with 15.0/18. The defending champion Ian Nepomniachtchi (left) had to settle for the second spot with 14.5/18 and Tigran Petrosian finished third with 13 points. A detailed report on the Aeroflot Blitz with many exclusive videos will be published on our newspage soon, until then enjoy this video which just gives you a feel of how the settings were. And don't miss out on the sheer number of stars who are playing – you can see the current World Blitz Champion also in there!

Aeroflot Airlines and Alexander Bakh

As the Aeroflot Airlines is the main sponsor of the event, a very big advantage for the participants is the reduction in flight fare if you travel by Aeroflot Airlines. For example: There are no Aeroflot flights from Mumbai (the city where I live) to Moscow. However, I travelled to Delhi and took the Aeroflot Airlines to Moscow and because of the huge discounts offered by the organizers it turned out to be quite inexpensive.

It always helps when the organizer replies to your mails immediately. Alexander Bakh is an efficient organizer and takes care that your trip to the Aeroflot Open is as smoothly as possible, by helping you with tickets, visa and accommodation. Bakh is confident that the next edition of the Aeroflot Open will be held in 2017.

Overall the experience of playing at the Aeroflot Open was a pleasant one. The fact that the Candidates was held immediately after the Aeroflot tournament helped us (me and my wife) to spend a chess-filled month in Moscow. The tournament will always remain a beautiful memory and we hope to return next year to enjoy the unadulterated Soviet chess experience again!

Pictures by Amruta Mokal of ChessBase India



The games will be broadcast live on the official web site and on the chess server Playchess.com. If you are not a member you can download a free Playchess client there and get immediate access. You can also use ChessBase or any of our Fritz compatible chess programs.

Sagar is an International Master from India with two GM norms. He loves to cover chess tournaments, as that helps him understand and improve at the game he loves so much. He is the co-founder and CEO of ChessBase India, the biggest chess news portal in the country. His YouTube channel has over a million subscribers, and to date close to a billion views. ChessBase India is the sole distributor of ChessBase products in India and seven adjoining countries, where the software is available at a 60% discount. compared to International prices.


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