Aeroflot Open: Better late than never

by Antonio Pereira
2/21/2019 – After a bomb threat forced the first round to be postponed, the Aeroflot Open kicked off on Wednesday at the Cosmos Hotel. A lot of the rating favourites only managed to score half points, but plenty of fighting chess was seen on the lower boards. The biggest surprises were given by Kaido Kulaots and Liu Yan, who defeated Parham Maghsoodloo and Jorden van Foreest, respectively. | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili / Russian Chess Federation

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Change of plan

Anonymous bomb threats in several Russian cities alerted the whole country, provoking more than 50,000 people in the capital alone to get caught up in the midst of the alert. The biggest chess open in Moscow was also affected, as the managers of the Cosmos Hotel decided to evacuate the playing hall during Tuesday's first round. 

The games had already begun, but the players did not fight the decision and actually left the hall calmly, while discussing chess positions. Those who were evacuated to the Charles de Gaulle Square were given blankets by the hotel staff, as the temperature in Moscow has been rounding the 0°C the last few days.

It is cold outside | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili / Russian Chess Federation

When the situation normalised, the organisers decided to establish a double-round day in order to keep the format of the tournament untouched while maintaining the date of departure. The agreement was to play rounds four and five on Saturday — at 09:30 and 16:30 local time (7:30 and 12:30 CET). Also, the time control was adjusted to reduce the strain of playing two rounds in one day for the players. While originally the time control was 100 minutes for 40 moves plus 50 minutes until the end of the game with a 30-second increment from move one, now it will be 90 minutes for 40 moves plus 30 minutes until the end of the game with the same 30-second increment — i.e. the time control used in Group B.

The surprises

Two players that we followed closely at this year's Tata Steel Tournaments fell against lower-rated opponents: Parham Maghsoodloo and Jorden van Foreest.

The Iranian is the current world junior champion, and has declared he works around ten hours a day on chess. And we believe him! He is currently third in the U20 FIDE ratings list, only five points below Jeffery Xiong, albeit a little farther from a certain Wei Yi (the rating favourite in Moscow). Parham's fighting spirit is palpable, but that means sometimes he pushes a bit too much and gets unpleasant results...

His opponent in round one, Estonian GM Kaido Kulaots, employed a Sicilian Defence, leading to the usual attack-on-both-flanks struggle. Black's advance on the queenside arrived faster, and Parham did not assess correctly how dangerous his rival's initiative was:


White captured with 25.cxb3 when blocking the diagonal with 25.c3 was called for — it is true that Black still has big chances in that line, but the one chosen by Maghsoodloo simply gives his opponent too many good options.

The position on move 30 shows the enormous amount of pressure Black managed to put on the b2-square:


With all the weapons in place, Kulaots started pushing his a-pawn down the board with 30...a5. Six moves later, Parham resigned.

Time to bounce back for the world junior champion | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili / Russian Chess Federation

While Wei Yi drew his game on board one, another young Chinese stunned his opponent on board 27. Liu Yan was born a year after Wei Yi and managed to convincingly take down Jorden van Foreest with the white pieces.

The young Dutchman has been facing some elite opposition lately, as he was part of the Masters group in Wijk aan Zee and faced Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in a direct seven-game encounter. Clearly some first-class preparation is needed to confront these challenges — thus, it is no surprise that Jorden decided to repeat a line he had used against Vidit Gujrathi at the Tata Steel Masters.

Come move 15, however, Van Foreest made a decision that was not really approved by the computers:


Black played 15...b8 and after 16.xd7 he managed to take back with the knight — 16...xd7 — but also created a weakness on e6 after 17.xe6 fxe6 18.xd7.

With all four rooks on the board and bishops of opposite colour, accurate calculation was called for. By move 26, White was a pawn up and had all the positional trumps — Liu Yan had handled the situation very well:


The young Chinese kept manoeuvring meticulously until forcing his opponent to resign on move 43. 1-0.

Wei Yi drew in round one and will face Alexadr Fier on Thursday | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili / Russian Chess Federation

Killer g2-g4 pushes

To give mate with a pawn move is always a satisfactory achievement. Curiously, in two games featuring (very) young talents from India we saw g2-g4 lethal blows. Sadly, the kids were on the receiving end both times:


Boris Grachev took down young Gukesh with 29.f6+ xh5 30.g4, and White can mate in three moves (30...h4 31.f2+ or 30...xg4+ 31.d1+).

Praggnanandhaa resigned against his compatriot Surya Ganguly with mate-in-two on the board:


The younger Indian resigned after 78.g5+ due to 78...xg5 79.hxg5 h5 80.g4#.

13-year-old Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili / Russian Chess Federation 

(A video from last year of this duo playing blitz has been viewed over 10 million times!)

Nonetheless, in both cases the kids were the rating underdogs — and surely they recover from losses more quickly than older players!

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Antonio is a freelance writer and a philologist. He is mainly interested in the links between chess and culture, primarily literature. In chess games, he skews towards endgames and positional play.


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