Aeroflot Open: Indians on top

by Antonio Pereira
2/22/2019 – Four out of six players on a perfect 2/2 score at the Aeroflot Open are Indians, as fighting chess was the rule during Thursday's second round. Incidentally, none of the co-leaders are among the top-10 rating favourites, a rather expected fact given the strength of the tournament. However, some of the highest-rated players scored their first wins on round two, including Wei Yi, Wang Hao and Anton Korobov. | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili / Russian Chess Federation

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The biggest federation

Usually strong open tournaments provide the organising federation a chance to promote chess in its country by giving weaker local players a chance to face stronger opposition. Therefore, it is no surprise for the locals to outnumber players from any other country. But at this year's Aeroflot Open the Indian federation is actually larger than its Russian counterpart — the South Asian country sent 25 players, while Russia counts 23 registered participants.

And four of them are part of the leading pack after two rounds. Furthermore, three of them managed to keep their perfect scores by taking down higher-rated rivals. 

Aravindh Chithambaram is a 19-year-old player from Madurai, who obtained the grandmaster title at the 'outrageous' age, given today's standards,  of 14 years, 9 months and 14 days — he achieved the title faster than Fabiano Caruana and Hikaru Nakamura, just to give two examples. Moreover, he won the strong Sunway Sitges Open in 2017 ahead of Motylev, Shankland and Salem.

Against Eltaj Safarli in round two, he bravely chose the Trompowsky with White. A sharp middlegame ensued, in which Black castled queenside with a fractured pawn structure on the other flank, while White kept his king in the centre. Both players dealt with the complications effectively and found themselves in a drawn king and pawns endgame after the time control. On move 41, however, the 26-year-old Azeri faltered:


According to the live transmission, Safarli thought for less than five seconds before playing 41...xc6?, when it was essential to play 41...d6 in order to keep control over the opposition. Aravaindh correctly continued 42.xd4 d6 43.c4 and Safarli resigned. After 43...c6, White is the one able to waste a tempo with 44.g4 in order to force the opposite king to pick a side. And if the king goes for the g3-pawn with 43...e5, White is faster on the a-file. (You can try these and other variations on the diagram above!)

Aravindh hoisted by his teammates after winning a key game at the 2016 Maharashtra Chess League | Photo: Venkatachalam Saravanan

More has been heard in the news about Nihal Sarin. The 14-year-old from Thrissur is a constant feature in the circuit of European open events and maintains a very active Twitter account. Just like Aravindh, he had the white pieces and took advantage of a big mistake by his opponent. Nihal used a Maroczy Bind to take on Aleksander Indjic — in the midst of a tense middlegame, the Serbian grandmaster weakened his kingside position irreversibly:


The computer gives White a decisive advantage after 27...g5? — Black needed to keep the tension, but failed to remain patient. Sarin continued 28.d5, taking over the centre and getting better attacking prospects on the kingside. Six moves later, the knight returned to the same central square with definitive effect:


Indjic resigned after 34.d5, as the black queen is attacked and a lethal discovered check by the white queen is coming soon.

Focused | Photo: Amruta Mokal

While Aravindh and Sarin clinched clean victories after their opponents' blunders, Sunilduth Lyna Narayanan got his win after going through a game that resembled a wild roller-coaster ride against Kirill Alekseenko. The Russian had White and had his pieces marvellously lined up against Black's king shortly before the time control:


Probably under time pressure Kirill did not find the lethal blow 38.xh6+, with the idea of responding to 38...xh6 with 39.g4, attacking the knight and threatening to infiltrate on the h3-c8 diagonal. White played 38.g3 instead, and lost his chance.

The madness continued and Black was close to lost again in the game. However, Alekseenko never quite managed to find the accurate continuations to close the deal, and the players reached a rather unique sort of endgame:


White has a queen and four pawns against Black's pair of knights and six pawns. With 48...c5 in the previous move, Narayanan opened the path for his d-pawn to run down the board. Alekseenko did not realise it was time to go on the defence and ended up losing the game after 57 moves. It was nothing but a thriller!

The big guns will try to keep up the pace in the coming rounds | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili / Russian Chess Federation

The last member of the Indian Federation with a perfect score is actually the highest-rated player in the leading pack — Krishnan Sasikiran defeated Klementy Sychev and Rasmus Svane so far in Moscow. Also on 2/2 are Maksim Chigaev from Russia and Zhou Jianchao from China. Will any of them arrive in round four with a perfect score?

Standings after Round 2 (top 35)

Rk. Name Pts.  TB1 
1 Sasikiran Krishnan 2,0 1
  Zhou Jianchao 2,0 1
  Chigaev Maksim 2,0 1
  Narayanan.S.L 2,0 1
  Nihal Sarin 2,0 1
6 Aravindh Chithambaram Vr. 2,0 0
7 Wei Yi 1,5 1
  Fedoseev Vladimir 1,5 1
  Wang Hao 1,5 1
  Mamedov Rauf 1,5 1
  Inarkiev Ernesto 1,5 1
  Korobov Anton 1,5 1
  Sjugirov Sanan 1,5 1
  Sethuraman S.P. 1,5 1
  Ganguly Surya Shekhar 1,5 1
  Sarana Alexey 1,5 1
  Grachev Boris 1,5 1
  Khismatullin Denis 1,5 1
  Firouzja Alireza 1,5 1
  Martirosyan Haik M. 1,5 1
  Idani Pouya 1,5 1
  Deac Bogdan-Daniel 1,5 1
  Esipenko Andrey 1,5 1
  Donchenko Alexander 1,5 1
  Tabatabaei M.Amin 1,5 1
  Antipov Mikhail Al. 1,5 1
  Yuffa Daniil 1,5 1
  Aleksandrov Aleksej 1,5 1
  Kulaots Kaido 1,5 1
  Debashis Das 1,5 1
  Xu Yi 1,5 1
  Sadhwani Raunak 1,5 1
33 Lupulescu Constantin 1,5 0
  Liu Yan 1,5 0
  Harika Dronavalli 1,5 0

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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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