Aeroflot Open: Chigaev and Sasikiran on a roll

by Antonio Pereira
2/23/2019 – Krishnan Sasikiran and Maksim Chigaev won their third games in a row and now share the lead at the Aeroflot Open. Eight players are in close pursuit a half point behind, though, with favourites Anton Korobov and Vladimir Fedoseev amongst the pack. The coming two rounds — four and five — will be played both on Saturday, and will very likely set the tone for the rest of tournament. | Photo: Eldar Mukhametov / Russian Chess Federation

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A tough crowd

The field at the Aeroflot Open tends to include, for the most part, ambitious young players and well-established strong grandmasters who have not quite gotten into the elite. This results in a highly competitive environment, a sort of survival of the fittest scenario.

After three rounds, some big names have fallen in the standings, while others simply have not been able to shine. That is the case of Vladislav Kovalev, the defending champion and recent winner of the Tata Steel Challengers — the Byelorrusian is on 1/3 after drawing his first two games and losing in round three against Uzbek prodigy Nodirbek Abdusattorov. Meanwhile, strong players like Ernesto Inarkiev, Eltaj Safarli and David Anton remain on 50%.

Defending champion Vladislav Kovalev | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili / Russian Chess Federation

Nevertheless, some are looking their best at the Cosmos Hotel. Maksim Chigaev and Krishnan Sasikiran truly had a dream start in Moscow.

For Chigaev, the first two months of 2019 might be the beginning of a big breakthrough in his career, as he led the Tata Steel Challengers temporarily — he only lost against Benjamin Gledura — which propelled him to reach his highest-ever rating. On Friday, he faced young Nihal Sarin with the white pieces and did not shy away from pushing his queenside pawns when he deemed favourable:


Black has a solid setup and White's hopes lie on a queenside advance supported by the g2-bishop. With 12.b4 Chigaev put forth a plan that would eventually lead to game victory — his passed pawns on the queenside decided the struggle in his favour:


After the middlegame, both players were left with equal material, and Black even had a pawn on d2, but White's b and c-pawns were unstoppable. Maksim played 37.exd2, as Black cannot capture twice with the rooks without allowing the passer on the c-file to turn into a queen. Sarin resigned on move 40.

Chigaev during this year's Tata Steel Tournament | Photo: Alina l'Ami

A less surprising name at the top is Krishnan Sasikiran's. The 38-year-old from Madras was part of the strong Indian team during the last Olympiad in Batumi and has been part of Vishy Anand's team during the 2013 World Championship match. His latest achievement was to finish third at last year's Sunway Open in Sitges, after painfully losing the final sudden-death game against Ernesto Inarkiev in the fight for second place.

On board one, he was facing his young compatriot Aravindh with White. Aravindh messed up his position in a highly strategic middlegame and paid the price when Sasikiran crashed through tactically with a knight sacrifice:


Black's pieces are simply too far away from his king, so 25.exg5 pops up naturally in any grandmaster's mind. After 25...fxg5 26.xg5 xe1+ 27.xe1 g8, the discovered attack on the queen with 28.d6 was decisive. 


Aravindh kept on fighting with 28...d5, but Sasikiran showed the winning combination: 29.xd5 xd5 30.d7 f6 31.e8 xg5 32.c6, forking rook and knight while the queen is pinned on g8. (You can try these and other alternative variations on the diagram above). 

Krishnan Sasikiran, also known as 'Sasi' | Photo: Amruta Mokal

In other news, Estonian GM Kaido Kulaots defeated yet another Iranian star from the black side of a sharp Sicilian. Kulaots had taken down Parham Maghsoodloo in round one and now did the same with Alireaza Firouzja. Already in a losing position, Alireza put his rook on the dangerous open b-file, only to find out immediately that the Estonian had a killer queen transition:


Firouzja resigned after 28...g6+, given that after 29.d3 xd3 30.xd3 Black can exchange rooks on the b-file and fork king and bishop with ...xf3+. 0-1.

Standings after Round 3 (top 30)

Rk. Name Pts.  TB1 
1 Sasikiran Krishnan 3,0 1
2 Chigaev Maksim 3,0 1
3 Deac Bogdan-Daniel 2,5 2
4 Kulaots Kaido 2,5 2
5 Korobov Anton 2,5 2
6 Zhou Jianchao 2,5 2
7 Narayanan.S.L 2,5 1
8 Fedoseev Vladimir 2,5 1
9 Martirosyan Haik M. 2,5 1
10 Antipov Mikhail Al. 2,5 1
11 Donchenko Alexander 2,0 2
12 Xu Yi 2,0 2
13 Nihal Sarin 2,0 2
14 Wang Hao 2,0 2
15 Sjugirov Sanan 2,0 2
16 Sarana Alexey 2,0 2
17 Petrosyan Manuel 2,0 2
18 Khismatullin Denis 2,0 2
19 Petrosian Tigran L. 2,0 2
20 Tabatabaei M.Amin 2,0 2
21 Lupulescu Constantin 2,0 1
22 Abdusattorov Nodirbek 2,0 1
23 Esipenko Andrey 2,0 1
24 Aravindh Chithambaram Vr. 2,0 1
25 Debashis Das 2,0 1
26 Mamedov Rauf 2,0 1
27 Ganguly Surya Shekhar 2,0 1
  Sadhwani Raunak 2,0 1
29 Wei Yi 2,0 1
30 Dubov Daniil 2,0 1

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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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ibraibra ibraibra 2/23/2019 05:47
thanks for the reports!