Kaido Kulaots celebrates birthday with Aeroflot Open win

by André Schulz
2/28/2019 – The surprise winner of the 17th Aeroflot Open is Kaido Kulaots who turns 43 today. The Estonian grandmaster was able to win his game in the final round and had more black games — the tiebreak — (not to mention better performance rating) after both he and Haik Martirosyan finished with 7.0/9. Kulaots is expected to receive an invitation to the Dortmund supertournament to be held in July. | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

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A photo finish

The three leaders heading into the final round of the Aeroflot Open, Kaido Kulaots, Haik Martirosyan and Krishnan Sasikiran, each faced players from the chasing group and thus had to keep tabs on each other's progress from adjacent boards.

The same trio was leading after round seven but in Tuesday's penultimate round, the first 21 boards produced only draws or white wins. The leaders seemed to be playing cautiously as eight of the top nine boards were drawn. With the tournament in the equivalent of its final 3,000-metre sprint, there were far more decisive games in the 4-point score group (five out of ten, all 1-0 results) as the players jockey for prize position. 

The only win in the top section of the tournament was Wang Hao's over talented young Iranian Alireza Firouzja. In a lengthy skirmish arising from a Benoni structure, the Chinese kept the upper hand and then seized a tactical chance in the endgame.


White played 36.♘h6+ causing Black to lose more material, and so he gave up.

Parham Maghsoodloo and Alireza Firouzja (right)

Speaking of the juniors, no less than 28 of the approximately 100 players in the tournament field were younger than 18-years-old (marked "U18" in the standings table). After eight rounds another Iranian Amin Tabatabaei was the highest scoring with 5½ points. But he ran into stiff last-round opposition in the form of Russian Ernesto Inarkiev, lost, and ended in tenth place. Armenian Hram Hakobyan and Romanian Bogdan-Daniel Deac were the second and third best U18 player in the field, also with 5½ points apiece. A young Uzbek IM Nodirbek Yakubboev (not to be confused with the younger and stronger GM Nodirbek Abdusattorov) cracked the top 25 places with 5½ as well.

The top Junior and in fact top seed overall, Wei Yi — still only 19-year-old — played somewhat below expectations, but he defeated Daniil Yuffa in round nine, to finish in 5th place with a respectable 6.0/9 score. The Aeroflot Open is no picnic for top players! 

The "game of the week", that caught IM Merijn van Delft's eye from round eight, was actually the one between Aleksey Goganov and Abhimanyu Puranik, a slow-developing Italian game that exploded into fireworks in the middlegame: 

Results of Round 8 (top 10)

Name Pts. Result Pts. Name
Sasikiran Krishnan ½ - ½ Kulaots Kaido
Martirosyan Haik M. ½ - ½ 5 Sarana Alexey
Tabatabaei M.Amin 5 ½ - ½ 5 Petrosian Tigran L.
Chigaev Maksim 5 ½ - ½ Wei Yi
Wang Hao 1 - 0 Firouzja Alireza
Inarkiev Ernesto ½ - ½ Lupulescu Constantin
Korobov Anton ½ - ½ Deac Bogdan-Daniel
Zhou Jianchao ½ - ½ Maghsoodloo Parham
Vaibhav Suri ½ - ½ Anton Guijarro David
Khismatullin Denis 1 - 0 Fier Alexandr

Round 9

Sasikiran had pulled the hardest pairing, getting stuck with the formidable Wang Hao. He could manage no more than a draw against the Berlin wall of the Chinese. Thus, the Indian's dominant first half, with 5.0/5 fizzled to a sole third place finish. 

Haik Martirosyan had to deal with the black pieces facing his compatriot Tigran Petrosian. The pair fought on Italian terrain in a line that Martirosyan himself played with White just a few weeks ago.


GM Haik Martirosyan | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili


12...f8 was Martirosyan ½-½ Hovhannisyan in early February from a qualifier event for the Armenian Olympiad team. From the Black side Martirosyan deviated with the immediate 12...h5(N) and Petrosian opted for play in the centre after 13.h4 g4 14.♘e1 ♞f8 15.d4 although Black's position is fine. In fact, he was never worse and gained a winning edge on move 22:


Here Petrosian could best strive for counter play with 22.b3, heading for b6 to pressure the d6-pawn, but his plan 22.b4 backfired after 22...♝e6 23.bxc5 dxc5 left Martirosyan with a strong passed c-pawn. It was only a matter of time before that pawn was joined by a friend on b4


White tried to stop the pawns with an exchange sacrifice but it was hopeless. The game ended with a flourish. Try to play it out against the engine:


Black to move. Can you spot it?

46...h3+ is mate in six!


Tigran L. Petrosian's style is more agressive than his World Champion namesake | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

The battle of the Ks

That left Kulaots playing white against Dennis Khismatullin who essayed a Philidor defence. The game was level for a long time, then black busted out a petite combinación.


There followed 28...♜xe2. The idea is to give check on a1 with the queen after the rook is captured and then the discovered check f4-f3 to follow. That would win immediately if not for White's interposition 31.d6. After a forced sequence there emerged this position after 36.♕xa6:


White has won a pawn and succeeded in converting this small advantage to a full point in the queen ending. 

Kulaots win would be hard to foresee, as he came into Moscow as the 62nd seed. Along the way he proved to be a real "junior-killer", beating not only Wei Yi (one of four with black!), but also Dubov, Firouzja and Maghsoodloo.

Kulaots is not well-known internationally but has been the Estonian number one  for years. He is an eight-time Estonian national champion and took part in seven chess Olympiads for his country between 1998 and 2010. His win caught the eye of a certain former "wonderboy":

Kulaots with trophy

Better than cake: Kaido Kulaots with his winner's trophy | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

Results of Round 9 (top 10)

Name Pts. Res. Pts. Name
Sasikiran Krishnan 6 ½ - ½ Wang Hao
Petrosian Tigran L. 0 - 1 6 Martirosyan Haik M.
Kulaots Kaido 6 1 - 0 Khismatullin Denis
Sarana Alexey ½ - ½ Chigaev Maksim
Inarkiev Ernesto 5 1 - 0 Tabatabaei M.Amin
Wei Yi 5 1 - 0 5 Yuffa Daniil
Zhou Jianchao 5 ½ - ½ 5 Korobov Anton
Maghsoodloo Parham 5 ½ - ½ 5 Vaibhav Suri
Lupulescu Constantin 5 ½ - ½ 5 Sjugirov Sanan
Anton Guijarro David 5 1 - 0 5 Petrosyan Manuel

Final standings (top 25)

Rk. Name Pts.  TB1 
1 Kulaots Kaido 7,0 5
2 Martirosyan Haik M. 7,0 4
3 Sasikiran Krishnan 6,5 4
4 Wang Hao 6,0 5
5 Wei Yi 6,0 4
6 Chigaev Maksim 6,0 4
7 Inarkiev Ernesto 6,0 4
8 Sarana Alexey 6,0 4
9 Anton Guijarro David 6,0 4
10 Tabatabaei M.Amin 5,5 5
11 Korobov Anton 5,5 5
12 Vaibhav Suri 5,5 5
13 Sjugirov Sanan 5,5 5
14 Paravyan David 5,5 5
  Hakobyan Aram 5,5 5
16 Khismatullin Denis 5,5 5
17 Deac Bogdan-Daniel 5,5 4
18 Lupulescu Constantin 5,5 4
19 Sychev Klementy 5,5 4
20 Zhou Jianchao 5,5 4
21 Petrosian Tigran L. 5,5 4
22 Narayanan.S.L 5,5 4
23 Maghsoodloo Parham 5,5 4
24 Yakubboev Nodirbek 5,5 4
25 Abdusattorov Nodirbek 5,0 5

...101 players

All games


Translation from German and additional reporting: Macauley Peterson


André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.


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