Aeroflot Open R8 - Kovalev inches closer to the title

by Niklesh Kumar Jain
2/28/2018 – In the penultimate round of the Aeroflot Open, Vladislav Kovalev put himself in sole lead after defeating his co-leader, IM Amin Tabatabaei. With this win, the Belarusian GM has made himself a clear favourite to win the event with a full point lead over his nearest rival. But a league of 9 players will be rooting for his opponent in the final round and if Kovalev loses his final game, as many as five players could catch up with him for shared first. Round 8 report.

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Kovalev ends Tabatabaei's winning spree

When I entered the tournament hall last morning, it occurred to me that there were only two more rounds remaining; time just flew past like a breeze! As a player, I have often had this feeling but whether or not I was happy depended on my performance at that event. I mean, if I had performed well, I would be sad that the tournament had finished. But if I had performed badly, I would be happy.

But as a writer, the feeling is that of excitement. Watching these masters battling it out right in front of you is a spectacle in itself. Sometimes, experienced masters make simple errors; sometimes, young guns show a master-esque flair. Being here as a reporter, therefore, is truly an exhilarating experience.

So walking into the venue, I had several questions running through my head. Will the higher rated Kovalev become the sole leader once again, or will it be the Iranian sensation, Amin Tabatabaei, pull off another stunner? How many decisive games will the top ten boards produce? What about the big game between the two Indian child prodigies, R Praggnanandhaa and Nihal Sarin, who will prevail?

As has been my routine so far, I would first show you some highlights of the happenings of the round | ChessBase India YouTube

The game between Vladislav Kovalev and Amin Tabatabaei was the one that attracted everyone's attention. This game began with a French Defence wherein Tabatabaei chose his queen's activity over his king's safety. Kovalev, in response, played in a balanced manner and put his opponent under a lot of pressure. As a result, the Iranian IM tried to exchange queens. He did succeed but the queen exchange cost him a pawn. In the ensuing endgame with rooks and bishops, Kovalev not only had an extra pawn but his pieces were also better than their counterparts. By move 39, the Belarusian GM had registered an emphatic victory.


Top board clash between Vladislav Kovalev and Amin Tabatabaei

Amin Tabatabaei took a few too many risks in his game against Vladislav Kovalev in round 8 | Photo: Niklesh Jain

After his scintillating win in the previous round, Anton Korobov played yet another game that put spectators on the edge of their seats in round 8. The game was a short one that featured the Gruenfeld Defence. Both players played in a sharp, aggressive manner. A mate in one move was threatened on the black king when Artemiev, Korobov's opponent, forced perpetual checks to hold the game to a draw.


Anton Korobov and Vladislav Artemiev during their penultimate round encounter at the Aeroflot open 2018

The game between Anton Korobov and Vladislav Artemiev was a short but spectacular draw | Photo: Niklesh Jain

Game between Victor Bologan and Evgeny Najer from the eighth round of the Aeroflot Chess Open 2018

Bologan had an extra piece against Najer in the endgame but there were no pawns remaining on the board! | Photo: Niklesh Jain

The game between Victor Bologan and Evgeny Najer was yet another intriguing battle. In the middlegame, the piece count for both sides was equal, but white was two pawns down. Both sides played aggressively from the very start in a Caro-Kann Defence but Bologan was the more successful of the two. Between moves 40-44, the Moldovan GM won a piece. However, the position turned pawnless on the 52nd move. Bologan had a rook, a knight and a light-squared bishop while his opponent only possessed a rook and a dark-squared bishop. The big question here was: would white's extra piece count despite there being no pawn on the board? 

Victor Bologan vs Evgeny Najer, position after 52 moves

How exactly does white win here? | Photo: Niklesh Jain

Murali Karthikeyan, who had performed really well from the very start of this event, looked helpless against Sethuraman's imposing play in this penultimate round encounter. Both players, despite being teammates in the Indian Olympic team, went for each other's blood in this encounter. In a Two Knights Defence, Sethuraman was able to win a pawn on the 21st move and did not let his advantage slip away until the very end.


Sethuraman SP and Murali Karthikeyan during their eighth round game at the Aeroflot Open 2018

Despite being teammates, Sethuraman and Murali Karthikeyan went all out against each other | Photo: Niklesh Jain

Gata Kamsky and Krishnan Sasikiran during their eighth round game at the Aeroflot Chess Open 2018

Both Gata Kamsky and Krishnan Sasikiran scored victories today and have a good chance of finishing among the top 10. However, to achieve this, they will have to win their final round game. | Photo: Niklesh Jain

Vidit Gujrathi during his game against FM Aleksey Sorokin in round eight of the Aeroflot Chess Open 2018

Vidit Gujrathi finally broke his streak of draws! | Photo: Niklesh Jain

After seven back to back draws in his first seven games, Vidit Gujrathi registered his first win against the Russian FM Aleksey Sorokin. Well, as they say, better late than never!


Vidit Gujrathi having dinner with his coach, Abhijeet Kunte after round 8 of the Aeroflot Chess Open 2018

Coach and his student (Vidit Gujrathi and Abhijeet Kunte), who both won their games in round eight were seen having a happy dinner after the round | Photo: Niklesh Jain 

Clash of the prodigies

The two child prodigies from India and Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu and Nihal Sarin were slated to play each other in round 8. The encounter (obviously) grabbed a lot of eyeballs not only because they were playing each other but also both of them are on the brink of scoring a GM norm.

Praggnanandhaa and NIhal Sarin during their eight round game at the Aeroflot Chess Open 2018

Everyone was curious to see who wins! | Photo: Niklesh Jain

Some highlights from the game | ChessBase India YouTube


Post-game analysis and interview with both players | ChessBase India YouTube

Vladislav Kovalev before his eighth round game at the Aeroflot Chess Open 2018

What remains to be seen today is if Kovalev could clinch the title prize. With a full point lead over the rest of the field, he's surely a clear favourite | Photo: Niklesh Jain

Standings after Round 8

Rk. Name Pts.  TB1 
1 Kovalev Vladislav 6,5 3
2 Petrosian Tigran L. 5,5 4
3 Bologan Victor 5,5 4
4 Artemiev Vladislav 5,5 4
5 Tabatabaei M.Amin 5,5 4
6 Sethuraman S.P. 5,5 4
7 Sargissian Gabriel 5,5 4
8 Gordievsky Dmitry 5,5 4
9 Lysyj Igor 5,5 3
10 Korobov Anton 5,5 3
11 Khalifman Alexander 5,0 4
12 Xu Xiangyu 5,0 4
13 Kamsky Gata 5,0 4
14 Sasikiran Krishnan 5,0 4
15 Mamedov Rauf 5,0 4
16 Alekseenko Kirill 5,0 4
17 Mareco Sandro 5,0 4
18 Aravindh Chithambaram Vr. 5,0 4
19 Jumabayev Rinat 5,0 4
20 Matlakov Maxim 5,0 3
21 Karthikeyan Murali 4,5 4
22 Yuffa Daniil 4,5 4
23 Xu Yi 4,5 4
24 Hakobyan Aram 4,5 4
25 Andreikin Dmitry 4,5 4


FIDE Instructor Niklesh Kumar Jain Jain is an international chess player who has participated in tournaments in almost in 20 different countries, winning the international tournament in Sri Lanka in 2010. He also worked for a television network as an anchor and news writer for two years and reported in Hindi during World Chess Championship 2013 and 2014.


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eltollo eltollo 2/28/2018 06:04
Did Bologan win this endgame or not? As the bishops are of opposite colours, I think he had excellent chances for doing so.