Durarbayli endures in St. Louis Summer Classic

by Macauley Peterson
5/25/2018 – Vasif Durarbayli doubled up Varuzhan Akobian in a rapid tiebreak for first place in the top 'A' group of the St. Louis Summer Classic, winning both playoff games and earning $6,000. Both players finished the classical tournament with 6.0 / 9, a half point ahead of third-place finisher, Sam Sevian. GM Daniel Fernandez looks at the ninth round games. There was also a 'B' tournament, but one with far less drama at the end, as top seed Kamil Dragun took a quick draw to clinch clear first a full point ahead of Andrey Stukopin | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club on YouTube

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Americans come up empty

A pair of ten-player tournaments for the St. Louis Summer Classic were played May 15th to 23rd. The 'A' tournament players had an average rating of 2627, while the 'B' tournament featured a slightly weaker field with a rating average of 2534. The prize fund was USD $36,000 ($22,000 for the A and $14,000 for the B tournaments).

In the 'A' tournament, Vasif Durarbayli and Varuzhan Akobian were tied on 5½ points after eight rounds, but 17-year-old GM Sam Sevian was just a half point behind and playing the Azerbaijani leader. The trio had a sizeable lead on the rest of the field.

Akobian, who was born in Yerevan, immigrated to the USA in 2001, when he was Sevian's age. Sam was born in Corning, New York, as a first-generation American — both his parents came over from Armenia.

Akobian and Sevian

Akobian is now a veteran American GM, Sevian is a promising prospect | Photos: Austin Fuller

Durarbayli has just wrapped up his studies at Webster University in St. Louis, where he studied economics and finance since 2014, earning both a BA and a Master's degree. He's preparing to return to Azerbaijan, where national tensions with anything related to Armenia tend to run high. It's a bit tangential to the tournament, but the political undertones will certainly be noticed by chess fans in the two countries as well as the extensive Armenian diaspora.

The key question in the final round in St. Louis, however, was whether Sevian could somehow win with black, and come equal first with Akobian, who drew his white game against Daniel Fridman quite quickly and easily.

Durarbayli ½-½ Sevian (annotated by GM Daniel Fernandez)

Vasif Durarbayli and Sam Sevian

First place Durarbayli plays third place Sevian in the final round | Photo: Austin Fuller

The draw left the standings at the top unchanged, forcing a playoff. The tie-breaking match of two games was played at a rate of ten minutes plus two seconds delay (not increment) for each player.

Durarbayli got a huge boost from the first game when he managed to win with the black pieces. In an equal knight ending, Durarbayli had a huge time advantage and Akobian cracked in a critical moment.


Move the pieces on the live diagram

White can just sit tight with 44.Nf1, but with just 17 seconds remaining Akobian went for the aggressive 44.e6 Nxe6 45.Nxh5. It took Durarbayli only eight seconds to find the winning plan 45...Nd4+ 46.Kb1 b3!

Now suddenly 47.axb3 Kxb3 threatens a2+ and if Ka1, then Nc2 is mate! Akobian's 47.Ng3 aims to guard the e2 square to prevent a Nd4-e2-c3 manoever, but 47...b2 48.h5 Nb5 49.Ne2 Kd3 brought the game to an abrupt end as white's h-pawn is too far from queening to pose a problem.

Illegal move incident

In the second rapid game, Akobian missed some chances in the early middlegame, after gaining two minor pieces for a rook, but by move 60 the pair had reached an even endgame, with both sides down to just a few seconds remaining on their clocks. Anything could happen, and something unusual did — Akobian played an illegal move:

Akobian illegal move

Black is in check, but he's moving his knight | Saint Louis Chess Club on YouTube

Durarbayli had just taken a pawn with his knight on d3, and in this position, Akobian overlooked that his king on f4 was in check and played his knight to g1.


The situation was slightly complicated by the fact that Durarbayli did not immediately spot the illegality and moved his rook to f8 before noticing the problem and stopping the clock to summon the arbiter. After a brief discussion, the game was restarted after white's 60th move, with two minutes added to Durarbayli's clock. Now, with such a huge time deficit, Akobian quickly blundered. 60...Bxd3 61.Kxd3 b4? 62.Re4+ and given the fact that Black was lost and also in a must-win situation in the playoff, Akobian resigned the game.

Durarbayli has one more tournament on his agenda — the Chicago Open this weekend — and then plans to take the summer off with his family back home. With any luck in Chicago, he'll be returning home at a new career peak Elo rating, approaching 2650, and moving up to number seven in Azerbaijan.

Final standings


Games of Round 9 (annotated by GM Daniel Fernandez)


All games and commentary webcast


Dragun's smooth sailing

The 'B' tournament was won handily by Kamil Dragun, from Poland. Dragun has also been studying in the USA, at UTRGV in Brownsville, Texas. As number eleven nationally, he would have been eligible for the recent Polish Championship won by Jan-Krzysztof Duda. Instead, he blazed through the field in St. Louis, starting with two wins and adding two more for an undefeated 6½ / 9.

The diverse international field left the two players for the host country, Josh Friedel and Tatev Abrahamyan far down the table.

Kamil Dragun

Kamil conquered the 'B' tournament | Photo: Austin Fuller

Final standings


All games



Macauley served as the Editor in Chief of ChessBase News from July 2017 to March 2020. He is the producer of The Full English Breakfast chess podcast, and was an Associate Producer of the 2016 feature documentary, Magnus.


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