Le Quang Liem – a new star in the Vietnam sky

by Albert Silver
2/18/2010 – Every so often a player has a run for the ages, and this incredible series inevitably ushers in a new name to be reckoned with at the highest echelons of chess. 19-year-old Vietnamese GM Le Quang Liem has just had such a run, passing through the fiercest trial by fire the chess world has to offer, coming first or equal first in two super-strong Russian tournaments. Albert Silver reports.

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The 9th Aeroflot Open took place from February 9th to 18th, 2010, for the fifth year in succession in the tourist complex Izmailovo Hotel Gamma-Delta, where most of the participants also stayed. The prize sum was EUR 180,000, including prizes for the World Blitz Qualification Tournament. Four Open Tournaments (A1, A2, B and C) were made up according to the rating of the participants. The A1 tournament had players with a rating of 2550 or higher. Time controls: for tournament A1 and A2 it is 40 moves in 100 minutes, then 20 moves in 50 minutes, finally 15 minutes for the remaining moves, with an increment of 30 seconds per move from move one. For tournaments B and C: 90 minutes for the whole game with an increment of 30 seconds per move from move one.

Le Quang Liem – a new star in the Vietnam sky

By Albert Silver, Brazil

The Moscow Open is justifiably legendary for numerous reasons: nine rounds of brutal competition without rest, facing grizzled grandmasters and platoons of underrated masters coming from the Russian chess school, has made it one where only the strongest survive, as its prestigious list of past winners attests to. When a foreigner comes to it, the plan is more a matter of vini, vidi... I lived to tell the tale. So when nine rounds later the Vietnamese player had come through with 7.0 in 9 and a tie for first place with a near 2800 performance, he had earned rare bragging rights indeed.


Phenomenon: 19-year-old Vietnamese GM Le Quang Liem at the Moscow Open

If that were all, it would still be plenty, but the very next day, without a single rest day in between, an even more bloodthirsty event started: the nine-round Aeroflot Open. The A Group is the chess equivalent of an open brawl at a Hell’s Angels convention. It is an exclusive 80-player “open”, with no less than 73 grandmasters all vying for the top prize, including the 2700+ French phenoms, Bacrot and Vachier-Lagrave, and notables such as Kamsky, Motylev, Bu Xiangzhi, not to mention rising stars such as the 19-year-old Russian Ian Nepomniachtchi. Just to name a few.

For players participating in both events, this means 18 rounds of non-stop grueling competition, without a single rest day.


Le Quang at the Asian Open 2009

After three rounds, Le Quang had had as good a start as he could hope for. Not only was he on 3.0 in 3, but his last two scalps included Bacrot and Bu Xiangzhi no less. Bacrot had started with a Slav, only to be surprised by a rare continuation on move 13, and gradually found himself with the short end of the stick. In round three Le Quang had white again, against Bu Xianghzi this time, and both players, wittingly or not, followed a 2005 game in the Symmetrical English between Bruzon Bautista and Miton that had ended in a draw. On move 20, Le Quang deviated with a significant improvement:

Le Quang Liem (2647) - Bu Xiangzhi (2673) [A33]
9th Aeroflot Open A Moscow RUS (3), 11.02.2010
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.Nf3 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6 5.Nc3 e6 6.a3 Be7 7.e4 0-0 8.Nf3 b6 9.Be2 Bb7 10.0-0 Rc8 11.Bf4 Na5 12.Nd2 d5 13.cxd5 exd5 14.e5 Ne4 15.Ncxe4 dxe4 16.b4 Bg5 17.Bxg5 Qxg5 18.h4 Qxh4 19.bxa5 Rc6

20.Nxe4! Fully approved of by our dear engines. 20...Rh6 21.f3 Bxe4 22.fxe4 Rd8 23.Qb3? Qh2+ 24.Kf2 Qxe5 25.Rad1 Re8 26.axb6 Qxe4 27.Kg1 Qe7 28.Rxf7 Qc5+ 29.Rf2+ Kh8 30.Qb5 Qe3 31.Rd3 and Bu was forced to extend his hand.1-0. [Click to replay]

In round four Cheparinov tried very hard to break the Vietnamese’s Caro-Kann, but he held fast and the draw was agreed upon on move 52. Round five was his first and only rest day, as he met his compatriot and co-leader, GM Nguyen Nguoc Truong Son, and a quick draw allowed both players to ready themselves for the final sprint. The next two rounds were uneventful, as Le drew both games, and then in round eight, he beat Savchenko with white in the Exchange Variation of a Queen’s Gambit Declined, when the latter erred:

Le Quang Liem (2647) - Savchenko,B (2638) [D35]
9th Aeroflot Open A Moscow RUS (8), 16.02.2010
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Bg5 Be7 6.e3 0-0 7.Bd3 Nbd7 8.Nge2 Re8 9.0-0 Nf8 10.b4 Ne6 11.Bxf6 Bxf6 12.Qb3 c6 13.b5 g6 14.Rab1 Qd6 15.bxc6 bxc6 16.Qa4 Bd8 17.e4!

17...dxe4. unwisely taking and opening up the position. 18.Nxe4 Qd7 19.Rfc1 Ng5 20.Nc5 Qd6 21.h4 Bc7 22.Ng3 Ne6 23.Nce4 Qxd4 24.Qxd4 Nxd4 25.Nf6+ Kf8 26.Nxe8 Kxe8 27.Ne2 Bf5 28.Nxd4 Bxd3 29.Rb3 Ba6 30.Rxc6 Bb6 31.Nb5 Kd7 32.Rf6 Ke7 33.Nc7 Kxf6 34.Nxa8 Bd4 35.Nc7 Be2 36.Rb7 a5 37.Nb5 Be5 38.Rb6+ Kg7 39.Rc6 Bf6 40.Nd6 Bxh4 41.Rc7 Bg5 42.Rxf7+ Kh6 43.f4 Bh4 44.Kh2 Kh5 45.g3 Bd8 46.Rxh7+ Kg4 47.Nf7 Bb6 48.Ne5+ Kf5 49.Rh6 Bd4 50.Rxg6 a4 51.Rd6 Ke4 52.Nc6 Bc5 53.Re6+ Kf3 54.f5 Kf2 55.f6 Bc4 56.Re5 Bf8 57.f7 Bd6 58.Rf5+ 1-0. [Click to replay] After this Le Quang was able to enter the last round as co-leader with his compatriot, Nguyen Nguoc.

In the last round, both Vietnamese players had 6.0 in 8, followed by the 25-year-old Ukrainian Korobov, and the rising Russian star, 19-year-old Ian Nepomniachtchi. Le Quang was paired against the Russian, and given the situation, a blood battle was expected. After a mere ten moves in a Symmetrical English, the databases drew a blank, though the game remained quite balanced until move 15, when Nepomniachtchi took off his gloves.

Le Quang Liem (2647) - Nepomniachtchi,I (2658) [A35]
9th Aeroflot Open A Moscow RUS (9), 17.02.2010
1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.Nc3 Nc6 4.d4 cxd4 5.Nxd4 Qb6 6.Nb3 e6 7.e4 Bb4 8.Bd3 Ne5 9.0-0 Qd6 10.Bf4 Bxc3 11.bxc3 Qxd3 12.Bxe5 Qxc4 13.Re1 b6 14.Qf3 Bb7 15.Nd4

15...0-0-0. This proved to be unwise, and after 16.a4 Qc5 17.Bg3 e5? the various concessions combined with his vulnerable king made Black’s position fatally weak.

His fellow prodigy played with precision and panache, continuing with 18.a5!, after which the knight cannot be taken, since 18...exd4?? loses to 19.cxd4 Qxd4 20.axb6, and the end is imminent. Nepomniachtchi struggled, lost the exchange, and arrived in an endgame. 18.a5 Rhe8 19.axb6 axb6 20.Nf5 g6 21.Ng7 Nxe4 22.Nxe8 Rxe8 23.Qxf7 Rf8 24.Qa2 Qc6 25.f3 Qc5+ 26.Bf2 Nxf2 27.Qxf2 Qxf2+ 28.Kxf2 e4 29.Re3 Kc7 30.Kg3 exf3 31.gxf3 Bd5 32.Ra4 Be6 33.Rh4 h5 34.Rf4 Ra8 35.h4 Ra5 36.Rf6 Bf5 37.Kf4 Rc5

Nepomniachtchi is hoping to hold, thanks to his extra queenside pawn, and perhaps a little help from his opponent. It wasn’t to be. 38.Kg5 Bc2+ 39.Kh6 Rc4 40.f4 b5 41.Re5 Rc6 42.Rf7 Kb6 43.Rxd7 Rxc3 44.Rd8 Ka5 45.Rb8 Rb3 46.Rc8 Bb1 47.Rb8 Ka4 48.Rb6 Rb4 49.Ra6+ Kb3

with Black’s king inexorably stuck on the other side of the board, the inevitable exchanges took place with 50.Rxg6 Bxg6 51.Kxg6 Rxf4 52.Rxb5+ Kc4 53.Rxh5

and Black was helpless to defend 53...Rg4+ 54.Kf5 Rg8 55.Rg5 Rh8 56.h5 Kd5 57.Kg6+ Ke6 58.Kg7 Re8 59.h6 Re7+ 60.Kg6 1-0. [Click to replay]

On the other hand, Le's his compatriot was less fortunate, and Korobov took advantage of several errors to win clear second. Le Quang’s performance of 2870, not to mention his classy last round win, make it clear that not only will he be the first player from his country to break the 2700 barrier, but that this 19-year-old is a star on the ascension. Winning both the Moscow Open and the Aeroflot Open, 18 non-stop rounds against the fearsome Russian school, on their own turf? That’s a story his grandchildren will be bragging about.


Anton Korobov, UKR, 2648, 6.5/9, perf. 2776; Le Quang Liem, VIE, 2647, 7.0/9, perf. 2872

Top final standings (5.5 points and higher)

Rnk Player
Pts
Nat Gen Rtng Perf WWe
1 GM Le, Quang Liem
7.0
VIE
M
2647 2872 +2.58
2 GM Korobov, Anton
6.5
UKR
M
2648 2776 +1.54
3 GM Motylev, Alexander
6.0
RUS
M
2697 2755 +0.67
4 GM Zhou, Jianchao
6.0
CHN
M
2632 2778 +1.75
5 GM Nguyen, Ngoc Truong Son
6.0
VIE
M
2616 2749 +1.61
6 GM Grachev, Boris
6.0
RUS
M
2653 2745 +1.09
7 GM Cheparinov, Ivan
5.5
BUL
M
2660 2715 +0.69
8 GM Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime
5.5
FRA
M
2730 2700 -0.33
9 GM Nepomniachtchi, Ian
5.5
RUS
M
2658 2691 +0.42
10 GM Bu, Xiangzhi
5.5
CHN
M
2673 2700 +0.33
11 GM So, Wesley
5.5
PHI
M
2656 2693 +0.46
12 GM Sargissian, Gabriel
5.5
ARM
M
2680 2682 +0.03
13 GM Savchenko, Boris
5.5
RUS
M
2638 2729 +1.14
14 GM Bacrot, Etienne
5.5
FRA
M
2713 2717 +0.06
15 GM Timofeev, Artyom
5.5
RUS
M
2652 2707 +0.71
16 GM Bareev, Evgeny
5.5
RUS
M
2643 2699 +0.71
17 GM Najer, Evgeniy
5.5
RUS
M
2665 2698 +0.41
18 GM Iturrizaga, Eduardo
5.5
VEN
M
2616 2676 +0.75
19 GM Dreev, Alexey
5.5
RUS
M
2650 2676 +0.34

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Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications.
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