Maghsoodloo masters Leon 2019

by Macauley Peterson
7/11/2019 – Three young players plus Vassily Ivanchuk gathered in Leon for this year's "Masters" rapid and blitz fest over three days. Ivanchuk deftly dealt with the Indian prodigy Nihal Sarin to reach the Final, but there he met his match in World Junior Champion Parham Maghsoodloo. The Iranian dispatched Jaime Santos in his semifinal, and dominated the final, winning two of the four games. | Photo: José Luque / Luque Fotografía León

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Magistral Ciudad de León

From July 5th to 7th the "Magistral Ciudad de León" took place in the Spanish city of León, a chess festival with a long tradition. The centerpiece of the festival was a rapid and (if necessary) blitz mini-knockout tournament featuring Leon veteran Vassily Ivanchuk and three young talents, Nihal Sarin, Parham Maghsoodloo and the Spaniard Jaime Santos. Maghsoodloo secured the tournament after a 2½-1½ semi-final victory over Santos and a 3-1 final victory over Ivanchuk.

The World Junior Champion eschewed his usual vest and khakis for a bright pink velour blazer. Ivanchuk's old reliable Real Madrid jacket let him down the final.

For these rapid games, the players received 20 minutes plus a 10-second bonus per move fore the entire game. In case of a tie, blitz games would decide the match but in the end 12 rapid games were played, four in each of the semifinals and the final.

Ivanchuk vs Sarin

Ivanchuk won the oldest vs youngest battle in the semis | Photo: José Luque / Luque Fotografía León

Semifinal: V. Ivanchuk 2½:1½ N. Sarin

In the first semi-final, 50-year-old Ivanchuk narrowly prevailed over his 14-year-old opponent Nihal Sarin. In the crucial game, Ivanchuk showed why queen and knight often makes a better combo than queen and bishop, as Ivanchuk outplayed his young opponent from a dead equal position at move 30.


All match games


Semifinal: P. Maghsoodloo 2½:1½ J. Santos

Maghsoodloo had an easier time on paper — his match with Santos was already decided after three games. But Santos missed a huge opportunity to take the opening game in a rook ending.


Santos played 45...e5? which allowed his king to be cut off along the d-file by 46.d7! and to free it 46...e6 47.d6+ e7 49.xg6 and Black no longer has any advantage.

Needed was 45...♚e6 immediately when 47.♖c7 allows the black king access to d5 containing the white pawns, while his own d- and h-pawns are free to run.

Maghsoodloo went on to win games two and three to gain an unassailable lead with 2½:½. Santos gained a pyrrhic victory in the fourth game.


Both players' minor pieces are looking quite sad, but Maghsoodloo's needed a pawn sacrifice on f5 to break it out of its prison. Santos sat on his pawn advantage until a countersac gave him winning piece activity.


The c4 pawn can wait! Santos goes for the jugular with 43.bb6 and the Iranian's position collapsed 43...g1 44.xd6 c8 45.xf6+. He went on to collect c4 and e5 before Maghsoodloo finally resigned.

All match games


Reflections from a commentator turned organiser

by Michael Rahal

For me it’s already a tradition to travel in July to the León Festival. After going there for several years as one of the commentators, this year I was part of the organization in the capacity of interpreter and liaison with the players.

The atmosphere in this tournament is very special: over the years all the best players in the world have passed through this city in northern Spain, where chess fans from all over Spain follow the games both live and online, appreciating the fight to the death in each of the encounters. The main room where the games were disputed was packed every day as well as the commentating area where the well-known Spanish GM Pepe Cuenca led the team of analysts.

Cuenca, Ivanchuk, Sarin, Rahal

GMs Jose (Pepe) Cuenca, Vassily Ivanchuk, Nihal Sarin and IM Michael Rahal | Photo: José Luque / Luque Fotografía León

I had already met Vassily Ivanchuk and Jaime Santos Latasa on previous occasions (“Chuky” has played many times before in León and Santos Latasa is the local hero),  but during these days I have had the pleasure of dealing with the young Iranian Parham Maghsoodloo and the very young Indian Nihan Sarin and his coach Srinath Narayanan.

Maghsoodloo is a very kind kid, somewhat shy, very humble, and tremendously respectful. He was very happy to have won the tournament, indicating that he was coming from a bad streak, and in his closing ceremony speech mentioned that only the fact of being able to play a match against Ivanchuk had already been worth it.

I thought that Nihal, despite his young age, is very mature boy, with a good sense of humour, and he was also interested in the history of the city of León, the cathedral and the “House of Botines”. Although soon it became clear to me that he is very passionate about chess and what he likes to do most is play blitz!

Maghsoodloo has already been invited to return next year to defend his title and the local GM Jaime Santos will probably repeat. Tournament Director IM Marcelino Sion is already on the lookout for top-level players to complete the foursome but over coffee he explained to me the difficulties for scheduling these players due to the many international tournaments that are held these days, specifically the FIDE Grand Prix and the Grand Chess Tour.

In addition to the main tournament, the Leon festival features many side events throughout the six days of competition. Galician Grandmasters Ivan Salgado López (2596) and Aleksa Strikovic (2482) took down the IV International Rapid Open and the I Blitz Open respectively.

Two simultaneous sessions were held by visiting Cuban GM Silvino Garcia and main event participant GM Nihal Sarin, in the main hall of the University of Philosophy and Literature. As if all of this were not enough, there were Social Chess lectures, blitz tournaments for young talents and several master classes.

Final: P. Maghsoodloo 3:1 V. Ivanchuk

In the final, Maghsoodloo defeated Ivanchuk 3:1, but it was a great battle. The first match game win was clearly an important one.


Maghsoodloo vs Ivanchuk

The final | Photo: José Luque / Luque Fotografía León

A pair of draws followed, but the first of the two was a wild one. Ivanchuk had a monster knight outpost on d5 plus a pawn and was attacking Maghsoodloo's king, but the World Junior champ kept his cool and held on.


Ivanchuk was trailing 2-1 at this point so his only chance was to go all in to tie the match and try his luck with the tiebreaks. IM Michael Rahal takes is through the game:


Interesting players, interesting games and in an interesting place — what more can a chess fan ask for?

Johannes Fischer contributed reporting


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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