Rilton Cup: Moradiabadi finds success under pressure

by Macauley Peterson
1/13/2020 – The "Rilton Cup" in Stockholm experienced its 49th edition over the turn of the new year. Grandmaster Elshan Moradiabadi led a group of five players after seven of nine rounds, and held on to finish with a winning score of 7.0/9, narrowly edging out Arseniy Nesterov on tiebreak. Moradiabadi sent us a pair of annotated games, and explained how he had to battle to keep his concentration following the sudden military escalation between his native country, Iran, and his adoptive country, the United States, which he now calls home. | Photos: Lars OA Hedlund

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Rilton Cup in Stockholm

Elshan Moradiabadi started strong in Stockholm, winning his first four games, en route to an undefeated 7.0/9 score. It's his best results in several years, and notable for his perseverance under the psychological strain of events outside his control.

Moradiabadi is a dual-citizen of Iran and the USA, and was personally affected by the January 3rd US airstrike that killed a top Iranian government official visiting Baghdad. It was the day of Round 7, and he had onward travel plans to visit family in his native country which were suddenly in doubt. In a post-tournament call he described, being fortunate that his opponent Arseniy Nesterov played a line he knew by heart and was able to make an easy draw.

The 2482-rated Nesterov from Russia is surprisingly untitled, and still just 17-years old. According to Moradiabadi, he's bypassing the IM title and headed straight for GM status, because the Russian Federation doesn't pay for players' IM title application fees. The 16th seed sneaked into shared first with a last round win over Latvian GM Nikita Meshkovs, and earned a GM norm in the process.

The night before the eighth round, Moradiabadi barely slept. Tormented by the news of the US drone strike, he lay awake until 6:00 AM prior to the critical afternoon game against Dmitrij Kollars. The young German GM was the tournament's top seed, and had the white pieces, with a healthy advantage out of the opening. But in an unbalanced middlegame Moradiabadi found his chances.

Annotations by GM Elshan Moradiabadi

Dmitrij Kollars

Dmitrij Kollars

Moradiabadi cites his experience in US-style open tournaments as being a big help in Stockholm because they train you to fight hard in every game, even when playing black. His former solid "Iranian-style" has evolved over the seven years he's lived in the USA — after graduating from Texas Tech University he became a naturalized US-citizen in 2017 and is engaged to former US Women's Champion WGM Sabina Foisor.

The penultimate round win allowed Moradiabadi to seal the overall victory with a short draw against the number two ranked GM Sergey Volkov. 

"With all the things that happened, I can only be even happier to win the tournament."

Adding to the general feeling of malaise, Moradiabadi's sister was flying from Iran to Vienna on January 8th just two hours after the Ukraine Airlines flight 752 crashed. It later emerged that the Iranian military shot down the plane by mistake, causing protests both in Iran and internationally.

"It makes you feel very empty inside," Elshan told me, musing on the vagaries of fate. He is looking forward to playing US Championship along with his fiancée. Moradiabadi qualified as the best scoring US player in last summer's U.S. Open Championship.

He selected another game to share: the Round 6 draw against Jesper Sondergaard Thybo from Denmark:


Tiger Hillarp-Persson

Swedish local hero Tiger Hillarp Persson also lost to the winner

Shardul Gagare

Shardul Gagare doesn't just play chess in Stockholm: The Indian grandmaster gives yoga classes during the breaks!

Juan Bellon

Grandmaster Juan Bellon won the Rilton Cup more than 30 years ago

Kaido Kulaots

A while ago, Kaido Kulaots boosted his profile last year by winning the Aeroflot Open, but ended a point behind in Stockholm

Final standings (top 25)

Rk. Name Pts.  TB1 
1 Moradiabadi Elshan 7,0 50,0
2 Nesterov Arseniy 7,0 46,0
3 Kollars Dmitrij 6,5 47,5
4 Urkedal Frode 6,5 47,0
5 Volkov Sergey 6,5 46,5
6 Hillarp Persson Tiger 6,5 44,5
7 Gagare Shardul 6,5 44,0
8 Dragicevic Drazen 6,5 43,5
9 Quesada Perez Luis Ernesto 6,5 43,5
10 Lokander Martin 6,5 38,0
11 Meshkovs Nikita 6,0 47,5
12 Thybo Jesper Sondergaard 6,0 46,5
13 Kulaots Kaido 6,0 44,5
14 Blomqvist Erik 6,0 43,0
15 Keinanen Toivo 6,0 42,0
16 Schekachikhin Maksim 6,0 41,5
17 Vs Rathanvel 5,5 47,0
18 Pantzar Milton 5,5 45,5
19 Ionov Sergey 5,5 43,0
20 Mohapatra Sidhant 5,5 43,0
21 Miezis Normunds 5,5 42,0
22 Leenhouts Koen 5,5 42,0
23 Dhulipalla Bala Chandra Prasad 5,5 42,0
24 S Ajay Krishna 5,5 42,0
25 Kucuksari Kaan 5,5 42,0

... 117 Players

All available games


Klaus Besenthal contributed reporting

Correction Jan 14: Moradiabadi and Foisor are engaged to be married.


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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