Surprises in Nakhchivan

by Alejandro Ramirez
5/9/2015 – It must be something they put in the water, or maybe it is the nature of a conflict zone, but the Nakhchivan Open is unpredictable! None of the top seeds are leading, or even close to that, and even big names such as Hou Yifan and Rustam Kasimdzhanov are seriously struggling. Currently there is a three way tie for first between Pantsulaia, Idani and Safarli with two rounds to go.

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The Nakhchivan Open is being held at the Nakhchivan Chess Center in Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan. The nine-round swiss has a first prize of $10,000 and has attracted some strong players. The tournament is reserved for players over 2250 (2150 for women).

Nakhchivan is is a landlocked exclave of the Republic of Azerbaijan. The region covers 5,500 km2 with a population of 410,000, bordering Armenia (length of frontier 221 km) to the east and north, Iran (179 km) to the south and west, and Turkey (only 15 km) to the northwest. It is a zone that has been in conflict since time immemorial, seeing wars waged on its soli by Ancient Armenia, Ancient Greece, Byzantium, Persia, Seljuk Turks and many more historical powers. Nowadays it is an exclave of Azerbaijan. The current president of Azerbaijan was born in the Nakhchivan region, though Nakhchivan does not border Azerbaijan.

Nakhchivan Open

With the severe prize drop-off (fourth place is already only $2000, 10th $700) and the difficulties of traveling to Nakhchivan, it seems as if the tournament was not quite as strong as one would expect. However some big names showed up, including Rustam Kasimzdhanov and Hou Yifan, playing in her first rated event since Mariya Muzychuk took the World Championship title in Sochi earlier this year.

The top 20 players in the tournament:

No.   Name FED Rtg
1 GM Kasimdzhanov Rustam UZB 2715
2 GM Bacrot Etienne FRA 2704
3 GM Hou Yifan CHN 2686
4 GM Onischuk Vladimir UKR 2669
5 GM Mamedov Rauf AZE 2655
6 GM Tiviakov Sergei NED 2642
7 GM Safarli Eltaj AZE 2640
8 GM Adhiban B. IND 2636
9 GM Baklan Vladimir UKR 2633
10 GM Khalifman Alexander RUS 2624
11 GM Guseinov Gadir AZE 2612
12 GM Gupta Abhijeet IND 2603
13 GM Pantsulaia Levan GEO 2603
14 GM Romanov Evgeny RUS 2581
15 GM Paichadze Luka GEO 2556
16 GM Mirzoev Azer AZE 2554
17 GM Idani Pouya IRI 2526
18 GM Abasov Nijat AZE 2522
19 GM Malakhatko Vadim BEL 2514
20 IM Sanal Vahap TUR 2508

There have been many surprises in the tournament. The early leader was Levan Pantsulaia who started with a dashing 5.0/5, but he was stopped when Eltaj Safarli beat him in the sixth round. With all draws on the seventh round of the event, Pantsulaia and Safarli keep their lead, now tied with Pouya Idani from Iran. These are the current standings:

Rk.   Name FED Rtg Pts.  TB1   TB2   TB3 
1 GM Pantsulaia Levan GEO 2603 5.5 2532 5 0.0
2 GM Idani Pouya IRI 2526 5.5 2512 4 0.0
3 GM Safarli Eltaj AZE 2640 5.5 2483 4 0.0
4   Beradze Irakli GEO 2310 5.0 2548 4 0.0
5 GM Bajarani Ulvi AZE 2504 5.0 2529 4 0.0
6 GM Tiviakov Sergei NED 2642 5.0 2491 3 0.0
7 GM Gupta Abhijeet IND 2603 5.0 2465 3 0.0
8 GM Paichadze Luka GEO 2556 5.0 2434 4 0.0
9 GM Khalifman Alexander RUS 2624 5.0 2423 3 0.0
10 GM Guseinov Gadir AZE 2612 5.0 2395 4 0.0
11 FM Tabatabaei M.Amin IRI 2420 4.5 2559 4 0.0
12 GM Bacrot Etienne FRA 2704 4.5 2471 3 0.0
13 GM Baklan Vladimir UKR 2633 4.5 2455 3 0.0
14 GM Gasanov Eldar UKR 2494 4.5 2450 3 0.0
15 GM Kasimdzhanov Rustam UZB 2715 4.5 2441 2 0.0
16 GM Hou Yifan CHN 2686 4.5 2437 4 0.0
17 GM Mirzoev Azer AZE 2554 4.5 2429 3 0.0
18 GM Adhiban B. IND 2636 4.5 2340 4 0.0
19 IM Mammadov Zaur AZE 2487 4.0 2561 2 0.0
20 GM Rasulov Vugar AZE 2502 4.0 2543 3 0.0

Just from looking at these standings some questions can be asked:

  • Why is the top seed in 15th place?
  • Why is Hou Yifan in 16th?
  • Where are Mamedov and Onischuk?
  • Who is Irakli Beradze?

Rustam Kasimdzhanov started with a weak start, two draws against very low rated players. His further two draws in rounds four and six put him at only 4.5/7 and losing 12.0 rating points.

Meanwhile Hou Yifan's tournament is no better. She lost to both Mammadov Zaur and Mammadov Ayaz... and both with the white pieces! She recovered with a win against Vahap Sanal but she is in bad shape.

Rauf Mamedov recently played the Gashimov Memorial, where he had a decent showing, but in Nakhchivan he only has 4.0/7. Meanwhile the young winner of the Metz Open, Vladimir Onischuk, has the same amount of points and is also dropping around 12 rating.

Meanwhile the young Irakli Beradze is on an absolute rampage. This 18 year old Georgian player is winning an impressive 70 rating points and has defeated several grandmasters, despite the fact that in his last two tournament showins he dropped around 40 points total.

Vladimir Baklan drew Rustam Kasimdzhanov

Hou Yifan won today, but she will need two more wins in a row to finish on a half-decent note.

Nino Khomeriki (left) won this game and is winning 65 rating points

Vadim Malakhtko against Zaur Mammadov

The Nakhchivan chess center

with giant pieces, of course

There are many side events as well

a lower rated section

and one for kids

Security seems mandatory nowadays in tournaments, sadly

Abhijeet Gupta vs. Ulvi Bajanari under the gaze of former Azerbaijani president Haydar Aliev. His son, Ilham, succeeded him.

World traveler Sergei Tiviakov on the right

The top board match between Guseinov and Safarli ended in a draw

The tournament will have two more rounds and the race for first is heating up.

Replay games so far

Select from the dropdown menu to replay the games

Photos by Ilgar Bajarani from the official website

The games are being broadcast live on the official web site and on the chess server If you are not a member you can download a free Playchess client there and get immediate access. You can also use ChessBase 13 or any of our Fritz compatible chess programs.


Grandmaster Alejandro Ramirez has been playing tournament chess since 1998. His accomplishments include qualifying for the 2004 and 2013 World Cups as well as playing for Costa Rica in the 2002, 2004 and 2008 Olympiads. He currently has a rating of 2583 and is author of a number of popular and critically acclaimed ChessBase-DVDs.


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