The Aeroflot Open, of which this was the 14th edition, has a reputation for being a ferociously tough tournament. The top event, with some exceptions, is only for players rated 2550 and above, meaning that even in the first round there are no easy games (you can replay all the games using the selector below and hover over a name to see all of that player's results).
Chinese superstar Wei Yi found that out to his cost when he was paired against top chess coach and 2011 European Champion Vladimir Potkin, who unleashed a devilish novelty on move 9. The game took a turn towards the surreal on move 12, when Wei Yi thought for over half an hour before playing the best (and almost only) move 12…Nc6!
Then Potkin slightly spoiled the impression of his fantastic opening preparation by spending one hour and six minutes (!) on the dubious 13.Bxd5?!, though when Wei Yi responded with 13…Be6?! (and not the computer’s 13…Qxd5+) he soon collapsed in time trouble.
Wei Yi never really recovered after that – seeming to suffer with a bad cold when he lost again in Round 6 – but three wins meant he stayed in the 2700 club… by 0.3 points!
Other youngsters faced similar woes. Vladislav Artemiev is
Russia’s best hope for a new elite player in the near future, but was blown
away in Round 2, when Wen Yang played a Wei Yi-like rook sacrifice:
13.Rxf7!! The final position, just eight moves later, shows just how fast – and utterly – things can go wrong on a chessboard:
Spanish star David Anton was another victim. He was unbeaten and the only player to have taken the sole lead in the Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival until the final round, where he lost to Hikaru Nakamura. In Moscow, though, he lost the first two games only to get paired against 16-year-old Aravindh Chithambaram, who’s been dubbed “the next Anand”. Another loss meant that even an unbeaten +2 in the remaining games still led to a loss of 25 rating points.
Let’s switch to those who emerged unscathed from the tournament, though! 38-year-old Evgeniy Najer showed it’s no fluke that he’s the reigning European Champion. In a very tense final round he held off what looked like a fierce assault by Gata Kamsky to hold a crucial draw. That turned out to be enough to give him the title whatever happened in the remaining games.
Afterwards he talked to Vladimir Barsky of the Russian Chess Federation, who started by asking how Evgeniy evaluated his win:
It’s a big achievement, comparable with winning the European Championship in terms of toughness. Those are two roughly equal Swiss Opens; of course, they differ from each other, but they have a lot in common. Aeroflot is a little more solid, while in the European event there are more people playing, including amateurs, and sometimes you can get a random opponent. In Moscow that’s not possible – you play nine professionals.
How did the tournament go?
It started great – three out of three, but then for a very long time it wasn’t even that I couldn’t win but I couldn’t get any “goalmouth incidents”. However, it’s a peculiarity of this tournament that at any moment you can agree to a draw. Some of my games finished, you might say, prematurely: I agreed to a draw in positions which I really didn’t like, and then once I offered Boris Gelfand a draw with White on tactical grounds – I had half a point more and I was playing against the strongest player in the tournament, so I felt it was something I could allow myself. The key game was against Vladimir Fedoseev – he went for a very interesting attack.
A little reckless?
At first that was what I thought: he’s launched himself at me recklessly, I took everything and it was all more or less under control. But, as the computer showed, White’s attack was correct and quite well thought-out, just one wrong move ruined it all. You might even say it was a stunning attack!
To be honest, at that point I thought that in a move or two I’d simply be left two pieces up, but after 24.Qb7!! the computer shows an evaluation of 0.00! Of course White has a terrifying attack. I was lucky that Vladimir blundered that after 24…Nxe2 25.Kh1 there was Bf6!.
Winning Aeroflot gives you a place in Dortmund. It seems that’s going to be one of your first elite tournaments?
I’ve never played in elite tournaments. In my whole life I’ve played only two strong round-robins, the Russian Championship Superfinal, which it’s best to forget about, and Poikovsky. There I did fine, on the whole, but nevertheless Dortmund has a somewhat higher status.
With what mood will you travel to the tournament?
I haven’t thought about that yet, as after all it was only a couple of hours ago that I realised I’d qualified. Of course it’ll be very interesting to test out my strength.
The tournament's top-seed was Boris Gelfand, who was following in the footsteps of the likes of Magnus Carlsen and Vladimir Kramnik in playing an open.
Eteri Kublashvili asked him when he last played in an open:
It was a long time ago. Probably in Biel in 1993, the Interzonal Tournament.
Why did you decide to play in Moscow now?
For a few reasons. Firstly, the Aeroflot Open is already guaranteed to be a very strong tournament. Secondly, there are fewer round-robin tournaments where I can play. So you could say that it’s for wont of a better option, but it’s very interesting to play in such a strong tournament.
Boris copied Magnus and Vladimir in having a shaky start, drawing Artyom Timofeev (2593) in the first round and admitting he was lucky that 16-year-old Armenian talent Haik Martiosyan offered a draw in a better position in the second. After that, though, Boris went on to win four and draw three of his remaining games, with a highly effective combination of sheer chess class and determination. He was last to finish in Round 6 (grinding down Boris Grachev in a queen ending that lasted 119 moves) and second last in the final round, where Rinat Jumabayev only finally threw in the towel on move 79.
Once again the popular theory that top players only keep their stellar ratings because they don’t play opens was dealt a blow.
And finally in third place was Mateusz Bartel, a Polish
player whose no-holds-barred style can often backfire but at the same time
makes him a potential winner of extremely strong events.
The best evidence of that is that he won the 2012 Aeroflot Open, where he beat rising star Fabiano Caruana. As he explained on Facebook afterwards, though, that wasn’t the past result that was on his mind:
Exactly 10 years ago, on 9th March 2006, I first became Polish Champion. I had the quiet hope that today – on the anniversary of that happy event for me – I’d manage to stand on the highest place on the podium of another tournament. Alas, I couldn’t pull off that trick.
Today I still had theoretical chances of first place – indeed, the way the results panned out a win would have given me victory. That theory had nothing whatsoever in common with the reality, though. In the opening against Aleksandr Rakhmanov I got… what I wanted, but it turned out the position was very hard to play. I couldn’t cope with the problems and was soon on the brink of defeat. The repetition of moves at the very end of the game was like manna from heaven for me. True, that ruled out my chances of winning the tournament, but it was a game in which I couldn’t count on anything more than a draw. Therefore I’m very happy with both that result and the place I finished – which will probably be third.
It was indeed third, with the top places looking as follows (you need to look further down the results table to find the likes of Baadur Jobava, Wei Yi and Paco Vallejo – as we said, it’s a tough event!).
While the round was in progress we tweeted the following:
Coincidentally, your correspondent left the Cosmos Hotel just behind Evgeniy Najer, who was carrying the winner’s trophy in a plastic bag. He walked swiftly past the limousines and was last seen expressing genuine (or mock) disbelief at the price quoted to him by a couple of very ordinary Moscow taxis five metres further on. Whoever said chess isn’t glamorous?
That wasn’t quite all, though, since on Thursday the players returned for a huge blitz tournament of nine double rounds. Alexander Morozevich (who finished 39th), World Blitz Champion Alexander Grischuk (28th) and Ruslan Ponomariov (12th) were among those who joined the party, but it was another latecomer, Ding Liren, who raced to victory, only failing to win his mini-matches against Ian Nepomniachtchi (2nd) and Boris Gelfand (4th on tiebreaks).
It's been quite a month of blitz for Ding Liren:
So the 2016 Aeroflot Open is over and the full chess focus of Moscow now switches to the Candidates Tournament!
"I challenge Peter Svidler to a duel!"
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