Reports Mar 10, 2016 | 11:45 PMby Colin McGourty

Najer wins Aeroflot ticket to Dortmund

The Aeroflot Open 2016 final podium: 3rd Mateusz Bartel, 2nd Boris Gelfand, 1st Evgeniy Najer  

Almost exactly a year to the day after winning the European Championship, Russia’s Evgeniy Najer has won the 2016 Aeroflot Open, giving him a place in the Dortmund supertournament later this year. Boris Gelfand lost out on tiebreaks after matching Najer’s +4 with a last-round win, while Mateusz Bartel took third. The blitz tournament that followed was won by Ding Liren, who has climbed 187.2 points to blitz world no. 3 in the space of a month!

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).

No country for young men

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.

Tigran Petrosian and Wei Yi analyse after their Round 9 draw

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!

Weng Yan struck back for China in Round 2! | photo: Eteri Kublashvili, Russian Chess Federation

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.

The winners

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. 

Evgeniy Najer (centre) was already the winner of the tournament at this point, but from the nervous way he followed the remaining games he seemed unaware of the fact 

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!

24. Qb2?

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. 

Boris Gelfand joins the Open tournament bandwagon | photo: Eteri Kublashvili, Russian Chess Federation

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. 

47-year-old Boris Gelfand demonstrated the stamina of a player half his age

Once again the popular theory that top players only keep their stellar ratings because they don’t play opens was dealt a blow.

Bocharov-Inarkiev was actually the last game of the Tournament to finish, after an incorrect 3-fold repetition claim earlier. Bocharov was lost anyway at the end, but the arbiter got the chance to call "time" - much to the delight of the crowd awaiting the Closing Ceremony 

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. 

Mateusz Bartel was in determined mood during the final round and had the winner worried - Najer rushed from his board to discover the result when a draw was agreed

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!).

Rk.SNoNameFEDRtgPts. TB1  TB2 
116GMNajer Evgeniy26646,542647
21GMGelfand Boris27356,542619
327GMBartel Mateusz26256,052623
413GMSjugirov Sanan26676,052604
525GMDubov Daniil26346,052602
611GMKamsky Gata26736,052597
715GMFedoseev Vladimir26646,052587
86GMMatlakov Maxim26826,042649
926GMKobalia Mikhail26326,042624
1018GMZvjaginsev Vadim26626,042623
1167Predke Alexandr25085,552642
127GMInarkiev Ernesto26775,552617
135GMNepomniachtchi Ian27045,552614
1437GMJumabayev Rinat26075,552601
1519GMMotylev Alexander26555,552550
1635GMBachmann Axel26095,542631
1720GMRakhmanov Aleksandr26505,542622
182GMBu Xiangzhi27245,542602
1923GMSasikiran Krishnan26375,542598
2012GMMoiseenko Alexander26685,542590

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?

The blitz finale

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). 

Ian Nepomniachtchi held Ding Liren to a draw, but had to settle for second place | photo: Eteri Kublashvili, Russian Chess Federation

It's been quite a month of blitz for Ding Liren:

Tigran Petrosian finished third. You can find full results here, and rewatch some of the games in high-quality video, with Russian commentary from Sergey Shipov, here.

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!"

See also:

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