14-year-old Azerbaijan IM Aydin Suleymanli is the shock winner of the 2020 Aeroflot Open. The 71st seed finished on 6.5/9 and had better tiebreaks than Rinat Jumabayev, Rauf Mamedov and Aravindh. It was a second grandmaster norm for the reigning Under 14 World Youth Champion who described it as “entirely possible” that someday he’ll be the overall World Champion. 12-year-old Bharath Subramaniyam’s 11th place with 5.5/9 was a reminder of how many talented Indian kids are also eyeing that goal.
Aydin Suleymanli went into the final round of the Aeroflot Open with Black against his compatriot Rauf Mamedov knowing that a draw would be enough to claim the title. The first tiebreaker was the number of games with the black pieces (he’d played 5 to Rauf’s 4), while the second tiebreaker was the rating of the opponents faced. No-one could compete with Aydin there, and after a tense 29-move draw against Rauf he’d managed to survive unscathed despite facing a 2600+ grandmaster in every single round!
It was a 2791 rating performance by the reigning Under 14 World Youth Champion (a title he won by scoring 9/11 in Mumbai last October), and a second shock Aeroflot Open result in a row. In 2018 62nd seed Kaido Kulaots won the title, while given Aydin’s age his result is perhaps more comparable to 13-year-old Vincent Keymer’s incredible victory in the 2018 GRENKE Chess Open. It says all you need to say about how tough the Aeroflot Open is that 1st, 3rd and 5th seeds Vladislav Artemiev, Parham Maghsoodloo and Alexey Sarana could finish only in a tie for 28th place on 5/9.
After his victory Aydin talked to Eteri Kublashvili for the Russian Chess Federation website:
Eteri Kublashvili: Aydin, congratulations on a brilliant result! How did the tournament go for you? What game are you particularly pleased with?
Aydin Suleymanli: Thank you. It was a difficult tournament but I’m happy with my result. It seems to me that I played well. I liked my game against Ilia Smirin most, where I sacrificed a piece and organised an attack on his king.
Here after 16…Rxf4 Aydin could take on f4, when he’d have a rook and a pawn for two knights and something close to equality, but instead he played the much stronger 17.Rad1!! Smirin thought 32 minutes before replying 17…Be6?! (17…Nd7! may be stronger) 18.c5! Rh4 19.Rd6! Nd7? 20.f4! and White was already completely winning.
Do you think you managed to surprise your opponents in the opening in those games you won?
In the games against Maghsoodloo and Durarbayli, yes, but against Smirin I chose what I always play.
Was the final game against Rauf Mamedov tough?
It wasn’t easy to play against Rauf Mamedov and not only because that game would decide the fate of first place. I feel enormous respect for him as a chess player, I’ve often been at his lectures and master classes, but up to that point I’d never played him in a classical game.
Who did you work with at this tournament? Who do you study with?
Both here and in general I work with Grandmaster Farid Abbasov. During the event he helped me to prepare for my opponents.
How many years have you been working together?
Since 2015. Five years already.
What goal did you set before the Aeroflot Open?
I wanted to get a grandmaster norm. Sharing first place was a bit surprising for me (laughs). Now I’ve got two GM norms, but I need one more for the title.
Who’s you favourite chess player? Do you have an idol?
World Champion Magnus Carlsen and the Azerbaijan chess player Shakhriyar Mamedydarov.
Could you tell us a bit about yourself? Where do you live and study? When did you start learning chess?
I live in Baku and study in a normal school. I began playing chess when I was five years old, so I’ve been doing it for 10 years now.
How many hours a day do you study?
Around five to six hours.
How do you manage to combine chess and studying?
Chess is more important for me now. I devote the majority of my time to it.
What plans do you have for the future?
In March I’m playing in the Azerbaijan Championship. I want to continue my good run and I hope that I’ll also play well there (smiles).
Would you like to beat Magnus Carlsen?
Of course (laughs). I think that’s the goal of any professional.
Can you imagine yourself as the World Champion?
(After a pause) It’s entirely possible.
We’ve already seen how good Aydin is in tactics, but the decisive game of the tournament turned out to be a positional masterpiece in the penultimate round against Parham Maghsoodloo. The Iranian grandmaster had gone for a risky pawn grab in the opening and Suleymanli showed he knew exactly how to handle the subsequent position:
Black is two pawns down but White is way behind in development. Black could regain the material with 15…Nxa2 16.Ra1 Nxc3, but after 17.Ba6! White has suddenly untangled and would soon be better. Instead Aydin’s 15…a5!! was a powerful turning of the screw. Parham ultimately crumbled under the pressure and resigned in just 27 moves:
Aydin had an extremely eventful tournament, with the conclusion of his win against Vasif Durarbayli particularly memorable:
Which pawn to push? In mutual time trouble Aydin had misplayed things here and 37.e7! should draw (37…R5xb7 is forced and Black also has to give up his knight to eliminate the dangerous pawns), but after 37.d7?, played with under a minute on the clock, Aydin went on to win with 37…Rc5! and the pawns had been contained.
Aydin missed a win against Haik Martirosyan, but that was balanced out by Praggnanandhaa letting a winning advantage slip in an extremely tricky tactical position in Round 3. That made all the difference, as the Indian 14-year-old finished one point back in 15th place on 5.5/9.
The standout performance by an Indian kid instead came from 12-year-old Bharath Subramaniyam, who had raced into the co-lead with 3.5/4. Although he lost two games in three rounds after that he’d scored a grandmaster norm with a round to spare and celebrated by beating the strong Russian Grandmaster Maksim Chigaev with the black pieces in the final round.
One of the players to beat Bharath was 20-year-old compatriot Aravindh, who managed to bounce back from a first round loss with five wins to reach the tie for first on 6.5/9. Unfortunately for Aravindh that left him just off the podium in 4th place, while exactly the same pattern of a first round loss (to 14-year-old Javokhir Sindarov) and then five wins gave Rinat Jumabayev a silver medal ahead of Rauf Mamedov.
Here are the final standings at the top - it's a curiosity that the highest placed Russian in this quintessentially Russian tournament ended up being David Paravyan in 10th place - another fine open tournament for the Gibraltar Masters winner:
The traditional Aeroflot Blitz tournament takes place on Friday, though as is also traditional we’re not expecting the moves to be relayed live – Russian viewers will be able to enjoy live video commentary from the venue from Sergey Shipov.
There is something to look forward to, however, as 16-year-old Alireza Firouzja’s first chess after winning the Prague Masters is going to be a Round 2 match in the Banter Blitz Cup. His opponent is Ukrainian Grandmaster Mykhaylo Oleksiyenko, who was a big fan favourite in Round 1. Both players will commentate live on their moves in the best-of-16 match and you can follow their streams here from 16:00 CET: Alireza Firouzja | Mykhaylo Oleksiyenko
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