In the new age of capitalism and billionaire oligarchies in Russia, the sky was the limit for the launch of the Aeroflot Open in Moscow back in 2002, as the tournament – sponsored by the Russian national carrier – was immediately hailed as the world’s strongest and richest on offer, as it flew in hundreds of grandmasters from around the world to compete for the rich pickings.
Nowadays, the Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival takes the mantle of the strongest and richest international open. But despite being downgraded, the Aeroflot Open is still flying high.
The total prize fund for all three tournaments is a more than respectable 120,000 euros ($146,000); the winner of the B tournament gets 8,000 euros ($9,678), in the C tournament, 3,000 euros ($3,663) for the first place. But for the top ‘A’ tournament winner, in addition to the prize money of roughly 18,000 euros ($21,980), there is an extra incentive to win, as there’s an automatic invitation to the “Super Tournament” in July in Dortmund.
All of which is more than enough to lure many of the world’s top grandmasters yet again to the Cosmos Hotel in the Russian capital, as the 16th Aeroflot Open attracted yet another strong field of 60 GMs, 27 IMs, two WGMs and three FMs. And joining last year’s Russian winner of the A-open, Vladimir Fedoseev, there was also several elite-level GMs: Vidit Santosh Gujrathi (India, 2723), Dmitry Andreikin (Russia, 2712), Rauf Mamedov (Azerbaijan, 2709) and Maxim Matlakov (Russia, 2709). Also in the mix was America’s Gata Kamsky, who has become something of a regular ‘Aeroflot flyer’, having played in just about every edition of the tournament.
But despite that impressive list of top contenders, the surprise-package turned out to be 24-year-old Vladislav Kovalev from Belarus, seeded sixteenth, who turned in one of the best performances of his career, as he took outright first place and the Dortmund qualifying spot with his unbeaten score of 7/9.
Photo: © Boris Dolmatovsky (RCF)
GM Vladislav Kovalev- GM Rasmus Svane
Aeroflot Open, (3)
Caro-Kann Defence, Exchange Variation
1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 cxd5 4.Bd3 The Exchange variation of the Caro-Kann became extremely popular in the early 1970s after it was adopted by Bobby Fischer who, en route to winning the world crown, used it to beat former World Champion Tigran Petrosian in the USSR vs Rest of the World Match in Belgrade in 1970. 4…Nc6 5.c3 Qc7 6.Ne2 Back in the heady days of the 1970s and 1980s of this line, the idea would have been to play Nf3, Bf4 and 0-0 and putting the knight on e5 – but Black soon found the best way to play against this, with ideas such as …Bg4-h5-g6 to exchange off the bishops. And with such lines holding up well for Black, 6.Ne2 is the new way to play the Exchange variation, as it is not so obvious to find a plan for Black’s light-square bishop. 6…Bg4 With the knight on f3, …Bg4 is the best plan. But here, it’s risky. 7.0-0 Bh5 8.f4! e6 9.Qe1 White has successfully hindered Black’s plan of playing for 9…Bg6, which will fall into 10. f5! Bxf5 11.Bxf5 exf5 12. Ng3+ followed by 13.Nxf5 with an easy advantage for White, as Black has difficulty completing his development, and also he’s going to be lumbered with a very weak, isolated d-pawn. 9…Bd6 10.Ng3 Nf6 It’s still too dangerous to play 10…Bg6 as 11.f5 Bxg3 12.hxg3 Bh5 13.fxe6 and already White has a big advantage. 11.Nxh5 What’s not to like here for White? He’s emerged from the opening with the bishop-pair and a big clamp on the e5-square. 11…Nxh5 12.g3 Nf6 13.Nd2 h5 14.Nf3 Kf8 The most obvious move looked like 14…0-0-0 – but Black probably feared the simple White plan of 15.Bd2 followed by rapidly pushing his queenside pawns up the board. 15.Bd2 g6 16.Qe2 Kg7 17.Rae1 Kovalev has all his assets in play now, and ready to occupy e5 and to strike at Black’s king. 17…Rad8?! He should have tried 17…Ne7 first – and we’ll soon see why. 18.Ne5 Ne7 19.Nxf7! [see diagram] Splat! It’s not just two pawns for the piece – White’s forces are ideally poised for a prolonged attack on Black’s king. 19…Kxf7 20.Qxe6+ Kg7 21.f5! Stripping all the defenses from around the Black king – and to survive, Black has to quickly exchange the queens, even if he has to return material for this. 21…Qd7 22.fxg6 Qxe6 23.Rxe6 Rhf8 24.Bf4! White takes advantage of the fact that 24…Bxf4 25.Rxe7+! easily wins. 24…Nc8 25.Bg5 White has three good pawns for the piece – and he’s retained all his attacking options. The best Black can hope for here, is some sort of way to struggle on a bit longer. 25…Be7 26.Rfe1 Bd6 There’s no way to successfully defend for Black. If 26…Rd7 27.Bb5! will quickly win, as after 27…Rc7 28.Bf4 Bd6 29.Rxd6! and White will emerge with an easy endgame win with the three additional pawns. 27.Bf5 a6 28.a4 Ng4 It’s the only hope now. If 28…Nb6 29.Re7+!! quickly mates. 29.Bxg4 hxg4 30.Bxd8 Rxd8 31.Re8 Rxe8 32.Rxe8 Nb6 The trouble for Black is not just his lack of pawns – his minor pieces are restricted, and he gets into a fix trying to get them into the game. 33.b3 a5 34.Kf2 Nd7 35.Ra8 Kovalev now easily picks off a vital pawn. 35…Nf6 36.Rxa5 White’s queenside pawn armada simply can’t be stopped – the game is effectively over now. 36…Bc7 37.Ra7 Ne4+ 38.Ke3 Nd6 39.Kd3 Kxg6 40.c4 Bb6 41.Ra8 Bc7 42.c5 Nf7 43.b4 1-0