Thursday, February 28, 2008

Aeroflot Open (Part 1 of 3)
by Alex Cherniack

(Photo by Iryna Zenyuk)

I would like to share with BCC members my games and impressions from the Aeroflot Open, a 9-round Swiss held in Moscow from February 13 to 23, 2008. Since 2002, the Aeroflot airline company has offered a package deal that includes the entry fee, airline ticket and hotel room.

The tournament was held at the Gamma-Delta hotel of the Izmailovsky hotel complex, and had 4 sections: A1 (FIDE 2500 and above), A2 (2400-2500), B (2200-2400), and C (below 2200). I played in Section B, which had 134 players. I started well with 2 points out of 3, but then lost 5 games in row before salvaging a win in the last round – my report card is at . Despite the result, I learned a lot from my losses, and had a great opportunity to explore Moscow, a world class city.

I was mostly on my own. Out of a field of 457, the only Americans at this tournament were Josh Friedel and David Pruess in the A2 Section, Iryna Zenyuk, Anton Solovyov and me in the B Section, and Michael Gerstein in the C Section. I met all of them over the next 10 days except Solovyov. When I was there, the exchange rate was 24 rubles to the dollar.

I was very excited to play in this tournament, because the last times I had been in Russia were in 1990, 1986, and 1985, when the country was still the Soviet Union, and I was very curious to find out how the country had changed. I had studied Russian in college, but don’t have the chance to practice it often, and at first it was comically bad. However it turned out to be very useful – despite all the hotel and city signs being in Russian and English, few of the Muscovites I talked to spoke English fluently. The Russian that initially came out of my mouth automatically received broken English replies, but the longer I stayed the more replies in Russian I received.

The rounds in Section B started at 9:30 AM, and had Budapest First Saturday time controls: 90 minutes for the entire game, with 30 seconds added after every move. Most of my games ended at 1:00 PM, which still left plenty of time to see the sights of Moscow. I will split up headings in these postings according to each individual day of my trip from February 12 to 23.


I was scheduled to fly out of JFK airport on 8:20 that evening.

The organizing committee of the Aeroflot Open sucks at confirmation emails. I had to email them over a dozen times to make sure they had received my entry form, my entry fee (which is wired to a Swiss bank account), and my visa information in order to secure an invitation to enter Russia.

The process of receiving my airline ticket DROVE ME NUTS. They wouldn’t mail the ticket to me; I had to pick it up at either the Aeroflot office in Manhattan or at the airport. I chose the New York office. A week before I was scheduled to leave, I called the office to confirm that it was all right to pick up the ticket - they said they had no record of my name on any of the passenger lists. After a panicked email, the organizing committee replied 3 days later saying to call the office again, there should be no problem. I called the office again, and my name was now on the passenger list, but they said the ticket was not fully paid and would be canceled the day after tomorrow. Another antsy email exchange with the organizing committee; this time (2 days before I was supposed to leave) they sent me the confirmation code of the ticket purchase. I called the office again, and they said that I still had to pay taxes and airport fees at the office, but I could pick up the ticket. A breathed a sigh of relief, believing that everything was all set. Or so I thought.

On February 12 I woke up at home at 4:30 AM, took the first MBTA bus to Harvard Square, took the red line to South Station, and took the first Amtrak train to Penn Station at 6:05 AM, arriving in New York at 11:00 AM. To my great consternation, I couldn’t leave my bags at either a baggage check or a locker for security reasons, and had to lug my bags around New York for the rest of the day.

I went to Aeroflot’s office at Rockefeller Plaza to pick up my ticket, bringing with me all the emails to and from the organizing committee. The people at the office brusquely said that the ticket had been canceled due to lack of payment. I showed them my paperwork, and they disappeared behind the manager’s office, leaving me to sweat bullets. They reappeared 5 minutes later, and said the ticket had not been fully paid because of the taxes and airport fees. I said that I had no problem paying that, then they relented and issued me a new ticket – had that flight been full, I would have been SOL – and $220 dollars later at last I had a ticket to fly in and out of Moscow.

The flight didn’t leave for another 8 hours, so still schlepping my bags, I took a subway to Brooklyn to visit my 98 year old grandmother in a nursing home. 4 hours later I took the D line to Atlantic Avenue, transferred to the LIRR at Flatbush Avenue, and took the Air Train from Jamaica Station to the airport.

I ran into Iryna Zenyuk again at the airline terminal, having played her before in last year’s Foxwoods Open. Flight 316 had a lot of trouble getting out of JFK because of the weather; the boarding gate changed twice, the departure time was pushed back several times to 9:30 PM, and on the plane we were stuck on the runway an additional 90 minutes waiting for our turn to take off.

Finally, after 19 hours after waking up back home, I was on way to Moscow.


The flight was 11 hours with no intermediate stops, and half empty. I slept fitfully for 3 hours and 2 hours, and arrived in Moscow at 4:30 PM local time. Once through passport control and customs, Iryna and I were immediately besieged with taxi drivers offering to take us to the hotel. We had been promised to be picked up from the airport, but no one from the organizing committee showed up for 15 minutes, so we were about to negotiate the fare to the hotel with one of the taxi drivers when at last a man showed up with the Aeroflot Chess Open logo on a placard.

He deposited Iryna and me in the center of the airport and told us not to wander off, as he going to pick up more players from other arrival gates. After an hour, there were about 40 chessplayers from over 10 countries occupying three rows of benches, and we were herded onto a bus going towards the Gamma-Delta hotel complex.

The chessplayers got off the bus at the hotel, and were herded once again to a registration desk in the Delta hotel with only 2 people trying to do the work of 10. They had to verify our identification, check us off 3 lists, issue us hotel reservation numbers, and give us directions to our respective hotels (the Gamma or the Delta). They gave me a reservation number, directions to the Gamma hotel, and instructions to show up at the opening ceremony on the third floor at 6:30.

It was 6:15, I was very tired, and couldn’t make the cognitive leap that the Gamma and Delta were two distinctly different hotels, even though their lobbies, service desks, and elevators looked identical. (Even after a few days of staying there I made the mistake of trying to go up the elevator to my room in the wrong hotel.)

I wandered around the Delta hotel lobby and the cafes between the common areas for 15 minutes, until I said to hell with it, and went up to the opening ceremony will all my bags still in tow. At the ceremony I heard brief speeches by Anatoly Karpov and various tournament sponsors, then went back down to the first floor and finally found the service desk to the Gamma hotel around the corner.

It took me 10 minutes to get a clerk’s attention. Russians seem to view waiting behind others in short lines a quaint Anglo-Saxonism, and 5 people cut in front of me laterally. The clerk asked me for 10 rubles to pay for the state residential registration fee, and told me to pick up the registration form the following day. At this point the manager on duty came over and said that my room was scheduled for repair the day after tomorrow – I would have to register again when I changed rooms. I didn’t care, I so sick of carrying around my bags. The luggage dropped on the floor of my room with a thud, and I went back to the opening ceremony on the third floor.

The organizing committee had brought in dinner on 20 separate buffet tables, and a few cases of Moldavian wine. I ate to keep up my strength, and consumed my fill of the wine, which was delicious. I met Josh Friedel there, who was already in town having finished playing in the Moscow Open a few days before. I spent about an hour chatting with Josh and Iryna (who are good friends with each other), and left to wander around the hotel and figure out where the hell everything in the hotel really was.

I returned to my room at 9:00, and discovered why the room was scheduled for repair. The bedside lamps no working switches and the remote control for the TV didn’t work. But worst of all, none of the outlets had electricity. That made the laptop and voltage converter that I had brought with me useless for looking up my next round opponents with ChessBase.

I turned in, and was finally able to get to sleep at 1:00 in the morning.


I woke up tossing and turning 5 hours later, not yet on Moscow time. During my first few days there a strange brew fermented in my head. My brain was still trying to process a large swath of recently observed Russian culture quirks: the line-cutting, the general absence of the words “please,” “thank you,” “you’re welcome” and “excuse me” in everyday conversation, the way clerks ripped receipts the moment they handed them to me, and last but not least the Russian language itself. My native frame of mind (and the tongue inside of my mouth) was grinding with the gears of the Russian sentence structure, and I was struggling to transmit words to other people. Also, my toolkit was incomplete - the inability to use my laptop, if not fixed, was going to be a major inconvenience. I needed the laptop to look up opponents’ opening repertoires, but also to recharge my IPod (a psychic necessity) and back up pictures from my digital camera.

The hotel’s breakfast buffet was excellent - I ate there all 10 mornings of my stay - and wandered into my section’s tournament hall at 9:25 AM.

The organizers provided free bottled water, Pepsi, and iced (white, green, and black) tea, but you had to grab yours fast because they were soon all gone. My first round opponent was Mihail Rodin, a 2375 FIDE rated player from Russia.

Mihail Rodin (2375) – Alex Cherniack (2277)

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 a6 4. Ngf3 c5 5. dxc5 Bxc5 6. Bd3 Nc6 7. O-O Nf6 8. c3 O-O

My opening preparation at home was 8…dxe4 9.Nxe4 Nxe4 10.Bxe4 Qxd1 11.Rxd1 Ke7 12.Bf4, but I didn’t like this at the board and decided to improvise.

9. e5 Nd7?

The shortcomings of this reply are shown up by White's 13th move. Better was 9...Ng4.

10. Nb3 Be7 11. Re1 f6 12. exf6 Bxf6

With the idea of 13.Re6? Nde5. But White has something better.

13. Nbd4! e5

The alternative was 13…Nde5, but I didn’t like one bit the positional sacrifice 14.Nxe5 Nxe5 15.Rxe5 Bxe5 16.Bxh7+ Kxh7 17.Qh5+ Kg8 18.Qxe5 Qf6 19.Nf3.

14. Ne6 Qe7 15.Nxf8 Nxf8

Or 14...Qf8 15.Ng5 g6 16.Qb3. I was hoping that the mobile pawn center would be enough compensation for the exchange, but my opponent soon makes it very immobile.

16. c4! d4 17. Nd2! Qf7 18. Ne4 Be7 19. Bd2 h6 20. a3 Be6 21. Rc1 Nd7 22. b4 Nb6

My pieces are well placed, but the exchange is the exchange.

23. b5 axb5 24. cxb5 Nb8 25. Rc7 N8d7 26. Bb4 Bxb4 27. axb4 Nd5 28.Rxb7 Ra2 29. Re2 Bg4

This allows a pretty finish, but Black’s position is past saving.

30. Rxa2! Bxd1 31. Ra8+ Nf8 32. Rxf7 Kxf7 33. Bc4 1-0

For the rest of the tournament, next round pairings were posted by 3:00 PM at the latest. With a nonfunctional laptop, however, that was precious little help to me.

I decided to head out to Red Square.

The weather in Moscow was generally no worse than Boston. With long johns, a jacket, 2 layers of Gore-Tex, a hat, wool socks, and thick gloves, I was fine. I also had brought along a balaclava and a 4th layer of clothing, but I never needed to use them. Still disconnected and not fully caught up on sleep, I had a vague idea of finding a 110V/220V converter for my hotel room on Tverskaya Ulitsa. (I had no idea of knowing yet if the laptop was not working properly because of the outlet, or because of the voltage converter.)

I had no luck finding the converter, but I had an unforgettable cultural experience – the Moscow metro during rush hour. Oh my God, I was afraid of being trampled to death!

Whenever I stopped to get my bearings, I was in the way of hundreds. What a propulsive, broken-dam mass of people; crowds 10 wide funneled into escalators 2 wide, and those who found themselves in the left lane were gravitationally forced to walk, if not trot, all the steps of escalator. At first I didn’t understand why Muscovites were in such a hurry to race towards the next train when another arrived 60 seconds later. Then I realized that the next train was just as crowded, and they just wanted to get it over with by riding the riptide from point A to point B. The knapsack I wore on my back was really in the way, so I took it off and held it while I was on the packed train.

I went to Kitai-Gorod that night, but couldn’t find any Chinese restaurants, so I found a soup and salad place in that neighborhood that had English signs, ate there, and went back to my hotel room.


Today was unusual in the tournament schedule in that there were two rounds at 9:30 and 15:30.

I woke up at 3:00 AM replaying over and over in my mind an alternate continuation from my game yesterday (8…dxe4 9. Nxe4 Nxe4 10. Bxe4 Qxd1 11. Rxd1 Ke7 12. Bf4, instead of 8…0-0). Or was it the other way around?

No matter how many times I sliced and diced this position, White was just better.

I went back to sleep, and had a shallow, pounding dream in that every time I made a move from my game in round 1 I had to unpack, inventory the contents, and repack my suitcase.

I had a lot of loose cash on me, so just before the start of round 2 I went to the manager on duty and asked to put it in the safe. The manager wanted 100 rubles a day to store it there, so I politely declined and walked out.

I won my round 2 game against Erkin Gurbanzade from Azerbaijan, and evened the score:

Alex Cherniack (2277) - Erkin Gurbanzade (2192)

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. f3 O-O 6. Be3 Nbd7 7. Nh3 c5 8. d5 Ne5 9. Nf2 Qa5 10. Be2 h5

Black is going to have to beat a retreat with the Knight, as 10…Qb4 11.a3 Qxb2? 12.Na4 loses the Queen.

11. h3 a6 12. f4 Ned7 13. a4 Re8 14. O-O e6 15. dxe6 Rxe6

Black’s position looks ugly, but I have been burned in many ugly positions before!

16. Qc2 Nb8

17. e5!

A positional necessity; otherwise Black brings the Knight back into game with Nc6-d4 with good play. This pawn sweep is thematic in Benoni structures and in King’s Indian positions where White takes on e6 and Black recaptures with the Bishop.


If 17…dxe5, then 18.f5! gxf5 19.Qxf5 (exploiting the pin on e6) Nc6 20. Nge4, exploiting the pin on f6.

18. Nfe4 Nc6 19. Nd5 dxe5 20. f5 gxf5 21. Rxf5 Rg6 22. Rxh5 Be6 23. Rf1

Black’s position is very difficult, if not lost.

23…Bxd5 24. cxd5 Nb4 25. Qc4

Less good is 25.Qxc5 Qxc5 26.Bxc5 Nxd5.

25…Nc7 26. d6 Ne6 27. Nxc5 Rc8 28.d7 Rc6 29. Nxe6 Rxc4 30. d8=Q+ Qxd8 31. Nxd8 Re4 32. Rf3 Nd5 33. Bd3 Rxe3 34.Rxe3 Nxe3 35. Bxg6 fxg6 36. Rg5 Nc4 37. b3 Nd2 38. Rxg6 Kh7 39. Rb6 e4 40. Ne6 Bh6 41. Kf2 e3+ 42. Ke2 Ne4 43. h4 Ng3+ 44. Ke1 Kg6 45. Ng5+ Kh5 46. Nf3 Bg7 47. Ng1 Bc3+ 48. Kd1 Kxh4 49. Ne2 Ba5 50. Rxb7

The pawn wasn’t going anywhere.


Right after this game I went to the service desk, and moved to my new hotel room. The new room was on a floor where half the rooms were being repaired, and for the rest of my stay I walked to and from my room on a corridor covered in drop cloths. I didn’t care, as this room had working electrical outlets, and I could finally prepare properly for my next opponent from Lithuania.

Emilis Pilectis (2364) - Alex Cherniack (2277)

1. Nf3 d5 2. d4 Nf6 3. c4 e6 4. Nc3 Bb4 5. Bg5 dxc4 6. Qa4+ Nc6 7. e3?!

White is mixing ideas from 5.Bg5, 5.Qa4 and 5.a3, with dubious results. Better is 7.a3 Bxc3+ 8.bxc3 Qd5 9.Bxf6 gxf6 10.Qc2 f5 11.g3 with an unclear game.

7…Bd7 8.Qc2 b5 9. a3 Ba5 10. Ne5 Qc8 11. Bxf6 gxf6 12. Nxd7 Qxd7 13. O-O-O Ne7 14. Ne4 Nd5 15. b3 cxb3 16. Qxb3


Consistent with my previous moves was 16…Qc6+ 17.Kb1 Rb8 18.a4 a6 19.Rc1 Qb6, with a tense game where I have excellent chances of holding onto the extra pawn. I thought the resulting ending would be better for Black.

17. Qxd5 exd5 18. Nxf6+ Ke7 19. Nxd7 Kxd7 20. Kb2 Bc7

I saw this position as far back as move 13, and evaluated it as better for Black because of White's vulnerable King. This worked in the end, though not without help from my opponent - Black's King turned out to vulnerable as well.

21. Bd3 Bd6 22. Rc1 h6 23. e4 Rab8

I can’t defend the c6 pawn with Rc8 because of 24.Bf5+.

24. e5?

Now my decision is vindicated. Much better is 24.exd5 cxd5 25.Bf5+ Ke7 26.Rc6 Rfd8 27.h4, and all the winning chances are White’s.

24…Be7 25. Rc2 Rb6 26. Rhc1 Rhb8

This is what I envisioned over 10 moves ago. The advance of the a and b pawns will be very dangerous for White. His pawn on d4 is also weak.

27.f4 Ra6 28. Rc3 Rbb6 29. f5 Ra4?

I overlooked White’s counterplay. 29…b4 would have won immediately (30.axb4 Bxb4 31.Rb3 Ba3+).

30. f6

Not 30.Rxc6? Rxc6 31.Bb5 Ba3+.

30…Bf8 31. Bf5+ Kc7 32. Rg3

I saw what White was up to (33.Rg7). Fortunately I have an answer.

32…Rxd4 33. Rg7 Bxg7

Otherwise the passed e and f pawns are irresistible.

34. fxg7 Rb8 35. e6!

35.Bh7? Rg4 36.g8=Q Rgxg8 37.Bxg8 Rxg8 wins easily for Black.

35…fxe6 36. Bxe6 Kd6!

If it weren’t for this move my c pawn would be pinned on the 39th.

37. g8=Q Rxg8 38. Bxg8 Rg4 39. Bxd5

It’s hard to blame White for rejecting 39.Bh7 Rxg2+ 40.Rc2 Rxc2+ 41.Kxc2, since Black’s pawns look unstoppable. However the Rook ending is utterly hopeless.

39… Kxd5 40. g3 Re4 41. h4 Re2+ 42. Kc3 Re3+ 43. Kb4 Rxg3 44. Rc5+ Kd6 45. Rh5 Rg4+ 46. Kb3 Rg6 47. Kb4 Rf6 48. a4 Rf4+ 49. Kb3 Rxa4 50. Rxh6+ Kc5 51. Rh5+ Kb6 0-1

I didn’t step foot out of the hotel at all that day. Sad to say, this game was to be the high point of my tournament.

(To be continued)

1 comment:

SecretUndone said...

Hi, I was just looking online to see if I could locate an exceptional player with the same name that I played with back in high school. Are you the same Alex Cherniack who attended Lincoln-Sudbury RHS in the late 70's?