Friday, February 29, 2008

Aeroflot Open (Part 2 of 3)
by Alex Cherniack

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. I played in Section B with 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 When I was there, the exchange rate was 24 rubles to the dollar. I will split up the headings in these postings according to each individual day of my trip from February 12 to 23.


My opening preparation went well against my Round 4 opponent from Armenia. This game made me glad I had brought a laptop to Moscow. I knew Hambardzumian liked the Panno Attack against the Saemisch, and was able to research this line in depth before the game started. If only I had been able to remember the line to the very end...

Alex Cherniack (2277) - Yuri Hambardzumian (2378)

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. f3 O-O 6. Be3 Nc6 7. Nge2 a6 8. Qd2 Rb8 9. Rc1 Bd7 10. Nd1 Re8 11. Nf2 b5?!

Theory currently frowns on this move. Better is the flexible 11…e6.

12. c5 dxc5 13. Rxc5 e5 14. d5 Ne7


This move isn’t bad, but it is far from the best. As I was saying, had I been able to remember everything in my preparation, I would have played the simple 15.Qc2 c6 (15…Rc8 16.Nd3) 16.dxc6 Nxc6 17.Rxc6 Bxc6 18.Qxc6 with a large advantage for White in Graf-Nunn, Germany 2003. For some reason I didn’t like 18…Qa5+ 19.Nc3 b4, but then 20.Qa4 holds everything together.

15…c6 16. d6 Nc8 17. Nb4 Re6 18. Nxc6 Bxc6 19. Rxc6 Rxd6 20. Rxd6 Nxd6 21. Nc3 Qc7 22. Bd3 Rd8 23. Qe2 b4?

Drops a pawn. I was expecting 23…Nc4 24.Bxc4 Qxc4 25.Qxc4 bxc4 26.Ke2 with a small endgame advantage for White.

24. Na4 Nb5 25. Bxb5 axb5 26. Qxb5 Rb8 27. Qe2?

The first of many inaccuracies. Better was 27.Qa6 protecting the Knight on a4.

27… Nh5 28. g3 f5 29. O-O?

I was so anxious to castle that I lost my extra pawn. After 29.exf5 (I rejected it because I didn’t want to open up the diagonal for the Bishop on g7) gxf5 and then 30.0-0, Black’s combination in the game costs him his pawn on e5.

29… f4 30. Bf2

30.gxf4 exf4 gives Black full compensation for the pawn.

30…fxg3 31. hxg3 Nxg3 32. Bxg3 Qa7+ 33. Kg2 Qxa4

I still have a small edge, but my opponent neutralizes it with accurate defense.

34.Qc4+ Kh8 35. Qd5 Re8 36. Rc1 Qa6 37. Rc2 Qf6 38. Qc6 Qe7

Allowing the Queens to come off would lead to a losing ending for Black because of the weak e pawn and White’s passed pawn on the queenside.

39. Rd2 Rf8 40. Rd7 Qg5 41.Qc7 Qf6

42. Rd3?

This loses. I had to bail out with a draw after 42.Rxg7 Qxf3+ (42…Qxg7? 43.Bxe5) 43.Kh2 Qe2+ 44.Kh3 Qh5+ 45.Kg2 Qf3+ 46.Kh2. I felt obliged to win, and grossly overestimated my chances.

42…h5 43. Qd7 Qg5 44. a4 bxa3 45. bxa3 h4 46. Qh3 Qxg3+

I was so fixated with counterpinning the pawn on h4 that I overlooked the Queen on g5 could take the Bishop too!

47. Qxg3 hxg3 48. Kxg3 Kh7 49. a4 Ra8 50. Ra3 Bf8 51. Ra2 Bd6 52. Kf2 Kg7 53. Ke2 Kf6 54. Kd3 Ra5 55. Kc4 Rc5+ 56. Kb3 Ra5 57. Rg2 Ra6 58. Ra2 Bc5 59. Kc4 Bd4 60. a5

Otherwise Black simply brings up his King with an easy win.

60…Bb6! 0-1

White’s pawns are wiped out after 61.Kb5 Rxa5+ 62.Ra5 Bxa5 63.Kxa5 Kg5.

I was really annoyed, so I bundled up and charged out in 2 degree Fahrenheit weather to cool off, and also to see the Kremlin’s main tourist attractions: The Church of the Assumption, The State Armory, and The State Diamond Fund, at 300, 350, and 500 rubles respectively.

All were very impressive, but I have no interior pictures to share because photography was not allowed inside. On the outside, my hands became really cold because I kept taking off my gloves to take pictures, and the Russian coming out of my mouth was garbled because my face was so numb. My state of annoyance subsiding 5 hours later, I returned to the hotel. At the hotel cafe I had a cup of coffee, where I sat next to Mark Dvoretsky and Artur Yusupov. I saw Dvoretsky often the next couple of days talking to his students.

Because I had changed rooms, I had to register all over again. I picked up my new registration form before going back to my room. The bitter cold left me especially tired; when I closed on eyes on the bed for what I thought a few minutes, I opened them 3 hours later. Then I really went to sleep.


I was woken up at 2:00 AM by fireworks going off at Izmailovsky park, then drifted off to sleep again. This night I dreamed that the elevator was broken, and the stairs down to the street were covered in loose change. Each time I bent down to pick up a coin, all the change disappeared.

I was beginning to feel my rating. I got my Queen trapped by my Russian opponent on move 17, and had to resign 10 moves later. Save for one mistake, my Queen was never in any real danger! I remember “feeling” that it was well placed on h4 (an intuition backed up by Rybka), but didn’t back up my idea with hard calculation.

Artem Benza (2333) - Alex Cherniack (2277)

1. e4 e6 2. Nf3 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. e5 Ne4 5. Ne2 Ng5 6. Nxg5 Qxg5 7. d4 Qh4

Despite the result, I don’t think this move is so bad - it hits the center laterally, and inhibits White from playing f4. Other games have continued 7…Qd8 or 7…Qe7.

8. Be3 c5 9. c3 Nc6 10. a3 Bd7 11. b4 cxd4 12. cxd4 a5 13. b5 Ne7 14. Ng3 f6 15. exf6 gxf6!?

Provocative but still playable. 15…Qxf6 16.Nh5 Qf7 17.Bd3 Ng6, followed by Bd6 and 0-0 is also good for Black.

16. Nh5


This move though is a real turkey. After 16…Kd8, 17.Bf4 fails to 17…Be8. If Black wants to be adventurous, I can even play 16…Kf7 17.Bf4 Rg8 18.h3 Rg5.

17. Bf4!

Of course. I had only seen 17.g3 Nxe3 18.gxh4 Nxd1 19.Nxf6+ Ke7 20.Nxd7 Kxd7 21.Kxd1 Bg7 regaining the pawn. The rest is carnage.

17…Nxd4 18. g3 Nc2+ 19. Kd2 Qxf4+ 20. gxf4 Nxa1 21. Nxf6+ Ke7 22. Nxd7 Kxd7 23. Qxa1 Rg8 24. Bh3 Bg7 25. Qe1 Rge8 26. Qe3 Rac8 27. Rc1 1-0

I lost my elevator pass the day before, and had to get a new one. It was amazing how many documents were necessary to keep on my person and locate at a moment's notice. At home all I really need is a driver’s license – here I had to have a passport, departure slip, registration form, elevator pass, hotel room key, and subway card to truly get around. The manager on duty had to record the transaction of giving me a new elevator pass in two different ledgers. As I was walking away, I noticed that it had the wrong room number. So he had to white-out and mark the correction in each of the two ledgers.

It was only when I left the manager’s office that it hit me that I had spoken nothing but Russian to the hotel staff to receive the new pass, and the staff understood me just fine.

I needed to do laundry soon, and studied the prices at the hotel laundrymat. They wanted 400 rubles to clean a pair of jeans, and 110 rubles for each pair of underwear… yup, I was glad I had brought the Woolite.

That afternoon I went to the Treyakov art gallery, the largest collection of Russian art in the world. After exiting the metro station, I saw a line outside of a building and immediately jumped onto the end of it. Within a minute 10 people were in back of me. When the line snaked close enough to the building, I knew that I had made the right choice.

Entering the gallery was aggravating. This being the weekend, there were already so many people inside that no one could enter until someone else left. Photography wasn't allowed inside. I had to wear slippers. I couldn't check my knapsack at the coat check, and was directed to the baggage check. The guy at the baggage check was on a 15 minute break. I had to show my ticket to the coat check woman, the baggage check guy, the guard at the entrance of the stairway to the exhibit, and finally to the woman at the top of the stairs who ripped my ticket.

Once in, however, I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibits. I saw portraits of Russian artists who have been on the covers of books and albums I have read and listened to for years: Pushkin (artist - Orest Kiprensky), Tolstoi (Ivan Kramskoy), Dostoevsky (V.G. Perov), and Mussorsky (Ilya Repin, whose unforgettable painting Ivan The Terrible and His Son Ivan on 16 November, 1581 was also there - whenever I'm in danger of truly blowing my stack, I think of Ivan The Terrible's look of horrified remorse in his eyes). The gallery also had a half dozen works from my favorite maritime painter Aivazovsky, and Trinity, a classic icon by Andrey Rublev.

When I returned to the hotel I decided that my New Balance cross-trainer sneakers with the azure blue shoelaces were what was giving me away as a rube foreigner:

So I chose to wear only my understated black New Balance postman shoes on the street for the remainder of my stay. Now the only non-verbal cue that gave me away was the Moscow guide book my sister gave me for Christmas.


I tried to get a good night’s sleep the night before, but the boxing match between Sergei Lyakovich and the gigantic Nikolai Valyuev appeared on TV at 11:30 PM, and after a few rounds I felt obliged to watch the fight to the end (Valyuev won by unanimous decision). So my dreams were still in the twilight zone. I saw an abusive schoolteacher beating up a third grader – I was about to give her a piece of my mind when the alarm clock went off. Later that day I saw Valyuev on a subway poster dressed as a Roman centurion endorsing Olympia vodka.

My opponent this round was Sergei Yuferov, a Russian IM whose games date back to the mid 1960’s. Against 1.d4 he played the King’s Indian Defence, the Grunfeld, the Nimzo Indian, and the Slav. It was impossible to prepare in depth against him, so I basically played through the main variations of my prepared lines against those openings, and was ready for anything.

Alex Cherniack (2277) - Sergei Yuferov (2390)

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 d6 3. Nf3 g6 4. g3 Bg7 5. Bg2 O-O

Yuferov was the only opponent at the Aeroflot tournament to take me out of book. My preparation at home only covered 5...Bf5.

6. O-O Nc6 7. Nc3 Rb8 8. b3 a6 9. Bb2 b5 10. Ne1 Bd7 11. cxb5 axb5 12. Nc2 b4 13. Nd5 Nxd5 14. Bxd5 Na5 15. Qd2 c5 16. Ne3 e6 17. Bg2?!

With 20-20 hindsight I should have played 17.Bf3. At the board I didn’t like the idea of the Knight on a5 coming back to c6 and hitting it from the d4 square. Concretely though, I could have always played 18.Nc4 and 19.e3.


Logical and strong. Black threatens a pawn with 18…cxd4 19.Bxd4 Bxd4 20.Qxd4 Bxe2, and also a durable positional advantage with 18…c4. After a long think, I chose what I hoped was the lesser of all evils.

18. d5 e5 19. Rac1 f5 20. Rc2 Qe7 21. Nc4 Nxc4 22. bxc4 Ba4 23. Rcc1 Ra8 24. Ra1 Ra7 25. a3 b3?!

This move leaves a static target on b3, and lets me back into the game. A better try for the advantage seems to be 25…bxa3 26.Rxa3 Rfa8 27.Rfa1 Bb3. My c4 pawn would have remained very weak.

26. e4 f4 27. f3 h5 28. Bh3 Bd7 29. Bxd7 Qxd7 30. Kg2 Bh6 31. Qc3 Qa4 32. Rfd1 Rb7 33. Rd3 Kh7 34. Rb1 Rfb8 35. Ra1 Bg5 36. h4

The position on the board is roughly equal, but not the situation on the clocks. Faced with an unfamiliar opening I ate up a lot of time, and had at this point 10 minutes left to Yuferov’s 50. I avoided blitz chess when preparing for this tournament, a decision I regret because I screwed up 3 good positions in my games when my clock fell below 5 minutes. With these time controls, it’s hard to tell which speed is best to use for training: slow for the opening/middlegames and fast for the endgames?

36…Bh6 37. g4 hxg4

Otherwise the position becomes totally locked up, and a draw is inevitable.

38. fxg4 Qd7 39. Kf3 Bf8 40. Rd2 Be7 41. Rh2 Bd8 42. Rg1 Kg7 43. Qc1 Ba5 44. Ke2 Rf8 45. Rh3 Qd8 46. Rgh1 Qc8 47. Kf3

I wanted to transfer the King to d3 and plant the Queen on f3, but I really didn’t like 47.Qg2 f3 48.Rxf3 Rxf3 49.Qxf3 Rf7 and 50…Rf4.

47…Rh8 48. R1h2 Kg8 49. Qg1 Bd8 50. Qg2 Rbh7


At this point I had 3 minutes left, with 30 second increments, for the rest of the game - my opponent still had over half an hour. Objectively I should have played 51.Qf2 and made fast waiting moves until Black tried something aggressive, but the same Charge of the Light Brigade madness from my last game spilled over into this one. This is not the sort of position to "wing it" in time pressure!

51..Qa6 52. Qg4

It’s too late for 52.Qe2 Bxg5.

52…Re7 53. h5

Like lemmings over a cliff.

53…Qxc4 54. hxg6

As far as I could see, Black only had checks on d3, e3, and c2, and would be forced to give perpetual check. Unfortunately, I had forgotten that 48.R1h2 had left the back rank unprotected…


…and we’re done here.


Three goddamn losses in a row. These are the times when a chessplayer screams silently: IS THERE ANYTHING I DO WELL?!

It was Monday, and all the museums were closed. Despite a blizzard outside, I stomped through a literary walking tour recommended by my guide book. It took me past statues and residences of Gogol, Gorky, Yesenin, Chekhov, Pushkin, Mayakovsky, and Bulgakov. I got a huge kick out of visiting Patriarch Pond, the setting of the first chapter of Bulgakov’s classic novel The Master And Margarita.

I know this chapter especially well, because for many years I have tried in fits and starts to read the novel in Russian, and must have tackled understanding the beginning at least 5 times. The scene at Patriarch Pond is actually quite lucid compared to the rest of the novel; the Devil appears as Woland the magician in 1930s Moscow by a bench at the pond, and talks with two characters, Berlioz and Ivan Bezdomniy. After talking to Woland, Berlioz is run over by a trolleybus (and then, I think, wakes up in Yalta, and is eventually executed by the Devil in a netherworld festival in the last third of the book), while Ivan Bezdomniy ends up being thrown into an insane asylum. Then the plot really becomes weird.

Back at the hotel the transplanted ChessBase on my laptop started whining that the serial number wasn’t valid, a problem that only became worse the next couple of days.

(To be continued)

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