Saturday, March 01, 2008

Aeroflot Open (Part 3 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.


Now I was pissed! I blew a winning advantage, then kept trying to win a drawn position and lost that as well. I was over-tilting in trying come back from 3 losses in a row. To paraphrase Ben Franklin, those who sacrifice objectivity for points deserve neither.

Nasir Ahmed (2379) - Alex Cherniack (2277)

1. e4 e6 2. Qe2

My opponent was from Bangladesh, and his games dated back to 1980. He played offbeat opening lines with both 1.d4 and 1.e4, so there wasn’t much focused preparation I could do.


In my opinion, this is the easiest way to play against Chigorin’s move. Black takes two moves to play his pawn to e5, but now the Queen just looks silly on e2.

3. Nf3 Nc6 4. c3 Be7 5. g3 d6 6. Bg2 f5 7. d3 Nf6 8. Nh4 fxe4 9. dxe4 Be6 10. Nf5 O-O 11. O-O Qd7 12. Nxe7+ Nxe7 13. Nd2 Bh3 14. Nc4 Bxg2 15. Kxg2 Qc6 16. f3 Qa6 17. Rf2 h6

Black has equalized without difficulty.

18. Be3 b6 19. a4 Rf7 20. a5 Raf8 21. Nd2 Qb7 22. a6 Qa8

Black wants to play 23…d5 24.ed Nexd5, threatening 25...Ng4.

23. c4 c6 24. Rff1 d5 25. c5

I was expecting 25.cxd5 cxd5 26.exd5, where I planned to play 26...Nfxd5 27.Ne4 Nf5. White's continuation bypasses Black's center in the hope of using his advanced pawns on the Queenside.

25…b5 26. Bg1 Qb8

Covering the b5 and e5 pawns.

27. b4 Nd7 28. Ra5 Nf6 29. Ra3 Ng6 30. h3 h5?!

This was the only way I could find to break into White’s position, although 30…d4 31.h4 Nh5 32.Kh2 Qc8 looks more promising.

31. h4 Rd8 32. Be3 Nf8 33. Bg5 Ne6 34. exd5 Nd4 35. Qd3 cxd5 36. Ra5 Qc8

37. f4?!

This boomerangs on White. Better was 37.Nb3 Nxb3 38.Qxb3 with a double-edged game.

37…Nc6 38. fxe5 Nxe5 39. Qf5?

39.Qxb5 d4 is dangerous for White, but necessary.

39… Qxf5 40. Rxf5 Nc6! 41. Ra1

41.Rxb5? Nd4 forks the Rooks.

41…Re8 42. Nf3 Re2+ 43. Kf1


43…Rc2! 44. Rb1 Rc4 was a game-ender. Time pressure was rearing its ugly head, mocking my technique.

44. Rd1! Rxb4

44…Nb4 45.Nd4 is good for White.

45. Bxf6 Rxf6 46. Rxf6 gxf6 47. Rxd5 Rc4 48. Nd2!

I could only see within 30 second increments 48.Rxh5 b4. I was getting that terrible sinking feeling again.

48… Rc1+ 49. Ke2 b4 50. Rxh5 Ne5?

This doesn’t cut off the Rook at all. I still had a small advantage after 50…Ra1.

51. Rf5 Kg7 52. Rf4 Nc6 53. Rc4 Ra1 54. Nb3 Rxa6 55. Nd4 Ra2+?

This loses. Here I should have bailed out into a probable draw with 55…Nxd4+ 56.Rxd4 Rc6 57.Rxb4 Rxc5 58.Rb7+ Kg6 59.Rxa7 Kg6 60.Rc7 Rg3. But I had lost my objectivity in this game many moves ago.

56. Ke3 Nxd4 57. Kxd4 Rd2+ 58. Ke3

I honestly thought White had to play 58.Ke4, when I had time for 58…a5.

58…Rd7 59. Rxb4 Kg6 60. c6 Rc7 61. Rc4 Kf5 62. Kd4 Ke6 63. Kc5 f5 64. Rc3 1-0

I went back to my room in a foul mood, which became fouler still when ChessBase shut down in the middle of trying to input the above game (I had to restart ChessBase to finish mousing it in). Then I couldn’t find my thumb drive to back up the entered game; after 20 twenty futile minutes of searching I went out, and was delayed by some jackass who pressed all the floor buttons in the elevator.

I remember what Lazlo Nagy, the organizer of the First Saturday tournaments, said when I played in his IM section in 2005: if you’re not playing well, don’t be a baby and drop out. Well, I wasn’t going to win the section, win any cash, or even finish with a 50% score. I did though want to finish with more than 2 points, even if that meant one more lousy draw.

To take my mind off this train wreck of a tournament, I went to the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts. I went there on a weekday afternoon, so it wasn’t nearly as crowded as the Treyakov art gallery. The official address of the museum is 12 Volkhonka Ulitsa, but actually the contents are in 2 separate buildings.

Building 12 holds the old masters. To get past the construction to the exhibit halls, I had to enter via “Service Entrance No. 5” off a side street. The cashier’s office from there was not marked, and was a flight up on the right hand side of the stairs. And once inside the exhibit, the halls were numbered although not in chronological order. The contents, however, are well worth seeing: excellently preserved Egyptian mummies, and a striking collection of paintings from Botticelli, Greco, Rubens, and Rembrandt.

Building 14/1 holds the impressionists. Here was an even more amazing exhibit of works from Goya, Courbet, Degas, Manet, Toulouse-Latrec, Monet, Rodin, Pissarro, Renoir, Van Gogh (they had his famous 1890 painting The Prison Courtyard , which reminds me of break times at work), Munch, Cezanne, Gauguin, Matisse, Picasso, Kandinsky, and Chagall. As a bonus, housed here were a few pictures of an Alaskan painter I love, Rockwell Kent.

Back at the hotel, I discovered that my round 8 opponent was Tigran Gasparian from Armenia. Finally, I was paired down again! I also found the thumb drive wedged under the TV stand. ChessBase on the laptop was beginning to shut down after every 45 seconds; through multiple restarts, I was able to determine that my opponent liked the QGD 3…Be7 and 3…c6 variations against 1.d4.


I was beginning to feel what an American soccer team must feel when they played in the World Cup. This tournament was turning out to be what the coach on the team would call a rebuilding year. (Or, in Adrian Casillas's immortal words, "When chess is bad, it's BAD.")

Alex Cherniack (2277) - Tigran Gasparian (2255)

1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 c6 4. e4 dxe4 5. Nxe4 Bb4+ 6. Bd2 Qxd4 7. Bxb4 Qxe4+ 8. Be2

This variation has a ridiculous amount of choices for Black, and much theory is embedded within each choice. I went over all the moves from my preparation the previous night, but very little stuck beyond move 15.

8...Nd7 9. Bd6 Ne7 10. Nf3

Possible was 10.Bxe7 Kxe7 11.0-0, but I didn't want to waste moves.

10…Nf5 11. h4 Nxd6 12. Qxd6 Qf5 13. h5 Qc5 14. Qd2 O-O

15. Qc3

Worse is 15.h6 g6 16.Qc3 f6 followed by 17…e5, and Black has an impregnable wall of pawns. Instead I develop my Rook on h1 in an unorthodox way.

15…h6 16. Rh4 e5 17. Re4 f5 18. Re3 e4 19. Nh4 Nf6

White has good compensation for the pawn after 19…Ne5 20.f4 exf3 21.gxf3.

20. Ng6 Rd8 21. Nf4 a5 22. a3 a4 23. Rc1 b6

23…Qa5 24.c5 Qxc3+ 25.Rexc3 Nd5 26.Nxd5 cxd5 27.c6 gives White counterplay.

24. Qc2 Ra7 25. Rd1 Rxd1+ 26. Qxd1 Qa5+ 27. Rc3 Rd7 28. Qc1 Rd4

28…e3 doesn’t work because of 29.Qxe3 Ne4 30.Ng6 Nxc3? 31.Qe8+ and mate next move.

29. Qe3 c5 30. Qg3 Qa7

31. Ng6 Be6 32. Qe5 Qd7 33. Qb8+ Qd8 34. Qa7 Bf7?

I was very worried about 34…Rd2. After 35.Rg3 Rxb2 White has no time for threats on g7 because of 36...Qd2+.

35. Ne5 Qe8

35…Bxh5? 36.Bxh5 Nxh5 37.Qf7+ Kh8 38.Qxh5 covers the d1 square.

36. Nxf7 Qxf7 37. Qxb6

White is better here but, once again, my technique deserted me.

37…Qe7 38. Qb8+?

Stronger was 38.Qc6. The threat of 38…f4 39.Qxa4 f3 40.gxf3 exf3 41.Rxf3 was not dangerous, but try telling yourself that when you have less than 10 minutes on the clock!

38… Rd8 39. Qf4 Qb7 40. Rc2 e3 41. f3 Qb3 42. Rc3?

Seeing phantoms. 42.Qxf5 Qa2 43.Qe6+ and 44.Qxe3 holds everything together.

42…Qxb2 43. Rxe3 Qc1+ 44. Kf2 Qc2 45. Qc7 Rf8 46. Qxc5 Nxh5 47. Qd5+ Kh8 48. Qd1?

After 48.Qd3 Qb2 49.c5 Nf4 50.Qc4 White is fine.

48…Qb2 49. Qxa4 f4 50. Rd3?

This finally loses. What was wrong with 50.Re8?!

50… Ng3 51. Qd1 Re8 52. Rd8 Qb6+ 0-1

I had yet another advantage, again made several consecutive inaccurate moves, still couldn’t keep an even keel for a draw, and dropped my fifth game in a row. I don’t mind being beaten by a much stronger player – that’s life - but I do hate beating myself. My opponent was nice and offered to go over the game with me, but all the skittles tables were occupied. I wished him bcevo dobrovo, shook hands with him, and went out to see the VDNH (All-Union Exhibition of National Economy Achievements, today called the All-Russian Exhibition Center).

The VDNH is a park devoted to the accomplishments of the USSR, and time has passed it by; half the pavilions were closed, and the other half were filled with shops to pay the rent. The buildings were still magnificent in their enormity, even if they were crumbling. I wanted to see the Space Museum before it closed at 6:00 PM, so I noted the entrance by the 400 foot tall obelisk with a rocket on the top, and walked on to see half the exhibition halls next to the main entrance. I raced back to the Space Museum at 4:00, only to discover that it had been closed for repairs. So I hiked back to where I was before and saw the remainder of the pavilions.

Walking around, I felt a strange sense of loss and nostalgia. The people in the USSR I had visited 20 years ago loved meeting Americans, even if I was only a means to an end in receiving goods and ideas that they couldn’t find at home. Now that Russians can buy the same things in Moscow that they can in the West, Americans are no longer special, and the only thing we seem to be good for these days is practice for their English.

Back at the hotel I found that my round 9 (and mercifully, last) opponent in the tournament would be Jorge Biblioni from Argentina. Amidst the multiple restarts of ChessBase on my laptop I discovered that he liked playing the Exchange Variation against the French. Ironically, this game was going to be played on board 64.


It felt good to end the tournament on a high note. I really didn’t want to finish with a loss, so in an equal position I offered a draw to my opponent on move 35. He declined, and then offered me a draw on move 44. Unfortunately for him, the move with which he made his draw offer lost the game.

Jorge Biblioni (2180) - Alex Cherniack (2277)

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. exd5 exd5 4. Nf3 Bd6 5. c4 dxc4 6. Bxc4 Nf6 7. O-O O-O 8.h3 Nbd7 9. Nc3 c6 10. Bg5 h6 11. Be3?!

Maintaining the pin with 11.Bh4 was stronger.

11…Nb6 12. Bb3 Re8 13. Qd3 Be6

Black has fully equalized.

14. Na4 Nxa4 15. Bxa4 Qa5 16. Bb3 Bxb3 17. Qxb3 Re7 18. Rfe1 Rae8 19. Bd2 Qd5 20. Rxe7 Rxe7 21. Qxd5 Nxd5 22. Re1 f6 23. Rxe7 Nxe7 24. Kf1 Kf7 25. Ke2 Ke6 26. a3 Kd5

Black has a small edge here, but not much more.

27.Kd3 g5 28. Ne1 f5 29. g4 Ke6 30. f3 Nd5 31. Ng2 Bg3 32. Ne3 Ne7

For my purposes, best was 32…Nxe3 and 33…Bd6 with a certain draw.

33. Bb4 fxg4 34. hxg4 Bd6 35. Ba5

Better for White was 35.Bxd6 Kxd6 36.Ke4, but Black should hold after 36…Ke6.


I offered a draw here.

36. Nxd5 Kxd5 37. Bd8 Bf8 38. Bf6 b5 39. Bh8 a5 40.Bf6 a4 41. Bh8

If the King goes too far away Black has the nasty shot 41…Bxa3! 42.bxa3 b4!.

41…Bd6 42. Bg7 Bf4 43. Bxh6 Bc1

44. Kc2?

White offered a draw in this position, but, unluckily, this move loses. After 44.Kc3 Be3 45.Bg7 Bf4, neither side can make progress, and a draw would have been the logical result.

44…Be3 45. Kd3 Bxd4 46. Bxg5 Bxb2 47. Be7 c5 48. g5 Bxa3

Threatening 48…c4+.

49. Bf6 c4+ 50. Kc2 Ke6 51. Bc3 Kf5

Black can stop White’s pawns, but White cannot stop Black’s.

52. Bd2 Bf8 53.Kc3 a3 54. Kc2 b4 55. Bc1 b3+ 56. Kc3 Bg7+ 0-1

I had almost forgotten how to win a chess game. After the consecutive losses it was hard for me to reestablish equilibrium with draws, because the opening repertoire I painstaking prepared for this tournament did not lend itself for drawish situations. And of course I was so anxious to right a negative balance with a point in the opposite column that I just dug myself a deeper and deeper hole.

That did it for the chess. The A1 and A2 sections had their final rounds the following day, and the closing ceremony wouldn’t take place until tomorrow at 6:30 PM. The weather being nice, I decided to see Kolomskoye, an ancient country estate of the tsars.

Kolomskoye was beautiful in the winter, the Church of Our Lady Kazan and the Church of the Ascension being especially pretty in the snow.

This place also had a log cabin that Peter The Great lived in for two years while supervising the construction of the Russian navy.


Before the closing ceremony that night, I went off to see Kuskovo, the last of my guide book’s must-see Moscow recommendations. Kuskovo was the country estate of the Sheremetevs, one of the wealthiest aristocratic families in Russia.

To say reaching Kuskovo was a hassle would be an understatement. The guide book said the metro stop was Riazansky Prospect, but when I got off the train I didn’t see any signs for Kuskovo. The book also mentioned Vykhino one stop down the line as a metro station, so I hopped back on the train for one more stop, but I didn’t see any sign there either. Vykhino was a terminal point for the metro line, yet I had to exit the station and pay for another ticket in order to ride back to Rianzansky Prospect.

Then I looked at the guide book more closely, which said I had to take a bus ride as well.

At the Riazansky Prospect metro station I asked a lady where the busses were, and she pointed the way. I found the bus line mentioned in the book and a bus came immediately, but I didn't have time to buy a ticket and had to let the bus pass, and looking at the schedule found that it wouldn’t come back for 30 minutes. I ran into the lady again from the metro station and asked her where I could buy bus tickets. She didn’t know exactly, but thought that it might be across the street. I thanked her and found bus tickets at an unmarked newspaper stand across the street, then walked back and waited 25 minutes for the next bus to arrive. Just before it was scheduled to arrive, I asked a man if this bus was heading towards Kuskovo; he said that I had the right bus line, but had the wrong direction.

So I went back across the street, but couldn't find the bus listed on any of the posted schedules, and had to ask two people if I was in the right place. One didn't know, and the other gestured down the street as she ran to meet her arriving bus. After 5 more frustrating minutes, my bus did arrive but its stop was 600 feet down the road, and I had to run fast to catch it. After 10 minutes of anxiously looking out the window both ways (the guide book unhelpfully said it was a “short bus ride”), I saw Kuskovo out of the corner of my eye, pressed the stop request in the nick of time, and was finally there.

As Jack Paar once said, life is an obstacle course, with myself as the main obstacle.

I hate buses! Conceptually they are not as cut, dried, and encased as the metro is. The chessplayer in me can’t make a mental fix on the files, rows, and diagonals of a bus route. With a metro station, I can always extrapolate directions from its location on a map (like a square on a chessboard). But when I’m riding on a bus route for the first time, the stops are spread out over a dozen places on the street, and I have to deal with bends around the road and traffic lights. They also give me motion sickness whenever I try to read.

At Kuskovo they wanted 900 rubles for me to see all the exhibits – I handed over a 1000 ruble note. Then the cashier noticed the camera hanging around my neck, and said photography privileges cost an additional 100 rubles. Before I could enter, the guard had to rip my photography permit card, and make some mystifying notation in a ledger. What is with the Russian obsession of ripping entrance tickets and receipts??

Kuskovo was worth all the aggravation, as it is very much like a Russian Versailles. Because of the winter weather its formal gardens weren't open, but they had a two story palace made of wood that was plastered and painted to resemble stone, an Orangery with a beautiful collection of ceramic exhibits, and a “Grotto” pavilion, which inside looks like a gigantic collage covered with shells, porcelain, sand, and stucco.

The closing ceremony had champagne, but no food. I had a nice talk with Jorge Biblioni, my opponent from Round 9, and we agreed to go out to dinner together.

We ate at the Ice House, a restaurant less than 200 feet away from the entrance to Delta hotel. Jorge was a great guy - he was going to visit St. Petersburg after the tournament for the next 5 days. He was a lawyer from Mar del Plata, and knew Bobby Fischer when he visited Argentina in the early 1970’s. He greatly admired Fischer’s chess skill, and much more forgiving of Fischer’s personality than I was. We also discussed the lives of professional chess players in the United States and Argentina, and what rates they charged for lessons (in Argentina, Bent Larsen by far charged the highest). The restaurant was deserted, and Jorge struck up a conversation with the owner. Over shots of walnut and cranberry liqueur we discussed Putin and the upcoming presidential elections, until both Jorge and I had to return to the hotel in order to pack.


My last nerve-wracking experience in Moscow was trying to find out where the bus for the airport left from the hotel. The organizers, true to form, had posted the bus numbers and their times of departure, but didn’t say which hotel they would be leaving from, the Delta or the Gamma. The people at both hotels’ service desks didn’t have a clue, and none of the other Americans were there (I met them later at the terminal having learned that they had taken taxis instead), which only added to my anxiety.

Eventually I guessed that the bus would be leaving from the same hotel it had the arrived, the Delta, and met a couple of German players outside the lobby who were trying to find the bus as well. A van pulled up without any signs on its windows, and we had to proactively ask if he was going to the airport. The driver gestured yes, and it was only when we were seated inside the van for 10 minutes did an organizer (the same one who met me at the airport) show up to cross my name off a list. Only then did I know I was going home.

Have I mentioned how much I hate buses?


Prepare hard, and arrive warmed up and ready to go, because the players here will light you up like a Christmas tree. In terms of real strength, add about 100 points to their FIDE ratings to get some idea how strong they’d be in the United States. Most of the organizers and players speak a little English, but a little Russian here goes a long way.

I’ve said it many times to many people, and I’ll say it again: every chessplayer who wants to improve should have his or her head smashed in every 18 months. Such tournaments always make me want to be a better chessplayer. I was OK in the openings, but was repeatedly outplayed in the middlegame. The only way for me to get better in this phase of the game is to practice more, I guess.

Also, try to keep a sense of humor if your results go really south, and explore as much as Moscow as you can. Despite the radical cultural differences, this city has stuff worth seeing that is in the same league as London, Paris, and Rome, and is much more difficult to visit affordably without a package such as Aeroflot’s. It’s a bracing alternative to the US Amateur Team Championships in Parsippany.

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