Aeroflot is the strongest open chess tournament in the world. This year’s edition is the 10th. The four main features of the festival are:
A group (players over 2550 with a few exceptions – female stars, prodigies, etc.)
B group – strong players rated between 2300 and 2550
C group – amateurs below 2300
World Blitz Championship Qualification – a nine double-round event featuring some of the world’s finest blitz players wishing to qualify for the Final and win prizes (€10,000 for 1st)
The winner of the main event gets €20,000 and the coveted invitation to the Dortmund super-tournament. As it is quite hard to obtain the lucky ticket to such an elite event, many top pros are willing to take a chance. Among the 86 players of the A group, there are two ex-FIDE World Champions (Kasimzhanov and Khalifman), an ex-Women’s FIDE World Champion (Kosteniuk), five 2700+ grandmasters (Kamsky, Movsesian, Jakovenko, Vachier-Lagrave, Vitiugov) and over 40 (!) 2600+ players. The defending champion, Le Quang Liem (2664), is also taking part and leading the tournament so far.
Playing hall (photo by Anna Burtasova)
GM Ivan Salgado (Spain) preparing hard to play against Alexandra Kosteniuk (photo by Anna Burtasova)
A focused Ivan Cheparinov (2665), both a strong GM and Topalov's second (photo by Sergey Sorokhtin)
Alexander Khalifman believes chess is a draw, and is the only player who drew all his six games so far (photo by Sergey Sorokhtin)
The fragile Nazi Paikidze (2455) may not be a rating favorite, but male spectators still approach her board quite often (photo by Sergey Sorokhtin)
For a number of reasons, so far I haven’t been doing well at the tournament. However, even playing at the low, relatively unprestigious boards, I had good company around me: GM Daniele Vocaturo (who has just won Tata Steel C, and is in clear last at Aeroflot so far); ex-Women’s World Champion Alexandra Kosteniuk, Norwegian prodigy and Chess.com’s member GM Jon Ludvig Hammer (2647) and other well-known and strong grandmasters.
Mikhail Kobalia (2666) analyzing his game vs Evgeny Tomashevsky (2695). Yan Nepomniatchi (2733) and IM Mikhail Nedochetov as kibitzers (photo by Sergey Sorokhtin)
Rating favorite Gata Kamsky (2730) got himself a special "Soviet army" haircut (photo by Anna Burtasova)
Daniel Vocaturo (2570) with 0.5/6 is hiding his sorrows under the cap (photo by Anna Burtasova)
The atmosphere at the event is warm and friendly. Most participants stay at the hotel in the same building as the playing venue and get to socialize with each other. Unfortunately, there is no commentary or press room, and relatively few spectators. Just the playing hall, analysis room, and a few stands with chess goods. Nonetheless, one can often meet interesting visitors whose names should be recognized by all chess fans – Mark Dvoretsky, Artur Jussupow, Igor Glek, Ruslan Ponomariov, Sergei Karjakin, Yan Nepomniatchi, etc. Even at one of the local supermarkets you can still see familiar faces. When trying to buy a few special lime drinks there today, I met a cheerful Wesley So, who decided to quit the tournament after drawing five games and losing one against lower-rated opponents.
Now let’s take a funny and extremely instructive challenge. Imagine yourself in the crowded hall of Aeroflot, while all the exciting matches are happening before your eyes. You have the chance to come up with the correct solutions faster than the grandmasters themselves. Here are a few interesting picks:
Korobov, Anton (2670) vs. Vocaturo, Daniele (2570)
Aeroflot Open 2011 A | Moscow | Round 1| 8 Feb 2011 | ECO: E20 | 1-0