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    Entries in Levon Aronian (39)

    Saturday
    Apr122014

    Bundesliga Finale

    The latest Bundesliga season ended last weekend, with Baden-Baden winning for about the 30th time in a row. (Okay, it was only their ninth consecutive title. Other teams had better find rich benefactors if they hope to break this strangehold.) Levon Aronian was the special guest star helping push them over the edge to victory, scoring 2.5/3 over the final weekend to not only help them but himself as well as he aimed to recover from a poor finish at the Candidates.

    More about that here, but I'd like to focus on Anatoly Karpov's surprise appearance. He played a couple of games, drawing with the lower-rated Felix Graf before defeating the 2664-rated Maxim Rodshtein in his second game, and with the black pieces. You can replay those games here, and I would especially draw your attention to Graf's unusual drawing combination in the first game. Most sacrifices involve captures - think of bishop sacrifices on h6 and h7, for example - but sometimes a piece is moved to an empty square. It's even rarer to have the first sac accepted only to have a second empty-square sacrifice on the next move, but that's just what Graf did. There are probably other examples of this happening, but I'm unable to recall any offhand. If you can think of some other examples, please share them with us!

    Friday
    Mar212014

    Candidates 2014, Round 7: Anand and Aronian Lead At The Halfway Point After A Crazy Round

    The first cycle of the 2014 Candidates' tournament finished with a crazy and chaotic round that saw three decisive games, and it could easily have been four. In the end Viswanathan Anand and Levon Aronian were tied for first at +2*, half a point ahead of Vladimir Kramnik.

    Anand has led the entire tournament, by himself for most of it, and he probably would have kept that lead if he had played 20...Rxf2 against Peter Svidler. White's compensation looks pretty slim, so it looks like Anand has sunk into an overly safety-first mentality. If he fails to win the tournament, it will be unforced errors like this that will be to blame. After foregoing this great opportunity, Svidler was able to neutralize his minimal disadvantage and save the game.

    Meanwhile, Aronian took the opportunity to catch up to Anand at the halfway point, thanks to his convincing win over Sergei Karjakin, now the tournament tailender. Interestingly, both Aronian and Anand were Black in a 4.d3 Berlin, and in both games Black came out of the opening smelling like a rose. Karjakin played b4 on move 10, and then went for d4 some moves later. As a result, the c4 square was weakened, and Aronian managed to conquer that square and infiltrate the queenside in general. White's position got worse and worse, and a desperate counterattack ultimately led to an ending where Aronian was down the exchange but had too many pawns for White to cope with.

    (One nice quote about that game, from chess24's round report. It comes from Rustam Kasimdzhanov, a chess24 contributor, Karjakin's second and a great player in his own right - the winner of the FIDE knockout world championship in 2004. He writes this about Aronian's 47...Qc4, which was the only winning move: "Qc4!! I mean wow!! It's at times like this you recognise the greatest. I'd never pull it off, not after 5 hours of play. It was SUCH a difficult move. It just does not occur, not to mortals.")

    Kramnik bounced back from his painful loss against Topalov with a win over Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, but he was very lucky. He was doing well with White after a well-played opening, but not as well as he thought. As a result he overpressed, and was soon forced to head for an ending where he hoped his queenside passers would compensate for Black's extra piece. For a long time Mamedyarov played very well, but at just the moment when he could obtain a straightforwardly winning position he blundered - twice! Worst of all, he did so with loads of time on the clock. He missed a tactic, and while that can happen to anyone he would surely have spotted it if he had spent a bit more time. Instead, he went from winning to equal to dead lost, and the game ended just a few moves later. A real tragedy for Mamedyarov, who had worked his way back from -2 after the first three games and would have finished the first cycle at +1, half a point behind the leaders. Instead, he's now -1 and it's Kramnik who is nipping at the leaders' heels.

    Another player who came into the round with an equal score also fell back to -1: Veselin Topalov. His opening preparation against Dmitry Andreikin was very good, but as in the game with Svidler two rounds earlier he fell apart almost immediately after his preparation ended. Topalov was crushed, and I'm guessing that he forgot to make sarcastic comments about his opponent at today's press conference.

    There is no break between the two cycles, and round 8 starts tomorrow (or today, if you're across the pond) at the usual time, with the following pairings (player scores are in parentheses):

     

    • Kramnik (4) - Andreikin (3)
    • Svidler (3.5) - Karjakin (2.5)
    • Topalov (3) - Mamedyarov (3)
    • Aronian (4.5) - Anand (4.5)

     

    Aronian - Anand is clearly the game of the day, but it's also an important opportunity for Kramnik, playing the white pieces against one of the relative outsiders. Svidler too needs to regain the winning habit before the leaders break away for good, and White against the tailender is a good place to start.

    Meanwhile, here are the round 7 games, with my notes.

    * Remember last year: there are no real ties for first. In case of a tie, tournament victory is determined by tiebreaks rather than a playoff. As Anand defeated Aronian in round 1, he would qualify for the match with Magnus Carlsen if they alone finish tied for first and Aronian doesn't beat Anand in the second cycle.

    Monday
    Mar172014

    Candidates 2014, Round 4: Anand Leads Kramnik and Aronian By Half a Point

    Had Viswanathan Anand defeated Vladimir Kramnik in today's action he would have been at least a pretty decent favorite to win the Candidates' tournament, even at this early stage. That was never in much danger of happening, however. Kramnik had Black, yes, but he was prepared to the gills in a Vienna Variation Queen's Gambit and drew in 30 moves without ever leaving his prep. So Anand remained half a point in front of Kramnik.

    Anand could have been caught by Peter Svidler, had he managed to win with Black against Levon Aronian. After some long preparation in a Gruenfeld (nowadays that goes without saying) a position arose where Svidler was up a piece for a pawn, but Aronian had a mighty center and enduring play against Svidler's king. Svidler had the chance to steer the game to an easy draw, but with some justification and ambition he went for more. On this occasion, that hope went unrewarded. Aronian negotiated the complications better than his opponent, and when Black returned the piece the result was a terribly passive ending where Aronian would surely break through sooner or later. He did, and leapfrogged Svidler in the standings. Aronian is tied with Kramnik for second place, and they play in round 5.

    Veselin Topalov drew his fourth straight game, this time in an English against Sergey Karjakin. Neither player was ever close to getting an advantage, and the play remained pretty calm throughout.

    Finally, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov escaped the cellar by defeating Dmitry Andreikin and putting him there instead. Mamedyarov generally had the better of the play in an offbeat Chebanenko Slav, but only managed to win when Andreikin blundered with the unnatural 37...Kf7.

    The games, with my light comments, are here, and here are tomorrow's pairings, with player scores in parentheses:

     

    • Andreikin (1) - Anand (3)
    • Karjakin (1.5) - Mamedyarov (1.5)
    • Svidler (2) - Topalov (2)
    • Kramnik (2.5) - Aronian (2.5)

     

    Thursday
    Feb202014

    Interviews with Aronian & Nakamura

    Over on the ChessBase website.

    Wednesday
    Feb052014

    Carlsen Wins Zurich Chess Challenge; Caruana Second on Tiebreaks Ahead of Aronian

    Magnus Carlsen had a very bad time of things in the (quick) rapid games on Tuesday, and came close to losing his lead at the Zurich Chess Challenge. Close, but not close enough for Levon Aronian and Fabiano Caruana to catch him. All three players won their first game - Carlsen over Boris Gelfand, Aronian over Viswanathan Anand and Caruana over Hikaru Nakamura - and it looked like the deal was done. Carlsen enjoyed a two point lead over Aronian and a three point lead on Caruana, with just four games to go.

    But then it got interesting. Aronian outplayed Carlsen and won handily to close to within a point. Caruana only drew with Gelfand, so he only closed his gap to two and a half points. In round 3 Carlsen drew with Nakamura, and while Aronian remained a point behind after a draw with Gelfand, Caruana got another half a point closer by defeating Anand. (That was three losses in a row for Anand, incidentally.)

    Round 4 was the big chance. Caruana outplayed Carlsen, coming to within a single point of the leader. Had Aronian managed to defeat Nakamura, he would have caught Carlsen in first. Nakamura has been a regular "customer" of his for some time now, but not today. Nakamura won a good game, and so Aronian remained a point behind.

    Round 5 was a mere formality. Carlsen had White against Anand, and cynically (but understandably) repeated game 8 of their match pretty much move for move. The players conducted the whole game at blitz tempo, called it a draw, and Carlsen clinched. (I enjoyed Nakamura's disdainful expression as he looked up at the electronic display as this was going on.) Caruana and Aronian played a real game, which also ended in a draw, and thus they finished tied for second, a point behind Carlsen. (Caruana took second on tiebreak.) Here are the full final standings:

    1. Carlsen 10 (out of 15 - the classical games were scored double)

    2. Caruana 9

    3. Aronian 9

    4. Nakamura 7.5 (he finished the rapid with a very strong 3.5/4)

    5. Anand 5

    6. Gelfand 4.5

    Monday
    Jan272014

    Wijk aan Zee Concludes: Aronian Wins The Top Group; Saric The Challengers

    Some traveling and busyness made it hard to keep up this weekend, and this won't be much of a report either - at least not yet. I'll take a page out of other sites' practices and say "more later". What can and should be said now is that despite spoiling the tournament a bit by blundering and losing what had been a better position against the bottom seed Levon Aronian still won this year's main event (generally) in Wijk aan Zee with a very impressive 8-3 score. He had gained more than 20 rating points too - prior to the last round - and looks like he's in very good form heading into March's Candidates' tournament.*

    Anish Giri and Sergey Karjakin tied for second a point and a half behind, while third seed Fabiano Caruana could only muster a tie for 4th-6th places. Even more surprising is second seed Hikaru Nakamura's -1 score, not to mention Boris Gelfand's -2.

    In the Challengers' group Ivan Saric won with a dominating 10-3 score. Surprisingly and impressively, Jan Timman tied for second with Baadur Jobava with 8.5 points, and had he managed to put Jobava away in the antepenultimate round he would have taken clear second and perhaps threatened for first. Regardless of the counterfactuals, it was an excellent tournament for the 62-year-old Dutch legend.

    * Please, no comments listing previous Candidates' events where the top seed had won the last big tournament heading into the Candidates but failed to win it. I'm not claiming that Aronian is somehow guaranteed to win on account of this result, so "correction" is neither needed nor desired.

    Saturday
    Sep142013

    Sinquefield Cup, Round 5: Two Draws Leave Carlsen in Clear First Entering the Last Round

    The penultimate round of the Sinquefield Cup saw the players leave the round the way they started, relatively speaking, with Magnus Carlsen half a point ahead of Hikaru Nakamura, a point ahead of Levon Aronian, and two and a half points ahead of Gata Kamsky.

    Nakamura started the day winless against Carlsen in classical chess, but armed with the white pieces and his trusty sunglasses he hoped to win and thereby leapfrog his way into first place. It was not to be. He played the very safe 4.0-0 Nxe4 5.Re1 line against Carlsen's Berlin, and although the game started to get interesting thanks to Carlsen's later advance of the f-pawn both combatants played excellently and the game finished in a repetition.

    With a win against Kamsky Aronian could have caught Nakamura in second, half a point behind Carlsen, and that would have meant that his fate would be in his own hands for tomorrow's last round. (It isn't now, because even if he defeats Carlsen tomorrow Nakamura can win the tournament by defeating Kamsky.) Conditions looked good for that, as Aronian had won nicely yesterday and had the advantage of the white pieces against a desperately out of shape and discouraged opponent. Despite that, he didn't even come close to a victory. Kamsky played the Dutch, following Carlsen's lead in round 2 against Aronian, and although he didn't obtain quite as serious an edge as Carlsen did he still wound up with a good position. He also seemed to have a better feel for the play than Aronian did, but while it was enough to press it wasn't enough for a victory. (Games here, with my comments.)

    The games tomorrow start two hours early, at 11 a.m. local time (12 noon ET/6 p.m. CET), as they are alotting time for a playoff in case of a tie for first. It is possible; in fact, there could even be a three-way tie for first (or next-to-last place, if you prefer) if everything works "properly". Here are the pairings:

     

    • Carlsen (3.5) - Aronian (2.5)
    • Kamsky (1) - Nakamura (3)

     

    Saturday
    Sep142013

    Sinquefield Cup, Round 4: Nakamura Loses, Carlsen Wins and Leads

    It was quite a turnaround in round 4 of the Sinquefield Cup. Hikaru Nakamura had been the confident leader through the first three rounds, but that changed at the start of the second cycle. Ever combative, Nakamura played the King's Indian against Levon Aronian, who went for Makagonov's 5.h3. The position took on more of a Benoni-like character, and two moves were critical. First there was Nakamura's 10...h6, which created the preconditions for a weak kingside down the road. Second, there was his decision not to meet Aronian's 20.h4 with ...h5. After 20...Rc8? 21.h5 Nakamura was lost or nearly so, and while he managed to avoid a crushing attack by sacrificing a piece for two pawns, the resulting ending was probably technically lost, and Aronian managed to reel in the point.

    Meanwhile, Magnus Carlsen inflicted a bit more misery on Gata Kamsky, who now has just half a point out of four games. (That's half a point more than 99.9% of us would score, not that that's much consolation for him.) Kamsky appeared to be unfamiliar with Carlsen's 14...Ng4 in the line of the Exchange Ruy Lopez that transpired, and quickly found himself in a miserable bind. His decision to sac a pawn with 22.c3 was understandable but probably mistaken, but he did gain a second chance to hold later on. Carlsen seemed to be stuck between two approaches: going for a technical win, or attempting to finish the game off by more direct means. The result was that he threw away a large portion of his advantage, but once he decided to go for pure technique he managed to win the game again, and Kamsky didn't get a third chance. (Games here, with my comments.)

    The upshot is that Carlsen leads with 3/4, half a point ahead of Nakamura and a full point in front of Levon Aronian. Today - starting in about 30 minutes - Nakamura will have White against Carlsen, while Aronian will have White against Kamsky, so there's still plenty of time and opportunity for the places to shift at the top.

    Wednesday
    Sep112013

    Sinquefield Cup, Round 3: Two Draws and a Corey Hart Song

    Both games were drawn today in the Sinquefield Cup, keeping Hikaru Nakamura in solo first, half a point clear of Magnus Carlsen, a point and a half ahead of Levon Aronian and two full points ahead of Gata Kamsky.

    Starting with the less significant game for the standings, Gata Kamsky wanted to make a draw with White against Aronian, just to stop his skid and recover on the rest day. He ultimately got his wish, but Aronian obtained decent winning chances until he acceded to the trade of queens. In particular, ...Qf6 on moves 34 or 36 would have been very strong. If White met this the way he met ...Qg7, then Black has ...f4 and can recapture in case White takes the pawn, while on Qf4 there's ...Ne4+. Fortunately for the American, Aronian avoided it and Kamsky got on the scoreboard.

    The other American was less fortunate. Going into the game a draw would have seemed an excellent result for Nakamura with Black against Carlsen, but as things went it got a little dicey for the world's #1. Carlsen was forced to sac an exchange, and although he was never in desperate trouble Nakamura was always playing with the draw in hand, while the Norwegian was short of time, too. Unfortunately for Nakamura, Carlsen defended very well and got a well-earned draw. (Games here, but without notes.)

    Their game was interesting, but if anything is likely to be remembered from today's game it will be Nakamura's playing the game with sunglasses on. Why? Some saw this as harkening back to Pal Benko's decision to wear sunglasses in a famous game against Mikhail Tal in the 1959 Candidates' Tournament, to prevent Tal from "hypnotizing" him with his (in)famous stare. Benko had a horrible record against Tal, and Nakamura's record against Carlsen (in classical games) is pretty dreadful as well. To the extent that he had the better of the play today, it worked, though depending on how reflective the glasses were the stunt might have been a little un-kosher. Whatever the case, we'll award him the song of the day:

    Tuesday
    Sep102013

    Sinquefield Cup, Round 1: Carlsen and Nakamura Win

    In round 1 of the Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis, both players with the white pieces won their games, but in rather different ways. Hikaru Nakamura enjoyed some opening advantage against Levon Aronian before the latter managed to equalize, and the game was rapidly headed for a draw. Unfortunately for Aronian, he committed a pretty simple blunder with plenty of time on his clock (30...Qb5??), and that cost him the exchange and the game.

    The battle between Magnus Carlsen and Gata Kamsky was richer. After a rather unambitious opening and somewhat vague play in the early middlegame, Carlsen failed to enjoy any advantage; if anything, Kamsky was starting to feel his oats and went in search of an attack on the kingside. At this point Carlsen started playing very well, and his kingside jiu-jitsu led to a crushing counterattack. Kamsky opened the kingside, and the result was that Carlsen's heavy pieces soon surrounded the hapless black king.

    You can find the games here, with my notes. Round 2 starts in just under half an hour, with the pairings Aronian - Carlsen and Nakamura - Kamsky.