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    Entries in Levon Aronian (81)

    Friday
    Jun162017

    Norway Chess 2017, Round 9: Aronian Wins the Tournament

    It's shaping up to be a good year for Levon Aronian. First Wijk aan Zee, now Norway Chess! It looks like his slump is over, and he's once again going to be a contender for the world championship - as he should be. By holding a draw with Black against Wesley So he finished the tournament with an undefeated 6-3 score, with wins against the world's #1 and #2 players - Magnus Carlsen and Vladimir Kramnik, respectively - plus Sergey Karjakin, the "vice champion". (This is not to be confused with a champion of vice rather than virtue.) He also crushed the 2800 barrier after some time below that bar, and is now the world's #4, 1.3 points behind Wesley So.

    Hikaru Nakamura was the runner up - or rather, the co-runner-up. Had he defeated Fabiano Caruana today he could have caught Aronian (and rejoined the 2800 club). Another effect would have been Caruana's ouster from the same club, but it didn't happen. Caruana prepared a new idea with White against the Poisoned Pawn Variation in the Najdorf, and while the computer finds a variety of equalizers for Black, human beings finding them over the board is another matter entirely. Nakamura was unable to negotiate all the complications, and lost a game that was as good as over long before the clocks were stopped.

    Sharing second with Nakamura, with 5/9, was the up-and-down Vladimir Kramnik. For the fourth round in a row, White won, and since he had the white pieces this time it was good news for him. His victim was Anish Giri, who also enjoyed and suffered a roller coaster of a tournament. Kramnik played an extremely provocative version of the Colle (a statement that sounds as funny as "an exciting London System" used to, but the richness of the royal game never cease to amaze), and it worked better than Kramnik could have dreamed. Giri is always - or now we should say, almost always - extremely well-prepared, but having sown the wind he wasn't ready for the whirlwind, and lost in just 20 moves.

    The other two games were short but not perfunctory draws. Sergey Karjakin was in trouble on the white side of a Najdorf against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, and had MVL played 24...f5 followed by 25...e4 he would have been a favorite to win with his extra pawn. Instead, he blundered with 24...Rxd5, allowing Karjakin to bail out with a draw by repetition. The world champion, Magnus Carlsen, was also in trouble against his most recent predecessor, Viswanathan Anand. Had Anand played 23.e5 he would have had good winning chances. The opportunity was missed, and in the end it was Anand who was more forced to play for the draw than Carlsen.

    The games, with my annotations, can be replayed here. Here are the final standings:

    1. Aronian 6 (of 9)
    2-3. Nakamura, Kramnik 5
    4-6. Caruana, So, Giri 4.5
    7-9. Vachier-Lagrave, Anand, Carlsen 4
    10. Karjakin 3.5

     

    Wednesday
    Jun142017

    Norway Chess, Rounds 6 & 7: Aronian Surging Forward With a Bang, Carlsen Going Out With a Whimper

    Round 6 (on Monday) and round 7 (on Wednesday) were both exciting and eventful, and after a slow start the Norway Chess tournament has become very lively. There were two wins in round 6 and three in round 7, and it's nice to see that the decisive games have all been well-played by the winners.

    Hikaru Nakamura had been leading after round 5, but he was caught in round 6 by Levon Aronian, who promptly went by him with a second straight win in round 7. In round 6 Aronian beat Vladimir Kramnik pretty badly on the white side of a Semi-Tarrasch when the latter underestimated the danger to his queen on g4. That was a clean victory, slightly contrasted with his win over Sergey Karjakin in the next round. Aronian was never in danger, but his play was rather speculative. Karjakin got caught up in the speculative atmosphere, which proved unfortunate. In particular, 28.Rg6 only managed to get the rook in trouble, and in the lead up to the time control things went from bad to worse, and Aronian dispatched him most efficiently.

    Things are going even more poorly for Magnus Carlsen, who is tied for last place with 2.5 points out of 7. He lost in round 7 to Kramnik, who bounced back nicely from his loss to Aronian with a surprisingly easy win against the world champion. This put Kramnik back into second place on the rating list, and what's incredible is that he's only 6.4 points out of first. Carlsen has been #1 in the world on every list since July 2011 (and on most of the lists going back to January 2010), but he's just one more loss and one more Kramnik (or Wesley So, or maybe even Aronian win) from falling to #2. Back to the Kramnik-Carlsen game: Kramnik played sharply, but Carlsen was fine until his 25th move. After 25...Bxf2+ he would have been fine with correct play; after 25...Qxf2+, however, and his further error on move 27, he was simply lost, and Kramnik was up to the challenge.

    Kramnik is tied for third place with Anish Giri, with four points, half a point behind Nakamura and a full point behind Aronian. Giri played the Accelerated Dragon/Dragon hybrid against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in round 7, and while MVL is one of the best calculators in the world and a player who loves sharp, imbalanced positions this just wasn't his day. He neither took proper care of his king nor got his own attack off the ground fast enough, and lost a short, one-sided game.

    The last decisive game of rounds 6 and 7 came from round 6. Viswanathan Anand (the last person not named "Magnus Carlsen" to be classical world champion or rated #1 in the world [in classical chess]) repeated the same anti-English line he lost with against Giri in round 4, but this time he was fully successful with it against Fabiano Caruana. Caruana's queenside play got nowhere, while Anand successfully broke through on the kingside on the way to a queenside mating attack.

    The decisive games mentioned above can be replayed here, with my comments. Here's what's coming up in round 8:

     

    • Nakamura (4.5) - So (3.5)
    • Carlsen (2.5) - Karjakin (3)
    • Vachier-Lagrave (2.5) - Kramnik (4)
    • Aronian (5) - Anand (3)
    • Giri (4) - Caruana (3)

     

     

     

    Saturday
    Jun102017

    Norway Chess 2017, Round 4: Three Winners, and it Could Have Been Five

    Today's was the best round yet from an entertainment perspective, with three wins from five games. Hikaru Nakamura's win over Maxime Vachier-Lagrave makes him the clear leader with 3 out of 4, while Levon Aronian is the hero of the round after defeating Magnus Carlsen in a great game with sacrifices. Anish Giri also won, and quickly against Viswanathan Anand, while Wesley So and Fabiano Caruana should have defeated Sergey Karjakin and Vladimir Kramnik, respectively.

    Nakamura - Vachier-Lagrave was a Najdorf, and White went for one of the unusual sidelines that has cropped in recent years, playing 6.Bd3 e5 7.Nde2. While that's unusual, the race between White's queenside expansion and Black's counterplay on the kingside is one sort of typical Najdorf middlegame. On this occasion Black's kingside play wasn't dangerous - at least when one defends as accurately as Nakamura did in this game. (Your mileage may vary.)

    Aronian found an interesting new idea against the Semi-Slav in 10.Bc2, which is aimed against Black's ...e5-e4 ideas. After 24 minutes, Carlsen played 10...Rd8, and after spending 24 minutes on his next two moves, Aronian sacrificed the exchange and a pawn with 11.a3 Bxa3 12.Rxa3. After 12...Qxa3 13.c5 Black's queen is shut out of the game, both to its detriment and the rest of Black's army as well. This became evident when Aronian went for the Greek gift sacrifice 17.Bxh7+, resulting in a large advantage. Aronian's next dozen moves or so were the best ones, and while he made an inaccuracy on move 29 Black's position was extremely difficult to hold, and Carlsen failed to take advantage of his one chance.

    The first two games ended before the first time control, and so did Giri-Anand. Anand has reputedly had some difficulties against the English in recent years, and he had some troubles in this game as well. Giri was outplaying Anand in the middlegame and had a won position until he chose 29.g5 rather than 29.Rh5. The error was more than compensated by an even bigger mistake by Anand on move 31. The former champion had to play 31...Qxh4, giving up a piece but getting enough pawns and positional compensation to save the game. Instead, 31...Nc5 lost on the spot: 32.g6 Qd7 33.Bb4, and Black has no good defense against d4.

    As for the draws, So was crushing Karjakin until his careless 34.Qxc4??; instead, any move defending the rook (e.g. 34.Re2) would have won easily. The problem was that 34.Qxc4 allowed 34...Nf6, giving Black enough activity to survive. After this both sides played great chess, with So setting Karjakin a series of very difficult problems to solve, and Karjakin rose to the occasion every time. Caruana too was winning against Kramnik, and from early on. Kramnik's 15th and 16th moves were errors, but after that he went into Tal mode, blew a thick fog over the board, and Caruana couldn't manage to put him away.

    The games are here, with annotations to Aronian-Carlsen. Here's what's on tap for round 5:

    • Karjakin (2) - Caruana (2)
    • Anand (1) - So (2)
    • Carlsen (1.5) - Giri (2)
    • Vachier-Lagrave (1.5) - Aronian (2.5)
    • Kramnik (2.5) - Nakamura (3)

    Saturday
    Apr222017

    Grenke Finishes with Four Draws; Aronian Nearly Wins His Fifth Straight Game

    Although all the games were drawn, it was still a good, hard-fought final round. The game of the round was Fabiano Caruana's battle with Levon Aronian. Caruana tried a bit too hard to make something happen, and the result was that he lost a piece. Normally the mopping operation would have been a perfunctory task for Aronian, but the game kept going and going. Aronian spent almost no time on his clock and after the time control, had more time than he started with.

    This was somewhat foolhardy, however. Had he taken more time just before the time control - he had tons of time to think - he would avoided the crazy complications of 39...a2 40.Re8+ and played 39...Rxh7. Then he can play for the win without any risk, and ought to achieve it. After 42.Rg8 he finally realized that the position was a mess, and thought for 50 minutes or so. He was not happy, and also did not manage to find one of the winning lines (they were not obvious, to put it mildly). He managed to bail out to a slightly worse position, and fortunately for his sanity held the draw.

    Magnus Carlsen tried his best to convert a long-term initiative against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, but there was no way to do it, and they also drew a long game (though not as long as Caruana-Aronian). Carlsen and Caruana tied for second, a point and a half behind Aronian.

    Hou Yifan had the upper hand against Arkadij Naiditsch, and if she had won she'd have managed to tie for second with the Cars. Naiditsch escaped, and the two of them tied for 4th-6th place with MVL.

    Finally, tailenders Georg Meier and Matthias Bluebaum drew a short but interesting game to remain tied for last place.

    Final Standings:

     

    • 1. Aronian 5.5 (out of 7)
    • 2-3. Caruana, Carlsen 4
    • 4-6. Naiditsch, Hou, Vachier-Lagrave 3.5
    • 7-8. Bluebaum, Meier 2

     

     

    Friday
    Apr212017

    Aronian Wins Grenke With A Round to Spare

    Not a bad run at all for the great Armenian! Levon Aronian entered round 6 (of 7) with a full point lead over early leader Hou Yifan, world champion Magnus Carlsen, and world #4 Fabiano Caruana. Neither Car made it into fourth gear - the champ drew a sharp, well-played game with Arkadij Naiditsch while Caruana was unable to make more of his advantage against Matthias Bluebaum than the piece-up side of the drawn rook and knight vs. rook ending. As for Hou, she had the chance to be a hero. "All" she had to do was defeat Aronian with Black, and she'd be back in a tie for first.

    She played well through the opening and middlegame, keeping the position roughly balanced, but in the end Aronian's ongoing pressure with the bishop pair was too much. One concession at a time, Black's position grew worse and worse, and Hou gave up just after the time control.

    That was Aronian's fifth win in a row, and now that he leads by a point and a half with a round to go, he has clinched clear first. The battle for second is a live one though, with five players within half a point of each other. Here are the last round pairings:

    • Hou Yifan (3) - Arkadij Naiditsch (3)
    • Fabiano Caruana (3.5) - Levon Aronian (5)
    • Magnus Carlsen (3.5) - Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (3)
    • Georg Meier (1.5) - Matthias Bluebaum (1.5)

    Friday
    Apr212017

    Catching Up: Zurich, Grenke

    The Korchnoi memorial event in Zurich finished a few days ago, and Hikaru Nakamura won this combined rapid & rapid event. (The first stage was a slow rapid: 45' + 30", and the second was 10' + 5" - a rapid rapid.) The slower portion finished with Hikaru Nakamura and Ian Nepomniachtchi tied in first with 10/14 (5/7 in normal scoring, but as the slower games counted for twice as much as the blitz, the scoring was doubled), a point ahead of Viswanathan Anand and two points ahead of Vladimir Kramnik and Peter Svidler.

    At the shorter time control Nakamura again went 5/7, winning the second portion of the event outright and thereby taking overall first as well. It came down to the wire though, as Nepomniachtchi had White against Grigoriy Oparin. Oparin is young, strong, and talented, but for now he was badly outrated by everyone except for local player Yannick Pelletier. He and Pelletier were the tailenders, so things looked good for Nepo. Had he won he'd have tied for first, and presumably would have had a playoff against Nakamura. Instead, Oparin won, giving Nakamura his third consecutive victory in Zurich.

    Final Combined Standings:

    • 1. Nakamura 15/21
    • 2. Nepomniachtchi 14
    • 3. Anand 13.5
    • 4. Svidler 12
    • 5. Kramnik 11
    • 6. Gelfand 9
    • 7. Oparin 5.5
    • 8. Pelletier 4

    Grenke: This tournament got off to a bang when Hou Yifan won her first two games, over Fabiano Caruana and Georg Meier, to take a full point lead over a field that also included Magnus Carlsen, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, and Levon Aronian as well. Incredibly, she was close to winning in round three against Carlsen as well, but psyched herself out and let him escape his bad position rather easily with a draw.

    Her punishment was deserved and came in the very next round. Vachier-Lagrave had a much smaller advantage against her than she had against Carlsen, but he kept prodding and testing until she finally cracked. It took 68 moves, but he got the full point, pushing her out of first. The next day she gave up a draw to one of the two players in the event who are lower-rated than she is, so she has fallen out of contention for tournament victory.

    And yet...she is still tied for second, with Carlsen and Caruana, with 3/5, a point behind Levon Aronian. Aronian drew with Meier and Carlsen in the first two rounds, and then went on a tear, winning three in a row. He has defeated MVL, Mathias Bluebaum, and Arkadij Naiditsch. In the next round he plays Hou Yifan, with White. Will he make it four in a row, or will she bounce back and turn this into the tournament of her life?

    Carlsen also has an interesting pairing, with Black against Naiditsch. Carlsen is a favorite, of course, but in the last few years Naiditsch has given him trouble. Naiditsch upset the world champion in the 2014 Olympiad, with Black, and took a couple of games off of him in the same tournament two years ago. As for Caruana, he'll have Black in the next round against Bluebaum.

    Sunday
    Jan292017

    Wijk aan Zee 2017, Round 12: So Still Leads Entering the Last Round

    But barely. Wesley So entered the last round with a half-point lead over Wei Yi and more against everyone else, and with White against Wei Yi decided to play it safe. Black went for a well-known line of the Queen's Gambit Declined called the Peruvian Variation (I think) that results in Black's having a structure that appears as ugly as sin but which turns out to be very difficult to beat. In the game Wei Yi had no trouble keeping the draw, which meant that he remained half a point behind So, who guaranteed himself of a clear lead heading into the last round.

    Unfortunately for So - and for Wei Yi too, for that matter - both Magnus Carlsen and Levon Aronian won and also came to within half a point of So. Carlsen was in serious trouble against Pavel Eljanov, who played a great game for 28 moves. Eljanov has played a very good tournament so far, but he has failed to convert several better-to-winning positions, and this one he even managed to lose. His 29th move was a serious error, giving away the advantage, and his 37th to 39th moves left him lost. Carlsen played the ensuing rook endgame just about perfectly to stay within striking range of the leader.

    As for Aronian, his opponent, Loek van Wely, like Eljanov managed to play very well the first half of the game but not the second. Van Wely's queen moves from 22...Qd8 through 27...Qxe4 left him with a lost position, and Aronian did a fine job of navigating the complications to near perfection.

    The remaining games were drawn, several of them quietly, and in any case none of them left the protagonists with a shot at first place. So after the customary link to the day's wins, with my notes, here are the pairings for the final round:

    • Andreikin (5) - Aronian (7.5)
    • Wei Yi (7.5) - Wojtaszek (5)
    • Nepomniachtchi (5) - So (8)
    • Carlsen (7.5) - Karjakin (6.5) - !
    • Giri (6) - Eljanov (6.5)
    • Rapport (4.5) - Adhiban (6.5)
    • Van Wely (2.5) - Harikrishna (6)

    I don't know what the tiebreak situations will be in case two or more players wind up sharing first, so if some enterprising reader (we all know who that is) wants to inform us, he's welcome to do so. Hopefully for the sake of my patriotic prognostication So will make it simple by winning in the last round.

    As for the Challengers Group, the chances of the U.S. national anthem (probably metaphorically) playing took a bit hit as Jeffery Xiong went from clear first to a tie for third after losing to Tari while all his closest rivals - Markus Ragger, Gawain Jones, and Ilia Smirin all won. Ragger and Jones are tied for first, while Smirin and Xiong are tied for third-fourth half a point behind. But the good news for Xiong is that he's the only one of the four with White in the last round, and his opponent has the lowest score of the leaders' four opponents. Here are the critical pairings:

    • L'Ami (6.5) - Ragger (8.5)
    • Lu Shanglei (7.5) - Jones (8.5)
    • Hansen (7) - Smirin (8)
    • Xiong (8) - Bok (5)

    Friday
    Dec092016

    2016 London Chess Classic, Round 1: So, Kramnik, and Aronian Win

    The London Chess Classic got off to an entertaining start in the first round, with three decisive games out of five and only one 1.e4 e5 opening. Part of what made the day entertaining was the presence of blunders - at least two of them. Hikaru Nakamura more or less lost his game with Wesley So, with White (and on his birthday), thanks to 13.Ne2?, while Mickey Adams blundered a piece to Levon Aronian, missing a simple two-move sequence when he played 33...Ka8. The day's other winner was Vladimir Kramnik, who beated arch-nemesis Veselin Topalov in a brisk 28-mover. Caruana - Anand and Vachier-Lagrave - Giri were drawn, and all five games can be replayed here (with notes to the decisive games).

    Round 2 Pairings:

     

    • Kramnik (1) - Aronian (1)
    • Topalov (0) - Caruana (.5)
    • Anand (.5) - Vachier-Lagrave (.5)
    • Giri (.5) - Nakamura (0)
    • So (1) - Adams (0)

     

    Thursday
    May192016

    Aronian Interview

    In the wake of his unsuccessful performance in the last Candidates Tournament, Levon Aronian answers questions here, on a mostly Armenian-language website launched by his eternal fiancee Arianne Caoili.

    Saturday
    Apr302016

    Carlsen Wins Norway Chess; Aronian Finishes Half a Point Behind

    It took him four tries, but Magnus Carlsen has finally won Norway Chess, the super-tournament created by his countrymen to showcase their top player, the world chess champion and world #1. In 2013 and 2014 Sergey Karjakin won the tournament, and last year it was Veselin Topalov who finished first.

    This time around Carlsen was in control most of the way, and after defeating Vladimir Kramnik in an impressive game in round 7 (of 9) it looked like smooth sailing. He was playing well and riding a 42-game undefeated streak; what could possibly go wrong? The answer came in the very next round, as Levon Aronian in turn beat him rather badly to catch up with him and share the lead. Had they finished the last round tied there would have been a playoff, but Carlsen rebounded to defeat Pavel Eljanov with white while Aronian was unable to get anywhere with Black against Pentala Harikrishna. Carlsen finished with 6/9; Aronian with 5.5.

    Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Topalov, and Kramnik finished a further half a point behind, while Li Chao and Harikrishna concluded their tournaments with creditable 50% scores. Anish Giri had a poor event by his standards, only scoring 4/9; Eljanov lost his last three games to wind up with just 3 points, and Nils Grandelius brought up the rear with 2.5 points.

    Here are Carlsen's last three games, with brief comments.