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    Entries in Levon Aronian (67)

    Saturday
    Feb132016

    Zurich Blitz: Blitz Recap and Day 1 Pairings, Plus Gelfand-Morozevich

    The main event in Zurich starts today, Saturday, but before that the organizers had the players compete in a blitz tournament. This was entertaining for the spectators (both those on scene, including Anatoly Karpov and Viktor Korchnoi[!], and the rest of us watching on the internet), of course, and it had the additional purpose of determining the pairings. Placement determined one's pairing number, and so the top three players will all have an extra game with the white pieces in the main event.

    Hikaru Nakamura won his first three games in this six-player round-robin before Alexei Shirov (barely) pulled out a draw in round 4 and Viswanathan Anand beat him in the final round. Those three finished with plus scores, and thus get the extra white game in the rapid round robin to follow. Nakamura (obviously) finished with 3.5/5, while both Anand and Shirov wound up with 3 (Anand took second on tiebreak). Vladimir Kramnik was next with 2.5, Levon Aronian scored only two points (but defeated Anand in their game), while Anish Giri brought up the rear with a winless 1/5.

    Because it's a rapid event (G/40' + 10"/move), there will be two games per day. (At least for the first two days; on day 3 there will be a rapid game followed by another blitz round-robin. Strange, but entertaining.) Here are the pairings for rounds 1 and 2; round 1 starts at 3 p.m. local time in Zurich (= 9 a.m. ET).

    Round 1:

    • Shirov - Kramnik
    • Nakamura - Giri
    • Anand - Aronian

    Round 2:

    • Kramnik - Aronian
    • Giri - Anand
    • Shirov - Nakamura

    There's an added bonus: Boris Gelfand and Alexander Morozevich will concurrently play a two-game match with the same time control.

    Hopefully the quality of the games will be high; whether it is or not, however, they're sure to be entertaining.

    Thursday
    Feb042016

    CNN on Aronian

    Here. It's always good to see strong players positively profiled in the popular press.

    Saturday
    Dec122015

    London Chess Classic, Round 7: Three Wins and No Berlins

    It took a while, but in round 7 of the London Chess Classic the drawing glut finally abated, and three games finished with a winner. Up to this point in the tournament only five games had been decisive, with Veselin Topalov losing three and Viswanathan Anand losing two. The bad news for their fans is that they constituted two of the day's three victims, losing to Levon Aronian (very badly) and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (thanks mainly to a one-move blunder). The third victim was Hikaru Nakamura, who lost to Magnus Carlsen for the 12th(!) time in classical chess without a single win to his credit. (He has of course drawn plenty of games with Carlsen, and beaten him at faster time controls.)

    The day's other games saw well-played draws between Fabiano Caruana and Anish Giri and between Michael Adams and Alexander Grischuk. All of the games, with my annotations, can be replayed here.

    Vachier-Lagrave is the sole leader with two rounds to go, while Grischuk, Aronian, Carlsen and Giri are just half a point behind and Caruana, Adams and Nakamura are just another half a point back. 80% of the field is still in the running for first place! Here are the pairings for round 8:

     

    • Giri (4) - Nakamura (3.5)
    • Topalov (1.5) - Carlsen (4)
    • Grischuk (4) - Aronian (4)
    • Vachier-Lagrave (4.5) - Adams (3.5)
    • Caruana (3.5) - Anand (2.5)

     

    An aside: on the Live Rating list it's a bit like old times: Carlsen is in first (of course), but Kramnik is in second and Aronian has fought all the way back to third, and is one win from taking over the #2 spot. Aronian's selection as the wildcard for next year's Candidates' is a great choice, but it's a pity Kramnik won't be participating as well.

    Thursday
    Nov052015

    The Candidates' Wildcard is...Levon Aronian

    Which seems bizarre at first blush, since the Candidates' tournament is going to be in Moscow. But the reason it's Levon Aronian and not the higher-rated Vladimir Kramnik is the sponsor, the Tashir Group. It is a Russian-Armenian real estate company headed by an Armenian-born billionaire, so there you go.

    Aronian would normally be a great choice for a wildcard spot, and even now he's a very good choice. But for about a year and a half, almost two years, I think, he has had only one really top-class result - his recent win in the Sinquefield Cup. Even so, he's still #8 in the world and a worthy Candidate. As for big Vlad, he'll have to wait until the next cycle for a chance to regain the World Championship title - unless Giri loses a ton of points in the upcoming European Team Championship (starting in about a week).

    So here's what the field looks like for the Candidates' (which will go from March 10-30 next year), barring Giri's total collapse:

     

    • Viswanathan Anand (qualified by being in the last World Championship match)
    • Veselin Topalov (by rating)
    • Anish Giri (by rating)
    • Hikaru Nakamura (Grand Prix)
    • Fabiano Caruana (Grand Prix)
    • Sergey Karjakin (World Cup)
    • Peter Svidler (World Cup)
    • Levon Aronian (sponsor's wildcard)

     

    Is it too soon to make pointless predictions? Let's do it! I'll start by claiming that Hikaru Nakamura will win and face his nemesis for the championship.

    Thursday
    Sep172015

    World Cup 2015 Round 2, Day 3: Most Favorites Advance In Tiebreaks, But Not Aronian

    Today (or yesterday, depending on where you are) there were tiebreaks for those round 2 matches that were undecided after a pair of classical games, and after 15 tiebreakers the field at the World Cup has been whittled down to 32 players.

    Of those 15 tiebreakers, the higher-rated player won in 13 of them. Success stories include Grand Chess Tour participants Hikaru Nakamura (winning in the second 25' + 10" game against Sam Shankland), Anish Giri (won both 25' + 10" games vs. Alexander Motylev) and Alexander Grischuk (a winner in the second 10' + 10" game against Vladimir Fedoseev). Other high-rated winners include Sergey Karjakin, Dmitry Jakovenko, Evgeny Tomashevsky, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (who eliminated women's #1 Hou Yifan with a win and a draw in the 25-minute games) and Michael Adams, the latter winning the Armageddon game with White against Viktor Laznicka.

    One other favorite who advanced was Wei Yi, who won an incredible match against Yuri Vovk. Pretty much every game they played was spectacular, and almost all of those games were decisive as well. If you only look at one match from the second round, be sure to make this one your choice.

    There were two upsets, as noted above. The first was fairly mild, with Le Quang Liem going 1.5-.5 against Nikita Vitiugov in the 25' + 10" games. Le is below 2700 at the moment, but has been over and is a beast at faster time controls, having won the world blitz championship in 2013.

    The other upset was a monster result. Alexander Areshchenko defeated Levon Aronian in both 25-minute games to send to send the world's #7 player (and the 5th highest-rated player in the tournament) packing. Aronian had been in poor form for much of the past two years, but having recently won the Sinquefield Cup he seemed to be in great shape. (One wonders...is there any chance that spending an extra 2-3 days in St. Louis interfered with his preparations and with his ability to acclimate to the venue and the time zone? For that matter, one could wonder about Giri's hiccup in the first round against an FM and Grischuk's inability to win a single game so far in either classical chess or at the 25-minute time control. Fedoseev is a very good player, but Grischuk's first round opponent, Yusup Atabayev, isn't someone one would think Grischuk could only defeat in 5-minute chess. Many, many years ago Mikhail Botvinnik suggested going to events of this sort a couple of weeks in advance, and as in so many other matters when it came to training he was probably right or at least on the right track.)

    On to round 3, which has the following pairings (given in bracket order):

    • Veselin Topalov - Lu Shanglei
    • Teimour Radjabov - Peter Svidler
    • Alexander Areshchenko - Wei Yi
    • Gadir Guseinov - Ding Liren
    • Wesley So - Le Quang Liem
    • Maxime Vachier-Lagrave - Evgeny Tomashevsky
    • Julio Granda Zuniga - Radoslaw Wojtaszek
    • Peter Leko - Anish Giri
    • Fabiano Caruana - Anton Kovalyov
    • Shahkriyar Mamedyarov - S. P. Sethuraman
    • Sergey Karjakin - Yu Yangyi
    • Dmitry Andreikin - Vladimir Kramnik
    • Alexander Grischuk - Pavel Eljanov
    • Vassily Ivanchuk - Dmitry Jakovenko
    • Michael Adams - Leinier Dominguez
    • Ian Nepomniachtchi - Hikaru Nakamura

    Wednesday
    Sep022015

    Aronian Wins Sinquefield Cup, Nakamura Beats Grischuk To Tie For Second

    The 2015 Sinquefield Cup has concluded, and with a comfortable last-round draw Levon Aronian has taken clear first. None of his main rivals managed to win their games, so Aronian's draw with Topalov left him a point ahead of his closest competitors. He had Black in a Ragozin System, and despite that was never worse and could have pushed for more if he had needed to. Spotting a moment where he could force a draw (or more precisely, could force Topalov to force a draw) he took it, guaranteeing himself victory in the tournament.

    Entering the round Magnus Carlsen, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Anish Giri and Alexander Grischuk were all a point behind Aronian and theoretically still in the race for first. As noted above (at least by implication), none of them managed to win. Carlsen had Black against Viswanathan Anand, and went for a Berlin ending. He drew easily, but a win was never going to happen. Vachier-Lagrave and Giri played each other and although Vachier-Lagrave managed to obtain a little pull through much of the game, Giri kept things under control and drew a double rook ending without too much exertion.

    The big game of the day was the battle between Grischuk and Hikaru Nakamura. With a win, Nakamura would join the tie for second (and take second in the overall Grand Tour standings and regain second place on the live rating list), and he pushed long and hard, taking plenty of risks along the way. He was better at first, enjoying a normal opening advantage with White. A pair of dubious, related decisions on move 26 and move 27 left him worse, but thanks to Grischuk's mistaken decision to give up his dark squared bishop for White's knight on f2 Nakamura was again in control by the end of the first time control. From there Nakamura played very well and energetically, but with victory in sight made a couple of slips that endangered the win. Fortunately for him he kept pushing and finally managed to break down the Russian's resistance.

    The final game was of no relevance to the race for first, but it was an interesting game in its own right. Fabiano Caruana came close to a win against Wesley So, but the wrong capture on d6 on move 21 allowed So to survive, albeit only after a lot of hard work.

    (The games, with my comments, are here.)

    Here are the final standings, given in tiebreak order. The tiebreakers are in fact very important, because points for the Grand Chess Tour standings are allocated based on those tiebreaks. Carlsen wound up getting second place on tiebreaks with 10 GCT points, putting him in the mix for overall Tour victory, while Giri only received six points for fifth, with the same score. So although Giri went a combined +3 in Norway and St. Louis while Carlsen is still -1 overall, Carlsen has 14 total points while Giri has 13. Brilliant.

    1. Aronian 6
    2. Carlsen 5
    3. Nakamura 5
    4. Vachier-Lagrave 5
    5. Giri 5
    6. Grischuk 4.5
    7. Topalov 4.5
    8. Caruana 3.5
    9. Anand 3.5
    10. So 3

    And these are the overall Grand Chess Tour Standings, with the points they earned from Norway and St. Louis, respectively:

    1. Topalov 17 (13, 4)
    2. Nakamura 16 (8, 8)
    3. Aronian 15 (2, 13)
    4. Carlsen 14 (4, 10)
    5. Giri 13 (7, 6)
    6. Anand 12 (10, 2)
    7. Vachier-Lagrave 12 (5, 7)
    8. Caruana 9 (6, 3)
    9. Grischuk 8 (3, 5)
    10. Hammer 1 (1, N/A)
    11. So 1 (N/A, 1)

    The last stop for this year's Grand Chess Tour is the London Chess Classic, which begins December 3, while the next major event is the World Cup in Baku. That starts September 10, and practically every player over 2700 (and more besides) except for Carlsen and Anand will be there. The top two finishers qualify for next year's Candidates' event (Carlsen and Anand were the world championship finalists last year and thus needn't play; Carlsen because he's the world champion and Anand because he's automatically seeded into the Candidates').

    Unfortunately, even though the World Cup is a colossally important event that eight of the Sinquefield Cup participants are playing in and that could be a career-changer for six of them (Nakamura and Caruana have already qualified for the Candidates' through the Grand Prix, but are still required to play in the World Cup to secure their eligibility), the players are forced to stay in St. Louis through at least tomorrow. Why, when they could be headed to Baku to acclimate, get over jet lag before the tournament starts and to engage in further opening preparation?

    The answer: it's for the sake of the so-called Ultimate Moves "competition" and a screening of what will likely be Hollywood's latest "chess players are crazy" offering, a.k.a. "Pawn Sacrifice". The former will consist of rapid and blitz tandem and consultation games that are basically an opportunity for Rex Sinquefield and his son Randy to participate with and against the world's best players; the latter is a movie about Bobby Fischer with Tobey Maguire in the lead role.

    The juxtaposition of the two events is fascinating, because Fischer, for better and worse, would quite possibly have balked at the idea of playing in the Ultimate Moves event, refusing to play the clown in exchange for a sponsor's money - especially if it got in the way of performing his best in a real event. But what do you think? Is the Ultimate Moves competition nothing more than a harmless indulgence for a rich and very generous sponsor? Or perhaps it's a demonstration of the power of money, one that takes no account of the players' dignity and schedules? Maybe to some degree it's both, or something in between, or...?

    Tuesday
    Sep012015

    Sinquefield Cup 2015, Round 8: Aronian Leads By A Point Entering the Last Round

    For the first time in the tournament, all five games were drawn, leaving Levon Aronian a full point ahead with a round to go. Had he won against Viswanathan Anand he would have guaranteed himself of clear first, and Anand's opening surely gave him hopes of a full point. Garry Kasparov was watching on site, and remarked that Anand's opening choice (on the black side of an English, the reversed Rossolimo) was something he had dismissed many years earlier. In fact, Anand himself admitted after the game that he needed some convincing before he would take the variation seriously! But after some hard work he rehabilitated it to his satisfaction, and at best Aronian might have had some chances for an edge. In the game he was unable to keep an advantage for very long, and Anand achieved a comfortable draw.

    Four players came into the round a point behind Aronian, so this was their chance to make up some ground before the final round. Two of them, Alexander Grischuk and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, played each other, but unfortunately there weren't any fireworks. The game transposed to the same line of the Symmetrical English MVL tried against Magnus Carlsen in round 3. Vachier-Lagrave lost that game, but improved this time and was never in any serious danger. The players called it a day after just 30 moves, one less than was required in Aronian-Anand.

    Another player with a chance to gain ground was Anish Giri, who had the white pieces against Fabiano Caruana. Caruana played a Gruenfeld and chose the unusual move 9...e5. He equalized quickly and even won a pawn thanks to some poor play by Giri prior to the time control. Caruana may have had some opportunities to improve, but when they reached a rook and two pawns vs. rook and one pawn ending the draw was inevitable. Caruana played until move 69 before accepting the inevitable.

    The big game of the day was Magnus Carlsen vs. Hikaru Nakamura, and after a terrible opening choice by the American and some further inaccuracies after that Carlsen obtained a completely winning advantage. With an 11-0 score against Nakamura in decisive games at a classical time control the point seemed to be in the bag, and with a win Carlsen would close to within half a point of Aronian. Somehow, it wasn't to be. Nakamura defended resourcefully, and when Carlsen played 39.Be3?? ("A moment of insanity" - Carlsen) Black was able to escape to an ending with rook and two pawns vs. two bishops and two pawns, with all the pawns on the same side. Carlsen tried until move 95, but there was no breaching Black's fortress. A second consecutive huge disappointment for Carlsen, and for Nakamura this may just be the confidence-builder he needs to finally get a win against Carlsen in the near future.

    Finally, Wesley So and Veselin Topalov went 50 moves, but the only especially noteworthy feature of the game is that So finished with more time than he started with.

    The games, with my comments, are here. The final round pairings are as follows:

    • Topalov (4) - Aronian (5.5)
    • Anand (3) - Carlsen (4.5)
    • Vachier-Lagrave (4.5) - Giri (4.5)
    • Nakamura (4) - Grischuk (4.5)
    • Caruana (3) - So (2.5)

    The bottom line is clear: if Aronian scores, he wins the tournament; if he loses and Carlsen, Vachier-Lagrave, Giri (inclusive) or Grischuk win, there will be a playoff.

    Monday
    Aug312015

    Sinquefield Cup 2015, Round 7: Aronian Leads By a Point

    The antepenultimate round of the 2015 Sinquefield Cup was an eventful one, though the first two games to finish weren't particularly auspicious. Topalov - Giri and Caruana - Vachier-Lagrave were short draws, but the remaining three games were more interesting. Anand - So looked very promising for the young American. Unfortunately for him, but perhaps fortunately for chess aesthetics, he underestimated a brilliant idea of Anand's. After 27.Nc4!? So should have played 27...a4 instead of 27...Bxc5. The latter move was almost irresistible, and that was what Anand was counting on. After 28.Nxe6 Bb4 29.Nxg7!! White gave up material but created a kind of fortress, and the players called it a day just before the time control.

    The two remaining games were decisive. Hikaru Nakamura was on a high note, having won brilliantly the day before and enjoying the white pieces against Levon Aronian. Strangely, though, he seemed completely unprepared for Aronian's opening, one which is a regular part of the Armenian's repertoire. Black wound up better, and although he squandered his edge Nakamura's errors in time trouble gave it all back with interest. White's 39th and 40th moves were serious errors, and Aronian had no trouble capitalizing in the second time control.

    Aronian started the round tied for first with Magnus Carlsen, so if Carlsen could parlay the white pieces into a win over Alexander Grischuk they would remain tied with two rounds to go. This did not happen. Grischuk, like Aronian, won with Black (a common occurrence in the tournament) to catch up to Carlsen (and Giri and Vachier-Lagrave) at +1, a point behind Aronian. About the Carlsen-Grischuk game: the game was generally even until around move 32, when an inaccuracy followed by an error cost Carlsen a pawn in what was close to a dead-drawn ending. Grischuk's technique in the second time control was terrific at first, but as the players approached six hours of play and started to live off the increment things got sloppy. First Carlsen managed to fight his way back to a drawn ending, and then he almost immediately messed it up and lost. By the time they were finished they had been playing for six hours and 25 minutes, so it's not that surprising that they started to err. (My analyses of the round's games are here.)

    Aronian is in great shape with two rounds to go, but with four players just a point behind it's by no means over. Here are the pairings for round 8:

    • Grischuk (4) - Vachier-Lagrave (4)
    • Giri (4) - Caruana (2.5)
    • So (2) - Topalov (3.5)
    • Aronian (5) - Anand (2.5)
    • Carlsen (4) - Nakamura (3.5)

    The last two pairings are especially interesting. For a long time Aronian had great results against Anand, and with White and in much better form in the tournament he has grounds for optimism. On the other hand, Anand has had some good results against Aronian lately, and when they get into theoretical disputes it's often Anand who comes out on top. Aronian shouldn't get too confident, as even a wounded Anand can do some serious damage. Meanwhile, Carlsen is playing his favorite opponent. Can Nakamura hold, or better yet, win his first-ever game against Carlsen at a classical time control? Stay tuned...

    Thursday
    Aug272015

    Sinquefield Cup 2015, Round 4: Aronian Co-Leads With Topalov After A Beautiful Win Against So

    It was a long day, so this will be a short report. There were four draws, all of which, interestingly enough, concluded in opposite-colored bishop endings. Along the way the games were of varying interest, with the battle between Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Hikaru Nakamura the most colorful of the lot.

    The game of the day was between Wesley So and Levon Aronian. This may have been the case even if Aronian had won by prosaic means, by default, but in fact the game was something special. So played provocatively on the white side of a 4.f3 Nimzo-Indian that came to resemble a Modern Benoni, and when he dared to play 13.g4 he reaped the whirlwind after Aronian's 15...Ne5!! Black had fantastic compensation for the piece, and while there was nothing concrete his initiative was practically impossible to quell. With the win, Aronian moved to +2, and is tied for first with Veselin Topalov, half a point ahead of Magnus Carlsen and Anish Giri.

    The games, with my notes, are here, and these are the pairings for round 5:

    • Aronian (3) - Grischuk (1.5)
    • Carlsen (2.5) - So (1.5)
    • Nakamura (2) - Giri (2.5)
    • Anand (1) - Vachier-Lagrave (2)
    • Topalov (3) - Caruana (1)
    Monday
    Jun222015

    Norway Chess 2015, Round 5: Topalov Wins Again; Carlsen, Aronian Win Their First

    The Norway Chess tournament has passed the halfway point, and Veselin Topalov continues his success. When he's not playing Norwegians, he wins cleanly; when he does, he hangs in there and waits for miracles to happen. And that's what happened in round 5. Topalov was in all kinds of trouble with Black against Jon Ludwig Hammer. Maybe he was never flat out lost, but it was close! Topalov finally took over the advantage from move 42 on, yet Hammer defended well and was on the verge of a draw after 73 moves. All he needed to do was play 74.f5, a move that any club player could find and that requires calculating a grand total of two moves ahead. Instead, Hammer played 74.Kc6?? and had to resign after the obvious 74...Ke6. A blind spot for Hammer?

    Yes, but perhaps it was a literal blind spot. It was suggested, very plausibly, that Hammer didn't really look up when Topalov played 73...Ke7 and assumed that Black had played 73...Bb8 instead. In that case, 74.Kc6 would have been the only move. Hammer's haste cost him the game, and completely unnecessarily, especially since he had 15 minutes left on his clock when that happened.

    With the win Topalov leads the second-placed Hikaru Nakamura by a point with an impressive score of 4.5/5. Nakamura started the round half a point behind, but after a draw with Viswanathan Anand the gap doubled. Anand is a further half a point back, tied for 3rd-4th with Anish Giri, who in turn drew comfortably with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.

    The other two games finished with a winner, and like Hammer-Topalov those victories had a tinge of the accidental to them. In fact, all three games were decided by hasty moves, though in the two games we haven't yet described that haste was due to time trouble. Levon Aronian had an opening edge against Fabiano Caruana, but Caruana had equalized and the game was headed for a draw as the first time control neared its end. 39...Qg6 would have sealed the deal, giving Caruana full, safe equality and the ability to reach the second time control without any big worries. Instead, he thought he spotted an opportunity and quickly played 39...Qxg3+. It's a nice little tactic, and...it loses. Black wins a pawn for the moment, but White's king achieves maximum activity and ransacks all of Black's queenside pawns. Caruana fought on to move 60, but there was no saving the game.

    Finally, Magnus Carlsen had been having a dreadful tournament with only half a point out of four, and despite this he showed his resilience by winning in classic Carlsen style. Alexander Grischuk had managed to equalize, though as usual with Grischuk he didn't manage to do this without getting into time trouble. With the game about to reach the point where a club player could hold Grischuk's position Carlsen tried one last idea: 26.c5! Grischuk could and should have held this, but without time it was far from trivial. Carlsen obtained a very usable edge, though perhaps not yet enough to win the game. On move 40, it was time for another trick: 40.f4. This may not have been the very best move, and had Grischuk replied correctly he probably would have saved the game. Time trouble killed him, though, and 40...exf4?? made it easy for the world champion. (The games, with my notes, are here.)

    Carlsen has awakened, and while it's almost impossible for him to contend for first it's not too late for him to do some damage. Next up, he has the white pieces against one of his usual "customers", Hikaru Nakamura. If Nakamura had White it might be a great opportunity for the American to get a '1', but with Black it may be another story. We'll see; meanwhile, here are the pairings for round 6:

    • Grischuk (2) - Topalov (4.5)
    • Caruana (2) - Hammer (1)
    • Giri (3) - Aronian (2)
    • Anand (3) - Vachier-Lagrave (2.5)
    • Carlsen (1.5) - Nakamura (3.5)