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    Entries in Levon Aronian (116)

    Thursday
    Dec132018

    London Chess "Classic", Day 3: Slapstick Chess

    I'm still not completely sold on the draw problem, but I am sure that blitz chess is garbage chess, and it should have as little place as possible - preferably none - in events with a classical component. Don't get me wrong: I enjoy playing blitz chess as much as the next person, even bullet chess. It's fun to play and fun to watch. But it's garbage chess, or to coin a phrase here, it's slapstick chess. The ideas are shallow, and blunders and wild swings of fortune are commonplace. (This isn't the rant of a curmudgeon who wants three hours per move. I've always been a very good blitz player - certainly compared to my classical rating, and back when ICC was THE chess server I made it onto almost every one of their "best" lists.)

    The latest confirmation of this obvious fact was today's play in the London Chess Classic. Both semis were tied 1-1 after draws on days 1 and 2 (but for those who say, "Seeeeeeeeeeeee? Draws are a problem!", I say the "problem" was great defense: three of the four games could have been decisive), so today's agenda was a pair of rapid games followed by four blitz slapstick games.

    The rapid games made sense. Starting with the Fabiano Caruana vs. Hikaru Nakamura match, game 1 was well-played. Nakamura pressed with White, Caruana defended well, and it was a long draw. Game 2 was a little odd: Caruana had some deep prep and had an advantage and a nice lead on the clock after 22 moves. Unfortunately for Caruana, he blitzed out his 23rd move as well, and it was inaccurate. (Maybe he forgot his prep, or misremembered, or just thought it was a good move.) Perhaps out of psychological inertia he kept playing as if he had the advantage when he went for 25.Nd4, but 25...Bf6 was a cold shower. Nakamura played well after that, and gradually brought home the full point.

    The first rapid game between Aronian and MVL was a repeat of the two classical games: Aronian had excellent preparation and obtained a serious advantage, but at some point let the advantage slip and Vachier-Lagrave escaped with another draw. Finally, in game 4, the first part of the script was repeated - but with the roles reversed: MVL won the theoretical battle; not to the point where he was winning, but enough to have some play. Aronian didn't play the defender's role as well as his opponent had, however, and eventually lost the game.

    On the scoring system in play, both Nakamura and MVL led by four points, with four blitz games - each worth two points for a win and one for a draw - to go. In a heartening surprise, Caruana managed to win the first game against Nakamura, with Black, taking advantage of a rare tactical oversight by Nakamura. (That's blitz slapstick chess!) Game 2 was wonderful. The position was equal after the opening, but Nakamura's 16...Qe8 was an error, and White would have been clearly better after 17.Nxd7 Nxd7 18.b4. Instead, he played 18.Ne4??, and after 18...Rxc1 19.Rxc1 Black could win a piece with 19...e5 (20.Bg3 f5 21.Nd2 f4 is the basic idea). But he missed it (blitz slapstick chess) and the game was equal again. Both sides played well after that, with Nakamura pressing for the win until Caruana blundered with 43.Kf1; 43.Kg1 would have kept the result in doubt.

    In the post-match interview Nakamura called games 3 and 4 "routine", and he's right about game 3. Needing to win twice to force a playoff Caruana took some excessive risks in the opening, and was duly punished. But game 4 wasn't routine at all: Nakamura was worse from the get-go, losing for a while, and stone cold absolutely busted for a few moves. The win was quite nice, and Caruana would have found it in classical or even in rapid. It was a big ask for a blitz slapstick game though, and he didn't manage.

    Instead of the clearly bad 25.Qc1, the right way was 25.g5(!). Here's the point: 25.Qxg7+ almost works, but the Black king can escape to e8 if White keeps checking. For the attack to work, White needs to get the bishop to h5 (and ideally, g6). That gives rise to the idea of playing Nf5. But 25.Nf5 won't work, because 25...gxf5 26.gxf5 is illegal. Therefore 25.g5!, and after 25...fxg5 then 26.Nf5! gxf5 27.Bh5!, and it's mate in no more than four more moves. Beautiful, but hey, it's better to watch the players step on rakes repeatedly if the alternative is a time control that could result in a draw, right?

    Caruana didn't find it, lost the thread of the game, and lost badly. On to the other match.

    It wasn't completely clear who the favorite would be between Aronian and Vachier-Lagrave in the blitz. Yes, MVL came into the competition as #2 on the rating list in blitz, just two points behind Carlsen, but Aronian is a former world blitz champion who was #4 on the list and whose recent results in online blitz were as good as MVL's. (Plus, he won their rapid & blitz playoff in the 2017 World Cup, in an Armageddon game.) It didn't work out for Aronian: Vachier-Lagrave won games 1, 2, and 4 (and lost game 3) to win the match and take over the top spot on the blitz list. MVL is 2948.2 there, Carlsen "only" 2939. (Nakamura is third at 2895.4, and Aronian is #4 at 2846.8. And Caruana...#16. Go here and click on the blitz tab.))

    The question, though, is how good the games were. Game 1: MVL was outplaying Aronian, but the game was far from decided until 31.Rf3?, blundering a second pawn. Game 2: MVL missed a pretty win in the early middlegame (it's blitz) and the game was equal for 23 moves or so, and then Aronian walked into a one-move knight fork. Blitz Slapstick chess. Game 3 was a normal blitz game: Vachier-Lagrave had no time to work things out at a critical moment, and his position immediately collapsed. Game 4 was another comedy: what was a good, clean win by MVL turned into a shambles in the time scramble. Aronian was two pawns down and completely busted, but soon had managed to win a pawn back and achieve objective equality. No matter: it was Aronian's turn to err - repeatedly - and Vachier-Lagrave again obtained a winning position. This time, he cashed in.

    The blitz games weren't terrible. We can always see glimpses of what makes the great players great, their deep preparation, and their outstanding knowledge of the game. But they are blitz games, and so along with the glimpses of greatness we see moments of utter foolishness, too - not to mention countless missed opportunities and spoiled brilliancies. Again, don't get me wrong: I enjoy blitz, and after Christmas I'll spend as much time as I can watching the World Blitz Championship. But blitz is its own thing; it's weird to tack it on to a classical event, even a classical and rapid tournament.

    Rant over - for now. The players are off tomorrow, and then on Saturday they'll do it all over again: Nakamura and Vachier-Lagrave will play for first, and Aronian and Caruana will play for third. The format is the same: a classical game on day 1, another classical game on day, and then two rapid and four blitz games on day three, with a two-game blitz tiebreaker followed by Armageddon if necessary. There's the drama of the event, and the rating drama remains, too: it's possible that the event will end with Caruana rated #1 in the world in classical chess and Vachier-Lagrave #1 in blitz. Carlsen will have a chance to fix the latter at the end of the year, but won't be in action in classical chess until Wijk aan Zee starting January 12.

    Event website here.

    Wednesday
    Dec122018

    London Chess Classic, Day 2: Two More Draws

    Today's games were again drawn, so we'll have to rely on the faster games tomorrow to see some blood. Levon Aronian did have his chances today against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, but the combination of MVL's fine defense and Aronian's hasty play allowed the Frenchman to survive. In particular, Aronian missed 28.Rc2!, with the idea 28...Kxe6 29.b3 and White picks up the knight without allowing as much counterplay as Black got in the game. Even after that Aronian had good chances, but didn't make the most of his chances.

    In the game between Hikaru Nakamura and Fabiano Caruana, there were no chances. Nakamura took a page out of Magnus Carlsen's book and played a speedy and absolutely bloodless draw with White, counting on his chances against Caruana in the faster games. Nakamura is a great rapid and blitz player, and Caruana is going to have work hard to bring his rapid and blitz play closer to his classical level. The number of rapid and blitz events is increasing, not to mention the number of hybrid events, so Caruana has to do something about this. Being almost the co-number 1 in the world in classical chess doesn't matter if players like Carlsen, Nakamura, and Aronian can pummel him in rapid and blitz.

    Today's games - sans annotations - are here.

    Wednesday
    Dec122018

    London Chess Classic, Day 1: Two Draws

    The Caruana-Nakamura and Vachier-Lagrave - Aronian matches both started with draws, but both games were interesting and close to finishing with a winner. Caruana went for an enterprising attack against Nakamura, and the latter's one slip in a very complicated position gave Caruana one chance to cash in. He missed his unobvious chance, and an otherwise very well played game by both sides finished in a draw. In the other semi, MVL was outplayed in the opening and early middlegame, and while Aronian may have been winning at one point his opportunity was also well-hidden, and Vachier-Lagrave managed his own Houdini act to escape.

    The games are here. I haven't annotated MVL-Aronian at all, but the notes to Caruana-Nakamura are substantial. Enjoy.

    Monday
    Dec102018

    The London Chess Classic Starts Tuesday (Tomorrow/Today), Starring Caruana

    Way back when, before the World Championship, there was the Grand Chess Tour. Four players qualified for the final of this year's new format, and starting Tuesday they'll fight for the title in a knockout format. Here's how it works.

    The final four consists of Hikaru Nakamura, Levon Aronian, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, and Fabiano Caruana, in order of their qualifying scores. As usual in a knockout event, 1 plays 4 and 2 plays 3, so it's a battle of the Americans (Nakamura vs. Caruana) and of the friends (Aronian and MVL). They will play a pair of classical games - one each on Tuesday and Wednesday, scored on a 6-3-0 basis. On Thursday they'll play two rapid games, scored 4-2-0, followed by four blitz games that count on a 2-1-0 basis. (If that's insufficient, there will be another pair of blitz games followed by Armageddon.)

    For Caruana, there are (at least) two things to play for. There's victory in the Grand Chess Tour, and there's the possibility of finishing the year as the world's #1 player by rating. (It's possible he could achieve the latter even if he doesn't achieve the former.) We'll see how it goes tomorrow at 2 p.m. local time in London; 9 a.m. ET. The tournament website is here.

    Other events are going on alongside the main event, and there were some exhibition games beforehand as well. A report on the goings-on, together with a preview of the final four, can be read here.

    Monday
    Dec032018

    Speed Chess Championship: The Grand Finale

    I remembered that it was scheduled for after the Carlsen-Caruana match, but didn't remember that it was so soon afterward. The (Chess.com) 2018 Speed Chess Championship took place November 30 through December 2, and it was won by...well, I won't tell you here - if you want spoilers, check out the comments section. What I'll do here is provide some links:

    Semifinal 1: Wesley So vs. Jan-Krzysztof Duda: Video here.

    Semifinal 2: Hikaru Nakamura vs. Levon Aronian: Video here.

    Final Match: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

    Tuesday
    Sep252018

    2018 Speed Chess Championship: Aronian-Giri

    This match between Levon Aronian and Anish Giri, the second of the quarterfinal pairings of the 2018 Speed Chess Championship, occurred last week. Most of you probably already know what happened, if you've followed the competition closely, but I'll stick to my usual procedure and report the result in the first comment. So: if you want to watch the video coverage as if it were live, here's the link.

    Whatever the final result, Giri had a bit of a problem with a glass jaw in the match, losing a handful of brutal games to lightning attacks. Here are five of them.

    Tuesday
    Aug282018

    Sinquefield Cup, Round 9: Caruana, Carlsen, and Aronian Share First; Caruana-So Playoff Tomorrow for the GCT Final

    What an eventful round! After two rounds (and three rounds out of four) with only draws, today there were two wins, and both of them saw the winners catch Fabiano Caruana in first place.

    Had Caruana won his last round game against Wesley So, he'd have taken clear first. The game was a staid Petroff, and though Caruana obtained a tiny edge with Black it was nowhere near enough to achieve anything serious, and the game finished in an uneventful draw. That guaranteed Caruana at least a tie for first, but four other players - two of whom faced each other - had the opportunity to catch him in the lead.

    Levon Aronian and Alexander Grischuk both entered the round half a point behind Caruana, so if either player beat the other they'd tie for first. An equal but unbalanced position went completely out of control when Aronian offered a gutsy semi-bluff of a rook sac on move 18. Grischuk was relatively short of time even before the sac, and never managed to consolidate his material advantage. He'd alternate, making a series of good defensive moves followed by the occasional error, and after a total of three errors he was lost. Fortune favored the brave, and Aronian caught Caruana.

    Magnus Carlsen was also rewarded, but not so much for bravery as for doing his thing. He had a slight advantage against Hikaru Nakamura, and while the position was objectively drawn Carlsen had nothing to lose and everything to gain by continuing to try, and eventually it paid off. It has to be said that Nakamura's 62nd and 66th moves were very strange. My guess is that he believed the setup he went for was drawn, and was therefore willing to burn all his bridges to head for it. Considering that the position prior to those decisions was only barely worse and had a big margin for error, this was a needlessly risky decision. As it turned out, he missed something, and the result was a technical win that Carlsen successfully executed. That made it a three-way tie for first.

    If Shakhriyar Mamedyarov had managed to defeat Viswanathan Anand with the black pieces it would have been a four-way tie. But this wasn't going to happen. Anand enjoyed a slight edge in a very theoretical line of the Open Ruy, and Mamedyarov was never going to do more than work his way to a draw after some suffering - which is what happened.

    Finally, in the one game that didn't matter in the race for first, Sergey Karjakin barely avoided a fourth loss in the tournament when he held a rook ending two pawns against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. (Today's games, with my notes, are here.)

    Will there be a playoff tomorrow? Yes...but not to settle the race for first. The rules called for a three-way tie to resolved by a drawing of lots to eliminate one of the players, followed by a playoff involving the other two. Apparently Carlsen was less than thrilled with this idea, and proposed either a three-way playoff or shared first. As I understand it, the other two players were on board with Carlsen's rejection of the scheme presented in the rules, but one of the two was against the playoff and preferred the shared crown.

    My guess is that the objection came from Caruana, and with good reason: he's already committed to a playoff against So for the fourth and final slot in the Grand Chess Tour final. Therefore the three leaders are also the three champions, each of them a repeat champion. Here are the final standings from the tournament:

    1-3. Aronian, Carlsen, Caruana 5.5 (out of 9)
    4. Mamedyarov 5
    5-7. Grischuk, Vachier-Lagrave, Anand 4.5
    8. So 4
    9-10. Karjakin, Nakamura 3

    And these are the final overall standings for the Grand Chess Tour:

    1. Nakamura 34.5
    2. Aronian 34
    3. Vachier-Lagrave 31
    4-5. Caruana, So 26
    6. Karjakin 25.5
    7. Mamedyarov 25
    8. Grischuk 18
    9. Anand 15

    The Caruana-So tie will be settled by a pair of 25'+10" games, and if it's still tied there will be up to three pairs of 5'+3" games. After that, the arbiter and the players will decide on another way of resolving the tie (presumably an Armageddon game, but who knows).

    Friday
    Aug242018

    More St. Louis Action Coming Up: Chess960 Matches Starring Kasparov

    Here's the quick summary: five 20-game matches, with six rapid and 14 blitz games taking place from September 11-14 of this year. All the games are Chess960 (aka Fischerrandom), and the positions will be unknown to the players until the start of the round. Here are the pairings:

    • Garry Kasparov - Veselin Topalov
    • Hikaru Nakamura - Peter Svidler
    • Wesley So - Anish Giri
    • Sam Shankland - Maxime Vachier-Lagrave
    • Levon Aronian - Leinier Dominguez

    Wednesday
    Aug222018

    Energetic Bullet Chess From the Caruana-Aronian Match

    I've been looking at the matches played so far in the 2018 Speed Chess Championship, posting some of the games that have caught my eye. The latest one, and the last one I intend to post from the matches played so far, is a bullet game from the match between Fabiano Caruana and Levon Aronian. While it's only a bullet game, Aronian's very high energy play made a pleasing impression, and I hope you'll be impressed and enjoy it as well. Have a look.

    Saturday
    Aug182018

    Sinquefield Cup, Round 1: Wins for Aronian and Mamedyarov

    The series in St. Louis has come to its culmination with the start of the Sinquefield Cup on Saturday. (Always avoid alliteration, I know.) 10 of the world's top 14 are playing, including the top 3 - which includes world champion Magnus Carlsen and his challenger, Fabiano Caruana.

    It was the world's #3 player who won first though, as Shakhriyar Mamedyarov - one of the hottest players in the world going back to the end of last year - took advantage of the suddenly ice cold Wesley So. Alexander Alekhine (world champion from 1927-1935 and 1937 until his death in 1946) used to boast that an opponent would have to beat him three times to win a game: once in the opening, once in the middlegame, and once in the endgame. On this occasion So managed to lose three times, once in each stage of the game. He came out of the opening with a poor (but not technically lost) position, immediately went wrong in the queenless middlegame with a miscalculated idea that wasted multiple tempi, and then after Mamedyarov tried taking a shortcut in the ending So missed a bonus chance to draw. It was a good game by Mamedyarov but a remarkably poor one for So. Hopefully he will bounce back from the problems he has suffered in St. Louis over the past week and return to his world-beating form straight away.

    Levon Aronian was the day's other winner. Surprising Sergey Karjakin (and just about everyone else) by playing 1.e4, he took the white side of the Berlin ending and ground his opponent down in a long (69 move) game. Overall it was a very good effort by Aronian, even if he was disappointed in himself for allowing Black to play ...g5 late in the game.

    In the day's draws, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave had a better position against Magnus Carlsen for a while, before letting it slip. Then Carlsen may have been a little better, but there wasn't much he could do after MVL closed up almost all the lines on the board. Hikaru Nakamura had a little surprise for Viswanathan Anand in a well-traveled line of the QGD. He obtained an edge, but 19.Qe2 let Anand liquidate his way to a speedy draw. Finally, Fabiano Caruana and Alexander Grischuk played a very long game. Grischuk was slightly better in the middlegame, despite playing Black, but by the end of the first time control Caruana was winning. He either missed or underestimated his best plan, however, and Grischuk managed a narrow escape.

    Here are today's games, with my comments.