Entries in Levon Aronian (36)
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
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.
Update: The games are here, albeit without annotations. I managed to catch a little cold over the weekend, and need to get my rest. Sorry!
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)
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.
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:
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.
Only four players are participating in the Sinquefield Cup, but they aren't just any four players! The world's #s 1 and 2, Magnus Carlsen and Levon Aronian, will take on the United States's top duo of Hikaru Nakamura (#7 in the world) and Gata Kamsky (#19). The event will be a double round-robin running from Monday, September 9 through Sunday, September 15, with a rest day on Thursday after the first cycle. This is Carlsen's last event before his world championship match with Anand, and while one can expect he'll hide all his real openings he'll surely take this tournament very seriously as a tune-up. For Aronian it will be a chance to bounce back from his poor performance in the World Cup and to make an early statement in advance of next year's Candidates. For Nakamura, a great result would be a huge confidence boost, and for Kamsky his fans can hope that a strong result will lead to him to delay is plans to retire in a year or so.
This ought to be fun: Rex Sinquefield is putting on an elite four-player, double round robin this September (the 9th to the 15th) at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis. The participants are the world's #1 and 2 players, Magnus Carlsen and Levon Aronian, respectively, and the U.S.A.'s #s 1 and 2 - Hikaru Nakamura and Gata Kamsky.
The CCSCSL has put on some great events the past few years, and this is the most prestigious yet. It should be terrific as all four players are terrific fighters; let's just hope that their website will finally be worthy of the chess it's supposed to broadcast.
Coming into the last round of the Alekhine Memorial, Boris Gelfand led Viswanathan Anand, Levon Aronian, Mickey Adams and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave by half a point. Gelfand faced Anand in the last round, played it safe with the white pieces, and Anand drew without much trouble. That eliminated one rival and made it such that no one could catch him unless he or they won their games.
Unfortunately for Gelfand, Aronian defeated Vachier-Lagrave in a generally impressive game, finishing with some very nice tactics. Through the first 28 moves, everything was going smoothly, and had Aronian played 29.d6 he would have been well on his way to a clean victory. Instead, 29.Rxb8+ was a mistake, and after 29...Rxb8 30.Rxa7 Bxc3! 31.Rxd7 Rb4 Vachier-Lagrave had reached an objectively drawn position. This is a pure abstraction though, and would remain so as long as White's d-pawn was alive and dangerous. After 32.d6 Rxc4 33.Be7 some care was required.
Black's best move would have been 33...f6, immediately eliminating all the dark-squared mating nets around Black's king and allowing it to join in the fight against White's d-pawn. Maybe there's a sly trap both players thought was winning, but I'm not seeing it. Instead, it just looks like a relatively straightforward draw, e.g. 34.Ra7 Kf7 35.Bd8+ Ke6 and now White seems to have nothing better than 36.d7 Rd4 (36...Rf4 first is an interesting finesse, threatening mate starting with 37...Bd4+. White plays 37.g3 and only then Black's rook goes to d4. The point is that after the same moves given in the 36...Rd4 line, the presence of a White pawn on g3 makes it easier for Black to liquidate the kingside and draw. Remember that he can give up everything he has for White's kingside pawns, his bishop included, and then draw with his king parked in the a8 corner.) 37.Bb6 Rxd7 38.Rxd7 Kxd7 39.Bxc5, when White's outside passer won't give him any serious winning chances.
Vachier-Lagrave played 33...Kg7 instead, and while it wasn't losing it kept him in danger. For one thing, it keeps the king away from the d-pawn; for another, it doesn't yet save the king from possible mating nets. After 34.Ra7 Black had to play 34...Re4!, and it still seems that he should hold the game. White can promote: 35.d7 Rxe7 36.d8Q Rxa7, but it appears that Black has a fortress, despite the presence of White's a-pawn. Of course if it's exchanged for Black's c-pawn the result is a dead draw, so let's see what happens if White tries to keep it: 37.Qd5 Bf6 38.Qc4 (threatening to start making progress with a2-a4) 38...Ra3! Now White's only winning idea is to bring the king over to b1, so the queen can go to c1 to push Black's rook away. (And even that is just a first tiny step.) This plan is incredibly slow, however, and Black has many ways to deal with it - just pushing the kingside pawns, for instance, easily generates sufficient counterplay.
Unfortunately for Vachier-Lagrave (and Gelfand and their fans), but fortunately for Aronian (and his fans and for those of us who can appreciate the aesthetics of his winning combination), Black played the losing move: 34...Rd4(?). It looks like an obvious blunder, but Black had a nice trick in mind. After 35.d7 Rd1+ 36.Kf2 Vachier-Lagrave played 36...c4!, a move with not just one but two points. The first, obvious point (though not so obvious when you have to think it up several moves in advance) is that if Aronian promotes (36.d8Q??) then Black saves the game with 36...Rxd8 37.Bxd8 Bd4+ and 38...Bxa7. But the really brilliant point was that if Aronian had played something obvious like 36.Rc7(?) Black has a de facto perpetual check! 36...Rd2+ 37.Kf3 (37.Ke1?? Rxd7+ and it won't be a perpetual; Black will simply win) 37...Rd3+ 38.Kg4 h5+ 39.Kf4 (39.Kh4 Bf6+ 40.Bxf6+ Kxf6 41.Rxc4 Rxd7=) Rd4+ 40.Ke3 Rd3+ etc.
But Aronian was up to the challenge, and played the only clear winning move: 37.g3! This eliminates the perpetual, allows Black to play ...Bd4+ if he wants (which he doesn't, as 38.Ke2 Bxa7 39.Kxd1 is a trivial win). The remaining moves were pretty simple, and in the final position White plays 43.Ra8 and starts pushing the a-pawn, with our without first interpolating Rc8.
The reason all this was bad news not just for Vachier-Lagrave but for Gelfand as well is the same reason why the last round of the London Candidates was a triumph for Magnus Carlsen despite his loss: tiebreaks. The same one, in fact, that cost Kramnik in London: it was number of wins of that determined the official winner of the event: Carlsen then and Aronian now. As then, and even before then - I've expressed similar complaints going back to the introduction a few years ago of chess tournaments with 3-1-0 scoring - I object to privileging a win and a loss over a pair of draws. Going +1, -1 doesn't show that someone played better chess or more enterprising chess than the player who drew twice; it doesn't even necessitate more fighting spirit. (Look at some of Kramnik's events here, or Nakamura's marathon draws in Zug.) It's impossible to discern anything about a game's quality just by knowing that it was drawn. What one does know, however, is that decisive games contain mistakes. So we know that the player who went +1 -1 made at least one error, and we don't know that his win was of particularly high quality. Maybe his opponent made a gross blunder in a perfectly good position.
It's also true that the draws might have been fightless and dull while the decisive games were dazzling and daring. It could be, but the point is that we don't know this a priori without looking at the games, and the games hadn't been played when the decisions about tiebreaks were being made. I'd prefer to skip out on tiebreaks altogether, either having co-champions when possible or a playoff when necessary. If tiebreaks are necessary though, I'd propose eliminating the "most wins/losses" tiebreaker or putting it much further down the list. (And why isn't head-to-head the first tiebreaker? It wouldn't have affected anything here or at the Candidates', but when it is relevant how is that not the most obvious and natural way to distinguish the players? Still another idea, aiming for objectivity over the kinds of dumb luck rewarded by the Sonneborn-Berger tiebreak: what about factoring in something like Ken Regan's Intrinsic Performance Ratings, both for the player's moves and his opponent's? It's not perfect, but it at least tries to isolate the most relevant factor: the quality of a player's moves.)
Rant over. In other games, Kramnik was successful today where he wasn't yesterday, this time winning the 7-hour game. Adams (his opponent) was doing fine for a long time, but a couple of loose moves between moves 30 and 40 got him in trouble. 33.Ne2 would have been better than 33.Nf1, but the bigger culprit was 36.Nd5? Adams must have missed or underestimated Kramnik's 36...f4! It's antipositional and ugly as sin, but it sets up the threat of ...c6, exploiting the knight's lack of squares to win the b-pawn. (Note that ...c6 needed to be prefaced by ...Be5, as White could have met 37...c6? with 38.Nf6!=.) From there it was a long, hard grind, and while Kramnik in general handled the ending extremely well and was a deserved winner, he seems to have erred on moves 61 and 65. I'm not 100% sure that Adams could have drawn even then, but at the very least Kramnik endangered the win.
In both cases Adams returned the favor; the first with inaccuracies on moves 62 and 64; the second with 70.Rf5. I'm not sure Kramnik is winning after the immediate 70.Rf8, e.g. 70...Rd3+ 71.Kc2 Re3 72.Nf6+ Kg6 73.Ng4 Rg3 74.Ne5+. White's setup is incredibly effective: the f- and g-pawns are frozen and the poor Black king can't go to its otherwise ideal square, h5, on account of Rh8#. The h-pawn has a little freedom, but it's limited. Continuing a bit: 74...Kg7 75.Rf7+ Kh6 (75...Kg8 76.Kd2 h3 77.Rf6 eventually comes to the same thing) 76.Rf8 h3 77.Kd2 Kg7 78.Rf7+ Kg8 79.Rf6 may just be drawn. When Black's king goes to the 7th rank, White plays Rf7+ and then goes to f6 or f8 - whichever rank is opposite Black's king. If there is a win in there, it's not easy to find. Anyway, Adams missed this chance and played 70.Rf5(?), after which Kramnik only had to find the simple but nice finesse 70...Rd3+! and only after 71.Kc2 Rg3. With the king on d1 White could capture and draw, but with the king on c2 it's an elementary win for Black. Adams played a few more moves, and then resigned.
Nikita Vitiugov and Ding Liren slugged it out in the Anti-Saemisch Gambit line of the King's Indian. For a while Vitiugov looked like he would be able to keep the material and win, but he never quite figured out how to extinguish his opponent's activity and the game finally ended in a draw. There are various improvements available to White, but the last chance to keep winning chances was with 32.Rc1 rather than 32.Rd1. After 32.Rd1 Rc4 followed by doubling on the 2nd rank, the game was equal. The difference is that if Black goes for the same plan with 32.Rc1 Rd4 White has 33.Rc6. In the 32.Rd1 Rc4 version, 33.Rd6 is ineffective due to 33...Bd4+, when White is lucky that he can still draw. In the 32.Rc1 Rd4 version, 33...Bd4+ is illegal, so White is winning. 32...Rd4 isn't forced, but White can still fight for the full point.
Finally, the game between Peter Svidler and Laurent Fressinet also finished in a draw. Fressinet was better most of the way and probably could have pushed a bit more, but in general it looked like the players were happy to vacuum up the board and draw at move 40 - which they did.
1-2. Aronian (first on tiebreaks), Gelfand 5.5
3. Anand 5
4-8. Vitiugov, Fressinet, Kramnik, Adams, Vachier-Lagrave 4.5
9. Ding Liren 3.5
10. Svidler 3