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.
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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.
Alexander Grischuk defeated Levon Aronian 11.5-9.5 in their quarter-final match in Chess.com's Grandmaster Blitz Battle Championship. It was a hard-fought match, and generally well-played, too. Grischuk dominated overall, and was close to winning many more games than he did, but Aronian's tough defense (sometimes aided by Grischuk's characteristic time trouble) kept the match close, and with two games left the match was tied. The penultimate game was key, a marathon battle that saw Aronian start with an extra pawn and a lead on time. Grischuk had the bishop pair, and slowly but surely managed to fight his way back to equality and a likely draw. But the battle continued, and after some final adventures Grischuk pulled out the win.
In the semi-final Grischuk will play the winner of a similar match between Magnus Carlsen and the winner of a qualifying tournament, and before the latter match the other quarter-final matches will take place: Hikaru Nakamura vs. Pentala Harikrishna on May 4 and Fabiano Caruana vs. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave on May 10.
The full Grischuk-Aronian match, with commentary by GM Robert Hess and IM Danny Rensch, is available here.
This should be a lot of fun for spectators. Current world blitz champion Alexander Grischuk and erstwhile world #2 (and former world blitz champion) Levon Aronian will face off on Chess.com tomorrow (Wednesday) at 1 p.m. Eastern time = 6 p.m. London time. They will play for three hours in three formats: 5 minutes + 2 seconds for 90 minutes, 3' + 2" for 60 minutes, and then 1' + 1" for another half an hour. (There will be short breaks in between each transition.)
Better still, this is just the first match in a series. On May 4 a similar match will take place between Hikaru Nakamura and Pentala Harikrishna, on May 10 Fabiano Caruana will play Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, and on June 8 or 15 none other than Magnus Carlsen will take on the winner of a qualifier scheduled for May 31. (More here.)
These four matches are not wholly independent events, but the quarterfinal of an overall competition with $40k in prizes. Not bad for a maximum of nine hours' work.
After three more rounds of the Candidates - six overall, out of 14 - the players get another rest day, and it was well-earned. In round 4 there was only one decisive game, but it was a big one with one leader - Sergey Karjakin - beating another - Viswanathan Anand. That gave Karjakin sole ownership of first place, which he maintained after four draws in round 5.
In round 6 things livened up. First, Anand pole-axed Peter Svidler, winning with a nice sacrificial attacking game that constituted a serious improvement over a 2004 game between Alexei Shirov and Alexander Onischuk. Svidler's 18...Nb3 was a good move when Onischuk played it, but the seemingly slight difference between the two games made all the difference in the world, and Anand crushed him in good style.
That brought Anand within half a point of the lead by round's end, and Karjakin was fortunate to remain in first (shared first by round's end) as he was in some serious trouble against Fabiano Caruana. Fortunately for Karjakin his opponent preferred 30.g5 to 30.Bf3, after which he saved the game with a couple of spectacular moves.
The third game to finish was a draw between Veselin Topalov and Anish Giri. Giri came close to a win, outplaying his opponent step by step, but Topalov made a last desperate stand and held the game a pawn down.
The fourth and final game was an oddity. Levon Aronian was pushing with White throughout against Hikaru Nakamura, but the rook endgame that arose after White's 52nd move should have been drawn. Nakamura promptly made a serious error, which Aronian in turn failed to take advantage of. Another 22 moves go by with Aronian still pressing and Nakamura still probably drawing. Unfortunately for Nakamura, he hastily grabbed his king with the obvious intention of moving it, only to realize that it was a huge error. At that moment he tried to turn it into a "j'adoube", which is pretty amazing. Of course Aronian would have none of that, and the arbiter came quickly to help resolve the situation. Nakamura gave up the claim, moved the king, and soon had to resign the game. Here's the video of the critical moments (HT to Ross Hytnen):
The games of the last three rounds are here, and I've analyzed three of the four games from round 6, either in whole or in part. Here are the pairings for round 7, on Saturday:
- Svidler (2.5) - Caruana (3)
- Karjakin (4) - Aronian (4)
- Nakamura (2) - Topalov (2)
- Giri (3) - Anand (3.5)
As the Candidates' tournament approaches, preview articles and interviews are bound to sprout like buds in the spring. Here is an interview with the always interesting Levon Aronian, whose optimism and ambition remain strong, unbroken and seemingly undented by his less than stellar results in Zurich, past Candidates' events, and other dips in form over the years. One hopes he gets at least one chance at a World Championship match while he's still at or at least near his peak form.
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).
- Shirov - Kramnik
- Nakamura - Giri
- Anand - Aronian
- 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.
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.
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.