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    Entries in Levon Aronian (119)

    Friday
    Aug252017

    Aronian-Nepo and Caruana-Hou Yifan Links

    In the previous post I mentioned the online speed chess matches between Levon Aronian and Ian Nepomniachtchi and between Fabiano Caruana and Hou Yifan. They're over now, and can be viewed here and here, respectively. To avoid spoilers, I'll give the results in the comments.

    Monday
    Aug212017

    Speed Chess Championship: Aronian-Nepo and Caruana-Hou Coming Up This Week

    Chess.com's big speed chess event rolls on this week with two more knockout matches. Levon Aronian faces Ian Nepomniachtchi on Wednesday, August 23, at 10 a.m. PDT (= 1 p.m. ET/6 p.m. CET) and on Thursday, August 24 Fabiano Caruana will play against Hou Yifan starting at 3 p.m. PDT (=6 p.m. ET/1 a.m. CET).

    For those who haven't seen Chess.com's blitz battles before, here's how they work. The start with 90 minutes of 5'+2", take about a three minute break, play 60 minutes of 3'+2", take one more short break, and then conclude with half an hour of 1'+2". There are extremely brief interviews before the matches, longer interviews afterwards (depending on the quality of the connection and the players' facility with English), and running commentary (often pretty corny) throughout.

    Sunday
    Aug202017

    St. Louis Rapid & Blitz, Finale: Aronian Wins; Karjakin and Nakamura Tie for Second

    The St. Louis Rapid & Blitz tournament is now history, and a bit of chess history that will likely be remembered on account of Garry Kasparov's participation. He was the star of the show coming into the event (though not the favorite), and he played very well on the event's final day. But the hero of the event was Levon Aronian, who won by a healthy three point margin and played the best chess throughout the tournament.

    Aronian won the rapid portion by half a point (a point on the 2-1-0 scoring system used for that portion of the event; the rapid games counted double compared to the blitz games) over Hikaru Nakamura and Fabiano Caruana, and took second in the blitz a point behind Sergey Karjakin. Nakamura took third in the blitz, while Karjakin did poorly in the rapid, finishing two points behind Aronian (in normal scoring; four points behind on 2-1-0 scoring). Karjakin was great in the blitz, especially on the first day when he went undefeated with a monstrous score of eight out of nine. He won his last five games, and started the final day with two more wins, closing to within a point of Aronian.

    Round 12 proved critical. Karjakin had White against the tailender, David Navara, while Aronian had White against Le Quang Liem. Karjakin was outplayed by Navara (who had defeated Aronian in the previous round!) and lost, while Aronian was worse in his game but won on time (and in a position where the Bronstein delay should have sufficed for Le to make reasonable moves). In the next round Karjakin had White again, against Aronian, but got nothing; in fact, he had to play accurately to hold the balance and draw. Karjakin lost again in round 16, to Nakamura, and that put paid to his hopes of winning first. In any case, Aronian finished strongly, finishing the tournament with 3.5/4, including wins in the last two rounds.

    Nakamura also finished with 3.5/4 to catch Karjakin (including the win noted in the previous paragraph), but losses in rounds 13 and 14 likewise put an end to any of his dreams of taking first. Still, it was a good tournament overall for the first three finishers, and Ian Nepomniachtchi's fourth place was a good result for him as well, especially after his poor finish in the Sinquefield Cup the week before, where he tied for last.

    As for Kasparov, his performance on the first day of the blitz wasn't anything to write home about, but day two was another story. He lost a strange game to Karjakin in round 1, and it was strange for two reasons. First, 21...Qf6 was a mistake, and it seemed during the video that he realized it was a mistake because of 22.Bxh5. It may be that he thought he let go of the queen before returning the queen to e7 (a la his game vs. Nakamura last year and, much, much earlier, against Judit Polgar), and so he decided to just be done with it and make the move. It seems clear from the video that he didn't let go, but perhaps he wasn't sure. Good sportsmanship on his part, if that's what happened, but a shame (if that was his reason) since he didn't actually let go. The second strange thing is that while he was worse from start to finish, there was one momentarily exception, and it was a biggie: 31...e4 would have won, or at least have given him a winning advantage. It's surprising that two superstars missed the move, but that's blitz. (And part of the problem was that the move wasn't there the move before; it was only Karjakin's 31.Re1-f1 that made it possible.)

    Anyway, after that loss, Kasparov went undefeated the rest of the event, and won against Caruana in round 12 (with Black), Nakamura in round 13 (with White), and Leinier Dominguez in round 17 (with Black in a Najdorf). The last game was especially good, and left me pining for Kasparov's return and wishing that Friday had been the start of the tournament and not its finish. If Kasparov had won against Navara in the last round he would have made it a four-way tie for fifth-eighth, but because he drew he finished half a point behind Dominguez, Caruana, and Le. Anand finished a couple of points behind Kasparov, and Navara finished another point back.

    Final Blitz Standings:

    1. Karjakin 13.5 (out of 18)
    2. Aronian 12.5
    3. Nakamura 10.5
    4. Nepomniachtchi 10
    5. Kasparov 9
    6. Le Quang Liem 8.5
    7. Dominguez 7.5
    8. Anand 7
    9. Navara 6
    10. Caruana 5.5

    Final Overall Standings:

    1. Aronian 24.5 (out of 36)
    2-3. Karjakin, Nakamura 21.5
    4. Nepomniachtchi 20
    5-7. Dominguez, Caruana, Le Quang Liem 16.5
    8. Kasparov 16
    9. Anand 14
    10. Navara 13

    The day 4 video can be watched here, day 5 here. And here are all the games (unannotated). And the video for yesterday's "Ultimate Moves" competition is here.

    Thursday
    Aug172017

    St. Louis Rapid & Blitz: Aronian Leads After the Rapid Portion

    The blitz has just started, so let's get caught up to speed on what has happened the last couple of days, starting with the travails of one Garry Kasparov. On day one, already reported on below, he drew all three games, two normally and one (against Hikaru Nakamura) after being better and then losing. Much more variance was yet to come.

    In round 4 he did well, drawing with Black against Levon Aronian. In fact he was winning near the end, a pawn up in a knight ending, but in his usual time pressure he missed a nice tactical trick that let his opponent escape with a draw. Kasparov finally experienced a decisive result in round 5, but not the one he hoped for. Playing very aggressive, enterprising chess Kasparov outplayed Ian Nepomniachtchi in the middlegame, but squandered his advantage with 22.exd7. He was still okay until his 33rd-35th moves. Had he played 33.Rxe8 Rxe8 34.Bf7 all would have been well, but after the interpolation of 33.Rh1 Qg5 that same sequence was losing, as his opponent demonstrated.

    Round 6 wasn't as exciting as one would have hoped, with the historic rematch between Viswanathan Anand and Kasparov. Kasparov hoped to play a Najdorf, but Anand played 3.Bb5+, whereupon Kasparov produced an expression that was some funny mix of pain and contempt for the move. Nevertheless, the game still became Najdorf-like, with White hoping to exploit the d5 square and Black looking for counterplay. Kasparov played well, and after 19...d5 stood slightly better. His inaccuracy on move 22 allowed Anand to emerge unscathed, and the draw was soon agreed.

    The next day everything was wild. He played great chess against David Navara for the first part of the game, but in the second half things spun out of control. He was still winning - most of the time - but it was a mess. Finally, Navara was equal, but Kasparov still had a tempting trick or two to push for the win. Both sides were short of time, but for once his opponent had less time than he did. Kasparov thought he found a nice win, but unfortunately Navara had seen further, and with a great tactical trick not only saved the game but won it.

    Kasparov's pain was somewhat mitigated in round 8 when Le Quang Liem moved a rook where it could be taken in one move, instantly losing what had been an equal position. Finally, in round 9, Kasparov lost again, falling to -2, at the hands of Fabiano Caruana. The game was equal for a long time, but some Kasparov inaccuracies let Caruana outplay him step by step.

    In the rest of the show, Aronian finished the rapid portion in first place, though what ultimately matters for money and Grand Chess Tour points is the combined score. Aronian had trouble with the second game of all three days, losing on days 1 and 2 and drawing on day 3, but except for his round 4 draw with Kasparov he won the remaining five games. Nepomniachtchi led most of the way, and would have finished the rapid tied for first if he had defeated Nakamura in the last round. He had chances, but imprecision let Nakamura escape and then even win in a long game. Nakamura is in second, a point behind Aronian (half a point in classical scoring, but since the rapid games are weighted double compared to the blitz games it's a full point in the standings), tied with Caruana.

    Here are the standings after the rapid, based on the tournament's 2-1-0 scoring, and here are the games from rounds 2 and 3, with brief comments to each of Kasparov's games.

    1. Aronian 12 (of 18)
    2-3. Caruana, Nakamura 11
    4. Nepomniachtchi 10
    5. Dominguez 9
    6-7. Le Quang Liem, Karjakin 8
    8-10. Navara, Kasparov, Anand 7

    Thursday
    Aug102017

    Sinquefield Cup, Round 7: Three Lead With Two Rounds to Go

    Maxime Vachier-Lagrange had enjoyed the solo lead for a while, but now he's part of a three-way tie for first going into the penultimate round. He did his best to maintain the lead, employing some very deep preparation against Sergey Karjakin on the white side of the Berlin ending. After his 26th move, he had used just over a minute on his clock, while Karjakin had burned much more time - and would continue to do so. The bishop vs. knight ending that had arisen was very complicated, and it gave Karjakin yet another chance to justify the "Minister of Defense" sobriquet others have bestowed upon him. He used almost all his time in the first time control, while MVL had loads of time left - and it paid off. With essentially perfect defense he avoided a number of pitfalls, and held the draw.

    This gave three people the chance to catch Vachier-Lagrave in first: Magnus Carlsen, Viswanathan Anand, and Levon Aronian. Carlsen managed to achieve the very slightly happier side of a draw against Peter Svidler, and won the moral victory of doing so with Black (in a Scotch), but the bottom line is that he remains half a point behind the leader.

    Or rather, leaders, as both Anand and Aronian won. Anand had a small edge against Ian Nepomniachtchi in a double rook ending, and it unexpectedly turned into a winning advantage when Black played 31...b4. Black had no real threats against White's king, while his kingside counterplay was too slow for White's queenside pawn majority. Anand's accurate 40th move eliminated Black's last hope for play, and accordingly Nepo resigned.

    Aronian also won, and with Black, against Hikaru Nakamura. Nakamura played the English, and the players entered a line from the 1987 Kasparov-Karpov match in Seville. Nakamura's 15.Ne4 varied from some earlier games (none by Karpov or Kasparov) in which 16.Bb2 was played; most recently in Svidler-Karjakin from the Candidates tournament in 2016. Nakamura's move looks good, but Aronian handled the resulting position better and obtained an edge. Many moves and some White inaccuracies and errors lately, Aronian won a bishop vs. knight ending with an extra pawn.

    Finally, Wesley So drew a short game with Fabiano Caruana; not the result he hoped for, but he did stop the bleeding after a couple of losses.

    Here are the round 8 pairings:

    • Anand (4.5) - Vachier-Lagrave (4.5)
    • Aronian (4.5) - Svidler (3)
    • Nepomniachtchi (2.5) - Carlsen (4)
    • Caruana (3.5) - Nakamura (2.5)
    • Karjakin (3.5) - So (2.5)

    Wednesday
    Aug092017

    Sinquefield Cup, Round 6: Aronian Defeats So to Join the Second-Place Tie behind MVL

    Wesley So was the #2 player in the world coming into the event, and had he defeated Magnus Carlsen in the previous round he'd have been #1. After losing to Carlsen in round 5, and now losing - badly - to Levon Aronian in round 6, he's now #6 in the world and has fallen below 2800. (It isn't easy at the top, or near it. Aronian, Fabiano Caruana, and several other players who have been #2 in recent years - sometimes with a healthy gap between them and the #3 player - have all taken a tumble and had to gradually work their way back up.)

    About the Aronian-So game. Aronian criticized So's 19th and 24th moves, 19...Bxe4 (allowing White to open the f-file, with attacking chances) and 24...Rb7, but while these moves made So's situation precarious the engine insists that Black wasn't in grave danger until he played 27...Qe7 (27...Re7 was correct) and especially 28...Qc5. So needed to play 28...Qd6, to prevent Aronian's excellent response to the move actually chosen. Aronian's 29.Rf6! was crushing, and when So resigned a few moves later it was in a position where White had winning plans to spare.

    The other four games were drawn, with the most notable of the bunch being Carlsen's marathon draw with Hikaru Nakamura. To mention just two or three of the interesting moments in the game: first, there was the series of 10 consecutive captures after Carlsen's 20.Bg5; second and third, and related, there's Carlsen's handling of his kingside pawns in the rook ending. Playing h4-h5 on move 43 or especially move 42 would have given him a forced win (and at least excellent practical chances even if he didn't manage to play like a computer). Instead, 43.g5? made it impossible to make progress against good defense, and while Nakamura may have made his life a little more difficult than he needed to, he held the fort and got the draw.

    Carlsen thus missed out on a chance to catch Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in a tie for first; instead, he's tied with Aronian and Viswanathan Anand. Here are the pairings for round 7, which begin in an hour or so:

    • Vachier-Lagrave (4) - Karjakin (3)
    • Svidler (2.5) - Carlsen (3.5)
    • Nakamura (2.5) - Aronian (3.5)
    • Anand (3.5) - Nepomniachtchi (2.5)
    • So (2) - Caruana (3)

    Wednesday
    Aug022017

    Sinquefield Cup, Day 1: Aronian, Vachier-Lagrave, and Karjakin Start with Wins

    It was not a dull first round at the Sinquefield Cup - despite the presence of two Closed Ruys and two Giuoco Pianos out of the five games. As long as players are willing to fight, the games will get interesting, and so they did.

    That said, the liveliest game was the one non-1.e4 game. Levon Aronian played the English against Ian Nepomniachtchi, and while the line was one Nepo said that he himself had prepared to play with White, he apparently couldn't remember what to do against it with Black. His decision on move 11 to sac his b-pawn was iffy, and 14...Bxc3 only made things worse. His position went further downhill after 16...Be6, which can fairly be described as the losing move. Aronian had no trouble from there, winning more material every few moves until Nepomniachtchi gave up on move 29, down a bishop and a pawn.

    The other two wins came from the Italian Game. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave was better against Wesley So much of the way, but So was mostly okay until he played 32...f5. Opening the board favored MVL and his bishops, and left So in a precarious position. The decisive error came on move 40, when So played 40...Kd8? instead of repeating with 40...Kf6. The upshot was that he trapped his own rook, so that in the final position the otherwise desirable 43...Nxb6 would be met by 44.Bxb7, collecting the aforementioned rook.

    The other Italian victory was Sergey Karjakin's win over Peter Svidler. White didn't achieve an opening advantage, but often a playable, interesting position is victory enough. Karjakin's 16.c4 was visually pleasing, creating a row of White pawns from a4 through e4, and more importantly it gave Black a host of moves and plans to choose from. Svidler burned a pretty fair amount of time on this move (and about an hour in total from moves 13-17, inclusive), and chose a mistaken idea starting with 16...exd4. White's queenside clump of pawns on the a- and b-files soon proved decisive, and although it wasn't the best move it's fitting that the game finished with 39.a7, moving the pawn next to his adjacent passer on b7.

    The other games were drawn. The marquee matchup between Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana (with Caruana playing White) was a well-played and well-fought draw in a Closed Ruy with 6.d3. Only the game between Viswanathan Anand and Hikaru Nakamura may deserve a little bit of criticism, as Nakamura was meaningfully better (with Black) in a 4.d3 Anti-Berlin when the draw was agreed. It isn't as though Nakamura hasn't displayed his fighting prowess at the chess board for around two decades, so if he is in need of some slack for the draw, we should speedily and wholeheartedly give it to him.

    Here are the round 2 pairings:

    Carlsen (.5) - Karjakin (1)
    Aronian (1) - Caruana (.5)
    Nakamura (.5) - Vachier-Lagrave (1)
    Svidler (0) - Anand (.5)
    Nepomniachtchi (0) - So (0)

    Wednesday
    Jul052017

    An Aronian Interview

    Excerpts in English, here.

    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)

     

     

     

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