SANDS: Aronian wins third Amber title in 4 years

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Armenian GM Levon Aronian has won his third Amber Blindfold/Rapid title in four years, winning the unique dual-format event over a world-class field with a combined score of 15 1/2-6 1/2. Remarkably, in a field that included reigning world champion Viswanathan Anand and two former world champions, Aronian lost only once in 22 games, to former Russian national champ Alexander Grischuk.

The Armenian needed every point to hold off Norwegian No. 1 Magnus Carlsen, who scored a stunning 9 1/2-1 1/2 in the rapid portion of the tournament. (A late 2-0 loss to Ukraine’s Vassily Ivanchuk cost Carlsen the overall title.) A sample of Carlsen’s strength at the accelerated time controls can be seen in his game against Bulgarian GM Veselin Topalov, one of the former world champs in the field. An opening inaccuracy costs Black dearly, with White winding things up smartly in just 29 moves.

In the recent must-read profile of Carlsen in the New Yorker, the Norwegian said he was not a big fan of computers and, unlike other prodigies, did not make a deep study of the opening on his way to stardom. But in this Sicilian Grand Prix, he flummoxes Black with a well-known tactical motif: 10. a4 f5?! 11. Nd5! fxe4 (Bxd5 12. exd5 Nf6 13. c4 0-0 14. Ng5 and Black’s game is full of holes) 12. dxe4 Rb8 13. Ng5, already threatening the cute 14. Ne6! Qxe6?? 15. Nc7+, winning.

Black’s game goes rapidly downhill, as his exposed queen continually helps White develop his forces as she seeks shelter: 16. Qe2 (already threatening the queen-trapping 17. g4) h5 (Qxd5?? 17. Nc7+) 17. Ra3! Nh6 18. Rg3 Kd7 19. Rg5! Bxg5 20. fxg5 Qxd5 21. Nf4 Qd4+ 22. Be3, and all the White pieces are in place for the final assault.

More discovered attacks help produce a quick victory on 24. Nd5 Rhh8 (the rook was hanging) 25. Qd2 Rhf8 26. Re1 Rf5 (Qh4 27. g3 Qh3 28. Bxc5!) 27. Nb6+ Kc6 28. Bxc5! Rbf8 (the queen again is attacked, and 28…Qf4 29. Be3 Qg4 30. Qc3+ Rc5 31. Bxc5 dxc5 32. Nd5 wins for White) 29. Bd4. Topalov resigns, not needing to play out lines such as 29…Qg4 30. Qc3+ Rc5 31. Bxc5 dxc5 32. Nd5 e6 33. Nf6, with an overwhelming advantage.

Korchnoi-Geller after 16...Nd4.

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Korchnoi-Geller after 16…Nd4. more >

Ageless wonder GM Viktor Korchnoi has packed a lot into his fourscore years, and he’s not done yet.

The Russian-born Swiss grandmaster, who turned 80 on March 23, was one of the greatest players of the second half of the 20th century, and remains a dangerous and active competitor at an age when most top players have long since given up elite play. A four-time Soviet champion who contested two epic world championship matches with hated rival Anatoly Karpov in 1978 and 1981, Korchnoi’s professional and personal hardships in the years following his defection to the West in 1976 very well may have cost him the world crown.

We honor the birthday boy with an early game against one of the best Soviet masters of all time, Efim Geller. Played in 1954, the year Korchnoi achieved the international master rank, it features an early exchange sacrifice that leaves Black exposed to a sizzling attack.

Korchnoi as White takes some risks in this Sicilian Richter-Rauzer, but his 10. Nf3 Bg4 11. h3!? Bxf3 12. gxf3 does open up a file that will prove immensely useful to White in the final attack.

Geller goes wrong in the ensuing skirmish, snatching what proves to be a poisoned pawn on 13. fxe5 dxe5 (Nxf3? 14. exf6 Nxd2 15. fxe7 Qa5 16. exf8=Q+ Rxf8 17. Bxd2 nets a ton of material for the queen) 14. Rg1 Nxf3?, when Black would have had a very promising queenside attack by giving up rook for bishop on 14…Rc8! 15. Bh6 g6 16. Bxf8 Qxf8.

Instead, it is the young Korchnoi who gets in a powerful exchange sacrifice: 16. Be3 Nd4 (see diagram) 17. Rxd4! exd4 18. Bxd4 Qd8 (murky would have been 18…Qe6!? 19. Nd5 Ne8 20. Nc7 Qh6+ [Nxc7?? 21. Rxg7+] 21. Kb1 Rd8 22. Nd5 Bh4 23. Qf3) 19. Nd5 Ne8 (Kh8 20. Nxe7 Qxe7 21. Rxg7!! Kxg7 22. Qg3+ Kh8 [Kh6 23. Be3+ Kh5 24. Qg5 mate] 23. Qg5, and Black is helpless) 20. Qg3, and Black’s kingside defenses, and especially the g7-square, are under siege.

Geller misses his last, best defensive chance (20…Bh4 offers some survival chances, even in the face of the scary 21. Qxg7+ Nxg7 22. Rxg7+ Kg8 23. Rxf7+) and falls to a powerful final combination: 20…f6? 21. Bc4 Rf7 (Kh8 22. Nf4!, and there’s no good answer to the threat of 23. Ng6+! hxg6 24. Qh4 mate) 22. Nf4! Bd6 (Qxd4 23. Bxf7+ Kxf7 24. Qb3+ Kf8 25. Ne6+ Kg8 26. Ng5+ Kh8 27. Nf7+ Kg8 28. Nh6+ and mate next move) 23. Bxf7+ Kxf7 24. Qb3+ Ke7 25. Bxf6+!.

Every capture leads to mate: 25…Nxf6 26. Rxg7+ Kf8 27. Qf7 mate; 25… Kxf6 26. Qe6 mate; and 25…gxf6 26. Qe6+ Kf8 27. Rg8 mate. Black resigns.

Carlsen-Topalov, Monte Carlo, March 2011

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About the Author
David R. Sands

David R. Sands

Raised in Northern Virginia, David R. Sands received an undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia and a master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He worked as a reporter for several Washington-area business publications before joining The Washington Times.

At The Times, Mr. Sands has covered numerous beats, including international trade, banking, politics ...

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