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SANDS: Low-key Aronian soars high in Wijk aan Zee chess tournament
Armenian GM Levon Aronian has added another chapter to a career that has been both illustrious and somewhat under the radar, capturing the 74th Tata Steel Grandmaster “A” Tournament in Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands, Sunday by a full point over Norway’s Magnus Carlsen and Azerbaijan’s Teimour Radjabov. Despite a loss to Carlsen during the Category 21 event, Aronian won going away, notching a quick last-round draw to finish at a very impressive 9-4.
The genial 29-year-old Aronian, ranked second in the world behind Carlsen, led his small country to gold in the 2006 and 2008 Olympiads and to a World Team Chess title last year. He also has racked up a slew of firsts in elite events over the past decade, and he’s the reigning world blitz champion, to boot.
Yet despite a solid and at times spectacular style at the board, he has at times been overlooked among the small class of the world’s elite players, overshadowed by rivals such as Carlsen and reigning world champion Viswanathan Anand - over whom Aronian has a 5-1 edge in classical chess games.
Playing a few more games like this win from Tata would only help Aronian’s Q rating. He schools young Dutch grandmaster Anish Giri from the Black side of a Queen’s Gambit Declined, first with a powerful exchange sacrifice to seize the initiative and then with a combination featuring a queen sacrifice to wrap up the point.
Black’s 9. Qc2 Nh5!?, in a QGD line Aronian has played often as White is the sharpest variation, inviting the complications that follow: 10. Be5 f6 11. Ng5!? fxg5 (g6? 12. Nxh7 Kxh7 13. Bxh5 is strong for White) 12. Bxh5 Bd7 13. Bf3. White’s bishops appear to be superior, but Black’s next move completely changes the dynamic of the game.
Thus: 13. … Rxf3! 14. gxf3 Bd6 15. Qe4?! (Aronian was critical of this idea, holding back the White pawn center while relocating the queen to the king side) Bc6 16. Qg4 Qe7 17. Bxd6 cxd6 18. Ne4 h6 19. Qg3 d5. Black’s last move (temporarily) closes in his own bishop but also deprives White of any outlets for his rooks; Black’s rook, by contrast, will find a powerful perch on the half-open f-file.
Very attractive is Black’s deft repositioning of his rook, knight (from b6 to h4 in four consecutive moves) and bishop, all while depriving White of any counterchances. The Black rook relocates to the d-file to support Aronian’s pawn center in the final fireworks display.
There is a string of neat tactical touches in the finale: 36. a4 Rd8! (all the pieces are now literally in place in preparation for the coming e6-e5 breakthrough) 37. Ne2 e5 38. Qg4 (Rd1 exd4 39. Nxd4 Ne5 is painful for White) exd4 39. exd4 (Black also wins on 39. Nxd4 Ne5 40. Qe6+ Qxe6 41. Nxe6 Nd3+ 42. Kd2 Rd6, gaining material) Re8 40. Qd7 c3! 41. Ra2 (see diagram; on 41. Nxc3, Black mates with 41. … Qf4+ 42. Kd1 Qxd4+ 43. Kc1 Re1+ 44. Rxe1 Qxc3+ 45. Rc2 [Kd1 Qxe1 mate] Qa1 mate) Ne1!! (threat: 42. … Nd3+ 43. Kc2 Nc5+, winning the queen) 42. Rxe1 (Nxf4 Rxe1 is mate) Qe4, and there’s no good defense to 43. … Qd3+ 45. Kc1 Qb1 mate. Giri resigned.
Aronian’s low profile is all the more curious because he has been producing brilliancies like the Giri win from a very young age. He learned the game at the age of 9 and just three years later took the World Youth Chess Under-12 Championship title ahead of a slew of future grandmasters.
In the FIDE world-championship knockout tournament in Las Vegas in 1999, the 16-year-old Aronian made a splash with a 2-0 dismissal of Lithuanian GM Eduardas Rozentalis in the first round, including a brilliant demolition job in the second game to advance.
The play is extremely double-edged in this King’s Indian Attack, with Rozentalis’ rooks driving the White king to a very precarious perch on h3. But it is White that lands the first telling blow with 30. Raf1 Bd6 31. Rxg7!, when 31. … Kxg7? loses to 32. Qf7+ Kh8 33. Qf6+ Kh7 (Kg8 34. Qg6+ Kh8 35. Qxh6+ Kg8 36. Be6 mate) 34. Bf5+ Kg8 35. Qg6+ Kf8 36. Qxh6+ Ke8 37. Re1+, leading to mate.
But the game remains in balance until 33. Rxf2 Qxf2 34. Rg6! Qf5+ 35. Kg2 Qxh5? (unwisely taking the bait, though Black only draws at best after 35. … Qc2+ 36. Qe2 Qxe2+ 37. Bxe2 Bf8 38. Bc4 Kh7 39. Rf6) 36. Qd4+ Qe5 37. Rxd6!!, a neat geometrical trick that leads to a won ending.
After 37. … Qxd4 38. Rxd5 Re8 39. Rd6, Black’s resignation may be a tad premature, but the win for White is a straightforward matter of technique.
1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Be7 4. Nf3 Nf6 5. Bf4 O-O 6. e3 Nbd7 7. Be2 dxc4 8. O-O Nb6 9. Qc2 Nh5 10. Be5 f6 11. Ng5 fxg5 12. Bxh5 Bd7 13. Bf3 Rxf3 14. gxf3 Bd6 15. Qe4 Bc6 16. Qg4 Qe7 17. Bxd6 cxd6 18. Ne4 h6 19. Qg3 d5 20. Nc3 Rf8 21. Ne2 Rf5 22. Kg2 Nd7 23. Rh1 Nf8 24. h4 Ng6 25. f4 Nxh4+ 26. Kf1 Qb4 27. Rb1 Be8 28. Nc3 Qe7 29. b4 Rf8 30. Rb2 Bg6 31. Ke1 Bd3 32. fxg5 Nf3+ 33. Kd1 hxg5 34. Qh3 Qf6 35. Kc1 Bg6 36. a4 Rd8 37. Ne2 e5 38. Qg4 exd4 39. exd4 Re8 40. Qd7 c3 41. Ra2 Ne1 42. Rxe1 Qf4+ 43. Kd1 Qe4 0-1.
Aronian-Rozentalis, Las Vegas, 1999
1. Nf3 d5 2. g3 Bg4 3. Bg2 c6 4. O-O Nd7 5. d3 Ngf6 6. Nbd2 e5 7. e4 dxe4 8. dxe4 Bc5 9. h3 Bxf3 10. Bxf3 O-O 11. a4 a5 12. Nc4 Qe7 13. Kg2 Rfd8 14. Qe2 Nf8 15. c3 h6 16. h4 Qc7 17. Ne3 Qb6 18. Nc4 Qc7 19. Ne3 Qb6 20. Qc4 Ne6 21. Ng4 Nxg4 22. Bxg4 Rd6 23. b3 Rad8 24. f4 exf4 25. Bxf4 Nxf4+ 26. Rxf4 Rd2+ 27. Kh3 Bd6 28. Rxf7 Kh8 29. e5 Bxe5 30. Raf1 Bd6 31. Rxg7 Qe3 32. Bh5 Rf2 33. Rxf2 Qxf2 34. Rg6 Qf5+ 35. Kg2 Qxh5 36. Qd4+ Qe5 37. Rxd6 Qxd4 38. Rxd4 Re8 39. Rd6 1-0.
• David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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About the Author
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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