- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 2, 2021

It’s not quite Tom Brady signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — but it’s pretty close.

Armenian superstar GM Levon Aronian, who has anchored his small nation to three Olympiad team gold medals, announced last week he was moving to St. Louis and will soon play under the American flag.

Aronian, 38, has been one of the world’s best players for more than two decades, a perennial world championship contender ranked as high as No. 2 on FIDE’s global scoreboard. While expressing his affection for his home country, Aronian, now ranked fifth in the world, cited St. Louis chess philanthropist Rex Sinquefield and the support of the powerful St. Louis Chess Club in his momentous decision.

With Aronian’s relocation, the U.S. now boasts five of the world’s top 20 grandmasters, and it’s a genuine American melting pot: Fabiano Caruana (No. 2), Florida-born but who played a while for Italy; Wesley So (No. 9), a Philippine native to who switched to the U.S. in 2014; Leinier Dominguez Perez (No. 14), a Havana native who joined Team Red, White and Blue in 2018; and Japanese-born Hikaru Nakamura (No. 18), whose family moved to the U.S. when he was two.

Aside from a sterling resume, Aronian boasts an attractive, well-rounded style and has authored some of the most brilliant games of the last two decades. He took down Norwegian world champion Magnus Carlsen, playing at home and at the peak of his powers, in a 2017 game that featured two audacious speculative sacrifices against the world’s best player.



In a QGD Semi-Slav, Aronian as White exploits Carlsen’s pawn-hunting propensities with the unexpected 11. a3!? Bxa3 12. Rxa3!? Qxa3 13. c5, already threatening 14. Nb1 Qa2 15. Qc1 Ne4 16. Nc3 Nxc3 17. Bxc3 Nf3 18. Nd2 Ne4 dxe4 20. Qd2, with the queen-trapping 21. Ra1 coming next.

As Black focuses on extricating his queen, White takes the game in a radically different direction: 16. Bxe4 Rb8 17. Bxh7+! (just getting a position against Carlsen where this venerable sacrifice is feasible is a monumental achievement) Kxh7 18. Ng5+ Kg8 19. Qh5 Nf6 20. Qxf7+ Kh8 21. Qc7 — White has only two pawns for the rook, but will inevitably pick up material as Black tries to unwind his cluttered pieces.

Carlsen — no surprise — hangs tough, but the long defensive tightrope walk proves too much: 31. Rd1 e5? (the last mistake; Black appears to hold after 31…Rf8!, in lines like 32. Qd6 Qb3! 33. Qxf8 Qxd1+ 34. Kh2 Qxd4 35. Qxc8 Qf4+ 36. Kg1 Qc1+, with a perpetual) 32. Rd3! (the White queen and rook make a killer kingside attacking tandem) exd4 33. Qe7 Bf5 34. Rg3 Bg6 (Qg8 35. Qh4 mate) 35. Qh4+, and Black resigned facing 35…Bh5 (Qh5 36. Qxd8) 36. Rg5 Qxc6 37. Rxh5+ Kg6 38. Qg5+ Kf7 39. Qxd8 and wins.

Today’s diagram pits two of the modern game’s most inventive endgame artists as Aronian takes the measure of Latvian-Spanish great GM Alexei Shirov in a game from 2006. Our story so far: White (Shirov) has three pawns and a bishop for Black rook, but his king is pasted to the side of the board. Black has a more mobile king, but seemingly can’t leave his rook alone to fend of the enemy king and passed pawns.

Aronian threads the needle in problem-like fashion: 43…Ke6!! 44. h6! Kxd6!! (it would be interesting to know when Black saw the winning idea, since this looks suicidal otherwise) 45. Kh5 f5 46. h7 Rh8 47. Kg6 Ke7 48. Kg7 (a position to savor — if Black’s rook moves or takes the h-pawn, Shirov has a trivially won ending. How does Black survive, let alone win?) Ke8!!, and Aronian’s fiendishly clever idea comes into view.

On 49. Kxh8 Kf8!, the White’s king is in a box and he must start making fatal pawn moves, allowing a Black pawn to queen. White temporizes by advancing the laggard h-pawn, but can’t escape the logic of Aronian’s trap: 49. Kg6 Kf8 50. h4 Ke7! 51. Kg7 Ke8! 52. Kg6 Kf8 53. h5 (Kh6 Kf7 54. h5 Kf6 also loses) Ke7 54. Kg7 Ke8 55. Kg6 Kf8 56. h6 Ke8 57. Kf6 Rxh7 58. Kg6 Rf7!, and the final finesse forces White’s resignation. After 59. h7 Rf8! 60. Kg7 Rh8!! (again!) 61. Kxh8 Kf7, White must commit hari-kari with either the d- or b-pawn, losing quickly. Truly remarkable.

—-

Just a quick shout-out to the team behind Netflix’s “The Queen’s Gambit,” which managed to make the world of top-level tournament chess briefly chic. The series, adapted from the 1983 Walter Tevis novel, picked up a pair of Golden Globe awards Sunday, for the best limited television series and for star Anya Taylor-Joy as best actress in a limited series. Here’s hoping that provides a boost for my half-completed script based on “My 60 Memorable Games” …

Aronian-Carlsen, Norway Chess, Stavanger, Norway, June 2017

1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 e6 5. e3 a6 6. b3 Bb4 7. Bd2 Nbd7 8. Bd3 O-O 9. O-O Qe7 10. Bc2 Rd8 11. a3 Bxa3 12. Rxa3 Qxa3 13. c5 b6 14. b4 Ne4 15. Nxe4 dxe4 16. Bxe4 Rb8 17. Bxh7+ Kxh7 18. Ng5+ Kg8 19. Qh5 Nf6 20. Qxf7+ Kh8 21. Qc7 Bd7 22. Nf7+ Kh7 23. Nxd8 Rc8 24. Qxb6 Nd5 25. Qa7 Rxd8 26. e4 Qd3 27. exd5 Qxd2 28. Qc7 Qg5 29. dxc6 Bc8 30. h3 Qd5 31. Rd1 e5 32. Rd3 exd4 33. Qe7 Bf5 34. Rg3 Bg6 35. Qh4+ Black resigns.

• David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at dsands@washingtontimes.com.

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