12 January 2014

Aronian -- Caruana, Tata Steel 2014

In round two of the Tata Steel Grandmaster tournament in Wijk aan Zee, the top seed has White against the number three seed. Levon Aronian is the world number two, and one of a handful of players ever rated above 2800. He is the highest rated played in the event. The world number six, Fabiano Caruana is the event's third highest rated player.

I may choose to follow Aronian on this blog through all rounds, but Hikaru Nakamura, the world number three, may draw my attention his way. He is the top American and has been playing well lately.

Aronian,Levon (2812) -- Caruana,Fabiano (2782) [A34]
Tata Steel Wijk aan Zee (2), 12.01.2014

1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.d4 Nxc3 6.bxc3 g6 7.Bf4

7.e4 is the most popular move, but several other moves have been the choice of top players in recent years. 7.e3, 7.g3, and 7.Bg5 have been played, as well as 7.Bf4.

7...Bg7 8.e3 0–0

8...Qa5 has been played more often.

White to move


Aronian's move appears twice in the ChessBase Online database, but has not been played by masters.

9...Nd7 10.0–0 Qa5 11.Qc2 cxd4 12.cxd4 e5 13.Bg3 exd4 14.Nxd4 Nb6 15.Qc7

Black to move


Caruana opts to create a minor piece imbalance, and give Aronian a pawn that is both passed and isolated. It may be expected that this pawn will become the focus of the battle.

16.exd4 Bf5 17.Bxf5 Qxf5 18.Qxb7

Caruana's plan also gives Aronian an extra pawn, although the official site's Houdini analysis never offered White a full pawn advantage in its evaluation until after the first time control. Engines often become a crutch, especially when amateurs like myself follow the games of the pros. I am seeking to be disciplined and perform my own analysis. It would be nice if the web broadcasting software did not embed Houdini's analysis in the game score.

My live blogging of Grandmaster games as they unfold is chess news, but it is also an element in my own training. For me, Levon Aronian is a model player. Following his games should make my own tournament play stronger.

18...Rfd8 19.Rfd1 Rd7 20.Qa6 Qe4 21.Be5 Rf8 22.h3 f6 23.Bg3 Rff7 24.f3 Qf5 25.Rac1 Kg7 26.Kh2 Rfe7 27.Rc5 Nd5 28.Qa5 Qe6 29.Re1 Qf7 30.Re4 Ne3

White to move


My eyes first settled upon 31.Bf4, and then I started examining Bf2. I was leaning towards Aronian's move when he played it. Then, in my laziness, I noted that Houdini's evaluation reduced White's advantage.

31...Nf5 32.Qd2 

I was looking at 32.Qc3, oblivious to Black's attack on the a-pawn.

32...Re6 33.Rxe6 Qxe6 34.d5 Qd6+ 35.Kg1 Rb7 36.Qe1 Ne7 37.Ra5 Nxd5 38.Qd1 Rd7

These moves were played fairly rapidly.

White to move

39.Rxa7 Rxa7 40.Bxa7 g5

Caruana had been playing on the increment for the past ten moves. Now, reaching the first time control, he can breath a bit. The players have 100 minutes for the first 40 moves, 50 minutes for the next 20, and 15 minutes for the rest of the game, plus an increment of 30 seconds per move from the first move.

41.a4 Qa6

Caruana thought for half an hour on this move.

42.Bd4 Qc4 43.Qa1 Qc2 44.a5 Nf4

White to move

Black has threats, but White's a-pawn appears to be the most significant threat in the position.

45.Bf2 Ne2+ 46.Kh2

Caruana is 40 minutes down on the clock, with less than 20 minutes for the next fourteen moves. Aronian has 59 minutes.

46...Nf4 47.Qf1 Nd3

White to move

I like 48.Bb6

48.Bd4 Qd2 49.Bg1

When I compare Aronian's play with his bishop to my idea, I begin to wonder. Am I prone towards placing the bishop of a square where everything is safe in a static manner without fully examining dynamic ways to protect the advancing pawn?

Caruana is under ten minutes on the clock with eleven moves to the next time control. Aronian has 54:20.

49...Qf4+ 50.Kh1 Qc4 51.Qa1 Qc2

Caruana has 4:12 on his clock. I expected 51...Qa6.


Black to move


1:07 on Black's clock.

53.a6 Qe2 54.Qg1 Qa2 55.a7

Moves are coming fast with Caruana playing on the increment.

55...Nb4 56.Qd1 Nd5 57.Qd2 Qa1+ 58.Bg1 1-0

Aronian's win today puts him in a tie for first. With ten rounds to play, that is not so vital. More important is that Caruana is an important rival with reasonable chances to win the event, and he was one of yesterday's winners. This was an important win for the Armenian.

Aronian, Anish Giri, Wesley So, Hikaru Nakamura, and Sergey Karjakin each have 1.5 after the first two rounds.

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