23 January 2014

Aronian -- Karjakin, Tata Steel 2014

Battling Karjakin's Queen's Indian

In the 2014 Tata Steel Grandmaster tournament in Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands, Levon Aronian leads after eight rounds with 6.0. Sergey Karjakin is one-half point behind in second. Their battle today is critical to the final standings. Aronian has White.

Aronian,Levon (2812) -- Karjakin,Sergey (2759) [E15]
Tata Steel Wijk aan Zee (9), 23.01.2014

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 b6 4.g3 Ba6 5.b3 Bb4+ 6.Bd2 Be7 7.Nc3 0–0 8.Bg2 c6 9.e4 d5 10.exd5 cxd5 11.Ne5

Black to move


Reference Game: 11...Nfd7 12.0–0 Nxe5 13.dxe5 Nd7 14.Re1 dxc4 15.Bxa8 Qxa8 16.Bh6 Rd8 17.Qg4 Bf8 18.Rad1 Nc5 19.bxc4 Bb7 20.Rxd8 Qxd8 21.Rd1 Qc7 22.Bf4 Qc6 23.f3 Nd7 24.Ne4 Qa4 25.Rxd7 Bxe4 26.Rd8 Bg6 27.Bg5 Qa3 28.Qd4 h6 29.Qd6 Kh7 30.Qxf8 1–0 Aronian,L (2816) -- Karjakin,S (2778) Sao Paulo 2012

12.0–0 Nc6 13.Bf4 Na5 14.Rc1 Ba3 15.Rb1 Bb4

White to move


Reference Game: 16.Na4 Ne4 17.a3 Be7 18.cxd5 exd5 19.b4 Nc6 20.Rc1 Rc8 21.Bh3 f5 22.f3 Nd6 23.Qd3 Nxe5 24.dxe5 Rxc1 25.Bxc1 Nc4 26.f4 b5 27.Nc3 Qb6+ 28.Rf2 d4 29.Ne2 Rd8 30.Qxf5 d3 31.Qe6+ Kf8 32.Qf5+ Ke8 33.Qxh7 d2 34.Bxd2 Rxd2 35.e6 Rd1+ 36.Bf1 Qxe6 37.Qh5+ Kf8 38.Nc3 Qc6 0–1 Aronian,L (2813) -- Karjakin,S (2767) Sandnes 2013

16...Nc6 17.Bg5 Be7 18.Nf4 Qd6 19.Bxf6 Bxf6 20.cxd5 exd5

White to move

21.Bxd5 Bxe5 22.dxe5 Qxe5 23.Re1 Qf6 24.Nh5 Qh6 25.Qg4 Qg6 26.Qh3 Rad8

White to move

There are some tactics here. I considered two moves, favoring the one played by Aronian.


Be4 was the alternative.


Of course. White can threaten checkmate with 28,Be4, but after 28...g6, White no longer seems to have an attack. How will Aronian increase the pressure?


I was hoping there was something better. But, I did not find it.


Maybe if I understood why Karjakin spent more than nine minutes for this move, I would be a decent chess player, too.

29.Nd5 Qg7

Forcing a minor piece exchange is the first candidate move that comes to mind: 30.Ne7+ Nxe7 31.Bxb7. Aronian has an hour to half an hour for Karjakin. Will the clock be a factor over the next eleven moves?


This move shows why I follow Aronian's games. While I am looking at a simple tactic that creates an imbalance, but that also reduces the material on the board, he improves his weakest piece. Aronian finds ways to build pressure. Karjakin has faced this pressure before, of course. He became the youngest Grandmaster in history a dozen years ago, and his record stands today.

Among the building threats is an exchange of rook for two minor pieces.


Most of the tactics that I was considering rely on a check at e7. Karjakin took that away.

White to move


Aronian shows there is still a discovery on c6 without the check.

31...axb6 32.Bxc6 Bxc6 33.Rxc6 Rd2 34.Qh4

I sometimes miss these quiet moves.


White to move

I was contemplating 35.Rxb6, but did not like 35...Qb2 with a battery on the second rank.


Revealing the purpose, or one of them, behind the quiet move. Now, Qb2 loses instantly. Aronian should win the b-pawn. He will then have a passed pawn against which Karjakin must defend. Meanwhile, Karjakin will not be able to develop threats against f2.

35...h5 36.Qxb6

The pawn falls. With twenty minutes to go for four moves, Karjakin should easily reach the time control. However, his position is now clearly worse even though the advantage for White is not yet decisive.

36...Ra1 37.Rcc1

Can Aronian get a rook behind his passed pawn and keep it there? Perhaps his plan is to post his queen on c5 in order to usher the pawn to b6.

One possible line: 37...Rxc1 38.Rxc1 Qb2 39.Qe3 with threats of Qc6+ and Qh6+ may be bad for Black. We may see. Qh6+ does not look dangerous, but an exchange of queens on c3 should give White a winning advantage.

37...Rxc1 38.Rxc1 Qb2

My line has been played part-way, and now I notice that 39.Qe3 is not necessary to defend the pawn because Qc5 hits the rook.

White to move


So often when I am looking at one move and Aronian plays something else, I instantly realize that his idea offers more flexibility. I go for the obvious direct threat; he builds pressure. He is number two in the world; I am an A Class club player.

39...Kh7 40.Qb5

I was looking at 40.Qb7.


Both players have made the first time control. I must leave for work soon. Chances are good that this post will be finished many hours after the game ends.

41.Qd3 Rb8 42.Rb1

Black to move

I marvel at how Aronian managed to get his rook behind his passed pawn.

42...Qe5 43.Qd2 h4

How will Aronian address the threat of h4-h3?


I think the queens are coming off. White's extra pawn should prove decisive. How far will they play it out? On the other hand, 44...Kf6 may give Black a sufficiently active king to hold the position a pawn down.

Karjakin thought for eighteen minutes and chose the line that I thought was best.

44...Qxb2 45.Rxb2 Rb4 46.Kf1

Black to move

I expect Aronian to win this game, but that may simply reveal how little that I understand rook endings.

46...Kf6 47.Ke2 Kf5

I'm off to work and will update this post this evening long after the game has ended.

Shortly after I arrived at work, I was able to check on this game and see that Aronian had won. I went over the whole game with a couple of my chess students.

48.Kd3 g5 49.Kc3 Rb7 50.b4 Kg4 51.b5 Kh3 52.gxh4 gxh4 53.f4 Kg4

White to move

54.b6 f5 55.Kd4 Kxf4 56.Rb3 h3 57.Kd5 Kg4 58.Kc6 Rb8 59.Rg3+ Kh4 60.b7 f4 61.Rg7 1-0

Black to move

It took me a couple of minutes at lunch to see that, indeed, Black is utterly and hopelessly lost and that I could finish it against a computer or Anand or Carlsen. The ending was probably elementary for Aronian, but most of the rest of us can learn from his technique.

Leinier Dominguez, one of three players 1 1/2 points behind Aronian has White against him on Saturday. Dominguez is the strongest Cuban player since Jose R. Capablanca.

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