15 January 2014

Aronian -- Nakamura, Tata Steel 2014

For the time being I am following Levon Aronian day by day in the Tata Steel Grandmaster tournament in Wijk aan Zee. I have considered following Hikaru Nakamura, rather than Aronian. I could follow both, of course, but I find more personal benefit as training when I follow a single game and try to understand it in real time. Today's battle is between the top two seeds: world number two has White against world number three.

Two rounds in  this year's tournament are played on the road for the first time in the long history of this event. Today, they are playing in the Rijks Museum in Amsterdam.

Aronian,Levon (2812) -- Nakamura,Hikaru (2789) [E92]
Tata Steel Wijk aan Zee, 15.01.2014

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.c4 Bg7 4.Nc3 d6 5.e4 0–0 6.Be2 e5 7.Be3 Ng4 8.Bg5 f6 9.Bh4

Black to move

Although this position is commonly reached, and Nakamura has found himself here before, he spent more than five minutes thinking at this point.

9...g5 10.Bg3 Nh6 11.c5 g4

Nakamura used eleven minutes for this move. Today, the website looks different. I found that it is possible to turn off the appearance of Houdini's evaluation within the game score, facilitating my desire to do my own thinking. The move times appear in the game score, which I think is a nice feature.

12.Nh4 Nc6 13.cxd6 cxd6 14.dxe5

Black to move

ChessBase Online contains 27 games with this position, but none played by either of these two players. Nakamura spent eight minutes on the position.

14...dxe5 15.Bc4+

Aronian spent more than eleven minutes fr this move, his first long think of the game.

15...Kh8 16.Qxd8 Rxd8 17.O-O

Aronian spent another nine minutes thinking before exchanging queens, and six minutes before castling.


White to move

White's knight and bishop on the kingside seem locked up, so the f-pawn will need to advance at some point.

18.Rad1 Be6 19.Bxe6 Nxe6 20.f3 gxf3 21.gxf3

I was thinking that 21.Nxf3 was automatic.

21...Rxd1 22.Rxd1 Rd8 23.Rxd8+ Nxd8

White to move

24.Bf2 a6 25.Kf1 Kg8 26.Ke2 Kf7 27.Be3 Ke6 28.Na4 Bf8

White to move


I had thought about giving up the bishop for the knight. Of course, this moment is the best time, right after the bishop sought to redeploy elsewhere, because it gains a tempo. I am reminded of the White side of a Catalan that went bad. My opponent, a very strong high school student, had a knight against my bishop. All the the other pieces were gone and all of his pawns were on the squares my bishop could not reach. They could not advance without becoming vulnerable, of course. But he was able to patiently work his knight and king forward until my pawns started to fall.

29...Bxh6 30.Nc5+ Kf7 31.Kd3

Black to move


Nakamura used nearly fifty minutes for this move. Probably the game is theoretically equal, but there are complications in the imbalance and concrete variations that must be calculated.


Obvious and forced.

32...Bg5 33.Nf5

Also seems forced.

33...Ne6 34.Nxe6

It is hard to imagine an alternative.

34...Kxe6 35.Kc4 b6

This position may be the start of Nakumura's deep analysis during the long think.

36.a4 Bd2 37.b3 h5

White to move

I want to play 38.Ng7+. What is wrong with this move? The knight gets trapped if he snatches the pawn. 38...Kf7 39.Nxh5 Be1, followed by 40...Kg6.


I cannot find any targets for the knight, and the pawn ending should be drawn. Some calculation is necessary, of course, but I have a hunch that the players will make a couple of moves to be certain that Hikaru does not lose on time and then agree to a draw.

I could be wrong, of course.

38...a5 39.bxa5 bxa5 40.Kb5 Kd7

They have reached the time control. With the exchange of pawns, I'm no longer convinced that the pawn ending is drawn. Moreover, Black's bishop seems a little passive defending the pawn on a5. Perhaps Aronian has some reasons to play on. He beat Caruana on Sunday. If he scores a win against Nakamura, he could be sitting well to win the event, although the tournament is only 1/3 complete after today.

41.Ng7 h4 42.Nf5 Be1 43.Ne3

Black to move

43...Ke6 44.Nc4

Aronian can win a pawn. It that enough?

It was. Nakamura resigned.


Often, I have a tendency to be overly optimistic on Aronian's behalf (see "Harikrishna -- Aronian, Tata Steel 2014"). Today, I lacked confidence that he could gain an advantage, and yet he won. As in his win against Caruana, Aronian gave a nice demonstration today illustrating how one can improve his pieces. However, I wonder if Nakamura might have erred. If so, where? 38...a5 changed my evaluation of the pawn ending. Was that an error?

I will study the game a bit more before checking with an engine.

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