26 January 2014

Aronian -- Van Wely, Tata Steel 2014

Bitten by the Dutch

When I awoke a little later than usual this morning, Levon Aronian had lost with White to Dutch player Loek Van Wely. Van Wely played the Dutch Defense and the game quickly reached an interesting position where both players seemed to have chances. In time pressure, Aronian missed something and lost.

Levon Aronian won the Tata Steel Grandmaster tournament in Wijk aan Zee with a convincing performance that included wins against Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura, and Sergey Karjakin. Today's game did not matter for the final standings. Two games remain to finish as I am writing this post. Both of those games affect second place. Karjakin can finish in second alone with a win, or tie for second with a draw. Harikrishna can tie for second with a win.

Aronian,Levon (2812) -- Van Wely,Loek (2672) [A80]
Tata Steel Chess Wijk aan Zee (11), 26.01.2014

1.d4 f5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Bf4 

Aronian spent three minutes on this offbeat move. It is three times as popular as the Raphael Dutch that I played in my only draw against a FIDE Master. 3.g3 and 3.c4 account for the vast majority of games against the Dutch.

3...d6 4.e3 h6 5.h3 

Black to move

Already the players have nearly left previously trodden paths. Three games in the database have reached this position. Aronian has used more than ten minutes; Van Wely has used six.

5...g5 6.Bh2 Bg7 7.Nbd2

ChessBase Online finds two games in this position--both Black wins. The games were played in the 1990s among players of a far lower caliber than these two.

7...0–0 8.c3 Nc6 9.Bd3 Rb8 10.0–0 Qe8 11.Re1 Qh5

White to move

There are two questions that immediately crop up when I see this aggressive queen: Will she slay the White monarch? Can she be trapped?

Both players have used a lot of time. Aronian used 23m33s on his last move. Van Wely used 13m21s on this queen foray. Although I know the final result, and that both players were short on time near the end, I am going through this game unaided looking for critical points.

Analysis by Grandmasters and engine aided analysis almost certainly will differ in identification of the critical points of the game. This blog is a personal and public online journal of my development as a chess player and chess teacher. I am a USCF A Class Player hoping to break into Expert Class. If I continue to improve through my fifties, I may yet be a chess master before the inevitable decline of old age takes its toll. When I started this blog in November 2007, I was a weak B Class player.

Following Aronian's games is personal chess training.

12.Qc2 g4 13.hxg4 Nxg4 

Oh my!

White to move

Two attackers are not usually enough to crash through a defense, but Black's knight and queen will keep some of White's pieces tied down. Meanwhile, the Black king threw his pawn shield forward and stands naked. Unfortunately, there is no clear way for the White pieces to exploit this apparent vulnerability.

14.Bb5 Kh8

Van Wely spent twelve minutes on this move.


The rook on b8 is a target, as is the knight. Had the king remained on g8, the check would have won the knight. The open diagonal is exploitable, it seems. But, Black's king is likely quite safe on h8.

15...Nd8 16.Bg3 e5 17.dxe5 dxe5

White to move


The rook on f8 is vulnerable due to pressure on e5. White's knight and bishop that seemed consigned to defense against Black's aggressive queen and knight nonetheless have a role in attack, too. This game is sharp and instructive. There is a bit of chaos on the board, and both players are burning time negotiating the minefield.


Protecting the rook.


Seizing the open file. It is tempting to say that White has an edge in development, but piece coordination and vulnerability would seem more important than such abstractions.


Black's pawns seem to be doing more than White's. Yesterday, I remarked that Aronian was giving lessons in Philidor's concept of the centrality of pawns. Today, Van Wely seems to be our teacher.

20.Qb3 Nc7 21.Be2 Be6 22.Bc4 Bd7 23.Be2

Black to move

Aronian would probably be happy to repeat the position, winning the tournament without a loss. The Dutch master, however has a nice position and seems in an aggressive mood.


Putting more pressure on White's defenses.

24.exf4 exf4 25.Bh4 Bc6 26.Be7 Rf7 27.Bc4 Nd5 28.Bh4

Black to move

White seemed to be attacking for a few moves.


If White had a development advantage, it must be gone now. The Black rook on b8 is ready to swing into action. Most of Black's pieces seem to be bearing down on the kingside and there seems no way for the White pieces to get at the Black king.

Knowing the result of this game hinders objectivity, but I do like Black's position.

29.Bd3 Rff8 30.Bb1 Rbe8 31.Rxe8 Rxe8

Both players have a rook on an open file.

White to move

32.Ne4 Nde3

Van Wely finds a simple discovery that exchanges knights, but that also weakens the position of the White king. Black threw his king's pawn shield forward in attack. Now his pieces work to wreck the White king's shield.

33.fxe3 Bxe4 34.Bxe4 Rxe4 35.Qxb7

So often in Aronian wins a pawn when his opponent is under time pressure, then converts the win in the second time control. Here, however, both players are low on time.


White to move


This weakening of the back rank may have been the decisive error.

36...Kh7 37.Qd5 Re6 38.exf4 Bd4+ 0–1

The bishop's interference is reminiscent of Aronian's loss to Anand in last year's Tata Steel Tournament.

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