17 January 2014

Naiditsch -- Aronian, Tata Steel 2014

An Offbeat Berlin

In this year's Tata Steel Grandmaster chess tournament in Wijk aan Zee, I am following closely the games of Levon Aronian. He is the top rated player in the event, the current leader, and has been one of my favorite players the past several years. Aronian has said that he always likes playing in Wijk aan Zee. He has done well there in the past.

In today's round five game, Aronian has Black against Arkadij Naiditsch. Naiditsch first crossed the 2700 rating barrier in May 2011 and was at his peak rating of 2737 last month.

Naiditsch,Arkadij (2718) -- Aronian,Levon (2812) [C67]
Tata Steel Wijk aan Zee, 17.01.2014

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.0–0 Nxe4 5.d4 Nd6 6.dxe5

6.Bxc6 is vastly more popular, but this system has been played since the late nineteenth century.

Nxb5 7.a4 Nbd4 8.Nxd4 d6!?

Aronian's move here should take Naiditsch out of any pregame preparation. It appears in six prior games in the ChessBase Online database. 8...Nxd4 is the most common move and 8...d5 has been played often enough that it should be part of every player's preparation.

White to move

Naiditsch spent a bit over thirteen minutes on this position.

Reference Game: Petrosian,Tigran L (2599) -- Minasian,Ara (2510) [C67]
ARM-ch Yerevan (7), 06.05.2005
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.0–0 Nxe4 5.d4 Nd6 6.dxe5 Nxb5 7.a4 Nbd4 8.Nxd4 d6 9.Nxc6 bxc6 10.Qf3 dxe5 11.Qxc6+ Bd7 12.Qe4 Bd6 13.f4 0–0 14.fxe5 Qe7 15.Bf4 Rab8 16.Kh1 Bc5 17.b3 Rb4 18.Qe1 Bf5 19.Nc3 Qe6 20.Rc1 Rd8 21.Be3 Qxe5 22.Bg1 Qxe1 23.Rcxe1 Bxg1 24.Rxf5 Bb6 25.a5 Bd4 26.Nd5 g6 27.Nxb4 gxf5 28.Rd1 Rd6 29.c3 Bxc3 30.Rxd6 cxd6 31.Nc6 a6 32.b4 Kf8 33.b5 Bxa5 34.bxa6 Bb6 35.g3 1–0

9.exd6 Bxd6

Despite what I said above concerning preparation, Aronian could have played 9...Nxd4 here and transposed back into slightly more common offbeat lines.

10.Re1+ Be7 11.Nxc6 Qxd1 12.Rxd1 bxc6 13.Be3

Naiditsch spent more than seventeen minutes on this move.

13...Bf5 14.Re1 O-O-O 15.Na3 Rhe8

White to move

Naiditsch has been falling far behind on the clock, using eight minutes for move 14, nearly thirteen for the next move, and now fifteen minutes. Aronian's three and one-half minutes for 14...O-O-O has been his longest move time.

16.Bxa7 Bxa3 17.Rxe8 Rxe8 18.bxa3 Re4

White to move


It is easy to snap off the forward a-pawn, restoring material equality, but there is probably no reason to hurry. White's pawn weaknesses on the queenside will not heal. Meanwhile, Black has no back rank checkmates about which to be concerned. His king is more actively placed for the struggle ahead.

Positions such as this one look drawn to average patzers such as myself, but today's super Grandmasters--Magnus Carlsen, Levon Aronian, and others--thrive on torturing their opponents in seemingly equal endings where accuracy is required.

What must Naiditsch do to hold the position? Does he have some trumps that allow him to seek something more than equality? Perhaps Black, too, must be careful in this position.

19...Rxa4 20.Bd4 g6 21.f3 Kd7

Aronian is more than an hour ahead on the clock. If the game is not too complicated, however, perhaps Naiditsch has enough time.

White to move


At this moment in the game, it became time for me to drive my wife to work on icy roads with freezing fog. A few blocks south of here, the fog is so thick that the trees, ground, and car lots give the appearance that it snowed. When I returned home, safely, quite a few moves had been played. Both kings became active on opposite sides of the board.

22...Kd6 23.h3 c5 24.Bf6 Kd5 25.g4 Be6 26.Kg3 Kc4 27.Kh4 Bd5 28.f4 Ra6 29.Bg7 Re6 30.a4 f6 31.a5 g5+

White to move

Naiditsch was thinking about this position when I arrived back home. He had about 1:33 left when he moved. Aronian has just over an hour. Move 30...f6 has been Aronian's longest think so far at 11m 29s.


The next moves came fast enough for Naiditsch to gain a minute on the clock from the unused increment.

32...gxf4 33.Ra4+ Kxc3 34.Rxf4 Kb3 35.Rxf6 Re3

The Berlin Defense leads to interesting endgames.

36.h4 c4 37.Rf5

Black to move

37...Rd3 38.a6 c3 39.a7

Aronian is thinking. I want to play 39...c2 when 40.Bh6 seems forced. What am I missing?

39...c2 was played. 40.Bh6

Naiditsch made the first time control, but I think that Black is better here.



White to move

The bishops guard the promotion squares, but Black's king can get to c1 and Black's rook can get to a8. White's king is far from a8 and his rook cannot easily get to c1. The possibilities of a check or pin of the rook along the fifth rank further aids the Black position.


Did White stop Rd5? Perhaps, now, White's king can go after Black's h-pawn. White's two kingside pawns are much closer to promotion than Black's reserve c-pawn. I can imagine both players being forced to give up a piece for a promoted pawn, but then some concrete calculation is necessary for the ensuing pawn race.




I am starting to like White's position. My assessment a few moves ago may have overlooked both the vulnerability of Black's seventh rank and the threats of White's pawns. Black's bishop cannot guard a8 and g8, and if Black's h-pawn falls, the g-pawn is going to roll.

Is 42...h6 a threat? 43.Bxh6 is no good in light of 43...Rxh6 44.Kxh6 c1Q+ promoting with check. But after 43.Be3, what was the point of 42...h6?


After more than seventeen minutes thought, Aronian played a move that seems safer than my suggestion above. Perhaps Re7 can be met with h6. It may be worth noting for my readers that I am viewing the game live with Houdini's evaluation hidden and also am not listening to the expert commentary. My thoughts are unassisted by the usual aids for viewers of live internet chess broadcasts.


Two moves suggest themselves, but 43...Rc6 fails to the combined g- and a-pawn promotion threats.


White to move

44.Rf5 Rd7

Time may continue to be a factor. Naiditsch has averaged seven minutes per move over the past four. Aronian still has over an hour remaining on his clock.

45.Rf3+ Ka2 46.Rf2 Kb2 47.Be3 Re7 48.Bf4 Rxa7

White to move

Black's difficulties, such that they were, seem mostly resolved. White's difficulties remain.

49.Rf1 c5 50.Kh6 Be4 51.h5 Bd3 52.Rg1 c4

White to move

53.g5 c3 54.Bc1+ Kb3 55.Be3 Re7 56.Bc1

Black to move


Threatening Rd2-d1 or Rd2 Bxd2 cxd2

57.Kg7 Rd2

Aronian should win this game.

Right after I updated, Naiditsch resigned.


Aronian, in the lead alone after four rounds, makes it clear that vigorous play will be required by any pursuers. Of course, the early lead does not always lead a tournament victory. A lot will happen in the next seven rounds. Aronian is playing well, but he could falter. Moreover, a series of draws could offer opportunities for others to catch him.


  1. I think 32.fxg is winning for White and 32.Kh5 is winning for Black.

    My impression of this game is the rating difference, White is doing a bit of overthinking, and Black is sitting on that big fat ratings differential (which is a psychological advantage), playing quickly and saying "C'mon, what you got?" Black probably knows that moving quickly as Black and letting the clock deal the finishing blow is the best way to go. Sure enough, White lost his way in time-pressure.

    1. I expected 32.fxg5 during the game. Maybe it is winning. I don't know.

      Did you check your idea with an engine. I will after I study it more carefully.

      Aronian's manner of winning via the clock reminds me of how Magnus Carlsen became the world champion.

  2. Exactly, James, exactly! One of the famous GM's, Taimanov or Averbach said that Fischer also did this quick play thing against Spassky.

    I didn't check it against an engine, but I don't think that White even needs to double pawns, if that were Aronion's hope. White has far too much on the ball. Instead, White played needlessly clever, which simply gave it away.

    A lot of times we as chessplayers play the man instead of the board, and are too clever by half.