Just when everyone was beginning to write-off Levon Aronian, the amiable and popular Armenia - the one-time world No.2, who after a string of bad performances was supplanted by a rising generation of Young Guns - has dramatically bounced back to his brilliant best with a wonderful, free-spirited performance to be the worthy winner of the 3rd Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis, the second leg of the Grand Chess Tour.
After a more than comfortable final round draw against Veselin Topalov - the winner in Norway of the first leg of the Grand Chess Tour - the 32-year-old Aronian finished his campaign on a high, with an undefeated +3 score of 6/9 - a result that also takes him back into the world’s top 10, climbing four places to number seven on the unofficial 2700chess.com live ratings.
Aronian now leaves St. Louis on a high as he heads next week to Baku in Azerbaijan for the FIDE World Cup, where he’ll be hoping his rejuvenated form will continue there, as the hard task of making it to the knockout final will be his one and only chance now of securing a spot into next year’s Candidates Tournament.
But it was yet another bad performance from World Champion Magnus Carlsen by his own high standards. While he came in equal second, Carlsen could well have had second place outright - possibly even tie for the title with Aronian - had he not squandered chances late in the tournament against Alexander Grischuk and Hikaru Nakamura.
And speaking of Nakamura, a gritty, determined last round win against Grischuk was the difference between success and failure for the US No1. If he had lost, he would have been in eighth place. But fittingly for America’s strongest tournament, the US No1’s game was the last to finish, and it was certainly the highlight of the round as it propelled Nakamura into equal second place.
But Aronian winning in St. Louis has also now made the final leg of the Grand Chess Tour in London more intriguing, with only 3-points separating the top four of Topalov, Nakamura, Aronian and Carlsen. So it’s still all to play for at the London Chess Classic, 4-13 December 2015 - book your seats now!
Nakamura 1-0 Grischuk
Anand draw Carlsen
Topalov draw Aronian
Caruana draw So
Vachier-Lagrave draw Giri
Final standings: 1. Levon Aronian (Armenia) 6/9; 2-5. Anish Giri (Netherlands), Magnus Carlsen (Norway), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France), Hikaru Nakamura (USA) 5; 6-7. Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria), Alexander Grischuk (Russia) 4.5; 8-9. Vishy Anand (India), Fabiano Caruana (USA) 3.5; 10. Wesley So (USA) 3.
Grand Chess Tour standings (after two legs): 1. Topalov 17 points; 2. Nakamura 16; 3. Aronian 15; 4. Carlsen 14; 5. Giri 13; 6-7 Anand, Vachier-Lagrave 12; 8. Caruana 9; 9. Grischuk 8 - (wild cards ) 10-11. Jon Ludvig Hammer and Wesley So 1.
Hikaru Nakamura - Alexander Grischuk
3rd Sinquefield Cup, (9)
Sicilian Defence, Moscow Variation
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bb5+ Against the Muscovite, it's the Moscow Variation! 3...Nd7 4.0-0 a6 5.Bd3 Very similar to the Kopec System, named after the US author, chess coach and AI specialist IM Danny Kopec, a former Scottish Champion. The idea is to play c3, drop the bishop back to c2 and the game often resembles a Ruy Lopez rather than a Sicilian. 5...Ngf6 6.c3 b5 7.Bc2 Bb7 8.Re1 Rc8 By avoiding ...e5, Grischuk - who has had this position three times in the past - keeps the game firmly in the realms of Sicilian territory. 9.a4 b4 10.a5 Nakamura attempts to get a bind on the queenside - but this is risky, as just as in his loss to Levon Aronian, the a-pawn could well become overextended. Previously, 10.d4 cxd4 11.cxd4 Qc7 was seen in Karjakin-Grischuk, 2014. 10...Qc7 A very natural Sicilian move. 11.d3 bxc3 12.bxc3 e6 13.h3 Be7 14.Bf4 0-0 15.Nbd2 Bc6 16.Nc4 Bb5 17.Nfd2 There was also the more aggressive option of 17.e5 Nxe5! 18.Nfxe5 Nd5 19.Bg3 dxe5 20.Nxe5 (If 20.Bxe5 Qd8 and Black will soon be following up with ...f6 and ..e5 to restrict the scope of White's dark-squared bishop.) 20...Nxc3 21.Qd2 Nd5 22.Ng6 Bd6 23.Bxd6 Qxd6 24.Nxf8 Rxf8 and with ...Nb4 coming, the White pawns on a5 and d3 weak, Black has good compensation here. 17...Rfd8 18.Bg3 Ne8 19.Kh2 Rb8 20.Ne3 Ne5 21.Qe2 Nc6 22.Nb3 Ne5 23.Nd2 Nc6 24.Ndc4 Typical Nakamura! Not interested in repeating the moves for a draw, the US No.1 strives to fight for the initiative, although Black may well be slightly better. 24...Nf6 25.Kh1 Ne5 26.f4?! Nakamura takes a gamble here, banking on Grischuk's notorious time trouble addiction to complicate the game. Not 26.Nxe5 dxe5 as this will gives Black too much pressure down the d-file - and White will also have to continually defend a5. More logical though looks 26.Na3. 26...Nxc4 27.dxc4 Bc6 28.Nd1 g6 There's no question that Black stands better here with his pawn structure; the trouble is how to maintain it in the time scramble? 29.Bh2 Nh5 On reflection, perhaps 29...Nd7 (controlling e5) and ...Bf6 is the best way to go about it for Black. 30.Qe3 Bh4 What Grischuk is trying to do is soften up the c6-g2 diagonal for his bishop. 31.g3 Be7 32.Kg1 Re8 33.e5 Ng7 Also worth a punt, with that long diagonal open now, was 33...Ba8 preparing ...Qc6 - because if 34.g4 f5!! 35.gxh5 Qc6 and White will need to return the material immediately or else be mated 36.Be4 Qxe4 37.Qxe4 Bxe4 38.Nf2 Bc2 and Black very much has the upper-hand with ...Bb3 winning the c4-pawn. 34.g4 f5 35.exf6 Bxf6 36.Nf2 Bh4?! The start of a flawed plan from Grischuk, in the mad dash to reach the time control. Keeping the bishop was much better for him. 37.Re2 Bxf2+? Better was 37...Rb2. 38.Rxf2 Rf8 39.Bg3 Rbe8 40.Kh2 Rf7 41.Rd1 Rd7 42.Rfd2 Now the dust has cleared, and miraculously Nakamura has a position he can more than work with: the bishop pair, open lines and the potential of mounting an attack on his opponents king. And all of this following Grischuk's flawed plan of swapping off his bishop for the White knight. 42...Qd8 43.h4 Launching the all-out kingside attack makes sense here for Nakamura - he probably didn't even need to think twice about it. 43...Rf8 44.Rf2 Kh8 45.Rb1! A very strong move indeed, as it forces the deflection of the queen from all the action breaking out over on the kingside. 45...Qxa5 46.h5 It's Attacking 101 from Nakamura - he's looking to bludgeon the kingside open to get his bishop-pair into the fray. This will be hard to defend for Grischuk. 46...gxh5 47.f5 exf5 48.gxf5 Qd8 48...Ne8 49.Rb8 h4! 50.Bxh4 Rdf7 gives Black a bad position, but it's the best he could hope for. 49.f6! Ne8 49...Rxf6? 50.Rxf6 Qxf6 51.Rb8+ Rd8 52.Qd3! rams home the win. 50.Bh4 Rdf7 51.Qh6 Rg8 52.Re1? A slip-up from Naka. The win was there with the clinical 52.Rg1! Rxg1 (52...Qc7 53.Rxg8+ Kxg8 54.Bf5 wins easily.) 53.Kxg1 (the crushing threat is Bxh7) 53...Nc7 54.Qg7+! and Black can resign. 52...d5 53.Qxh5?! Nakamura is in danger of letting Grischuk off the hook here. Instead, best was: 53.Re6! Qc7+ 54.Rf4! (54.Qf4? Rg4! 55.Qxc7 Rxh4+ 56.Kg3 Rg4+ 57.Kh3 Nxc7! 58.Rxc6 Rxc4 and the tables are well and truly turned here.) 54...dxc4 55.Bxh7! Rxh7 56.f7 Rxh6 57.Rxh6+ Kg7 58.Rg6+! Kxg6 59.fxg8Q+ Ng7 60.Qxc4 Qd6 and, while White is a little better, I can't see this ending in nothing other than a draw as both kings are open to the elements. 53...Qd6+ 54.Re5 d4 55.cxd4?! You needed the silicon beast to fathom out the win with: 55.Bg3! Nxf6 56.Qxf7 Ng4+ 57.Kg1 Qh6 58.Qxh7+! Qxh7 59.Bxh7 Kxh7 60.Re7+ Rg7 (60...Kh6 61.Rf5!) 61.Rff7 Rxf7 62.Rxf7+ Kg6 63.Rc7 and Black can resign. 55...Qxd4 56.Re7 Rxe7 57.fxe7 (See Diagram) 57...Qd6+? Attack is often the best form of defence, and sadly Grischuk missed his moment with the wonderful retreat 57...Qg7! forcing 58.Bg5 Qe5+ 59.Kh3 Qc3+ 60.Kh2 Qe5+ and a repetition, as 61.Rf4? Rg7! and White is lost, as Black defends his king and pins most of his pieces. I would have liked to have seen Nakamura's face had Grischuk found the thunderbolt save with 57...Qg7! 58.Kh3 Bd7+? A natural reaction, but 58...Qe6+! 59.Bf5 Qe3+ controlling f3 is critical, as we'll soon see. 59.Bf5 Qd3+ 60.Rf3! Bxf5+ 61.Qxf5 Now the pawn on e7 decides the game. A case of good luck for Nakamura and bad luck for Grischuk - but what a wonderful crescendo of pins, sacrifices and threats from both sides from after move 40! 61...Qxf5+ 62.Rxf5 Kg7 Black may be up a pawn, but he can't coordinate his pieces and all his pawns are easy picking now. 63.Bg3 h6 64.Be5+ Kh7 65.Rf7+ Kg6 66.Rf8 Kh7 67.Bf4! A beautiful move; there's no way to stop Bxh6. 67...a5 68.Bxh6 a4 69.Be3 a3 70.Bxc5 a2 71.Bd4 Nc7 72.Ba1 Ne8 In truth, Black is totally paralysed here. 73.c5 Nc7 74.c6 Ne8 75.Kh4 Nc7 76.Kh5 The mating net is complete. 76...Ne8 77.c7 1-0 Black can't take the pawn because of Rf7+. A fittingly wonderful study-like finish to the top US tournament from the US No1!