For many years, Aronian was the the world’s second-highest rated player behind Magnus Carlsen, and the third highest-rated player of all time, one of only a handful of select players to have achieved a rating above 2800. But Aronian has spectacularly proved to be a failure in previous Candidates’ events. Like his illustrious predecessors, he seems to lack stability in key moments.
And fresh from his back-to-form Grand Tour victory recently in St Louis, many thought this would be the launching pad for success at the $1.6m Fide World Cup in Baku, Azerbaijan, and with it a last chance saloon opportunity to make it to the Candidates, which he has played in each one since 2005. But nerves and the short mini match format of the World Cup got the better of Aronian, who was the big high-profile casualty of the second round, as he sensationally crashed out in the speed playoff tie-breaks, losing 0-2, to Alexander Areschenko of Ukraine.
Aronian’s only outside chance now of making the Candidates is for his homeland of Armenia coming forward to stage the event, as the host nation will get a ‘wild card’ entry (any player with a rating of 2725+). But this scenario seems unlikely, as the smart money is saying that the Candidates will likely be held in Russia, most probably in Khanty-Mansisyk.
And with no Russians as yet qualified for the Candidates - and there’s been a Russian in every Candidates since its inception, in Budapest in 1950 - they could well need this ‘wild card’ slot because, as we reach the third round in Baku, with the field now cut to 32, the ‘Sword of Damocles’ that hung over Aronian is now currently hanging over top Russian Alexander Grischuk. The Muscovite has it all to do after he lost the opening game of his mini match to Pavel Eljanov of Ukraine, all the result of his habitual time scramble antics. Grischuk now needs to win with Black to take the match into a speed playoff.
The full brackets of all of the round three results can be seen by clicking here.
Alexander Grischuk - Pavel Eljanov
FIDE World Cup, (3.1)
1.c4 Nf6 2.Nf3 e6 3.g3 d5 4.Bg2 dxc4 5.Qa4+ Nbd7 6.Qxc4 c5 7.0-0 b6 8.Nc3 Bb7 9.d4 Rc8 10.Qd3 cxd4 11.Nxd4 Bxg2 12.Kxg2 Bb4 13.Ndb5 a6 14.Nd6+ Bxd6 15.Qxd6 Qe7 16.Qd3 b5 17.Bf4 e5 On reflection, perhaps 17...Nc5 was better. What was played in the game just allows Grischuk to prevent his opponent from safely castling and finishing his development. Not able to do this, his position becomes extremely difficult. 18.Bg5 h6 19.Nd5 Qe6 20.Bxf6 Nxf6 21.Nxf6+ Qxf6 22.Qa3! There's not a lot in the game, but preventing Black from castling and hampering the queenside pawns causes a headache in the Black camp. 22...Rc2 23.b3 Qc6+ 24.Kg1 Qc5 The only option here is to sacrifice the a6-pawn to safely castle and get his rook into the game - and hope his activity provides compensation for the pawn. The only alternative is 24...h5 25.Rac1! Rh6 26.Rxc2 Qxc2 27.Rc1 Qxe2 28.Qc5! and suddenly Black's king is in danger, and there's also a lot of weak pawns for White to pick off. 25.Qxa6 0-0 26.a4 Rxe2 27.a5 e4 28.Rae1 Rxe1 29.Rxe1 f5 30.Qe6+ Kh7 31.Rd1 Rf6 32.Qd5 Qc2 Maintaining the annoying counterplay that prevents Grischuk from finding a clear winning plan - and with his notorious time trouble habit, this isn't healthy for the Muscovite. 33.Rd2 After the ultra-cautious 33.Rf1 Qe2 with ideas of ...f4 will keep White on the back-foot. 33...Qc3 34.Ra2 Qe1+ 35.Kg2 f4? Too soon. The game now swings dramatically back to White following this error. Instead with . ..f4 to follow was better. 35...Qb1. 36.a6! It's a brave choice, but Grischuk is usually good at accurately finding the best move in a time scramble - he's had almost a lifetime of experience of doing so! 36...f3+ 37.Kh3 Despite Grischuk taking his king on a dangerous walk on the wild side, he is, in fact, winning this. 37...Rg6 38.Kh4?? (SEE DIAGRAM) But this is a walk too far - now he's in grave danger of losing this. Instead, he was easily winning after 38.a7 Qh1 (38...Qf1+ 39.Kh4 Qg2 40.h3 and White is perfectly safe with all the bases covered.) 39.Qf5! Qg2+ 40.Kh4 Qxh2+ 41.Qh3 and White queens the a-pawn. 38...Qb4?? Both players were in a serious time scramble here, and the game evaluation goes up and down with each move. Black had to play 38...e3! to stay in the game. 39.Kh3? Time trouble again sees the tables being turned in this topsy-turvy game. Winning for White now would have been 39.Qf5! Qxb3 (39...e3+?? 40.Kh5 easily wins, as Black is forced into 40...Qd6 41.a7 e2 42.Ra1) 40.Ra5 Qc3 41.Kh5 Qxa5 42.Qxg6+ Kg8 43.Qe8+ Kh7 44.Qxe4+ Kg8 45.Qb7 b4+ 46.Kg4 and Black can't stop the a-pawn queening. 39...Rg5! Such is the vagaries of the mutual time scramble: Now, the mating threats on the White king are coming thick and fast. 40.Qf7 Qc5 The time control is reached - but crucially, White's king is in a precarious state. 41.g4 Qc1 42.a7 h5! 43.Qxh5+ Rxh5+ 44.gxh5 Qc8+ 45.Kg3 Qa8 46.Ra6 Kg8 The endgame is far from over just now, as Black's queen is stuck temporarily on a8. But the winning technique of bringing the king over to the queenside will soon prove decisive. 47.b4 Kf8 48.Kf4 Ke7 49.Ke3 If 49.Rg6 e3! 50.Kxe3 Qxa7+ quickly wins. 49...Kd7 50.Kd4 Kc7 51.Ke3 Kb7 52.Ra5 Kb6 53.Ra3 Kc6 54.Ra5 Kd6 55.Kd4 55.Ra3 Ke5 56.Ra5 Qd5 and Black can ignore the pawn queening, as he's mating. 55...Qd5+ 56.Ke3 Ke5 0-1