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Levon Aronian - Magnus Carlsen

Round 1
Grand Slam Final
Bilbao

02.09.2008

During this year's highest rated tournament a new way to encourage players to try even harder to win their games is to be tested - victory is awarded with 3 points. Would this prove better for the audience than the so called 'Sofia rules' - players can't offer draw to their opponent - is to be seen. All the participants in this even are really top class players and it is hard to guess which game will be the most interesting, so picking the one between Aronian - winner of the recent FIDE GP tournament - and Carlsen - the brightest chess star during the past year - seems as appropriate choice as any. Let's see how will the players adapt to the new system - would they become even more aggressive or the White color will be relied on? Soon we will be able to draw our own conclusions.

1.c4 Aronian's choice is English Opening.

1... c5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.d4 Avoiding the Hedgehog system which suits Carlsen's play style. (3.Nc3 e6 4.g3 b6 5.Bg2 Bb7)

3... cxd4 4.Nxd4 e6 5.g3 Bb4+ 6.Nd2 (6.Nc3 leads to a fashionable line of Nimzo-Indian where recently Black demonstrated convincing ways to equality,) ( while 6.Bd2 is strongly met by 6... Qb6)

6... Nc6 7.Nc2 Be7 8.Bg2 ( Having in mind the increased value of each win, variation like 8.h4 d5 deserves attention but Magnus prefers not to start complications.)

8... O-O 9.O-O Rb8 ( The idea behind this move is to prepare b7-b5. 9... b6 preparing Bc8-b7) ( or 9... Qc7 followed by Rf8-d8 and d7-d5, are standard plans in similar situations.)

10.Ne4 The desire to get rid of so awkwardly placed Knight is understandable.

10... b5 (10... Nxe4 11.Bxe4 b5 is refuted by 12.cxb5 Rxb5 13.Bxh7+ Kxh7 14.Qd3+) ( but now Aronian may try to control the 'd6' square after 10... b5 11.Nxf6+ Bxf6 12.c5)

11.cxb5 After this exchange Black position seems healthy enough. The intrusion of a Nd6 is only temporarily.

11... Rxb5 12.Nd6 Now to return that Rook to b8 is good enough but it's tempting to keep it on the 5th rank.

12... Bxd6 ( Looks like unnecessary concession of 'd6' - 12... Rb8 13.b3 Qc7 14.Nxc8 Qxc8 was OK for the Norwegian.)

13.Qxd6 Bb7 (13... Bb7 14.Na3 may force the Black Rook into some troubles.) Time: 1.06 0.57

14.Na3 Correct decision - Magnus was planning to trade the bishops by Nc6-e7 and after Rxb7 would get a very sound position.

14... Rb6 'h5' is a risky square for the Rook, while on 'b4' it would allow numerous tactical motives.

15.Be3 ( The natural 15.Nc4 Ra6 (15... Rb5 16.e4) 16.Bd2 Ne7 17.Qd3 Bg2 18.Kxg2 d5 leads to approximately equal chances.)

15... Rxb2 Carlsen is forced to sacrifice an exchange but may get a couple of pawns for it: (15... Rxb2 16.Bc5 Re8 (16... Rxe2 17.Rfb1) 17.Nc4 Rxe2 18.Qd1 Ba6 19.Qxe2 d5 though after 20.Rfc1 Qa8 21.Bd6 White position seems preferable.)

16.Bc5 Re8 17.Rab1 Instead of entering complicated lines with unclear evaluation, the Armenian prefers to look for positional compensation for the sacrificed pawn.

17... Rxb1 18.Rxb1 Ba6 19.Nb5 Bxb5 20.Rxb5 Qc8 All moves after 17.Rab1 were practically forced. It is clear that White has sufficient compensation but I doubt it suffices for more than equality.

21.a4 h6 Securing the 8th rank. Time: 0.46 0.38 Aronian is thinking a lot, trying to find a plan. Black is preparing e6-e5, Re6 and Nd4 or in case of e2-e3 the Black pawn advances to e4 and both 'f3' and 'd3' may prove vulnerable for a Knight.

22.Ba3 At this moment in all three games in Bilbao White is fighting to equalize.

22... Qa6 23.Bb2 (23.Qd1 d5 is simply a pawn down.)

23... Qxa4 24.Bxc6 dxc6 ( After 24... dxc6 25.Rb4 Qa5 26.Bxf6 gxf6 27.Rb7 Qe1+ 28.Kg2 Qxe2 29.Qxc6 Rd8 30.Rxa7 White should be able to hold the ending.)

25.Rb4 Qa5 26.Bxf6 gxf6 27.Rg4+ True to his nature, the Armenian goes for the aggressive move, though some risk is involved. Anyway, nobody likes to suffer a pawn down in ending against Carlsen, even if the position is drawish.

27... Kh7 28.Qxc6 Rd8 Magnus defends cold-blooded and already has both positional and time advantage: 0.19 0.28

29.Qc2+ ( The threat Rd1+ followed by Qd5+ had to be stopped but 29.Ra4 seems a better way to accomplish that.)

29... f5 30.Ra4 Qe1+ 31.Kg2 (31.Kg2 Rd1 32.Kf3 Ra1 has to be technically won. It is quite possible that Black has even stronger possibilities.)

31... Rd1 32.Qc7 Kg6 33.Kf3 Only move. Now Rd1-a1 may be played as the 'a7' pawn is protected tactically: (33.Kf3 Ra1 34.Qxa7 Qh1+ 35.Ke3 (35.Kf4 Qc6 36.Rxa1 Qe4) 35... Qc1+ 36.Kf3 Qc6+)

33... Qh1+ 34.Ke3 Meanwhile the first draw in the tournament is already inevitable in the game Radjabov-Topalov, while Ivanchuk is once again time-troubled - less than 2 minutes for 10 moves.

34... Ra1 35.Qc2 Rxa4 36.Qxa4 Qc1+ 37.Kf3 Qc3+ 38.Kg2 a5 39.g4 Radjabov drew with Topalov, Ivanchuk reached the time control with a few seconds on the clock and has good winning chances.

39... Qe5 (39... Qb4 seems to be more precise but let's trust in Carlsen's technique.)

40.gxf5+ Kxf5 41.Qe8 ( Black has now a tricky way to secure his King: 41.Qe8 Qe4+ 42.Kg1 Kg6 43.Qg8+ Kh5 and if 44.Qxf7+ then 44... Qg6+ with winning pawn ending.)

41... Kg6 42.Qf8 a4 43.e3 Aronian's position is hopeless and he may only wait to see how Magnus advances his 'a' pawn further.

43... Qe4+ 44.Kg3 Qd3 Preparing the next advance of the pawn. With structure 'e6' and 'f7' Carlsen's King is secure from any perpetual.

45.h4 a3 46.Kh2 (46.h5+ Kxh5 47.Qxf7+ Qg6+)

46... Qf5 (46... a2 47.h5 Kf6 48.Qxh6+ Ke7 49.Qg5+ Kf8 50.Qa5 Qb1 51.h6 Kg8 is winning but the Norwegian always prefers to keep things simple and goes for a second pawn.)

47.Qxa3 Qxf2+ 48.Kh3 Qf3+ 49.Kh2 Kh5 'h4' is now doomed as is the game.

50.Qf8 Qf2+ 51.Kh1 (51.Kh3 was relatively better.)

51... Kg4 Planing after Kg4-h3 to put end to White's agony. Aronian resignes. He had his chances after the opening - 11.Nxf6 or 17.Nc4 - but sacrificed a pawn instead, going for a position in which at first glance White is dominating. Carlsen played extraordinary this game and outplayed his opponent quite convincingly, letting us enjoy a real chess masterpiece. 0-1