August 18, 2017 | MANILA, PHILIPPINES

Beautiful chess in Norway

5th Norway Chess 2017
Stavanger, Norway
June 5-17, 2017


Final Standings (GM all)
1. Levon Aronian ARM 2793, 6.0/9

2-3. Hikaru Nakamura USA 2785, Vladimir Kramnik RUS 2808, 5.0/9

4-6. Fabiano Caruana USA 2808, Wesley So USA 2812, Anish Giri NED 2771, 4.5/9

7-9. Maxime Vachier Lagrave FRA 2796, Viswanathan Anand IND 2786, Magnus Carlsen NOR 2832, 4.0/9

10. Sergey Karjakin RUS 2781, 3.5/9

Average Rating 2797 Category 22

Time Control: 100 minutes for the first 40 moves, then 50 minutes for the next 20 moves, then 15 minutes play to finish with 30 seconds added to your time after every move starting move 61.

GM Levon Aronian (born Oct. 6, 1982 in Yerevan, Armenia) won the 5th Altibox Norway Chess tournament, one of the strongest chess tournaments ever. As per the official June FIDE rating list, there are five International Grandmasters whose ratings are 2800 and above. Four of them, Magnus Carlsen, Wesley So, Vladimir Kramnik and Fabiano Caruana were playing in Norway. The 5th ranked, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, was not in Norway for the simple reason that he was not yet in the top 10 when the invitations were sent out.

Two years ago, when Aronian won the 5th Sinquefield Cup in Saint Louis, we all thought that he had finally overcome his long slump which caused his rating to tumble down from 2825 (May 2012) to 2765 in 2015. From being the no. 2 player in the world he even tumbled out of the Top 10.

After some disappointing results (for him of course) in 2016 Aronian took time off for rest and relaxation and then came back very strongly to win the 2017 Grenke Chess Classic in Baden-Baden (Germany). This was a short 7-rounder where he scored 4 wins and 3 draws to finish 1.5 points ahead of second-placer Magnus Carlsen.

Now, after his Norway win:

He is back in 2800 territory with 2808.5

Aronian is now ranked no. 4 in the world just a little more than a point below Wesley So’s 2810.

Once again people are talking about the possibility of him challenging for the world title against Magnus Carlsen.

Well, in order to challenge for the world title he has to qualify for the Candidates tournament scheduled for March 2018. This is a double round-robin 8 player tournament comprised of:

The runner-up in the 2016 World Championship match. Sergey Karjakin.

The top 2 finishers in the 2017 Chess World Cup scheduled to be held in September 2017 in Georgia. Aronian is one of the favorites here but there is an element of luck involved in qualification, so you can never tell.

The top 2 finishers in the 2017 FIDE Grand Prix. GM Aronian is a participant but is currently behind in the standings and needs 2 great finishes in the final two tournaments to finish among the top 2, and even that might not be enough in the light of his 13th place finish in Sharjah Grand Prix.

The top 2 players with the highest rating averaged from January-December 2017. As of now the top 2 is Wesley So and Fabiano Caruana, but Vladimir Kramnik is only a few decimal points behind and can still overtake them. So can Aronian and Vachier-Lagrave, but a lot depends on how Wesley and Caruana do in the final tournaments of 2017.

Tournament organizer’s nominee. There is some precedent here. In the previous cycle Levon Aronian did not qualify for the Candidates’ tournament but the Armenian billionaire Samvel Karapetyan (owner of the Tashir Group, a real estate firm) sponsored the 2016 Candidates’ tournament in Moscow and nominated Aronian to play. So far the next Candidates is still looking for a sponsor and perhaps Karapetyan can be enticed to put up the funds again?

Anyway, let us concentrate on the chess played in Norway. “The world is a better place when Levon Aronian is playing well!” was Garry Kasparov’s tweet after the Armenian won the 3rd Sinquefield Cup in 2015. He defeated all three Americans playing in the tournament (Nakamura, Caruana, and Wesley So) and drew the rest of his games to score 6.0/9 and solo first place. The New in Chess magazine interviewed GM Aronian for their July 2015 issue and there was a nice quote at the end: “I analyze a lot. I have many ideas I want to play. I am counting the days till I can play some of the beautiful ideas that I have found.”

This very nice defeat of the reigning world champion Magnus Carlsen is probably one of the beautiful ideas he was talking about.

* * *
Aronian, Levon (2793) -- Carlsen, Magnus (2832) [D45]
5th Norway Chess 2017 Stavanger (4.2), 10.06.2017

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 e6 5.e3 a6

Aronian has a great score with White against the Chebanenko Slav on the board right now -- 100% in 6 games! Magnus Carlsen has only played this once before in his life, against GM Diego Flores in the Doha World Rapids 2016, although I might add that it was quite a drastic execution. I will show you the game later.

6.b3 Bb4 7.Bd2 Nbd7 8.Bd3 0 -- 0 9.0 -- 0 Qe7

The main continuation is 9...Bd6 and that was what Magnus Carlsen played against Argentina’s GM Diego Flores, the game I referred to in the note to Black’s 5th move. It continued 10.Rc1 h6 11.Qc2 Re8 12.h3 Qe7 13.c5 Bc7 14.e4 e5 15.Rfe1 Qd8 16.exd5 cxd5 17.dxe5 Nxe5 18.Nxe5 Rxe5 19.Rxe5 Bxe5 20.Na4 Be6 21.Qd1 Ne4 22.Be3 Qh4 (with the intention of ...d5 -- d4) 23.c6? (Correct is 23.Qe1 in order to meet 23...d4? with 24.f4!) 23...bxc6 24.Rxc6 d4 25.Qc2 dxe3 26.Bxe4 Rd8 27.Rxa6 Qxe4 0 -- 1 (27) Flores,D (2579)-Carlsen,M (2840) Doha 2016.

10.Bc2!?

The usual continuation here is 10.Qc2 but the text is Aronian’s new idea. He wants to sacrifice his pawn by 10.a3 Bxa3 11.Rxa3 Qxa3 12.c5 and the queen will have difficulty getting back into the game. However, this idea cannot work at present, because after 10.a3 Bxa3 11.Rxa3 Black need not capture the rook right away and can play 11...dxc4! 12.bxc4 Qxa3 when 13.c5 b5 does not quite work for White. This is the reason why Aronian had to play 10.Bc2 first, so that the resource ...dxc4 does not become available.

10...Rd8 11.a3!

Aronian: “Home preparation from 2003.”

11...Bxa3

It is either accept the pawn sacrifice or play 11...Bd6. The blunder 11...Ba5? is met by 12.Nxd5.

12.Rxa3! Qxa3 13.c5

The Black queen is now in danger of getting trapped after 14.Nb1 Qa2 (or 14...Qa1 15.Bc3 Qa2 16.Nbd2 followed by Qc1 and Bb1) 15.Qc1 Ne4 16.Nc3 Nxc3 17.Bxc3 with Qd2 and Ra1 coming up.

13...b6! 14.b4!?

Aronian decides not to win the queen with 14.Nb1 Qa2 15.Bb4 bxc5 16.Nc3 Qb2 17.Na4 Qa2 18.Bb1 Qxa4 19.bxa4 cxb4 when Black has plenty of compensation;

I agree though with the online commentator Nigel Short that Aronian may have missed 14.Nb1 Qa2 15.Qc1! bxc5 (15...Ne4 16.Nc3 Nxc3 17.Bxc3 bxc5 18.Qd2! wins the queen under very favorable circumstances) 16.Nc3 Qa5 17.Nxd5 Qb5 18.Nc7 Qb7 19.Nxa8 Qxa8 20.Ba5 Re8 21.dxc5 White is in a very strong position.

As you may expect 14...Qxb4 is bad for White: 15.Nxd5 Qc4 16.Ne7+ Kf8 17.Nxc6 Re8 18.Nce5 Nxe5 19.Nxe5 Qd5 20.cxb6 Black is still an exchange up but his pieces are all uncoordinated and he will be dropping material soon. 14...bxc5? is even worse: 15.Nb1 Qb2 16.Bc3 Qa2 17.Bb3 is goodbye queen.

15.Nxe4 dxe4 16.Bxe4 Rb8 <D>

POSITION AFTER 16...RB8


If you have been following my recent columns you can probably predict what Aronian’s next move is.

17.Bxh7+!

That’s right! The Greek Gift Sacrifice.

17...Kxh7 18.Ng5+ Kg8

[18...Kg6 19.Qg4 f5 (19...Nf6 20.Qg3 attacking the rook on b8 while at the same time threatening Nxe6+) 20.Qg3 Kf6 21.Qh4! Ke7 (21...Kg6 22.Qh7+ Kxg5 23.Qxg7+ Kh5 24.f4 followed by Qg5 mate) 22.e4 Nf6 23.e5 Nd5 24.Nxe6+ Kxe6 25.Qxd8 winning easily]

19.Qh5 Nf6!

Better than 19...Nf8 20.Qxf7+ Kh8 21.Qe7 Bd7 22.Nf7+ grabs the d8 -- rook.

20.Qxf7+ Kh8 21.Qc7

The reason why Black’s knight is better placed on f6 rather than f8 is that now White cannot play 21.Qe7 because of 21...Re8 and Black escapes with his extra material.

21...Bd7 22.Nf7+ Kh7 23.Nxd8 Rc8 24.Qxb6 Nd5 25.Qa7 Rxd8 26.e4 Qd3 27.exd5

White can still mess this up. 27.Bg5? Qxe4 28.Bxd8 Nf4 with forced mate: 29.f3 Qe2 30.Rf2 Qe1+ 31.Rf1 Ne2+ 32.Kh1 Qxf1#

27...Qxd2 28.Qc7! Qg5 29.dxc6 Bc8 30.h3 Qd5

By dint of superhuman defense Carlsen is still hanging on.

31.Rd1 e5 32.Rd3

Intending Rg3.

32...exd4 33.Qe7!

A better move order than 33.Rg3 Rg8 34.Qe7 which allows 34...Qxc6.

33...Bf5?

Finally Magnus cracks, although to be fair even after the better 33...Rg8 34.Qh4+ Kg6 35.Rxd4 Qe5 36.c7 White is also winning.

34.Rg3 Bg6

[34...Rg8 35.Qh4#]

A really heavyweight battle.

Bobby Ang is a founding member of the National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP) and its first Executive Director. A Certified Public Accountant (CPA), he taught accounting in the University of Santo Tomas (UST) for 25 years and is currently Chief Audit Executive of the Equicom Group of Companies.

bobby@cpamd.net