Tata Steel Chess Tournament: Round 9
Aronian, Levon - Karjakin, Sergey
76th Tata Steel Masters 2014.01.23
A very important game between the number 1 and 2 in the standings!
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 b6 4.g3 Ba6 5.b3 Bb4+ 6.Bd2 Be7 7.Nc3 O-O 8.Bg2 c6 9.e4 d5 10.exd5 cxd5 11.Ne5
Quite amazingly, the players had this exact position on the board twice before and against... eachother!
11... Bb7 (11... Nfd7 is what Karjakin played in the first game, but after 12.O-O Nxe5 13.dxe5 Nd7 14.Re1 dxc4 15.Bxa8 Qxa8 16.Bh6! 16... Rd8 17.Qg4 it is questionable whether Black has enough compensation for the exchange.)
12.O-O Nc6 13.Bf4 Na5 14.Rc1 Ba3 15.Rb1 Bb4 16.Ne2 ( 16.Na4 featured in the second game between these players, Karjakin won the game following16... Ne4 17.a3 Be7 18.cxd5 exd5 19.b4 Nc6 20.Rc1 Rc8 21.Bh3 f5 22.f3 Nd6 23.Qd3 Nxe5 24.dxe5 Rxc1 25.Bxc1 Nc4 26.f4 b5 27.Nc3 Qb6+ 28.Rf2 d4! with a big initiative. The text move was introduced by Peter Leko against... Sergey Karjakin! It seems Karjakin should know a thing or two about this variation!)
16... Nc6 17.Bg5 Be7 18.Nf4 Qd6 ( And only now do we leave the throtten paths! White was much better after Ne4 19.cxd5 exd5 20.Nxc6 Bxc6 21.Bxe7 Qxe7 22.Re1 Qf6 23.Rc1 Bb7 24.Re2 Rae8 25.Rc7 Ba8 26.Rxa7 in Leko-Karjakin, Zug 2013. The game continuation is an attempt to improve Black's play.)
19.Bxf6 ( White goes for a small but stable advantage. In a more adventurous mood, Aronian may have chosen 19.Re1 for instance19... Rad8 20.Nh5 Nxh5 21.cxd5!? 21... Nxd4! 22.Nc4 Qd7 23.Bxe7 Qxe7 24.d6 Qf6 25.Bxb7 g6 26.Rb2! and with Rd2 coming, Black might be experiencing problems.)
19... Bxf6 20.cxd5 exd5 21.Bxd5 Bxe5 22.dxe5 Qxe5 23.Re1 Qf6
An ideal situation for Aronian. Given his half a point lead in the standings he must have felt happy to have this risk-free slightly better position with White.
24.Nh5 ( During the livestream commentary I did today, we thought 24.Qf3 runs into24... Nd4 but the simple 25.Qe4 is just very bad for Black. The idea is25... Bxd5 26.Nxd5 Nf3+ 27.Kh1! and the knight on f3 is simply lost. That means 24.Qf3 is definitely a serious alternative.)
24... Qh6 25.Qg4 Qg6 26.Qh3 ( Aronian considered 26.Qxg6 to be equal after26... hxg6 27.Nf4 Rfd8 28.Rbd1 Kf8 but here ( Rd7! is the correct way, when it is difficult for White to keep on the pressure.) 29.Rd3! is annoying as it is difficult to meet Nxg6. E.g.29... Rd6 30.Bxc6 Rxc6 31.Rd7 with initiative.)
26... Rad8 27.Nf4 Qf6 28.Be4!
Instructive, White provokes weaknesses around the black king.
28... g6 29.Nd5 Qg7 30.Rbc1
Slowly increasing the pressure. Now Rxc6! followed by Ne7xc6 is a threat.
30... Kh8 (30... Rfe8 31.Qh4 g5 is the computer suggestion. But it is the typical type of move that would never be played by a human being. Who would voluntarily rip open his own kings position in such a way? The concrete follow-up is 32.Qh5 Nd4! when Black has strong counterplay. Computers...)
31... axb6 32.Bxc6 Bxc6 33.Rxc6 Rd2 34.Qh4 Rxa2
The position has metamorphosed to a highly unpleasant endgame with heavy pieces. When asked for an assessment, Aronian thought the position was not yet winning but of course it is really unpleasant.
35.Qb4 h5 ( Ra1!? made sense, exchanging a pair of rooks and activating the queen in the process. I doubt 36.Qxf8+ Qxf8 37.Rxa1 Qb4 gives White serious winning chances.)
36.Qxb6 ( 36.Rxb6 was perhaps a bit more precise, keeping an eye on f8. Now the ending after36... Ra1 37.Qxf8+! 37... Qxf8 38.Rxa1 is already much better, though38... h4! still complicates matters.)
36... Ra1 37.Rcc1 Rxc1 38.Rxc1 Qb2 39.Rd1 Kh7 40.Qb5 Kg7 41.Qd3 Rb8 42.Rb1 Qe5 43.Qd2 ( 43.b4 ( 43.h4 certainly deserved serious attention. This would stop any counterplay against the king connected with h5-h4, but at the same time Aronian felt that here all the rook endgames are more likely to be drawn, as Black can create counterplay with f6-g5.)43... Rxb4! was the important point behind Black's last move, but)
44.Qb2 ( Now forced, as 44.b4 Qe4 45.Qb2+ Kh7 followed by ... h3 gives Black strong counterplay.)
44... Qxb2 45.Rxb2 Rb4!
It is important to stop the b3-pawn before it gets pushed further.
46.Kf1 Kf6 47.Ke2 Kf5?!
( Black has two ways of defending this ending. One is to seek counterplay on the kingside with Kg4-h3 etc. The other is to move the king to the b-pawn. Ke5 48.Kd3 Kd5 49.Kc3 Re4! 50.b4 Kc6 and I am not sure at all White will end up victorious.)
48.Kd3 g5 ( Or Kg4 49.Kc3 Rb8 50.b4 Kh3 51.gxh4 Kxh4 52.b5 Kh3 53.f3! and Black's counterplay on the kingside is extremely slow.)
49.Kc3 Rb7 50.b4 Kg4 51.b5 Kh3 52.gxh4 gxh4 53.f4 ( During the commentary we had a lot of fun with 53.f3 f5 54.b6 f4 55.Kd4?
55... Rd7+ 56.Ke4 Rd4+! and taking leads to stalemate. Of course Aronian doesn't feel like allowing such complications.)
53... Kg4 54.b6 f5 55.Kd4 Kxf4 56.Rb3!
( Excellent technique! The king is not allowed to pass the 3rd rank. An interesting way to let the win slip is 56.Kd5 Kf3 57.Kc6 Rb8 58.Kc7 Rh8 59.b7 f4 60.b8=Q Rxb8 61.Kxb8 when Black miraculously makes a draw with61... h3! (61... Ke3 62.Rb3+ Ke2 63.Rh3 f3 64.Rxh4 f2 65.Rf4 f1=Q 66.Rxf1 Kxf1 67.h4! and the h-pawn decides.) 62.Kc7 Ke4!! 63.Kd6 f3! and Black is just in time! These lines are highly instructive and far from trivial so I would advise you to take your time going through them!)
56... h3 57.Kd5 Kg4 58.Kc6 Rb8 59.Rg3+!
59... Kh4 60.b7 f4 61.Rg7
and Black resigned. He will have to give his rook for the b-pawn and is unable to create any counterplay on the kingside in return. Another seemingly effortless win by the Armenian supergrandmaster. Leading the pack with 1,5 point, little seems to be going wrong for Aronian as we are approaching the final rounds.