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Zurich Chess Challenge 2014: Three "P"s to Overcome a Stronger Opposition

Feb 6, 2014
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Caruana, Fabiano (2782) - Aronian, Levon (2812)

Zurich Chess Challenge 2014 2014.02.03

In the last round of the classical event, we saw a long fighting game between Caruana and Aronian.

Winning the last round is never easy especially when one is playing the 2nd-highest-rated player in the world. But to win games, it helps to focus on playing our best regardless who we are playing. The only difference in playing against someone stronger is that he/she will fight back more and put up tougher resistance than many others would. After a thorough study of this game, I have discovered qualites characterizing Fabiano's play (and I'm sure in other top GMs as well) that helped him play well and win against a stronger player.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.O-O Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 O-O 8.c3 d5 9.exd5 Nxd5 10.Nxe5 Nxe5 11.Rxe5 c6

the Marshall attack variation of the Ruy Lopez, which usually leads to a struggle between White's material and Black's initiative.

12.d3 Bd6 13.Re1 Bf5 14.Qf3 Qh4 15.g3 Qh3

so far we're still following theory which has been tested many times in master games.

16.Be3!? a rare move that's only been played twice in the top level.

More common is 16.Bxd5 which leads to the "main line" in which Black is doing well according recent practice. Caruana is steering the game into a lesser known path for Aronian to make him feel uncomfortable.

16... Bxd3 17.Nd2 Qf5 18.Bd4! N 

BD_10663_50_1.pngDiagram #2

This is Caruana's novelty.

It is actually a small improvement over Aronian's old game which went 18.Qxf5 Bxf5 19.Bd4 Rfd8 (or even the natural Rfe8) 20.a4 Bf8 now we see the usefulness of the R on d8 21.Ne4 going for the c5-square, but it's not enough to even gain an edge21... h6 22.h4 ( 22.Nc5 b4! 23.c4?

BD_10663_50_2.pngDiagram #3

23... Nf6 and White is suddenly worse due to the precarious and bad placement of White's minor pieces.)22... Bg6 23.Rad1 ( 23.f3 was safer and more solid) 23... Bh5 24.Rc1 Nb4! 25.Re3

Here, Black could've actually fought on without risk with c5! 26.Bf6!? ( 26.Bxc5? Nd3 a small trick that makes the idea work)

BD_10663_50_3.pngDiagram #4

What is the best way for Black to react here?

Chessity-trained players will easily spot White's trick and find the counter-attacking move 26... Nd5! Black is not forced to let White execute a fork trick (26... gxf6 27.Nxf6+ Kh8 28.Nxh5 Nd3 29.Ra1 c4 30.Bc2 Nxb2 31.Rf3! and White has k-side pressure and the initiative.) 27.Bxd8 Nxe3 28.Bb6 now White threatens c5 & e3... ( 28.fxe3 Rxd8 Black is better due to his bishop pair and better pawn structure.)

28... bxa4! a counter-attacking idea once again allows Black to keep the initiative! 29.Bxa4 ( 29.Ba2 Rb8! and again! But this time Black is almost winning due the threat on White's weak b2-pawn.)29... Nc4 30.Bxc5 Nxb2 the game will probably lead to a draw but it is White who has to be careful and work for the draw due to his lack of piece coordination and weak k-side squares.)

In the game Black repeated moves with 25...Nd5 26.Ree1 Nb4 27.Re3 1/2-1/2 Ivanchuk,V 2751-Aronian,L 2739, Nice 2008)

18... Rfe8 a good reaction

So you may ask "What difference does playing Bd4 right away make?" Let's find out if Black goes into an ending again:18... Qxf3 19.Nxf3 now Black has to be careful already as playing by analogy to Aronian's previous game doesn't work: 19... Rfd8? (19... Rfe8 was the only way to obtain some chances of equality as it prevents White's idea 20.Rad1 Be2)

BD_10663_50_5.pngDiagram #6

Here is the difference:

White now can gain an advantage almost by force with 20.Rad1! Bf5 (20... Bg6 21.Nh4! gains the bishop pair 21... Bh5 22.f3 g5 23.g4! ) 21.Bxd5 cxd5 22.Bb6 Re8 23.Rxd5 White wins a pawn for nothing. The key in Caruana's novelty is that by not forcing matters (e.g. exchanging queens) he keeps the tension which gives himself more possibilities even if it's pyschological, and his opponent more room to make a mistake.

19.a4 h6 20.Kg2 still refusing to trade queens, keeping the tension and putting pressure on his opponent.

20... Kf8!?

BD_10663_50_7.pngDiagram #8

preparing himself for the ensuing ending by bringing the king closer to the center.

(20... Rad8 gives up the a-file (20... Qxf3+ 21.Kxf3! +/= bringing the king towards the center and keeping control of the e4-square.) 21.Rxe8+ Rxe8 22.Qxf5 Bxf5 23.axb5 axb5 24.Ra6 and Black has to endure White's queenside pressure for a long time.24... Ne7 25.f3! 25... Kf8 26.Ne4 +/- this is why controlling the e4-square is important. Now White will either get the B pair or obtain strong squares for his pieces.)

21.Rxe8+ Rxe8 22.axb5 axb5 23.Qxf5 Bxf5 24.Bxd5!

BD_10663_50_8.pngDiagram #9

White decides to change the nature of the game based either on a good intuition or concrete analysis. Regardless, the arising situation will be unpleasant for Black as which he will face long-term pressure on the queenside and face tough choices regarding piece placement and exhanges.

( If 24.Ra6 which is a natural follow-up, Caruana may have felt that Black may have enough defensive resources especially because Black's king is now slightly closer to the q-side. Let's concretely analyse:24... Ne7 25.Ra7 ( 25.f3 Bc8 26.Ra7 f5! preventing the unpleasant Ne4 allows Black to hold, keeping White from increasing pressure. This move will not be available had the black king been on g8.)25... c5 26.Be3 Rd8)

24... cxd5 25.Ra6

Now White starts to harass Black's pieces to force them into passive positions.

25... Be7

Black chooses to stay passive but solid. I remember reading somewhere in my junior years that it's better to have both bishops on the board when trying to cover weak squares. However, we cannot always play by principle; decisions are best made with concrete analysis.

(25... Be5! was the way to fight for equality, but it's a difficult decision to make otb over the board as Black has to correctly assess the B vs N with weak pawns which seems almost always more comfortable to play for White. 26.Bxe5 Rxe5 but if we actually study the conrete ideas in this position, Black can achieve & maintain equilibrium due to the possibility to invade on e2 and even make White's king feel insecure 27.Kf3 ( 27.Nb3 Re2 28.Nd4 Be4+)27... Bc2! preventing Nb3 and threatening Bd1 next move!)

26.Nf1 playing 26.Rb6! first may be better because it forces another Black piece to be passive defend the b5-pawn

26... b4 27.Ne3 puts pressure on the weakness Bd3 28.Ra5 winning the d5-pawn

28... bxc3 29.bxc3 Bd8?

BD_10663_50_9.pngDiagram #10

Trying to hold on to the pawn, but at the expense of the worsening position of his pieces

30.Ra8 putting pressure on the pieces along the 8th rank

30... f6 31.f3 eliminating any tricks on e4 in the future

31... Be7 32.Ra7!

BD_10663_50_10.pngDiagram #11

Keeping an attacking piece on the board and placing it on the 7th rank ensure that Black will be in for a long suffering.

( 32.Rxe8+?!

BD_10663_50_11.pngDiagram #12

exchanging rooks will greatly diminish White's winning chances because it basically rids White of an active pieces and Black a passive piece.32... Kxe8 33.Nxd5 Bd6 Black's B pair will be difficult to contain in this open board.)

32... Bd6 33.Rd7 the d5-pawn was bound to get lost anyway

33... Ba3 34.Rxd5 Kg8 avoiding discovered check tricks

( Bc1??

BD_10663_50_12.pngDiagram #13

( Bb2??

BD_10663_50_13.pngDiagram #14

35.Bc5+ Kf7 36.Rxd3) 35.Bc5+ Kf7 36.Rxd3 -+ ) 35.h4 slowly improving the k-side

35... Bc1 36.Ng4 avoiding the exchange of knight for a bishop as this may increase Black's drawing chances in an opposite-colored bishop ending.

36... Bc4 37.Rc5 Be6 38.Nf2 Ra8 39.g4!

BD_10663_50_14.pngDiagram #15

gaining more space on the k-side and hoping to create another weakness there later (Principle of Two Weaknesses).

39... Ra2 40.Kg3 another benefit of the previous move is that the king can easily get out of the pin along the 2nd file.

40... Ra6 seems like the best Black can do is wait and protect his pieces

41.Rc7 Bd2?

BD_10663_50_15.pngDiagram #16

allowing White to improve the knight with tempo. This goes to show how unpleasant and difficult it is to defend Black's position...

42.Ne4 Be1+ ( 42... Bc1 43.g5! and Black's kingside pawns will soon vanish.) 43.Bf2 Bxf2+ 44.Kxf2

now the game has transformed into a simpler position in which White will still be winning even if either pair of pieces come off the board

44... Ra2+ (44... Kf8 45.c4! +- simply pushing the passed pawn down is an effective winning plan.) 45.Kg3 Rc2 stopping the c3-c4

46.Kf4 once again, patiently improving the position and preventing and counterplay related to f6-f5

46... Ra2 47.h5!

BD_10663_50_16.pngDiagram #17

Creating another weakness (advantage for White) in the enemy camp--g7, and even mating net possiblities when the knight gets to g6.

47.c4 Ra4 48.c5 Kf8 49.h5 is another way of improving White's position. 

47... Ra5 48.Nc5!? Bd5 49.Rc8+ Kf7?! 

49...Kh7 was maybe more stubborn but it's hard to blame Aronian as it looks dangerous to allow 50.Nd7 though Black can resist White will eventually win50... g5+ (50... Ra4+ 51.Kf5) 51.hxg6+ Kxg6 52.c4 Bf7 53.Rc6 +-.

BD_10663_50_18.pngDiagram #19

White to play


The typed words you are reading right now is an attempt to hide and camouflage the soltuion of the puzzle. If you are reading this you are ready to find out or compare your solution: 50.c4!

50... Ba8 (50... Bxc4 51.Nb7 Ra4 ( Ra7 52.Nd8+! ( 52.Nd6+)52... Ke7 53.Nc6+ Kd7 54.Nxa7) 52.Nd6+ Ke6 53.Rxc4 +- +5 Chessity points for you correctly worked out the whole solution! ( 53.Nxc4 Kd5 54.Kf5 +- ))

51.Rc7+ Kg8 52.Ne6 Winning the weak g7-pawn. Now we see the importance of playing h4-h5. If we didn't then Black would be able to resist with g7-g5+!

52... Ra3 53.Rxg7+ Kh8 54.Kf5 Bxf3 ( Rxf3+ 55.Kg6 Be4+ 56.Kf7 checkmating soon with Rg8, Nf8#) 55.Rg6 winning all the k-side pawns

55... Be2 56.Rxh6+ Kg8 57.Rg6+ Kh8 58.Rxf6 Rf3+ 59.Nf4 Bxc4 60.Kg5 Kg8 61.Kh6 Ra3 62.g5 Ra7 63.g6 Rc7 64.Nh3 Rc8 65.Ng5 Rd8 66.Nh7 and there are many ways to win such as g7, Rf8+/ Rb6, Nf6 etc. so Black resigns.

A well- deserved win for Fabiano Caruana! His good opening preparation, combined with persistent pressure on his opponent's position and patience to increase his advantage was a masterful display of how to undermine the strength and overcome the resistance of a stronger player.

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