Just when we thought we’d survived the media and fan storm generated with the buzz of the return to active play of Garry Kasparov in the new Grand Chess Tour event, the Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz, held at the Chess Club and Scholastic Centre of Saint Louis (CCSCSL), we got hit by a more typical meteorological storm, as the darkened clouds dramatically rolled over the city for one all-mighty, unseasonal thunderstorm.
The chess gods didn’t approve that Garry Kasparov was losing games – because after going down to Ian Nepomniachtchi, at the end of day two, come the start of day 3, Kasparov crashed again to a dramatic loss from a near-winning position against David Navarra, as the young Czech Rep. hopeful hit the former world champion with an unexpected thunderbolt.
But amidst all the stormy weather and torrential rain that flooded down Maryland Plaza, outside the once sunny and balmy CCSCSL, Levon Aronian was weathering the storm inside, as the ever-imaginative Armenian ace managed to narrowly win the rapid event with some ingenious endgame play against Cuban Leinier Dominguez, as he successfully fended off the fighting challenge from the US duo of Fabiano Caruana and Hikaru Nakamura.
Aronian now carries over a narrow – and what could be vital – one-point lead over Caruana and Nakamura going into the final two days of the blitz competition, with a close and exciting finish now expected on Friday.
Rapid final standings
1. Levon Aronian 12/18; 2-3. Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura 11; 4. Ian Nepomniachtchi 10; 5. Leinier Dominguez 9; 6-7. Le Quang Liem, Sergey Karjakin 8; 8-10. Vishy Anand, Garry Kasparov, David Navara 7.
(In the rapid, a win is 2 points, a draw 1 point)
(Photo opposite) Aronian in front – just! | © Lennart Ootes GCT
GM Leinier Dominguez – GM Levon Aronian
Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz, (9)
Ruy Lopez, Anti-Marshall
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.O-O Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 O-O 8.a4 The Anti-Marshall. A wise move, as Aronian – along with Peter Svidler – is one of the world’s leading authorities on the Marshall Attack with 8.c3 d5. I’m also reminded of the sage advice Garry Kasparov was given for his 1993 World Championship match with Nigel Short. He asked Efim Geller, the leading Soviet opening theorists of his time, what he should do against the Marshall? Geller said avoid it, play instead the Anti-Marshall 8…b4 9.d4 d6 10.dxe5 dxe5 11.Nbd2 In two previous Sinquefield Cup encounters against Nakamura and Carslen, in 2015 and 2013 respectively, Aronian faced the early queen exchange with 11.Qxd8 Rxd8 12.Nbd2 – he lost to Carlsen from a winning position in a dramatical, final round encounter that decided the competition, though outplayed and beat Nakamura. 11…Bc5 12.a5 The idea is to ‘fix’ Black’s pawn on a6 – but it is double-edged, as White’s pawn on a5 is equally vulnerable. 12…Ng4 13.Rf1 Nf6 14.Qe2 Qe7 15.Bc4 Bg4! If Black worries about protecting the a6-pawn, then White will get in Nb3 followed by Be3 with the advantage. Black has to react energetically in such position. 16.Nb3 Nd4 The logical follow-up. 17.Nbxd4 Bxd4 18.Bxa6 Qc5 A nice, active central outpost for the queen – and also at the same time squeezing White’s a5-pawn. 19.Qc4 Nxe4!? I would imagine Dominguez was still in Aronian’s home prep here – not the thing you want in a rapid game! 20.Nxd4 exd4 21.Qxc5?! The critical line has to be 21.Bf4 Qf5!? 22.Qxc7 Rxa6 23.f3 Bxf3 24.Rxf3 Qb5! Black has the a5-pawn tied down, threatening to double rooks on the a-file, or perhaps even play …Rc6. Certainly Black has resources here – but this would have been much better for Dominguez than now happens in the game. 21…Nxc5 22.Bc4 Be6! It was becoming very clear with the speed and confidence Aronian was playing these moves, he was perhaps still in his comfort zone. 23.Bxe6 fxe6 24.Bd2 b3 25.Bb4 Rf5! Not only defending the knight but in the long-term, White’s a-pawn is vulnerable – and if Black can easily recoup his pawn, he’ll have the better side of the ending, as he has the more active rook. 26.g4 Rg5 27.Bxc5 Rxc5 28.cxb3 Raxa5 29.Rxa5 There’s no other option than the bad rook ending. If 29.b4 Rxa1 30.bxc5 ( Not 30.Rxa1 Rc4 31.b5 e5 and Black is winning – White’s b-pawns are weak and vulnerable, while Black’s king easily moves over to defend e5. 30…Rxf1+ 31.Kxf1 The king and pawn ending is lost after 31…e5 32.Ke2 g5! 33.Kd3 Kf7 34.Ke4 Ke6 35.f3 Kd7! and White can’t advance his king, as the d-pawn will pass. Eventually, White will run out of moves and Black will win. 29…Rxa5 30.Rd1 e5 With a couple of nuanced moves from Aronian, and Black is winning as his king is closer to the action, leaving his rook to pick-off all the vulnerable White pawns. 31.f4 Kf7! (See diagram) The ingenious pawn sacrifice wins the ending – Black’s active rook, king and powerful d-pawn is a winning team. 32.fxe5 Rd5 33.Kf2 Ke6 34.Ke2 This is not a move White wants to play, but it is the only way to get the king across to try to cover the dangerous passed d-pawn, where perhaps he can free up his rook with some slim chances of fighting for a draw. And no better was 34.Rc1 d3! 35.Ke3 d2 36.Rd1 Rxe5+ 37.Kxd2 Rd5+ 38.Kc1 Rxd1+ 39.Kxd1 Ke5 and Black’s king comes sweeping swiftly into f4 to capture on g4 for a winning advantage. 34…Rxe5+ 35.Kd2 If 35.Kd3 Kd5 and …Re3+ is coming. 35…c5 36.Ra1 Re3 37.Ra7 Rxb3 38.Kc2 Rh3 39.Rxg7 Kd5 The combined forces of the king, rook and powerful pawns on c5 and d4 easily win the day. 40.b3 Rxh2+ 41.Kd3 Rb2 42.Rd7+ Kc6 43.Rxh7 Rxb3+ 44.Ke4 Re3+ Cutting the king off from Black’s passed pawns – this is always a good winning plan in any rook and pawn scenario. 45.Kf4 Re8 46.g5 d3 47.g6 d2 48.Rh1 Re1 49.g7 d1=Q 50.g8=Q Qd4+ 51.Kf5 Qf2+ 52.Kg6 Qg2+ 0-1