Levon Aronian confirmed his status as the man to beat this year by adding yet another major title to his impressive haul this season, as the amiable Armenian easily beat China’s #1, Ding Liren, in the tiebreak play-offs to win the 2017 FIDE World Cup final earlier today in Tbilisi, Georgia. The final went into overtime after the four-game mini-match was tied with four draws at 2-2 – but in a one-sided playoff, Aronian broke the deadlock by winning the first two rapid games as he went on to take the title and $120,000 (minus FIDE’s 20 percent tax) first prize.
Aronian’s emphatic victory must have come as a big disappointment for Ding, as up to the playoff, the resilient underdog was the only player in the competition not to have lost a single game! But he will be returning home to Beijing with more than just his $80,000 conciliation prize as runner-up because the 24-year-old is set to become a national hero by being the first Chinese player ever to qualify for the Candidates and a chance to be Magnus Carlsen’s next world title challenger.
Of course, Aronian is already a national hero in his tiny chess-mad homeland. He played both heroically and in a true sportsmanship-like manner from start to finish, and he now adds the World Cup title to his impressive haul of classical victories this year in the Grenke Chess Classic and Norway Chess tournaments ahead of Carlsen – and in this sort of majestic form, who wouldn’t wish to see lionhearted Levon finally winning a Candidates’ tournament for a dream world title challenge against rival Carlsen?
Since 2000, the World Cup has been a major knockout event organized by governing body FIDE – but the first two, in 2000 and 2002, won by Vishy Anand, was a lesser affair having only 24-players and wasn’t a direct qualifier for the world championship. That all changed in 2005 when it became a grueling, month-long tournament with a starting field of 128-players with the two finalists qualifying into the Candidates’.
Aronian won that first World Cup proper back in 2005, so now he officially becomes the first player in the annals to have won twice what is perceived by players, pundits and punters alike to be the “hardest” tournament in the chess world to win.
(Photo) Congratulations to Levon Aronian! | Anastasia Karlovich (Official site)
GM Levon Aronian – GM Ding Liren
FIDE World Cup Final, (5)
1.c4 Nf6 2.Nf3 e6 3.Nc3 d5 4.d4 c6 5.Bg5 h6 6.Bxf6 Qxf6 7.Qb3 Nd7 8.e4 dxe4 9.Nxe4 Qf4 10.Bd3 e5 The more cautious approach with 10…Be7 11.Bc2 was seen in Aronian-Leko, Tromsø Olympiad 2014. 11.0-0 To be brutally honest, with the position beginning to open up now, this is not the sort of position you would wish to be defending against Levon Aronian, as he usually thrives in such positions where his pieces are flowing freely. 11…Be7 The critical – and very brave – continuation had to be 11…f5!? 12.Ng3 e4 13.Rae1 Kd8! 14.Nxe4 fxe4 15.Rxe4 Qf7 Black has a piece, but White has two good pawns and a very dangerous attack spearheaded by his domination of the e-file. I can imagine why Ding didn’t fancy defending this against Aronian – but he still faces a difficult defense. 12.Rae1!?N As ever, Aronian reaches deep into his bag full of novelties. 12… exd4 13.Bb1 The pawn is going nowhere, so Aronian just concentrates on what he does best, and that’s free-flowing piece-play. 13…0-0 14.Ng3 Bd8 I can’t see what spooked Ding here – I thought the logical continuation had to be 14…Nc5!? 15.Qa3 Qc7 16.Nxd4 Rd8 making way for …Bf8 (after Ndf5) getting out of the attack from the queen and rook and looks like Black is over the worst of it, with the prospects of an equal game. But while the retreat …Bd8 is über-cautious, it gives Aronian time to build on his already developed and active pieces. 15.Qd3 g6 16.h4 It’s tempting to try to bludgeon a path through to the Black king – but this is a little risky. 16…Nf6 Again too cautious – what was wrong (again) with 16…Nc5? White surely wouldn’t want to play Qxd4, as that sees the queens exchanged, so that leaves only 17.Qa3 Ne6 18.h5 Ng5! and Black’s bishops are shaping up to be more of a potent threat here. 17.h5 g5 It’s a brave man who allows White’s queen and bishop to line up for a big mating threat on h7 – whatever Ding does now, he has to be very careful, as one slip and he’s a goner. 18.Ne5 Ba5 19.Ng6!? I can imagine Aronian probably felt this was just winning by force – but Ding is nothing if not resourceful. 19…Qd2! 20.Ne7+ Kg7 21.Qb3 Qf4!? It’s a double-edged position, and Ding puts his queen on f4 with ideas of perhaps later playing …Bc7 and threatening …Nxh5 – a worthy plan, and one that still leaves the position somewhat unclear, as now a single slip from either side here could well prove fatal. 22.Rd1 Bb6 Protecting both b7 and d4 – and perhaps later leaving the threat of pushing with …d3 to open up an attack on f2. 23.Ngf5+ The alternative 23.Nxc8 Raxc8 24.Nf5+ Kh8 leads to much the same thing. 23…Bxf5 24.Nxf5+ Kh8 25.g3 Qg4 26.Nxh6 Qxh5? The opening up of the h-file ultimately proves fatal. It is difficult for Black with the threat hanging in the air down the b1-h7 diagonal, but Ding simply had to try 26…Qe6!? 27.Rfe1 Ne4 28.Rxe4 Qxh6 and hope he can exchange rooks off on the e-file and play for the drawish opposite-colored bishop ending – and this is not so easy for White to prevent. Now, if 29.Rde1 f5!? 30.Re5 Rad8 31.Bxf5 d3! Black has excellent counter-chances with the opening up of the hit on f2 and the passed d-pawn. But now, with the h-file open, Aronian quickly hones in on a deadly attack on Ding’s king. 27.Kg2! (see diagram) So simple, yet very effective! The king clears a path for the rook to come to the h-file – and when Rh1 does inevitably come, Black is dead in the water. 27…d3 28.Qc3 Kg7 What else is there? If 28…Qg6 29.Bxd3 is easily winning. 29.Nf5+ Kg6 30.Rh1 1-0 Ding resigns rather than face the forced mate after 30…Qg4 31.Rh6+ Kxf5 32.Rxf6+ Ke4 33.Bxd3#