There’s gold in them thar tours…well, one of them anyway. The Play Magnus Group announced a new sponsorship deal this week with one of the leading names in the precious metals market, Goldmoney, for the seventh leg of their $1.5m Meltwater Champions Chess Tour: the Goldmoney Asian Rapid that comes with a prize pot of $100,000 and a glittering field of sixteen top players taking part.
Heading the field is current Tour leader Magnus Carlsen and his nearest rival, Wesley So, and also includes several elite stars featuring alongside several Asian qualifiers and wildcard invitees, such as China’s Hou Yifan, the world’s No.1 female player, who will become the first woman to compete in the tour and the rising Indian star Gukesh D, who qualified after winning the recent Gelfand Challenge tournament.
The full lineup is: Magnus Carlsen, Wesley So, Anish Giri, Levon Aronian, Alireza Firouzja, Vidit Gujrathi, Ding Liren, Jan-Krzysztof Duda, Vladimir Artemiev, Saleh Salem, Hou Yifan, Arjun Erigaisi, Adhiban Baskaran, Gukesh D, Daniil Dubov and Peter Svidler.
Meanwhile the rivalling over-the-board $1.25m Grand Chess Tour continues, with the second leg, the Paris rapid and blitz taking place place this weekend. There’s no Magnus Carlsen, but the field does includes his world title challenger, Ian Nepomniachtchi, the former world champion Vlad Kramnik, and the young pretender to the Norwegian’s title, Alireza Firouzja, who will also play in the Goldmoney Asian Rapid.
The full line-up is: Fabiano Caruana, Levon Aronian, Wesley So, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Teimour Radjabov, Richard Rapport, Ian Nepomniachtchi, Alireza Firouzja and Peter Svidler play both events; Etienne Bacrot plays the rapid and Vladimir Kramnik the blitz.
Shak Mamedyarov proved to be the emphatic big winner in last week’s Superbet Chess Classic Romania, the opening event in this year’s pandemic curtailed Grand Chess Tour – but the masterclass award easily went to Levon Aronian, for his stunning endgame study-like win over early local hero wildcard Bogdan-Daniel Deac.
GM Bogdan-Daniel Deac – GM Levon Aronian
Superbet Chess Classic Romania, (8)
Sicilian Defence, Moscow Variation
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bb5+ The Moscow Attack, a close relation to to the Rossolimo (2…Nc6 3.Bb5), the idea being simple and solid development and avoid your opponent’s well-honed favourite pet-line in the Sicilian, such as the Najdorf or the Dragon. 3…Nd7 4.d4 cxd4 5.Qxd4 a6 6.Be2 Ngf6 7.0-0 e6 8.Rd1 Be7 9.Nc3 Qc7 10.a4 0-0 11.a5 From a popular Sicilian sideline, we have transposed into a mainline Sicilian of the Scheveningen variety. 11…Rd8 12.Be3 Ng4 13.Bg5 Ngf6 14.Qc4 Qxc4 15.Bxc4 b5 16.axb6 Nxb6 17.Be2 Bb7 All of Black’s focus now will be on White’s e-pawn. 18.Nd2 Rd7 19.Bd3 Rc7 20.f3 d5! It’s always a good sign for Black in the Sicilian when he successfully gets in the …d5 break. 21.Be3 dxe4! 22.Ndxe4 The tactics are working in Black’s favour. After 22.Bxb6 Rc6! 23.Ncxe4 Rxb6 Black is doing OK with the active rook and the bishop-pair. 22…Nfd5 23.Bd4 f6 24.b3 Kf7 Aronian brings his king closer to the center, in anticipation later of perhaps playing …e5 and …Ke6 for the endgame, or simply to defend the e6-pawn after expanding on the kingside with …g5 and …f5. 25.Nxd5 Nxd5 26.Bc4 a5 27.c3 g5 28.Ra4 f5 29.Ng3 Bc5 Aronian has improved his position – but it will take a herculean task in order to win this level position. 30.Bxc5 Rxc5 31.Bxd5 Bxd5 32.c4 Bc6 33.Ra3 a4! The breakthrough only further helps Aronian improve his position, as White is going to be left defending a couple of weak pawns. 34.Rda1 Not 34.bxa4? Rxa4 35.Rxa4 Bxa4 36.Rd4 Bb3 and Black will easily pick-off the c-pawn. 34…Rg8 35.bxa4 g4 36.f4 Rxc4 37.Ne2 Rb8 38.R3a2 Bd5 39.a5 Rcb4 40.Rd2 Rb2 41.Rad1 Rxd2 42.Rxd2 Ra8 Deac does a good job under the pressure of going about his task of swapping off the final set of rooks, after which he should be able to hold the draw despite being a pawn down, as all the pawns oppose each other on the same side of the board. 43.Nc3 Rxa5 44.Kf2 Bc6 45.Nd1 Ra4 46.g3 Ra1 47.Nb2 Rh1 48.Nd3! A brave move, sacrificing a second pawn just to trade the rooks, which with very careful play should be a draw, as it is not easy for Black to mobilise his pawns. 48…Rxh2+ 49.Ke3 Rxd2 50.Kxd2 Ke7 51.Ne5 The strong e5 outpost is the key to Deac’s holding the line – and it very nearly succeeds! 51…Kd6 52.Ke3 Kd5 53.Kd3 Be8 54.Ke3 h5 55.Nd3 Kc4 56.Ne5+ Kc3 57.Nd3 In all intents and purposes, the game just looks to be playing out to a draw, with seemingly no way for Black to make progress with his extra pawns – but it takes the genius of Aronian to contrive to make something out of nothing here! 57…h4! The prelude to a cunning and very deep endgame pawn sacrifice from Aronian. Deac was hoping his superbly-placed knight outpost in e5 would hold the draw, hoping for something like 57…Kc2 58.Nc5 Kd1 59.Kf2! (Definitely not 59.Nxe6? and the king gets to g2 and wins the g3-pawn – and this is the big clue to Aronian’s coming endgame magic. 59…Ke1) 59…Bf7 60.Nd3 and deadlock, with no means of making the crucial breakthrough, for example 60…Kd2 61.Nc5 h4 62.gxh4 e5 63.fxe5 Bd5 64.Kg3 Ke3 65.e6! f4+ 66.Kxg4 f3 67.e7 Bc6 68.Nd3! Kxd3 69.e8Q Bxe8 70.Kxf3 and a draw. 58.gxh4 g3 59.Ne5?? [Hook. Line. Sinker. It’s hard to criticise Deac for wanting to put the knight on such an ideal outpost, but alarm bells should have been ringing in his head, and the young Romanian wildcard should have realised that the reality was that 59.Nc1 had to be played, the (half!) point being Ne2+ is a vital tempo to play Ng1 that holds in all lines. Little does he know the shock that’s coming his way. 59…Bh5 60.Nd7 Deac’s body language in the live webam feed was such that he probably thought he’d now secured the draw, with his knight soon coming to f6 to help support the push of his h-pawn up the board. He doesn’t realise he’s about to be hit with the reality of Aronian’s cunning endgame play! 60…e5!! [see diagram] It’s like one of those thunderbolts we usually see in an award-winning endgame composition, as Aronian’s clever pawn sacrifice diverts White’s knight from f6, and his king now sneaking in through the back door to support the g-pawn queening. 61.Nxe5 The alternative faired no better. After 61.fxe5 f4+! 62.Kxf4 g2 and the g-pawn can’t be stopped. 61…Kc2 With Aronian’s bishop and g-pawn effectively cutting White’s king off from the action, the Black king sneaks in via d1-e1 to support the g-pawn. 62.Nd3 Kd1 0-1 Deac resigns, faced with 63.Nb4 Ke1 64.Nc2+ Kf1 65.Kd4 Kf2 66.Ne3 Be2! and White will first lose the h-pawn and then his knight.