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By John Henderson

Levon Aronian might well be regarded by now as one of the game’s established veterans, but the Armenian rolled back the years with a wistfully vintage performance to win the Goldmoney Asian Rapid  prelim stage, the latest leg of the $1.6 million Meltwater Champions Chess Tour from the Play Magnus Group.

At 38, Aronian is by far the oldest player in the field, but he dominated his younger opponents with some golden touches to finish with an unbeaten score of 10½/15, as he took the top-spot in the prelims on the tour for the first time, finishing half a point ahead of Russia’s Vladislav Artemiev.

Most of the usual suspects made it through to the business end of the quarterfinals, including big gun rivals Magnus Carlsen and reigning US champion Wesley So – and the two tour leaders might well be displeased with their miss-firing qualifying final positions, as it now means they get set for an early meeting in Tuesday’s big quarterfinal clash.

“It’s not ideal,” commented a somewhat unhappy Carlsen, “but that’s the way it is…”

The Goldmoney Asian Rapid had a youthful field and feel to it, and it produced a new kid on the block as the relatively unknown young Indian grandmaster, Arjun Erigaisi turned in what potentially could be his big breakthrough moment. By far the lowest-rated player in the field, the 17-year-old tour debutant defied both the odds and the pundits’ pre-tournament predictions as he edged out established rising star Alirezja Firouzja on tiebreak to claim the final qualifying spot.

Asked how the tournament has gone for him, Erigaisi – probably with no gold pun intended – said: “It has panned out quite well!” He’s also the first Indian to make it to the knockout stages of the tour, and his reward is now a big quarterfinal clash with old hand Aronian, in what’s sure to be an intriguing battle of the generations.

Preliminary final standings:
1. Levon Aronian (Armenia), 10½/15; 2. Vladislav Artemiev (Russia), 10; 3. Ding Liren (China), 9½; 4-5. Magnus Carlsen (Norway), Wesley So (USA), 9; 6-9. Jan-Krysztof Duda (Poland), Anish Giri (Netherlands), Arjun Erigaisi (India), Alireza Firouzja (FIDE), 8; 10. Santosh Vidit (India), 7; 11-12. Peter Svidler (Russia), Gukesh D (India), 6½; 13. Daniil Dubov (Russia), 6; 14. Saleh Salem (UAE); 5½; 15. B. Adhiban (India), 5; 16. Hou Yifan (China), 3½.

Quarterfinal pairings:
Aronian-Erigaisi, So-Carlsen
Ding Liren-Duda, Giri-Artemiev

The Goldmoney Asian Rapid quarterfinals starts at 12:00 BST (07:00 EST | 04:00 PST) on Tuesday 29 June and played on the chess24.com playzone. There’s live commentary with host Kaja Snare, GM David Howell & IM Jovanka Houska on Chess24.com, Twitch, YouTube, and on Norwegian TV 2.

 

GM Arjun Erigaisi – GM Santosh Vidit
Goldmoney Asian Prelim, (8)
Sicilian Sveshnikov
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nc6 6.Ndb5 d6 7.Bf4 e5 8.Bg5 a6 Via a transposition and a couple of extra moves (Bf4-g5 and …e6-e5) we get the mainline of an über-aggressive defence first named the Lasker/Pelikan variation, initially named after the former world champion Emanuel Lasker (who first brought it to prominence against Carl Schlechter during their 1910 title match), and then the Czech IM Jiri Pelikan. But after a period of hiatus, it became popular again in the 1970s and 1980s, though this time eponymously named after the Russian GM Evgeny Sveshnikov – though sometimes its called the ‘Chelyabinsk variation’, after the group of players from that region of Russia who also played a big part in developing its theory. 9.Na3 b5 10.Nd5 Be7 11.Bxf6 Bxf6 12.c3 Rb8 13.Nc2 Bg5 These are the battle-lines in the Sicilian Sveshnikov: White looks to control the d5 square, Black looks to open the game up for his bishop-pair – and we get an interesting tussle that now ensues. 14.a4 bxa4 15.Ncb4 Nxb4 16.Nxb4 Bd7 17.Bxa6 Qa5 18.Qxd6 Kudos to both players, as they decide to just “go for it”, in the process producing an engrossing and captivating game. 18…Rb6 19.Qd3 Be6 This is pushing the envelope a little too far. Safer was 19…Be7 20.Nd5 Rxb2 21.0-0 Qc5 and looking to quickly get in …Be6 and …0-0 – but Black now pays the penalty for not getting his king to safety. 20.0-0 Be7 I suppose Vidit feared he couldn’t quite castle here, as after 20…0-0 21.Bc4! and if Black isn’t careful, White will consolidate his position and perhaps pick-off that a4-pawn – and the tricks don’t work for Black, as 21…Rd8 22.Qe2 Rd2 23.Qh5 Bxc4 24.Qxg5 Rbd6 25.Nd5! and Black is in trouble. But then agin, Black is playing a risky game as it is, with his king insecure in the middle of the board. 21.Bc4 Bxb4 22.cxb4 Qxb4 23.Bxe6 fxe6? This is one risk too many for Black – he had to try and hold the line with the safer 23…Rxe6 24.Qa3! Qxa3 25.Rxa3 Ke7 26.Rxa4 Rb8 27.b4 Reb6 28.Rb1 and hold this ending, which is not so easy for White to make progress defending b4 and his rook immobile on a4 – eventually, White will end up looking to convert a single R+P ending with the extra pawn, and not so easy if Black can his rook active and his king in front of the b-pawn. 24.Qf3! The king is caught now in the middle of the board, and it’s nothing short of a miracle that Vidit complicates matters enough to confuse his young countryman. 24…Rf8 25.Qh5+ Rf7 26.Qxh7 Qxb2 Vidit is betting the house on his passed a-pawn saving his skin – and it almost works! 27.Rac1 It’s that old theme I keep mentioning, that looks can often  be deceptive in chess, and at first glance here you might wonder why White can’t just snatch the a-pawn, but there’s a very nasty trick in the position, and after 27.Rxa4?? Qxf2+!! forces mate-in-two! 27…Rbb7 28.h4 Erigaisi is obviously concerned about the dastardly trick on f2, and he gives his king a little air whilst grabbing some space on the kingside. But he needn’y have bothered, as the simple 28.Qg6! sees Black’s king getting snared, as 28…Ke7 (Just as bad was 28…Rbe7 29.Rfd1! Qxf2+ 30.Kh1 Rd7 31.Rf1! Rc7 32.Rb1! and e6 is going to fall with check.) 29.Qg5+ quickly wins. 28…Qb6 29.Rc8+ Ke7 30.Qh5 Time, nerves and the pressures of playing such a complex position is not so easy. The clinical kill quickly spotted by the engine is 30.Qh8! Qd4 31.Re8+ Kd6 32.Qh5! and the major threat coming of Rd1 will leave Black in dire straits. 30…Rb8 31.Qg5+ Kd7 32.Rc4 In hindsight, cleaner and more useful was the immediate 32.Rc2! as it defends both f2 and opens up the possibility of Rfd1+ or even Rd2+. 32…a3 33.Qxe5 Ra8 34.Rc2 a2 This is the only game in town for Vidit. 35.Qa1? [see diagram] The position is just very complex, and the young Indian can be forgiven for not noticing that 35.Rb2! will eventually catch the Black king as it wanders aimlessly in the razor-wire of no man’s land, the point being that 35…a1Q 36.Rd2+! and there’s a deadly double attack on the new queen just delivered on a1. 35…Qb3 36.Rb2 Qc4 Vidit has pushed his luck in this game, and it almost works as he comes close to saving a game that he should have lost by now – but the time pressure was equally on him as it was on Erigaisi. 37.Rd1+ Ke8 38.Rdd2 Rfa7 39.Rbc2 Qb3 40.Rc1 White has to stop …Qb1+ – and just when you think a wonderful struggle is going to end in a draw, the game takes a dramatic twist. 40…Rb7 Right square, wrong piece! It’s not losing per se, but by now there was a mutual time scramble going on, and Black begins to lose his way again. After 40…Qb7! 41.Re1 (It’s not so easy to defend e4 with 41.f3 as after 41…Kf7 42.Rb2 Qe7! Black has good play against the h-pawn.) 41…Qb4 42.Rdd1 and Black’s big a-pawn is going to be his saving grace. 41.Kh2 Qb1?? A monumental blunder, just when you think the game might be heading for a deserved draw. White can’t make any progress due to the a-pawn, and after 41…Kf8 42.Rcd1 Kg8 43.f3 neither side can do anything. 42.Rxb1 Rxb1 I imagine that in the frantic time scramble, Vidit overlooked that 42…axb1Q 43.Qxa8+ Kf7 44.Rd8! Qb5 (The Black king can’t escape. After 44…Kg6 45.h5+! Kg5 46.Qa5+ Qb5 47.Qc3 and the king gets snared. And also if 44…Qb4 45.f4! Qe7 46.Rh8 Kg6 47.e5 Kf5 48.g3 Qb4 49.Qa2! the best Black can hope for is trading queens and a hopelessly lost R+P ending as in the game.) 45.f4! and the Black king is doomed. Rather than that, Vidit now finds himself hopelessly lost in a R+P ending. A sad ending to what was a thoroughly entertaining struggle in this Indian duel. 43.Qxa2 Rxa2 44.Rxa2 Kf7 45.Kg3 Kf6 The rest of the game is academic now, as Erigasi easily converts with his extra two pawns. 46.Ra5 Rb4 47.f3 Rb2 48.Ra1 g6 49.Rf1 e5 50.Rf2 Rb6 51.Rd2 Kg7 52.Kg4 Kf6 53.g3 Ra6 54.Rd8 Ra3 55.Rd6+ Kf7 56.Rb6 Re3 57.Rb4 Kf6 58.f4 Re1 59.fxe5+ Kxe5 60.Kg5 Rg1 61.g4 Rg2 62.Rb6 Kxe4 63.Rxg6 Kf3 64.Rf6+ Kg3 65.h5 1-0

 

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