A change of federations is imminent for Levon Aronian, and in advance of his big switch from Armenia to the United States, the elder statesman of the elite game rolled back the years for a classy Fourth of July win of the Goldmoney Asian Rapid Final – and with it, his first Meltwater Champions Chess Tour title before his big switch to the Stars and Stripes.
It was a vintage Aronian performance, as the 38-year-old literally owned the Goldmoney Asian Rapid from start to finish, first by dominating and winning the prelim stage without losing a game, and then going on to beat dark horse Indian wunderkind Arjun Erigaisi in the quarters before sensationally downing World Champion and tour leader Magnus Carlsen to reach his first tour final.
And in the final, it was again the reassured and confidence-high Aronian of old, as he cruised to victory over Vladislav Artemiev, winning by two sets to love over the Russian young gun to emphatically take the seventh leg of the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour and $30,000 richer.
In the process, Aronian – who plans his big move across the Atlantic next month, after competing in the upcoming FIDE World Cup in Sochi, Russia – also picked up crucial tour points in the quest to make the flagship Tour Finals that will be staged in his newly adopted country, to be held in San Francisco in September.
While Aronian produced all the fireworks and took the glory, tour leader Carlsen meanwhile had to be content with beating Ding Liren in the third-place playoff match to further extend his lead at the top over reigning US champion Wesley So.
The Tour Finals in September will have 10 players doing battle for the overall title and $300,000 prize fund. Eight spots will go to the winners of the Majors (maximum 3) and the Tour standings (as many as needed). The remaining two spots will be offered to the best-performing ‘Ambassadors’ in the Tour standings not qualified by other means.
Tour standings & winnings (Top eight places):
1. Magnus Carlsen ($185,370) 291 points; 2. Wesley So ($149,590) 207; 3. Teimour Radjabov ($103,968) 133; 4. Levon Aronian ($103,323) 131; 5. Anish Giri ($93,645) 123; 6. Ian Nepomniachtchi ($94,113) 115; 7. Hikaru Nakamura ($58,645) 85; 8. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave ($60,145) 64.
GM Levon Aronian – GM Vladislav Artemiev
Goldmoney Asian Rapid Final, (2.4)
Modern Defence, Geller’s Quiet System
1.d4 g6 With Black, and facing a do-or-die scenario, the modern-day preference is to reach for the Modern Defence to try and get an unbalanced position. And here, Artemiev had to win to stay in the match. 2.e4 Bg7 3.Nf3 d6 4.c3 Nf6 5.Bd3 Geller’s Quiet System, the eponymous brainchild being one of the leading Soviet-era opening theoreticians, Efim Geller, who developed this system as the Modern Defence became popular during the 1960s. His big idea being that the system is a ‘quiet’ one because 4.c3 is a high-end waiting process, not making any major commitments, thus stymying Black reacting to a large pawn center. 5…0-0 6.0-0 c5 7.h3 Qc7 8.Re1 e5 9.Be3 b6 10.Nbd2 Nc6 11.Rc1 Re8 12.d5 One of the hallmarks of Geller’s Quiet System is that, by holding back, there’s plenty of scope for White to transpose into a King’s IndianDefence set-up by playing d5 and expanding on the queenside with b4 and/or c4. 12…Ne7 13.b4 Nd7 14.Nf1 c4 15.Bc2 f5 16.exf5 gxf5 17.Bg5! Aronian cuts to the chase thanks to his better development, and suddenly Artemiev is in trouble. 17…e4 Forced. The problem is that White’s attack is already rolling, and, for example, if 17…f4 18.Nh4! White will simply steamroll Black’s king with Qh5 and Nf1-h2-g4. 18.Ng3! Already Artemiev is in trouble, and he can just about forget any ideas of trying to complicate the game in search of the crucial win, as he’s now going to be fighting for his very survival. 18…exf3? Artemiev opts to press the gamble button, but it is the wrong choice, and his position quickly implodes. His dilemma is that after the safer 18…Ne5 19.Nh4 Rf8 20.Nh5 N7g6 Black is still in the game, but after 21.Nxg6 hxg6 22.Nxg7 Qxg7 23.Qd2 White has the bishop-pair and the edge, and hard to see how Black can conjure up a winning position needed to stay in the match. So you pays your money and you takes your choice. 19.Nxf5 Ne5 20.Nxg7 Artemiev was most likely praying for a miracle and hoping Aronian would walk into 20.Nxe7+? Rxe7 21.Bxe7 Qxe7 and Black has superb winning chances on the kingside. But Aronian has seen through it all. 20…Kxg7 21.Rxe5! [see diagram] The exchange sacrifice is crushing, as all the tactics work in White’s favour. 21…dxe5 22.d6 Qd7 23.Qxf3 Ng6 In dire straits, Artemiev opts to hang for the sheep as the lamb. Marginally better was 23…Nf5 but after 24.Qxa8 Nxd6 25.Rd1! Black is forced into 25…Qb7 26.Qxb7+ Nxb7 and with the queens off, White is clearly winning, especially with 27.Bh4! in the air and plan of Bg3 looking to pick off Black’s weak pawns on e5 and h7. 24.Qxa8 Bb7 25.Qxa7 Qc6 And with the mate threatened, you think Aronian’s queen could be in trouble with …Ra8 coming – but fear not, our hero has a cunning escape plan. 26.f3 Ra8 27.d7! Qxd7 Artemiev is dammed if he does and dammed if he doesn’t. After 27…Rxa7 28.d8Q Ra8 29.Be4! Rxd8 30.Bxc6 Rb8 31.Bb5 h6 32.Be3 Bd5 33.Rd1 Ne7 34.a4 White will easily finish off the game. 28.Qxb6 Ra6 It’s all desperate stuff now for Artemiev, but Aronian calmly and efficiently puts the the young Russian out of his misery. 29.Qe3 Rxa2 30.Rd1 Qe6 31.Qc5 All roads lead to Rome now, but the clinical way to get there was 31.Bh6+ Kf7 32.Qd2! and Black can’t stop the double threat of Bxg6+ picking off the rook and Qd7+ etc. 31…Rxc2 It’s all academic now, but Black could try hanging on a little longer with 31…Qc6 but it will all be in vain, especially with 32.Rd6! Qxc5+ 33.bxc5 Bc8 34.Be4 coming. 32.Qc7+ Kg8 33.Qxb7 Nf8 34.Rd8 Rxc3 35.Be7 Rc1+ 36.Kh2 1-0