The final Melody Amber tournament finished a few days ago, and Aronian ended up in clear first. Not a huge surprise, I guess, as Aronian is both extremely strong and extremely tricky, which makes him all the more difficult to bring down in rapid chess.
One interesting result was that only 3 players finished above 50% in the combined standings! They would happen to be the only 2800+ players at the moment, in opposite order of rating: Aronian, Carlsen, and then Anand in 3rd. That seems really surprising to me in a 12-player double-round robin.
One amazing opening idea was seen in the rapid game between GMs Topalov and Nakamura:
(FEN: r1b1kb1r/1p1nqppp/p3p3/1B1pP3/3B1P2/1RN5/P1PQ2PP/4K2R w Kkq – 0 14)
Topalov played 14.Ba4, as an improvement on a 2008 game between his regular second, GM Ivan Cheparinov, and his occasional second, GM Francisco Vallejo. In that game, Cheparinov gave up the bishop directly with 14.0-0, but in the line with 14…axb5 15.Nxb5 Qd8 16.Qc3 Qa5 17.Nc7+ Kd8 18.Nxa8 Qxa8 19.f5, Black has the amazing resource 19…b6!, preparing to put a bishop on c5 and defend.
It’s a ways away, but see what happened in the Topalov game: 14…b5 15.Bxb5 axb5 16.Nxb5 Qd8 17.Qc3 Qa5 18.Nc7+ Kd8 19.Nxa8 Qxa8 20.0-0, White is a move behind the Cheparinov game (doesn’t have f5 in), but Black doesn’t have the b-pawn!
This turns out to be a huge factor, as Black can’t develop easily, White can invade on the b-file, and the a-pawn can be a force in an endgame if Black tries to exchange queens. Even though Topalov made it a bit difficult, he did manage to win the game in the end …
I tuned into some of the European Championship’s games on Saturday, and there were a couple interesting games/moments that I saw on ICC. One involved one of the previously mentioned seconds:
(FEN: r1b1kb1r/1p1n1pp1/pq1ppn1p/8/4P1PP/1NN5/PPPBQP2/R3KB1R b KQkq g3 0 11)
Vallejo had just played 11.g4, preparing a kingside onslaught. (I don’t know what the state of theory is in this Najdorf line, but this doesn’t look very good for Black, even with disregarding the game continuation after this.) GM Papaioannou tried 11…Ne5 here, hitting the g4-pawn.
But Vallejo couldn’t be bothered and played 12.f4!, setting off a forced sequence: 12…Nexg4 13.e5 dxe5 14.fxe5 Qc7 (the only way to avoid losing a piece) 15.exf6 Qg3+ 16.Kd1 Nf2+ 17.Kc1 Nxh1, the following position was reached:
(FEN: r1b1kb1r/1p3pp1/p3pP1p/8/7P/1NN3q1/PPPBQ3/R1K2B1n w kq – 0 18)
Black has an extra pawn and exchange, but he also is rather behind in development and the knight on h1 might be tough to bring back. But those are just very general considerations in a very concrete situation.
Vallejo hit Black’s queen with 18.Ne4!, and now Black has a tough choice. If he retreats to c7, then the Nh1 is lost (after something like 19.Qg2, hitting g7 and h1). He tried 18…Qxh4, but that takes the queen away from any potential defense of the Black king.
So how should White continue?
White played 19.Qc4!, threatening a nasty discovery on Black’s queen with 20.Nd6+. Thus, the Nh1 still can’t come back and after Papaioannou’s 19…g5, the f6-pawn was stuck as a real thorn in Black’s position. Maybe 19…Qh2 was a better defensive try, but it’s still rather unclear.
White continued to push forward with 20.Nbc5!, bringing another piece to bear on Black’s position. The knight can’t be exchanged off, since after 20…Bxc5 21.Qxc5, there’s no good way to deal with mate on e7.
(FEN: r1b1kb1r/1p3p2/p3pP1p/2N3p1/2Q1N2q/8/PPPB4/R1K2B1n b kq – 0 20)
Black tried 20…Ng3 here, but 20…b5 also has to be considered in light of what happened in the game.
After 20…b5 21.Qd4, Black has to deal with the threat of 22.Nd6+, so 21…Qh2 looks forced. Now 22.Ba5 Qf4+ 23.Kd1 Qxf1+ leads to a draw, but I think White should be trying for more with 22.a4!!, which either tries to break through on the b5-square, or prepares a rook lift via the 3rd rank, or might give White’s king an escape hatch on a2.
For example, after 22…b4 23.Bxb4 Qf4+ 24.Kb1 Qxf1+ 25.Ka2 Qf5, White wins with 26.c4!! (diagram below):
(FEN: r1b1kb1r/5p2/p3pP1p/2N2qp1/PBPQN3/8/KP6/R6n b kq c3 0 26)
There’s no way to plug the d-file or whisk Black’s king away to safety.
Back to the game with 20…Ng3, Vallejo launched the final mating attack with 21.Qa4+. After 21…b5, he broke through with 22.Bxb5+! axb5 23.Qxb5+ Kd8 24.Ba5+ Rxa5 25.Qxa5+ Ke8, and now White has to find the final idea, as he’s already given away a rook and two bishops:
(FEN: 2b1kb1r/5p2/4pP1p/Q1N3p1/4N2q/6n1/PPP5/R1K5 w – – 0 26)
Vallejo did find it – 26.Qb5+ Kd8 27.Qb6+ Ke8 28.Nd6+!, and Black resigned, as 28…Bxd6 29.Qc6+! is the final nail. The stutter step forces Black to make a decision with his king: if Black goes to f8, 30.Qxc8 is mate, while if Black goes to d8, then mate will come on d7 or e7 after 30.Qxd6+.
And to wrap this post up, maybe Volokitin (Kamsky’s esrtwhile second) should read his own book again?!
(FEN: r2q2k1/1p4bp/2bpp1p1/p1n2r2/2P5/1PN2P2/P1BQ1BPP/1R3RK1 b – – 0 18)
This was a game between 2650+ GMs Volokitin and Guseinov, and Guseinov played 18…Rh5 here. Black’s pawn structure is a bit airy, but his bishops might cause some trouble.
Volokitin had a simple way to consolidate his structural plus, but he overlooked Black’s threat and played 19.Rfe1?. Guseinov hit him with 19…Bxf3!, the point being that after 20.gxf3 Qg5+ 21.Qxg5 Rxg5+, Black will take the knight on c3 and have an extra pawn. Volokitin therefore played 20.Bd1 and managed to draw probably in large part due to Guseinov’s time situation.
Instead of 19.Rfe1, White could have played 19.Rbd1!, when the pressure on the d-pawn is rather annoying. Black can still try 19…Bxf3, but then 20.gxf3 Qg5+ 21.Qxg5 Rxg5+ 22.Kh1 Bxc3 23.Rxd6 maintains the material balance. However, with the bishop pair and a number of weak Black pawns and pieces (the Nc5 is unstable and the Rg5 is misplaced), White should have a clear plus.