Candidates – Levon Aronian (2809 – World #3)

3/13/2013 – He is the top concern – the "main rival" – for the tournament favourite Magnus Carlsen. Armenian GM Levon Aronian, whose encounters with the Norwegian superstar are many and memorable, started his international career as the World Under-12 Champion in 1994. A steady climb took him to a permanent slot as number two or three place on the FIDE world rankings. Three days before the upcoming Candidates Tournament, where he will face Carlsen in round one, Michael von Keitz provides an Aronian portrait with full statistics.

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Levon Aronian (2809 – World #3)

Look no further than Carlsen for a pre-tournament assessment of the threat the Armenian poses: “My main rival is Levon Aronian.” Why? Quite simply because, among players today, Levon has a record of accomplishment most comparable to that of the Norwegian, including a variety of super-tournament victories and the third-highest rating ever achieved (behind those of Carlsen and Kasparov). For his part, Aronian is currently sequestered in Jermuk, making the utmost effort to prove Carlsen right when they meet in London.

Aronian showed early promise when he won the World Under-12 Championship in 1994, finishing ahead of a slew of future standouts, including his fellow candidate, Alexander Grischuk. He subsequently secured victory at both the Armenian National Championship and World Junior Championship in 2002, and his star has only risen from there.

In retrospect, Levon’s debut at the 2004 FIDE Knockout World Championship (picture above) seemed almost prophetic. In the first round, he sat across the board from...

... a cherub-faced Magnus Carlsen (above), requiring tiebreaks to get through and setting the tone for their many future encounters. His overall success in that tournament, however, ultimately fell short of what Grischuk managed to accomplish. Flash forward a few years later and Aronian was playing in the 2007 Candidates tournament. Again, his first opponent was Carlsen and, again, he required tiebreaks to get through. As a result, he ultimately made it to the 2007 World Championship tournament, where he finished tied for 6th-7th with Morozevich, only a half-point ahead of last-placed Grischuk. Then, the world traveled 'round the sun a few more times and the 2011 Candidates tournament was upon us. Who should Aronian face in the first round? None other than Carlsen’s replacement – Grischuk! Again, things went to tiebreaks, but, this time, Carlsen’s impersonator managed to get the better of his adversary and Aronian was sent home.

Aronian’s skill set stretches across all chess platforms, being one of only three players (the others being Anand and Kasparov) to have held both the title of World Blitz Champion and that of World Rapid Champion, while also having previously taken some Chess960 world titles for good measure. He will be seeking to round out his trophy case by wresting the title from Anand and he has both the skill and determination to manage it, so the other candidates are best forewarned. As another fellow candidate, Gelfand, has said of him: “he is the most striking player around, with the highest creative level, in terms both of openings and original ideas in the middlegame. Number one at the moment. So, frankly, it surprises me that the entire press is part of the Carlsen fan club, and not Aronian's.”

Incidentally, with the pairings now set, who should Aronian be facing in the first round, but Carlsen…  ‘nuff said!


Aronian's opponents at the Candidates

Boris Gelfand (2740 – World #18)

# Result
Moves
Year Event Opening
1 Draw (w)
98
2005 Spanish Team Ch E46 Nimzo-Indian
2 Draw (w)
24
2005 European Club Cup A29 English, Four Knights
3 Draw (w)
32
2005 World Team Ch D17 QGD Slav
4 Draw (w)
22
2006 Corus D17 QGD Slav
5 Draw (w)
29
2006 Russian Club Cup D43 QGD Semi-Slav
6 Loss (b)
33
2006 Dortmund E15 Queen's Indian
7 Draw (b)
21
2006 Spanish Team Ch D38 QGD, Ragozin
8 Draw (b)
16
2006 Tal Memorial E01 Catalan, Closed
9 Loss (b)
48
2007 FIDE World Ch A60 Benoni
10 Loss (w)
40
2007 FIDE World Ch D43 QGD Semi-Slav
11 Win (b)
30
2008 Corus D11 QGD Slav
12 Win (w)
26
2008 Sochi Grand Prix E15 Queen's Indian
13 Loss (w)
49
2008 Dresden Olympiad A29 English, Four Knights
14 Draw (b)
33
2009 Nalchik Grand Prix D39 QGD, Vienna
15 Win (w)
78
2009 Jermuk Grand Prix D43 QGD Semi-Slav
16 Draw (w)
19
2009 European Club Cup D45 QGD Semi-Slav
17 Loss (b)
66
2009 Tal Memorial D47 QGD Semi-Slav
18 Win (w)
41
2010 World Team Ch D45 QGD Semi-Slav
19 Draw (w)
46
2010 Linares D48 QGD Semi-Slav, Meran
20 Draw (b)
40
2010 Linares D15 QGD Slav
21 Win (w)
41
2010 Tal Memorial D43 QGD Semi-Slav
22 Draw (w)
40
2011 Tal Memorial D37 QGD
23 Win (b)
53
2012 Wijk aan Zee D31 QGD

Overall: 6 Wins, 12 Draws, 5 Losses
White: 4 Win, 8 Draws, 2 Losses
Black: 2 Wins, 4 Draws, 3 Losses

Where Gelfand is concerned, Aronian may have less to worry about than with some of his other opponents in this event. Three of their last six games – stretching back to 2010 – have been victories in his favour. Two of these came with the black pieces. Gelfand has tremendous respect for Aronian’s abilities and it may be fair to say that even he would not be too shocked if the Armenian managed to white-wash him 2-0. This being suitable revenge for Gelfand’s own drubbing of Aronian at the 2007 World Championship. The Meran and the Benoni would be interesting landscapes for them to revisit.


Peter Svidler (2747 – World #14)

# Result
Moves
Year Event Opening
1 Draw (w)
49
2004 Calvia Olympiad E60 King's Indian
2 Draw (w)
60
2004 Petrosian Memorial (Internet) A41 Queen's Pawn Game
3 Draw (b)
34
2004 Petrosian Memorial (Internet) C88 Ruy Lopez
4 Draw (w)
35
2005 World Team Championship E60 King's Indian
5 Win (w)
38
2006 Linares-Morelia D80 Grunfeld
6 Draw (b)
20
2006 Linares-Morelia C88 Ruy Lopez
7 Loss (w)
47
2006 Dortmund D80 Grunfeld
8 Loss (w)
24
2006 Tal Memorial D80 Grunfeld
9 Draw (b)
32
2007 Corus C84 Ruy Lopez, Closed
10 Draw (b)
38
2007 Linares-Morelia C89 Ruy Lopez, Marshall
11 Draw (w)
16
2007 Linares-Morelia D94 Grunfeld
12 Draw (w)
32
2007 European Team Ch D15 QGD Slav
13 Draw (b)
20
2007 FIDE World Championship C69 Ruy Lopez, Gligoric
14 Draw (w)
46
2007 FIDE World Championship A29 English, Four Knights
15 Draw (w)
63
2008 Sochi Grand Prix A29 English, Four Knights
16 Draw (b)
48
2008 Pearl Spring Tournament C86 Ruy Lopez, Worrall
17 Draw (w)
45
2008 Pearl Spring Tournament A29 English, Four Knights
18 Draw (w)
30
2009 Nalchik Grand Prix D11 QGD Slav
19 Draw (w)
36
2009 European Team Ch D80 Grunfeld
20 Draw (w)
37
2009 Tal Memorial D80 Grunfeld
21 Win (w)
54
2011 Tal Memorial D82 Grunfeld, 4.Bf4

Overall: 2 Wins, 17 Draws, 2 Losses
White: 2 Wins, 11 Draws, 2 Losses
Black: 0 Wins, 6 Draws, 0 Losses

With his most recent game with Svidler ending in victory, the momentum between these two lies squarely in Aronian’s camp. Never underestimate inertia, nor the deployment of the Grunfeld. That said, Levon has been spoiled by the number of times he has held white and he was expertly resisted by Svidler at the 2007 World Championship, so it will be anything but a cakewalk.


Vassily Ivanchuk (2757 – World #13)

# Result
Moves
Year Event Opening
1 Loss (w)
81
2004 European Individual Ch D73 Neo-Grunfeld, 5.Nf3
2 Loss (b)
40
2005 Karabakh International C77 Ruy Lopez
3 Win (w)
55
2005 World Team Ch E67 King's Indian, Fianchetto
4 Loss (w)
45
2006 Wijk aan Zee E60 King's Indian Defense
5 Loss (b)
45
2006 Linares-Morelia A15 English
6 Draw (w)
35
2006 Linares-Morelia E15 Queen's Indian
7 Loss (b)
37
2006 Russian Club Cup C88 Ruy Lopez
8 Draw (b)
45
2006 Turin Olympiad A29 English, Four Knights
9 Loss (b)
42
2006 Bundesliga E55 Nimzo-Indian, 4.e3
10 Loss (b)
49
2007 Linares-Morelia D38 QGD, Ragozin
11 Draw (w)
39
2007 Linares-Morelia E17 Queen's Indian
12 Draw (w)
62
2008 Wijk aan Zee D27 QGD, Classical
13 Win (b)
60
2008 Linares-Morealia C84 Ruy Lopez, Closed
14 Draw (w)
22
2008 Linares-Morelia D37 QGD
15 Loss (w)
44
2008 M-Tel Masters D12 QGD Slav
16 Draw (b)
26
2008 M-Tel Masters D12 QGD Slav
17 Loss (b)
44
2008 Sochi Grand Prix D12 QGD Slav
18 Win (w)
70
2008 Bilbao D27 QGA, Classical
19 Draw (b)
69
2008 Bilbao C69 Ruy Lopez, Gligoric
20 Draw (b)
68
2008 Dresden Olympiad C77 Ruy Lopez
21 Win (w)
33
2008 Pearl Spring A04 Reti Opening
22 Win (b)
39
2008 Pearl Spring A20 English
23 Draw (w)
56
2009 Wijk aan Zee E16 Queen's Indian
24 Loss (w)
44
2009 Linares E92 King's Indian
25 Loss (b)
35
2009 Linares D45 QGD Semi-Slav
26 Win (w)
40
2009 Nalchik Grand Prix A31 English, Symmetrical, Benoni
27 Draw (b)
46
2009 Jermuk Grand Prix C50 Giuoco Piano
28 Draw (w)
58
2009 Tal Memorial E06 Catalan, Closed, 5.Nf3
29 Win (w)
50
2010 European Club Cup A62 Benoni, Fianchetto Variation
30 Draw (b)
31
2011 World Team Ch A07 King's Indian Attack
31 Loss (w)
38
2011 Bilbao D37 QGD
32 Draw (b)
35
2011 Bilbao C67 Ruy Lopez
33 Win (b)
57
2011 Tal Memorial C67 Ruy Lopez
34 Draw (b)
30
2012 Wijk aan Zee E06 Catalan, Closed, 5.Nf3
35 Win (w)
42
2012 Istanbul Olympiad E15 Queen's Indian

Overall: 9 Wins, 14 Draws, 12 Losses
White: 6 Wins, 6 Draws, 5 Losses
Black: 3 Wins, 8 Draws, 7 Losses

Ivanchuk and Aronian are both creative geniuses with a knack for introducing tactical complications, so, somewhat unsurprisingly, the majority of their mutual tilts have been decisive. Although Ivanchuk holds a wide margin in their lifetime score, he is another player against whom Aronian has the momentum. Expect compelling play between these two, whether in the Queen’s Gambit, Ruy Lopez, or some other opening.


Alexander Grischuk (2764 – World #10)

# Result
Moves
Year Event Opening
1 Draw (w)
69
1997 Kasparov Cup C47 Four Knights
2 Win (w)
31
2005 French Team Ch C77 Ruy Lopez
3 Draw (w)
16
2006 Tal Memorial E17 Queen's Indian
4 Draw (b)
31
2007 FIDE World Championship C88 Ruy Lopez
5 Win (w)
42
2007 FIDE World Championship D30 QGD
6 Win (w)
42
2008 Sochi Grand Prix D47 QGD Semi-Slav
7 Loss (b)
59
2009 Linares D44 QGD Semi-Slav
8 Draw (w)
41
2009 Linares E92 King's Indian
9 Draw (w)
35
2009 Nalchik Grand Prix A30 English, Symmetrical
10 Loss (b)
52
2009 Bilbao D44 QGD Semi-Slav
11 Win (w)
42
2009 Bilbao D11 QGD Slav
12 Win (b)
29
2009 European Club Cup D44 QGD Semi-Slav
13 Draw (b)
23
2010 World Team Ch A09 Reti Opening
14 Draw (w)
26
2010 Linares E25 Nimzo-Indian, Samisch
15 Draw (b)
101
2010 Linares D39 QGD, Vienna
16 Draw (w)
28
2010 Tal Memorial D38 QGD, Ragozin
17 Win (b)
49
2011 Wijk aan Zee C85 Ruy Lopez, DERLD
18 Draw (w)
70
2011 Candidates Tournament D86 Grunfeld, Exchange
19 Draw (b)
22
2011 Candidates Tournament D37 QGD
20 Draw (w)
59
2011 Candidates Tournament D97 Grunfeld, Russian
21 Draw (b)
17
2011 Candidates Tournament D31 QGD
22 Draw (w)
28
2012 Tal Memorial E15 Queen's Indian

Overall: 6 Wins, 14 Draws, 2 Losses
White: 4 Wins, 9 Draws, 0 Losses
Black: 2 Wins, 5 Draws, 2 Losses

Aronian and Grischuk have been rivals since childhood. Although Aronian holds the edge in their lifetime series, Grischuk has, on more than one occasion, been able to place ahead of Aronian in important events, so nothing is certain between these two. Based on their results in the 2007 World Championship and 2011 Candidates tournament, certainly expect more of the Queen’s Gambit and, perhaps, the Ruy Lopez.


Teimour Radjabov (2793 – World #4)

# Result
Moves
Year Event Opening
1 Draw (w)
46
2004 European Championship D11 QGD Slav
2 Win (w)
79
2006 Linares-Morelia E92 King's Indian
3 Draw (b)
29
2006 Linares-Morelia D38 QGD, Ragozin
4 Draw (b)
16
2006 Russian Club Cup C69 Ruy Lopez, Gligoric
5 Win (b)
65
2007 Corus D38 QGD, Ragozin
6 Win (w)
48
2008 Corus E61 King's Indian
7 Draw (w)
24
2008 Linares-Morelia E61 King's Indian
8 Draw (b)
31
2008 Linares-Morelia D44 QGD Semi-Slav
9 Draw (b)
56
2008 M-Tel Masters D44 QGD Semi-Slav
10 Loss (w)
44
2008 M-Tel Masters E97 King's Indian
11 Draw (b)
26
2008 Sochi Grand Prix C45 Scotch Game
12 Draw (b)
34
2008 Bilbao C45 Scotch Game
13 Loss (w)
49
2008 Bilbao A15 English
14 Draw (b)
59
2008 Dresden Olympiad C53 Giuoco Piano
15 Draw (b)
15
2009 Corus C45 Scotch Game
16 Draw (w)
42
2009 Linares E61 King's Indian
17 Loss (b)
56
2009 Linares A07 King's Indian
18 Draw (b)
19
2009 European Team Ch C48 Four Knights
19 Draw (w)
26
2011 European Team Ch D37 QGD
20 Draw (w)
33
2011 World Team Ch D37 QGD
21 Draw (w)
12
2012 Wijk aan Zee A15 English
22 Draw (b)
45
2012 Tal Memorial A07 King's Indian

Overall: 3 Wins, 16 Draws, 3 Losses
White: 2 Wins, 6 Draws, 2 Losses
Black: 1 Win, 10 Draws, 1 Loss

Aronian and Radjabov should be a treat to follow in this event. They have been consistently near one another in the world rankings and have an even split in their lifetime series across a number of dimensions. This is one of the few opponents against whom Aronian has had recent losses that have gone unavenged, but he will seek to remedy that here. There is no reason for the Queen’s Gambit not to make a return.


Vladimir Kramnik (2810 – World #2)

# Result
Moves
Year Event Opening
1 Draw (w)
85
2005 European Club Cup A15 English
2 Loss (b)
37
2006 Turin Olympiad A15 English
3 Draw (w)
43
2006 Dortmund D20 QGA
4 Draw (w)
28
2007 Corus D17 QGD Slav
5 Draw (w)
22
2007 FIDE World Championship E05 Catalan, Open, Classical
6 Loss (b)
35
2007 FIDE World Championship E15 Queen’s Indian
7 Loss (b)
110
2008 Corus D44 QGD Semi-Slav
8 Draw (w)
41
2008 Dresden Olympiad D44 QGD Semi-Slav
9 Draw (w)
23
2009 Tal Memorial D39 QGD, Vienna
10 Draw (b)
38
2010 Shanghai Masters D18 QGD Slav, Dutch
11 Loss (w)
71
2010 Shanghai Masters E04 Catalan, Open, 5.Nf3
12 Draw (w)
26
2010 Khanty-Mansiysk Olympiad A13 English
13 Win (w)
41
2010 Tal Memorial D38 QGD, Ragozin
14 Draw (b)
26
2011 Wijk aan Zee D10 QGD Slav
15 Draw (w)
49
2011 Tal Memorial D40 QGD, Semi-Tarrasch
16 Draw (b)
32
2011 London Classic D37 QGD
17 Win (b)
41
2012 Zurich Challenge Match D43 QGD Semi-Slav
18 Draw (w)
37
2012 Zurich Challenge Match C67 Ruy Lopez
19 Loss (b)
42
2012 Zurich Challenge Match C47 Four Knights
20 Draw (w)
25
2012 Zurich Challenge Match C67 Ruy Lopez
21 Draw (b)
43
2012 Zurich Challenge Match D43 QGD Semi-Slav
22 Draw (w)
43
2012 Zurich Challenge Match C65 Ruy Lopez, Berlin
23 Draw (b)
40
2012 Tal Memorial C47 Four Knights
24 Loss (b)
35
2012 Istanbul Olympiad D10 QGD Slav
25 Draw (w)
67
2012 London Classic C67 Ruy Lopez

Overall: 2 Wins, 17 Draws, 6 Losses
White: 1 Win, 12 Draws, 1 Loss
Black: 1 Win, 5 Draws, 5 Losses

Kramnik represents a fellow Top-3 player, who has often gotten the better of Aronian. Their training match in Zurich last year allowed Levon to experience victory with the black pieces in a Semi-Slav, so he has cause to be cautiously optimistic, but Kramnik is not one to be complacent and will seek to build on his victory at the Olympiad. A Slav and a Berlin may be the result.


Magnus Carlsen (2872 – World #1)

# Result
Moves
Year Event Opening
1 Draw (b)
31
2004 FIDE World KO Ch E32 Nimzo-Indian, Classical
2 Draw (w)
19
2004 FIDE World KO Ch B10 Caro-Kann
3 Win (w)
74
2006 Tal Memorial E15 Queen’s Indian
4 Draw (w)
20
2007 Corus E15 Queen’s Indian
5 Draw (w)
31
2007 Linares-Morelia E04 Catalan, Open, 5.Nf3
6 Draw (b)
28
2007 Linares-Morelia E15 Queen’s Indian
7 Win (b)
36
2007 Candidates C78 Ruy Lopez
8 Draw (w)
21
2007 Candidates A58 Benko Gambit
9 Loss (b)
41
2007 Candidates A30 English, Symmetrical
10 Win (w)
40
2007 Candidates E11 Bogo-Indian Defense
11 Loss (b)
49
2007 Candidates E12 Queen's Indian
12 Draw (w)
47
2007 Candidates D17 QGD Slav
13 Draw (b)
36
2008 Corus C78 Ruy Lopez
14 Loss (b)
40
2008 Linares-Morelia C84 Ruy Lopez, Closed
15 Draw (w)
28
2008 Linares-Morelia E17 Queen's Indian
16 Loss (w)
51
2008 Bilbao A32 English, Symmetrical
17 Loss (b)
36
2008 Bilbao D47 QGD Semi-Slav
18 Draw (b)
65
2009 Corus D45 QGD Semi-Slav
19 Draw (w)
37
2009 Linares E06 Catalan, Closed, 5.Nf3
20 Win (b)
93
2009 Linares D45 QGD Semi-Slav
21 Draw (b)
32
2009 Tal Memorial D47 QGD Semi-Slav
22 Draw (b)
28
2011 Wijk aan Zee C45 Scotch Game
23 Draw (b)
56
2011 Bilbao C78 Ruy Lopez
24 Draw (w)
50
2011 Bilbao D55 QGD
25 Draw (w)
57
2011 Tal Memorial E15 Queen's Indian
26 Draw (w)
39
2011 London Classic D12 QGD Slav
27 Loss (b)
68
2012 Wijk aan Zee D31 QGD
28 Draw (b)
60
2012 Tal Memorial C67 Ruy Lopez
29 Draw (b)
48
2012 Bilbao C65 Ruy Lopez, Berlin
30 Draw (w)
44
2012 Bilbao E17 Queen's Indian
31 Loss (b)
59
2012 London Classic C77 Ruy Lopez
32 Draw (w)
46
2013 Wijk aan Zee E90 King's Indian

Overall: 4 Wins, 21 Draws, 7 Losses
White: 2 Wins, 12 Draws, 1 Loss
Black: 2 Wins, 9 Draws, 6 Losses

Carlsen is brutally efficient against Aronian when holding the white pieces, but has a lifetime deficit as black. As implied by Carlsen himself, the games between these two very well might be the most important in the tournament, so do not expect to see short draws. Tears will be shed and songs written about the ferocious battles they are set to orchestrate. They may both try to surprise one another by taking advantage of lesser-known openings in their respective repertoires. The English has been a great friend to Carlsen, so he may seek to drop the Ruy Lopez, despite its own kindness to him.


Overall Stats Against Field

 
Wins
Draws
Losses
Draw %
Overall
28
111
41
61.67%
White
17
64
17
65.31%
Black
11
47
24
57.32%

Repertoire white

Line
score
Perf.
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5
62%
2790
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6
63%
2779
1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6
63%
2785
1.e4 c5
74%
2620
1.Nf3 Nf6
64%
2671
1.c4
73%
2796

More likely than not, Aronian will repeatedly turn to the Queen’s Gambit in this tournament, winning more than a few scraps. Both general and specific success in virtually every sub-variation of this opening speaks to the high probability.

Repertoire black

Line
score
Perf.
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6
49%
2724
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6
42%
2668
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4
47%
2444
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3
40%
2639
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6
45%
2540
1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6
50%
2769
1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4
51%
2621

Aronian is as comfortable on the black side of the Queen’s Gambit as he is on the white side. He is ever-so-slightly less successful against the Ruy Lopez, but, faced with the option, he is not averse. In terms of catching the opposition off-guard, he may spring the Sicilian, with which he has no particular history.


The Candidates Tournament in London

The London Candidates 2013 will be the strongest tournament of its kind in history. The Prize Fund to be shared by the players totals €510,000. The winner of the Candidates will become the Challenger to Viswanathan Anand who has reigned as World Champion since 2007.

Full information on the Candidates – pairings and commentary schedule

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