FIDE World Cup 2017: Aronian's masterful technique falls short

by Sagar Shah
9/25/2017 – Game two of the World Cup 2017 Finals was a tense affair. Ding Liren's opening idea was swiftly neutralized by Aronian with black. It seemed as if the players would agree to a draw around move 30 mark, and call it a day. But Ding went wrong and the moment he did that Aronian started turning the screws on the position. Before you knew it, White had landed in a completely lost position. It was only through a miracle that Ding escaped. Detailed analysis of the game, photos, videos and more from Hotel Biltmore in Tbilisi.

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Ding Liren still unbeaten in Tbilisi

World Cup

We were two hours into the game. Things were looking pretty boring. The queens had been exchanged, and rooks were also off. A few minor pieces and four pawns for each side remained on the board. It seemed as if the players would shake their hands, go back to the room and start preparing for the third game. Everyone in the press room was also looking forward to a short day of work. But then Ding Liren picked up his c1 knight (check above diagram) and put it on b3.


Levon Aronian's eyes lit up a bit. Here was his chance to claim at least a theoretical edge. He played the move 30...b6! Ding Liren had no choice but to take the knight on c5 and after bxa5 we reached the following position:


Aronian rolled up his sleeves. He carefully adjusted himself on his chair and with some light hand exercises he signalled — not only to his opponent, but also to the world — that we are in for a long fight! True, the position was still very much in the realms of a draw, but the tide was slightly shifting in Armenian's favour. 


When you sit in the press room (or at home) with engines switched on, the position looks deceptively easy. But just look at the position without any silicon assistance and you will realize that for the defender it is not at all clear what is to be done. Aronian made one strong move after another and constantly posed his Chinese opponent with problems to solve. Every move had to played accurately by Ding in order to avoid defeat. The 24-year-old grandmaster did fare well until a certain point, but then went wrong. Mistakes in chess do not happen in vacuum. It was this incessant pressure from Aronian that made Ding go wrong. The biggest opportunity for Levon came on move 53.


With time running low on the clock, such decisions are extremely difficult to make. However, Aronian could have gained the full point by playing Nb3+. You can find the detailed analysis in the game annotations below. Levon, however, couldn't calculate the consequences of Nb3+ accurately and hence went for the safer route with Nxf3. The position is still be winning, just not as clear as Nb3+. For Ding things were not at all bright. Not only had he lost a pawn, but he was down to his last few seconds. This is when the Chinese player made the decision of playing fast. And it worked. Within five moves, it was Ding who had three minutes as compared to Aronian playing in seconds. Somehow the pressure of defending a worse position for Ding had been converted into the pressure of winning a won game for Aronian.

Miraculously Ding Liren survived and he is yet to be beaten in the World Cup 2017 in Tbilisi.

Game analysis: Ding Liren vs Levon Aronian

[Event "FIDE World Cup 2017"] [Site "Tbilisi"] [Date "2017.09.24"] [Round "7.2"] [White "Ding, Liren"] [Black "Aronian, Levon"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "E05"] [WhiteElo "2771"] [BlackElo "2802"] [Annotator "Sagar Shah"] [PlyCount "149"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [EventType "k.o."] [EventCountry "GEO"] [SourceTitle ""] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceQuality "1"] [TimeControl "40/5400+30:1800+30"] 1. d4 {0 Ding Liren's first move comes as no surprise.} Nf6 {[%emt 0:00:07]} 2. c4 {[%emt 0:00:00]} e6 {[%emt 0:00:05]} 3. g3 {0 The question is why he continues with g3. Is he afraid of Levon Aronian's Queen's Indian? It's true Levon used to play it quite a bit until 2008, but since then he hasn't really tried it out.} d5 {[%emt 0:00:04]} 4. Bg2 {[%emt 0:00:00]} Be7 { [%emt 0:00:23]} 5. Nf3 {[%emt 0:00:00]} O-O {[%emt 0:00:04]} 6. O-O {10 No b3 ideas this time around. Ding Liren sticks to the normal Catalan.} dxc4 { [%emt 0:00:04]} 7. Qc2 {[%emt 0:00:10]} a6 {[%emt 0:00:05]} 8. a4 {[%emt 0:00: 06]} (8. Qxc4 {There was a time when White players would go for this move. But these days it is all about 8.a4.}) 8... Bd7 {[%emt 0:00:06]} 9. Qxc4 {[%emt 0: 00:16]} Bc6 {[%emt 0:00:09]} 10. Bg5 {28 Ding Liren sticks to the move that gave him success against Wang Hao. But Aronian's experience in this line is immense. He has played 20 games in this position - 15 with white and 5 with black.} a5 {[%emt 0:00:06]} 11. Nc3 {[%emt 0:00:53]} Na6 {[%emt 0:00:05]} 12. e3 {533 This is relatively rare. In fact only 13 games have been played with this move. Ding Liren took nine minutes to play this. After the game he said that he wanted to play Rfd1 but was afraid of Bd5. With e3 he makes a square for his queen on e2.} (12. Bxf6 Bxf6 13. e4 {is the main line.}) (12. Rfd1 Bd5 {This is the move that Ding was afraid of} 13. Nxd5 exd5 14. Qb5 Nb4 $11) (12. Rac1 {is also possible.}) 12... Nb4 {71} 13. Rfd1 {[%emt 0:00:38]} Nd7 $146 { 355 Although Levon took six minutes to make his move, it's quite possible that he had prepared it. Earlier black players would go for the move h6 and then White would take on f6. Levon feels that his knight is much more important than the bishop. And hence, plays Nd7.} (13... h6 14. Bxf6 Bxf6 15. Rac1 Bxf3 16. Bxf3 c6 {is a normal position where White usually has a small edge.}) 14. Bxe7 {272} Qxe7 {[%emt 0:00:03]} 15. e4 {[%emt 0:00:48]} Rfd8 {[%emt 0:00:35]} 16. Rd2 $6 {434 Later Ding began to regret this move. Not only does he lose co-ordination between his rooks, the piece is not ideally placed on d2.} (16. Qe2 $5 Nb6 17. b3 Be8 18. Rac1 c5 19. Qe3 {is a much superior version to what happened in the game.}) 16... Nb6 {259} 17. Qe2 {699} Be8 $1 {159 If it were not for this move, White would be clearly better. Black retreats his bishop and prepares the move c5.} 18. b3 {[%emt 0:00:45]} c5 $1 {145 Levon had prepared the opening well and now breaks the centre with c5. White has to be careful, not to land into a worse position.} 19. Qe3 {159} Rac8 $5 {236 Black is all ready to play ...c4. His idea is to meet..c4 d5 with Qc5!} (19... c4 { was possible, but Ding had prepared} 20. d5 {This might be enough to scare Black, but I think he is fine after} Qc7 $1 $15 21. dxe6 Rxd2 22. Qxd2 cxb3 $15 ) 20. Rc1 {513} (20. Rad1 $6 c4 $1 21. d5 Qc5 $17) (20. dxc5 Rxd2 21. Qxd2 Rd8 $1 22. Qe2 Nd7 (22... Qxc5 $15) 23. c6 Nxc6 $15) 20... c4 {1073} 21. d5 { [%emt 0:00:45]} Qc5 $1 {[%emt 0:00:15]} 22. Qxc5 {98} Rxc5 {193} 23. dxe6 { [%emt 0:00:01]} Rxd2 {164} (23... Rdc8 {was an interesting move.} 24. Nb5 fxe6 $13) 24. Nxd2 {[%emt 0:00:25]} fxe6 {[%emt 0:00:07]} 25. Bf1 {383} cxb3 {68} 26. Nxb3 {[%emt 0:00:03]} Rc7 {62} 27. Nxa5 {87} Nxa4 {[%emt 0:00:59]} 28. Na2 {[%emt 0:00:11]} Rxc1 {80} 29. Nxc1 {[%emt 0:00:02]} Nc5 {[%emt 0:00:47] It seemed as if the players were ready to call it a day. Handshakes were expected, but Ding Liren's next move gives his opponent a glimmer of hope to get a small advantage.} 30. Ncb3 $6 {161} (30. f3 $11 {should give White a fine position.}) 30... b6 $1 {256} 31. Nxc5 {[%emt 0:00:09]} bxa5 {[%emt 0:00:05] At this point Ding put in a lot of thought. Out of nowhere he was suddenly in a position where he might have to suffer. The a-pawn is very strong and he has to find accurate ways to not let it queen.} 32. Bc4 {1119} (32. Nxe6 a4 33. Nd4 a3 34. Nb3 Bf7 35. Na1 Kf8 $15) 32... a4 {[%emt 0:00:12]} 33. Kf1 {[%emt 0:00:16]} a3 {[%emt 0:00:40]} 34. Nb3 (34. Ke2 a2 35. Nb3 Nc2 36. Kd2 Ba4 $1 37. Bxe6+ Kf8 38. Na1 $1 {Only move to keep the game going.} Nxa1 39. Bxa2 Nc2 $15 {Black has decent chances to win this position.}) 34... Ba4 {825} 35. Nc1 {61} (35. Na1 Nc2 36. Bxe6+ Kf8 37. Nxc2 Bxc2 38. Ba2 (38. f3 Bb1 $17) 38... Bxe4 $19 { The bishop goes to f7 and it is all over.}) 35... Bc2 {194} (35... Kf7 36. Ke2 Bc2 37. f3 Bb1 38. Kd2 a2 39. Nb3 $17) 36. Ke2 {[%emt 0:00:21]} Bxe4 {138} 37. Bxe6+ {[%emt 0:00:05]} Kf8 {[%emt 0:00:06]} 38. Kd2 {70} Ke7 {62} (38... Nd5 $5 {This move stops from the white king ever approaching the pawn on a3. This was the best move putting maximum pressure on White.}) 39. Bb3 {792} Nd5 {327} 40. Ne2 {[%emt 0:00:00]} Kd6 {[%emt 0:00:54]} 41. f3 {288} Bb1 {[%emt 0:00:54]} ( 41... Bxf3 42. Nd4 Bg4 43. Nb5+ Kc5 44. Nxa3 $11) 42. Kc1 {[%emt 0:00:44]} (42. Nd4 a2 43. Bxa2 Bxa2 44. Nf5+ $19 {Winning the g7 pawn. But the knight would be precariously placed and Black wins the game with a few accurate moves.}) 42... Bg6 {304} 43. Nd4 {535} Nc7 {940} 44. Ne2 $2 {A key mistake by Ding.} ( 44. Bc2 $1 {would have ensured the draw.} Kc5 (44... Bf7 45. Bxh7 $11) 45. Bxg6 hxg6 46. Nc2 Nb5 47. Kb1 $11) 44... Kc5 {505} (44... Nb5 $1 {was stronger.}) 45. Nf4 {[%emt 0:00:33]} Bf5 {295} 46. g4 {[%emt 0:00:57]} Bd7 {291} 47. g5 $6 {233} (47. Nh5 g6 48. Nf6 Bc6 49. f4 $11) 47... Nb5 {253} 48. Bg8 {95} Bf5 {438 } 49. Nh5 {66} g6 {[%emt 0:00:25]} 50. Ng3 {490} (50. Nf6 Nd4 $19) 50... Bd3 { [%emt 0:00:10]} 51. Bxh7 {[%emt 0:00:33]} Nd4 {136} 52. Ne4+ {[%emt 0:00:08]} Kb4 {[%emt 0:00:29]} 53. Bg8 {[%emt 0:00:03] The critical position of the game. Aronian could have scored a win if instead of taking the pawn on f3, he would have gone for Nb3+.} Nxf3 {129} (53... Nb3+ 54. Bxb3 Kxb3 55. Nd2+ {This looks like the only move.} (55. Nc5+ Kc3 56. Nxd3 (56. Na4+ Kb4 57. Nb6 Kb3 $19) 56... a2 $1 $19) 55... Kb4 56. h4 $1 {The best try to trick Black.} (56. Ne4 Kc4 57. Nd2+ Kd4 $1 {The king comes over to the other side and takes all the white pawns.} (57... Kc3 $4 58. Nb1+ $1 Kb3 (58... Bxb1 59. Kxb1 Kd3 60. Ka2 Ke3 61. h4 Kxf3 62. h5 $18) 59. Nxa3 Kxa3 60. Kd2 Bb1 (60... Bf5 61. h4 Kb4 62. Ke3 Kc5 63. Kf4 Bb1 (63... Kd5 64. h5 $11) 64. Kg4 $11) 61. Kc3 $3 Ka4 62. h4 Kb5 63. Kd4 Kc6 64. Ke5 Kd7 65. Kf6 Ke8 66. Kg7 Bf5 67. Kh6 $11) 58. h4 (58. h3 Ke3 59. h4 a2 60. Nb3 Bc4 61. Na1 Kxf3 62. Kb2 Kg4 63. Nc2 Kxh4 64. Ne3 Be6 $19 ) 58... Ke3 59. Nb3 Bf5 $1 (59... Kxf3 60. Kd2 Bc4 61. Nd4+ (61. Na1 Kg4 62. Kc3 Bf7 63. Nc2 a2 64. Kb2 Kxh4 65. Nd4 Kxg5 $19) 61... Kg4 62. Kc3 Bd5 63. Nc2 a2 64. Kb2 Kxh4 65. Nb4 Be6 66. Nc6 Kxg5 67. Ne7 $11) 60. Nc5 Kxf3 $19) 56... Kc5 $1 (56... Kc3 {This would be a blunder as shown in the above variation.}) 57. Ne4+ Kd4 58. h5 (58. Nd2 Ke3 {converts}) 58... gxh5 59. g6 h4 60. g7 Bc4 61. Nf6 Ke5 62. g8=Q Bxg8 63. Nxg8 Kf4 (63... h3 $4 64. Nh6 Kf4 65. Ng4 Kxf3 66. Nh2+ Kg2 67. Ng4 $11) 64. Nh6 Kxf3 $19 {and wins}) 54. Nf6 {[%emt 0:00:27]} Kc5 {63} 55. h3 {78} (55. Ba2 $17) 55... Kd4 {Levon tries to be too subtle. Simple win could have been achieved with} (55... Nxg5 $1 56. h4 Ne4 57. Nxe4+ Bxe4 58. Bf7 Kd4 59. h5 g5 60. Be6 Bh7 $19) 56. Ba2 (56. h4 $5) 56... Nxg5 {89} 57. h4 {204} Ne4 {[%emt 0:00:13]} 58. Nd7 {[%emt 0:00:04]} Nc5 {172} (58... Nc3 $1 59. Bf7 Ne2+ {[%eval -763,43]} (59... a2 60. Kb2 $11) 60. Kd2 Ng1 61. Ne5 Be4 62. Ng4 Nf3+ 63. Kc1 Nxh4 $19) 59. Nf6 {[%emt 0:00:04]} Ke5 $6 {93 The last mistake. Now the game has entered the phase of 30 seconds per move and it is not easy to play such an endgame with high accuracy.} (59... Ne4 {Repeating with a chance of improving was a better possibility.}) 60. Nd5 {[%emt 0:00:10]} Bf5 {[%emt 0:00:38]} 61. Ne3 {[%emt 0:00:11]} Nd3+ {[%emt 0:00:25]} 62. Kc2 $1 {[%emt 0:00:29] White has managed to co-ordinate his forces and is able to make a draw from here.} Nb4+ {[%emt 0:00:36]} 63. Kb3 {[%emt 0:00:02]} Nxa2 { [%emt 0:00:11]} 64. Kxa2 {[%emt 0:00:04]} Ke4 {[%emt 0:00:31]} 65. Nc2 { [%emt 0:00:54]} Kf4 {[%emt 0:00:20]} 66. Nd4 {[%emt 0:00:35]} Kg4 {[%emt 0:00: 44]} 67. Kxa3 {[%emt 0:00:04]} Kxh4 {[%emt 0:00:34]} 68. Kb2 {[%emt 0:00:03]} Kg3 {[%emt 0:00:18]} 69. Kc3 {[%emt 0:00:33]} Kf2 {[%emt 0:00:17]} 70. Kd2 {77} Bg4 {63} 71. Nc2 {[%emt 0:00:45]} g5 {[%emt 0:00:12]} 72. Ne3 {[%emt 0:00:04]} Be2 {[%emt 0:00:19]} 73. Nd5 {[%emt 0:00:24]} Bg4 {[%emt 0:00:46]} 74. Nf6 { [%emt 0:00:39]} Bf5 {[%emt 0:00:11]} 75. Kd1 1/2-1/2

Interview with Ding Liren

Liren was very tired after the game. However, he agreed for a short interview. Thinking about chess variations and moves is refreshing for him. As we discussed more and more, his energy levels seemed to be getting better and better. Here's a small excerpt from the conversation:

SS: So Ding how tired are you right now?

DL: Yes, I am very tired, but maybe my move Kc1 is not so good!

His mind was thinking just about the moves and variations that he had played and during the interview he was trying to find some improvement in his play. I think this is one of the main reasons why Ding Liren is doing so well. The guy simply enjoys chess!

Ding Liren discusses his game in detail and tells us why he was not able to even touch his banana during the game!

Game two in pictures

After the first game ended in a draw, Ding and Aronian were back at the Biltmore Hotel at 3 p.m. on September for game two | Photo: Amruta Mokal

It was the Catalan Opening with a popular modern day tabiya reached after ten moves | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Aronian played a new and powerful idea with ...Nd7!? Essentially he was telling Ding that his knight was superior to his bishop. | Photo: Amruta Mokal


With the knight on f6, Black ususally plays h6 and then White chops off the knight and we get a normal position. Aronian feels that his knight is superior and decides to transfer it to b6. Later he just moved his rooks to d8 and c8, put his bishop on e8 and broke in the centre with c5. Very logical and strong opening play.

This man sitting in the spectators makes sure he doesn't miss a single move. His eyesight is weak, but he has made the necessary arrangements! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Pages and pages of notes! The finals is an excellent situation to follow the games carefully LIVE and match your thinking against the best players in the world. | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Former World Champion from 1978 to 1991 Maia Chiburanidze visited the playing venue and sat in the press room where she analyzed the game with other people | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Arianne (Aronian's wife ) and her family watch the game from the spectators area, joined by IM Alex Wohl (in yellow), who introduced the couple in 2006 | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Levon Aronian is gutted with himself for botching up such a winning position | Photo: Amruta Mokal

But full marks to the Armenian for not losing his cool and analyzing the game with Ding Liren | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Ding Liren tries to pinpoint the exact moment where he thought Aronian had a clear win, but as you can see, things are never so easy in a practical over-the-board encounter | Photo: Amruta Mokal

After the game Arianne tells Levon where he missed the win! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

A Houdini escape for Ding Liren, who is clearly pleased with the result | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Video Gallery:

Coincidentally meeting the World Cup finalist in the elevator before the game

Start of game two of the finals of World Cup 2017

As Indians we were pleasantly 'shocked' to see Maia Chiburanidze's knowledge of Bollywoord

Tatia Skhirtladze works for the bureau of Cultural Implication in Vienna. She is originally from Georgia. When she shifted to Vienna, people asked the place from where she came. She told them Georgia. She wanted to know what people thought about her country and she got various replies. One of them was: "you are from the land of best players in women's chess!" This really piqued Tatia's interest on making a documentary on the life of four great women champions of Georgia — Nona Gaprindashvili, Maia Chiburdanidze, Nana Alexandria and Nana Ioseliani. The number of World Championship Matches played by these women is mind-boggling. 

Tatia is making a film with limited resources on these four women players of Georgia. She has no chess background but is making a film on this interesting subject. In case you would like to get in touch with Tatia to help her in her project, here's her email id:

Format of the finals

The finals of the World Cup 2017 has a different format from the other rounds. Instead of the usual two classical games, we will witness four. And in case of a 2-2 tie, the match will go into the tiebreaks on 27th of September. The first two games have ended in draws. The winner takes home USD 120,000 (net 96,000) and the runner-up receives 80,000 (net 64,000). 


Sagar Shah is an International Master from India with two GM norms. He is also a chartered accountant and would like to become the first CA+GM of India. He loves to cover chess tournaments, as that helps him understand and improve at the game he loves so much. He is the co-founder of the ChessBase India website.
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thirteen thirteen 9/25/2017 11:53
These two guys are both gentlemen in our beloved game. Both worthy. Both capable, obviously. Both deserving.
jvalis jvalis 9/25/2017 08:21
Please take another nice photo of this gentlemen! It would be just polite to find another picture!
Logos Logos 9/25/2017 04:50
Ding Liren seems like a humble and gentle person. It is a pleasure to watch a final between two gentlemen (though to be fair, many of today's top players meet that standard).