Grenke Classic 2017: Levon Aronian wins all the marbles!

by Elshan Moradiabadi
4/22/2017 – What do you get when you ad one plus one plus one plus one? You get first place at Grenke! Levon Aronian has been unstoppable, and in round six he clinched clear first with a round to spare when his potential rivals Carlsen and Caruana drew their respective games, while he won his fourth in a row, beating Hou Yifan. This took his tally to 5.0/6, a full 1.5 points ahead. Read the report by GM Elshan Moradiabadi with analysis by GM Krikor Mekhitarian.

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Grenke Classic 2017: Levon Aronian wins all the marbles!

All photos by Eugeny Atarov

Round 6 (21.04.2017 / 15:00)
Player
Res.
Player
Naiditsch, Arkadij
½ - ½
Carlsen, Magnus
Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime
½ - ½
Meier, Georg
Bluebaum, Matthias
½ - ½
Caruana, Fabiano
Aronian, Levon
1 - 0
Hou, Yifan

Excitement and drama at the 4th Grenke Chess Classic has almost come to an end with a round to spare. Levon ‘the terrible’ Aronian scored his 4th consecutive win, grinding down Women No.1 in the world and sensation of the tournament so far, Hou Yifan on the white side of a QGD to ensure clear first for himself after all the other games ended in a draw. This left Aronian with a point and a half ahead of the field.

The opening minutes are also the key ones for photos

 

Video highlights of round six

Although Aronian’s victory should not come as a surprise to anyone, it did happen in an unexpected way. First of all, Aronian’s resume and past results qualify him to win any tournament of any format at any time but it has been quite some time since we saw Aronian in such a sharp, well-prepared form where he would score back-to-back effortless wins. That is who Levon Aronian is: an artist who plays the game according to the 21st century model but still firmly believes in a classical approach of ‘themes’, ‘ideas’, and ‘truth’. This isn’t a matter of what he has said, but what his chess says.

This combination brought him his fourth consecutive victory and thus the title in a smooth QGD where Aronian gave up a pawn for two bishops in a queenless middle game and gradually ground down Hou Yifan. This highlighted a weakness in the Chinese ‘Wonder Woman’, showing she needs more training in holding balanced, yet somewhat passive positions. Hou Yifan decided to try to solve her problems by giving back the extra pawn but things went wrong for her as the time pressure approached and back-to-back mistakes left her with a losing position right after the time control. The result was sealed on move 42.

Levon Aronian vs Hou Yifan (annotated by Krikor Mekhitarian)

[Event "GRENKE Chess Classic"] [Site "Karlsruhe"] [Date "2017.04.21"] [Round "6"] [White "Aronian, Levon"] [Black "Hou, Yifan"] [Result "1-0"] [Annotator "Krikor Mekhitarian"] [ECO "D37"] [WhiteElo "2774"] [BlackElo "2649"] [PlyCount "83"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. Nc3 Nbd7 {One of the many possible moves in this position. It has a solid reputation and was used repeatedly last year by Vishy Anand.} 5. Qc2 {White may play almost any move here, like Bf4, Bg5, cxd5, e3, g3. Levon chooses a flexible Qc2, keeping all the possible developments available.} ({For example} 5. cxd5 exd5 6. Bg5 (6. Bf4 $5 { also possible}) 6... c6 7. e3 Be7 {transposes to a standard QGD} 8. Qc2 Nh5 { this idea, forcing the exchange of the bishops, and preparing a further O-O-O for Black (after Nb6), has acquired a good reputation. It's playable in many similar positions} (8... O-O 9. Bd3 Re8 10. h3 Nf8 11. g4 $5 a5 12. O-O-O $40 { 1-0 (41) Yu,Y (2738)-Wang,Y (2718) China 2016}) 9. Bxe7 Qxe7 10. O-O-O Nb6 11. Kb1 g6 12. Bd3 Be6 {is the classical setup} (12... Bg4 $5 {Ivanchuk proves in every game why he's known as one of the most creative players in the world} 13. Rc1 Bxf3 14. gxf3 Qh4 15. Ka1 f5 16. Rhg1 Nf6 17. f4 Kf7 18. Rg2 Rae8 $13 { 0-1 (40) Buhmann,R (2633)-Ivanchuk,V (2722) Germany 2016}) 13. h3 O-O-O 14. Na4 Ng7 15. Rc1 Kb8 $13 {with a balanced position: 1/2-1/2 (78) Tomashevsky,E (2722)-Inarkiev,E (2686) Sochi 2016}) 5... dxc4 $5 (5... c6 {was more solid, inviting White once again to take on d5 and enter typical QGD positions}) 6. e4 c5 7. Bxc4 a6 $146 (7... cxd4 {until now they were following a recent Giri - Anand game from Tal Memorial, in last October. White managed to keep a very small advantage in that game, but it wasn't enough for much:} 8. Nxd4 Bc5 9. Nb3 Bb6 10. O-O (10. Bf4 $5 O-O 11. Rd1 {was another way to try something}) 10... O-O 11. Be2 Qc7 12. Bg5 Ne5 13. Bxf6 gxf6 14. Rac1 Rd8 15. Na4 Qxc2 16. Rxc2 Bd7 17. Nxb6 axb6 18. Rd1 Kf8 19. a3 {=/+/=, ½-½ (52) Giri,A (2755) -Anand,V (2776) Moscow 2016}) 8. d5 $1 Nb6 9. Be2 exd5 10. e5 $1 {a very energetic way to try to punish Black's 7...a6} Ne4 (10... Ng8 $5 {mentioned in the post-mortem, was the critical move. It is very counterintuitive, but Black tries to keep his pawn up, hold his center and doesn't concede an advantage to White right away (as in the game, after 10...Ne4)} 11. a4 $1 Be6 (11... a5 $2 12. Nb5 $1 $16 {and Black has trouble developing his knight to e7 (because of Nd6+)}) 12. Ng5 (12. a5 Nd7 13. O-O Ne7 $13) 12... Ne7 13. O-O Nc6 $13 { White's position is attractive, but the outcome remains unclear, Nd4 is coming} ) 11. Nxe4 dxe4 12. Qxe4 $14 Qd5 (12... Be7 {standard development for Black is not enough anymore, White has real pressure on the king-side} 13. O-O O-O $2 14. Rd1 Qc7 15. Ng5 Bxg5 16. Bxg5 $16 {it will be hard to defend against Bd3 (forcing g6, to weaken the dark squares)}) 13. Qf4 Be7 14. O-O O-O 15. Rd1 Qe6 16. Ng5 Qf5 17. Bf3 $5 {the bishop stands well in this diagonal when Black has already moved the pawn to c5} (17. Ne4 $5 {was another option} Qxf4 18. Bxf4 Be6 19. Be3 $16 {followed by Rac1}) 17... Qxf4 18. Bxf4 Nc4 $1 {Hou finds a good way to defend actively - she will give away the bishop pair to win a pawn} 19. b3 Bxg5 20. Bxg5 Nxe5 21. Be4 $44 Re8 22. f3 h6 23. Bh4 c4 24. bxc4 $6 (24. Bg3 $1 {threatening Bxe5 and Rd8 with mate} Nd3 25. bxc4 Nc5 26. Bd5 Be6 { White keeps the advantage, but Black develops all his pieces at least} 27. Rab1 $14) 24... Nxc4 25. Rac1 Be6 $6 (25... Ne3 $1 {as mentioned by Aronian in the post-mortem, was a great chance for Black} 26. Rd2 (26. Re1 Nf5 27. Rxc8 { is not something Black should be scared of:} (27. Bf2 Nd6 $1 $15 {Black solves the b7 problem and could even claim an advantage after Be6 or Bf5}) 27... Raxc8 28. Bxf5 Rxe1+ 29. Bxe1 Rc1 30. Kf1 Ra1 31. Be4 {threatening Bd5 to hold the a2 pawn} Rxa2 32. Bxb7 a5 $11 {which should be a draw}) 26... f5 $1 {followed by Be6}) 26. Bxb7 Ra7 27. Be4 $16 {with the bishop pair in this open position, White guarantees a big advantage. Black also has a problem on where to place his knight} a5 28. Rd4 Ne5 29. Bg3 f6 30. a3 {threatening moves like Rc5} Rd7 $2 {makes it easier for White, but the position was very unpleasant already} ( 30... Bf7 31. Rc5 $16 {and most likely the a5-pawn will fall}) 31. Bxe5 $1 { This is one of the advantages of having the bishop pair - normally you can choose the right time to give the pair away in exchange for some other strategical advantage (in this case, the creation of a serious weakness on e5)} fxe5 32. Rxd7 Bxd7 33. Rc7 Bb5 34. Rc5 Rb8 35. Rxe5 $18 {this should be hopeless, because Black's a-pawn is also problematic} a4 36. h4 Kf7 37. Rc5 Be8 38. Bc2 Rb2 {in time trouble, Hou loses a4, but it doesn't make much of a difference} (38... Ra8 {is needed to defend the pawn, but it is too passive, and after slowly improving his king, White should easily win the endgame.}) 39. Rc4 Ra2 40. Bxa4 Ra1+ 41. Kh2 Bxa4 42. Rxa4 {another great win by Levon Aronian, that guarantees the title of the Grenke Chess Classic 2017, since he goes into the last round 1.5 points ahead of the 2nd place! He has scored two draws followed by an amazing sequence of four wins to reach 1st!} 1-0

Levon Aronian comments on his game against Hou Yifan and the tournament

On paper, Carlsen and Caruana had a chance to catch up with Aronian  had they won their respective matches given the fact that Caruana is going to have white against Aronian in the final round. A result in favor of the American could lead to two-way or even three way tie if Carlsen kept pace in this speculative scenario. However, both 2800+ players failed to win their games with black, showing once again how hard it is to win a game with black even if you are rated more than a hundred Elo over another GM.

Carlsen faced a Veresov-Jobava style position from Naiditsch where the latter essayed a 5.h4!? move to close the books and engines as early as move five. Both players played a number of sensible and natural moves and in the ensuing middle game on move twelve Carlsen declined a repetition and opted for a long fight. The stratagem was to no avail as Naidtisch’s moves were too effective to be questioned and the position fizzled out soon. Still, this was not the end of it, and as the time control approached it seemed as if Carlsen was again going to create trouble for himself as his king seemed vulnerable to white’s queen and light squared bishop. Naidtisch was not in the mood to test Carlsen’s skill today and forced a draw almost immediately.

If you ever wondered what you would get if you crossed Jon Hammer with Peter Heine Nielsen, you can now lay that question to rest.

Carlsen maintains a tie for second but what kind of world champion would feel good about being second? It should be noted that the World Champion has not won a tournament in 2017 yet, which must be a little frustrating, and even if he is playing extremely well, everyone expects him to win games!

Caruana on the other hand tried hard for a long-time against another German, Mathias Bluebaum and had a tangible advantage for a long time. Nonetheless, his advantage never seemed quite enough to extract a full point and despite Caruana’s attempts until the end, Bluebaum managed the draw without too much trouble.

Finally, MVL tried hard to prove to Meier that the Rubinstein variation of the French Defense is not good for Black. However, his endeavors proved in vain as Meier was well prepared to sacrifice a pawn for active play while comfortably exerting pressure on white’s f2 pawn. MVL decided to give back the pawn to reduce the pressure but it only led to a dead drawn opposite colored bishop ending.

 

Georg Meier played a novelty in the French Defense and held MVL to a draw

In the last round, we will see a nice but tension-free game between Fabiano Caruana against Levon Aronian where the former seeks a win against the winner as a last hurrah. In another high profile match, the world champion faces MVL while Hou Yifan - Niaditsch may yet have a great impact on the final standings. In fact, even the Meier-Bluebaum game promises to be interesting since if either of them loses, they will be relegated to the last spot all alone and nobody likes to finish last!

Standings after six rounds

(click for full-size)

Pairings and schedule

Round 1 (15.04.2017 / 15:00)
Player
Res.
Player
Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime
0 - 1
Naiditsch, Arkadij
Bluebaum, Matthias
½ - ½
Carlsen, Magnus
Aronian, Levon
½ - ½
Meier, Georg
Hou, Yifan
1 - 0
Caruana, Fabiano
 
Round 2 (16.04.2017 / 15:00)
Player
Res.
Player
Naiditsch, Arkadij
0 - 1
Caruana, Fabiano
Meier, Georg
0 - 1
Hou, Yifan
Carlsen, Magnus
½ - ½
Aronian, Levon
Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime
1 - 0
Bluebaum, Matthias
 
Round 3 (17.04.2017 / 15:00)
Player
Res.
Player
Bluebaum, Matthias
0 - 1
Naiditsch, Arkadij
Aronian, Levon
1 - 0
Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime
Hou, Yifan
½ - ½
Carlsen, Magnus
Caruana, Fabiano
1 - 0
Meier, Georg
 
Round 4 (19.04.2017 / 15:00)
Player
Res.
Player
Naiditsch, Arkadij
½ - ½
Meier, Georg
Carlsen, Magnus
½ - ½
Caruana, Fabiano
Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime
1 - 0
Hou, Yifan
Bluebaum, Matthias
0 - 1
Aronian, Levon
 
Round 5 (20.04.2017 / 15:00)
Player
Res.
Player
Aronian, Levon
1 - 0
Naiditsch, Arkadij
Hou, Yifan
½ - ½
Bluebaum, Matthias
Caruana, Fabiano
½ - ½
Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime
Meier, Georg
0 - 1
Carlsen, Magnus
 
Round 6 (21.04.2017 / 15:00)
Player
Res.
Player
Naiditsch, Arkadij
½ - ½
Carlsen, Magnus
Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime
½ - ½
Meier, Georg
Bluebaum, Matthias
½ - ½
Caruana, Fabiano
Aronian, Levon
1 - 0
Hou, Yifan
 
Round 7 (22.04.2017 / 15:00)
Player
Res.
Player
Hou, Yifan   Naiditsch, Arkadij
Caruana, Fabiano   Aronian, Levon
Meier, Georg   Bluebaum, Matthias
Carlsen, Magnus   Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime

Links

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Elshan Moradiabadi is a GM born and raised in Tehran, Iran. He moved to the US in 2012. Ever since, he has been active in US college chess scenes and in US chess. is a veteran instructor and teaches chess to every level, with students ranging from beginners to IM. He can be contacted for projects or teaching.
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lajosarpad lajosarpad 4/23/2017 11:15
Please don't call Levon "the terrible". We all miss Viktor.
Karbuncle Karbuncle 4/23/2017 09:11
Calrsen's hair and glasses give the impression a 'metrosexual' gave him a makeover.
tom_70 tom_70 4/23/2017 05:23
OK, i'll say it. What is up with Carlsen's appearance?? He's gone from being a normally disheveled World Champion to an Elton John backup singer.
mellekvese mellekvese 4/22/2017 03:19
Is this Carlsen's coming out?
Peter B Peter B 4/22/2017 02:42
To the annotator: remember Hou Yifan is a "her" not a "him"!
TMMM TMMM 4/22/2017 02:14
Again a disappointing performance from Carlsen. His reign as WC may not be for much longer, if someone like So qualifies for a match.
austin_guy austin_guy 4/22/2017 01:44
Congrats to Levon! Nice to finally see him back at his winning ways!
And @benedictralph, I don't Carlsen was ever an atheltic male model, despite how hard they tried to portray him as one.
benedictralph benedictralph 4/22/2017 12:00
We've officially gone from Carlsen, the athletic male model to Carlsen, the nerd.
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