(1) Radjabov,T (2761) - Aronian,L (2750) [A07]

1.Nf3 d5 2.g3 Bg4 3.Bg2 e6 4.0-0 Nd7 5.d4

For more than a century, players of all levels have been fascinated by the magic of the white king's fianchetto in the closed openings. The analytical distilling process, aimed to reveal the optimal move order ressembles the search for the Golden Wool from the Middle Age. In the genuine Catalan Opening, White frequently has problems satbilising the position because of the possible d5xc4 at different stages of the game. If White refrains from an early c2-c4, this means defining the bishop's intentions too soon, allowing Black choose the rock solid Slav setup, which is supposed to offer White no advantage at al, because his bishop would bite in stonel. I have passed through this whole process over the past 17 years and I know that there is no universal answer to the problem. It all depends on such subjective factors as the speciffic opponent or the mood in which you are that day. Judging from the course of the present game, Radjabov found the right move order, against the right opponent at the right moment.

5...c6 6.Nbd2 Ngf6 7.Re1
It is interesting to compare the first moves with the following sequence with reversed colours: 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.Bg5 Bg7 4.c3 d5 5.Nbd2 Nbd7 6.e3 0-0 7.b4 c6 8.Be2 Re8 followed by ...e5. This is how the game Torre - Kasparov, Thesaloniki (ol) 1988 started. About ten moves later, the reigning World Champion had a big advantage already. There is an interesting psychologycal nuance involved in reversing colours. What is entirely satisfactory with black does not look equally appealing with white. This is a possible reason why Radjabov's plan from this game is not seen frequently at grandmaster level.

7...Be7 8.e4 dxe4 9.Nxe4 0-0 10.c3 Re8 11.Nxf6+

[This is the start of Black's troubles. Aronian takes the e5-square under control in order to carry out the freeing pawn break e6-e5 as soon as possible, but leaves the d5-square insufficiently well protected. 11...Nxf6 would have been more natural and probbaly better. Black would play ...Nd5, ...Qb6 and ...Rad8, waiting for a favourable moment to open the centre with c6-c5.]

12.h3 Bh5 13.Qb3 Qb6

A strong move, threatening Nc4, with the aim of provoking the exchange Qxb3, axb3, followed by b3-b4 which would ensure White some queenside advantage.

With the d5-square poorly defended, Black is not well-prepared for this move, but passive play would not have ensured easy life either.

15.d5 Qc7 16.d6 Qb8 17.Ne4 Bd8 18.Be3 Bb6 19.h4 h6 20.Bh3 Qd8

The opening has been a major success for White. It is not really usual in super-tournaments that White gets such an advantage on move 20 already.

White wins a pawn with a simple combination.

[This looks like the best practical chance. Black rids himself of the passive knight and eliminates the disturbing d6-pawn. 21...gxh6 22.Bxd7 Qxd7? loses the queen to 23.Nf6+ ]

22.Nxc5 Qxd6 23.Nd7 Qxh6 24.Nxb6 axb6 25.Qxb6 Bf3 26.Qe3 Qh5 27.Bg2 Bxg2 28.Kxg2 Ra4 29.Qg5 Qxg5 30.hxg5

White's advantage does not consist from the extra-pawn only, which, in many rook endings, is not sufficient for a win, see for instance the game Ivanchuk - Wang. He has space advantage on the kingside, while the e5-pawn and the seventh rank are vulnerable.

[30...Rg4 leaves the rook trapped after 31.f4! ]

31.a3 Kg6 32.Rad1 Re6 33.Rd7 b5 34.Red1 Rc4 35.Rc7 e4 36.Rdd7
After the occupation of the seventh rank, White should win without problems.

A desperate counterplay.

37.fxe3 Rxe3 38.Rxf7 Rg4 39.Rxg7+ Kh5 40.Rh7+ Kg6 41.Rcg7+ Kf5 42.Rf7+ Kg6 43.Rhg7+ Kh5 44.Rf3 Re2+ 45.Kh3 Rxg5 46.g4+ Kh6 47.Rxg5 Kxg5 48.b3 Kg6 49.Kg3 Ra2 50.Kf4 Rxa3 51.b4

The position has calmed down and Black has managed to prevent the material defficit from increasing. However, his pieces are not coordinated, which allows White win effortlessly.

[51...Ra1 is no better because of 52.Rd3 threatening Rd6+.]

52.Ke5+ Ke7 53.Rh3 Kd7 54.g5 Ra1 55.Rh7+ Ke8 56.Rc7 1-0