(1) Aronian,L (2759) - Shirov,A (2699) [D20]
WCh Candidates Finals Elista RUS (3), 08.06.2007
[Mihail Marin]

An exciting day, with hard fought games and... facing the author of the express report with a difficult task. (In fact, today I took my family to a one-week vacation at high altitude and was naive enough to hope for an "easy" round after few hours of driving followed by playing football with the kids). The fight in Aronian-Shirov took "concrete" forms from an early stage. Black's piece activity seemed to compensate for his worse structure. By giving up a pawn, Aronian managed to stabilize the position and went on increasing his advantage gradually. After the first control, Black's situation deteriorated rapidly, but White seems to have gone wrong immediately after the second control, allowing the simplification to a drawn rook ending. Overall, a very tense game, where the final result remained hard to predict for most of the time. Bareev repeated the variation that led him to defeat in the first game, but offered rather feeble resistance against a well-determined Leko. It took a long time and effort before Black could castle artificially and connect rooks, but, ironically, it was just then that Black's king's problems started. White carried out the attack in elegant way. After the first round defeat, Rublevsky abandoned his pet variation in the Sicilian and chose a well-approved line. However, he soon found himself under very strong attack. The position looked more or less winning for White, but the wide choice of tempting continuations seems to have confused Grischuk, who allowed his opponent a miraculous escape. Kamsky stuck to his policy of playing solid, unpretentious, schemes with White, with the obvious aim to outplay his opponent in the middlegame. However, his fifth move looked dubious already, allowing Gelfand to carry out the minority's attack in very effective way, something he failed to do one day earlier. By the first time control, White's entire queenside structure had vanished from board, leaving Black with three (!) extra pawns. Curiously, Kamsky decided to test Gelfand's technique for 18 more moves before resigning.

1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4
Frankly speaking, the Queen's Gambit Accepted does not really suit Shirov's enterprising style of play, but match strategy has its own rules: play solidly with Black and try to win with White.

Or maybe Shirov relies on the fact that Aronian plays this uncompromising move, leading to positions that can easily explode tactically...

3...e5 4.Nf3 exd4 5.Bxc4 Nc6 6.0-0 Be6 7.Bb5
[Despite the favourable result of the first game of the match, Aronian deviates from 7.Bxe6 ]

7...Bc5 8.b4 Bb6 9.a4 a6 10.Bxc6+ bxc6 11.a5 Ba7 12.Bb2 Nf6 13.Nxd4 Bxd4 14.Bxd4 Nxe4 15.Bxg7 Rg8 16.Be5 Bh3 17.Bg3 Nxg3 18.hxg3 Qxd1 19.Rxd1 Be6
After a short phase of intense piece contact, the position has calmed down and we can draw the first conclusions. Black's structure is in ruins, but his rooks can be activated very easily. In fact, the b- and g-files were opened precisely as a consequence of allowing the creation of "pawn islands". In order to obtain an advantage, White needs to install his knight on c5, defended by the c5-pawn. However, this seems to be difficult to achieve in view of the threats ...Rg4 and ...Rb8.

20.Nc3 Rg4 21.Rab1 Rb8 22.f4!
As mentioned above, the b4-pawn is essential. White can do without one of his double g-pawns, because Black cannot create a passed pawn on this wing anyway.

22...Bf5 23.Rb2 Rxg3 24.Na4 Kf8 25.Nc5 Ra8
We can see that Black's extra-pawn is not too significant. It is true that the double pawns control important squares along the d-file, but at the same time they prevent the communication between the king's rook and the queenside (for instance, it would be better to defend the a6-pawn with ...Rg6 and maintain the other rook active). We can conclude that as long as he can maintain the stability of his knight on c5 (meaning not to lose the b4-pawn) White can count on a stable advantage.

26.Kf2 Rc3 27.Rbd2 Rc4 28.Rd4 Rxd4 29.Rxd4 Ke7 30.Rd1 Be6 31.Re1 Kf6 32.Re5
SInce the black rook is tied down to the defence of the a6-pawn, White has the upper hand in the centre.

32...h6 33.g3 Bc4
Understandably, Shirov becomes worried by White's slow but constant progress in the centre and on the kingside and decides to free his rook from its humiliating duties. However, this will allow a radical activation of the white pieces.

34.Nd7+ Kg7 35.Re7
An instructive position. White plays for domination despite the reduced amount of material left on board. His pieces are not easy to be driven away from the seventh rank.

Creating a relative pin. If Nc5 now (attacking the c7-pawn), then ...Rd2+ followed by ...Rb2.

36.Ke3 h5 37.f5
[The position was not ripe for 37.Nc5 yet. After 37...Rd1 Black would have sufficient counterplay against the b4- and g3-pawns.]

Shirov understands that his opponent is not going to clear the d-file so easily tries to find new horisons for his rook. The main threat is ...Kh6 followed by ...Rg4.

38.Re4 Bb5 39.Rh4 Rd8 40.Nc5 Kh6 41.Kf4
[41.g4 was inoffensive because of 41...Kg5 , but once White has taken the g5-square under control, the threat becomes serious.]

41...Be2 42.Rh2 Bb5 43.Ke5
Although Black has displayed certain inventivity in the search for counterplay, White's achievement in the previous phase of the game is more important: his king is superbly centralized, putting the f7-square (and, in certain cases, the enemy king) in great danger.

[This seemingly active move is the main cause of the rapid deterioration of Black's position in the next phase of the game. Black should have kept the f6-square well-defended with 43...Kg7 and even if this would have lost a pawn to 44.Rxh5 , his counterplay after 44...Rd5+ 45.Ke4 Rd1 looks sufficient for saving the game. White has problems defending his b- and g-pawn and also to activate his king.]

44.Ne4+ Kg4 45.Kf6 Kf3 46.Rh4 Bd3 47.Nc5 Kxg3 48.Rxh5 Bc4 49.Rh1
The exchange of one pair of pawns has not brought Black the desired relief. Once the g3-pawn has dissappeared from board, the black king has absolutely nothing to do on the empty white kingside and will face serious problems returning into play.

49...Rb8 50.Rd1 Rxb4!?
[It is hard to give a definitive evaluation to this move, which eliminates such an important pawn. Objectively speaking, it could have just... shortened Black's suffering, but from practical point of view it appears to be correct decision. The fact is that the character of the position will change abruptly and White will have to take concrete decisions, something not easy after 50 moves and a rather long technical phase, where the calculation of just 1-2 moves ahead was sufficient... White's main threat was Rd4 anyway, when the bishop would have had to abandon one of the a6- and f7-pawns. After 50...Ra8 51.Ke7 followed by Kd7, he would have been hopelessly passive.]

Setting up a deadly pin and cutting the enemy king along a rank, which is highly unpleasant.

51...Kf3 52.Nxa6?!
[This careless move allows Black to prolong the fight. The prophylactical 52.Rh4 , threatening Nxa6 would have won after a couple of accurate moves: 52...Kg3 (Trying to dismantle White's mechanism. There is not much to be said about 52...Ke3 53.Nxa6! Ra4 54.Nc5 Rb4 55.a6 when the a6-pawn will cost Black dearly.) 53.Re4 Kf3 54.Ke7! Suddenly, Black is in zugzwang. If the king moves, the white rook would cease to be attacked, which would allow Nxa6. This leaves us with 54...Ra4 but then 55.Rh4! Kg3 56.Rd4 forces 56...Rb4 and now 57.Nxa6 wins as shown above.]

At the cost of one pawn, Black wins essential time. However, his position was so bad that he hardly can count on a draw yet.

53.Nxc5 Ke3 54.Rh4 Kd2 55.Na6 Ra4 56.Nxc7 Kd3 57.a6 Ra5 58.Rf4!
[By over-defending the f5-pawn, White prepares the transfer of the king to the queenside. After the careless 58.Ke7? Black draws with 58...Bxa6 59.Nxa6 Rxf5! ]

58...Kc3 59.Ke7 Rc5 60.Kd6 Ra5 61.f6?
[As this frequently happens, the first move after reaching the time control is bad. Aronian obviously considered the capture on a6 impossible and did not wish to spend time on prophylactic moves. The correct continuation would have been 61.Kc6! Not only preventing ...Bxa6, but also preparing to sustain the advance of the a-pawn. 61...Ra1 (After 61...Bxa6 62.Kb6 Re5 63.Nxa6 Kd3 64.Nc5+ Ke3 65.Rf1 Black cannot increase the pressure against White's last pawn. After the return of the enemy king to the kingside, Black would be completely hopeless.) 62.Kb6 Rb1+ (The attempt to catch the pawn from g2 with 62...Bf1 allows the elegant 63.Rxf1! Rxf1 64.a7 with an easy win.) 63.Kc5 and Black will have to sacrifice one of his pieces for the dangerous pawn.]

61...Bxa6! 62.Nxa6 Rxa6+ 63.Ke7
Aronian probably considered this ending to be winning and in fact he will miss just one tempo to prove it...

63...Ra7+ 64.Kf8 Kd3 65.Rh4 Ke3 66.Rh7 Kf4 67.Rxf7
White has managed to win the pawn, but his pieces lack harmony.

67...Ra6 68.Kg7
[and in view of the variation 68.Kg7 Kg5 69.Rf8 Rb6 70.f7 (What else?!) 70...Rg6+!= with perpetual, Aronian offered a draw.] 1/2-1/2