12 years later: Aronian wins the FIDE World Cup again!

by Sagar Shah
9/28/2017 – Levon Aronian became the first person in the history of the game to twice win the 128 player knock-out World Cup. After the four classical games ended in draws, the action shifted to tiebreaks. Aronian was able to win both the 25'+ 10" rapids and thus clinched the World Cup title. The closing ceremony was held a few hours after the game was over. We have analysis of both the encounters, pictures from the games and closing ceremony and a huge list of videos that you can watch and feel as if you are in Tbilisi. | Photo: Amruta Mokal.

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Aronian beats Ding 4.0-2.0

World Cup


A young Armenian was living in Germany to pursue his chess career. He was 20 years old and had come to Goa, India to fight at the World Junior Championships, 2002. Born in 1982, this was his last chance to win the title of the best junior in the world. With a rating of 2581 he was surely a favourite, but then he was in that rating zone for quite some time now. Levon Aronian had been chasing the title of World Juniors since 1999. Held in his own country Yerevan, the 1999 championship went really well for the youngster and he finished fourth. When the same tournament was held next year once again in Yerevan, everyone had a lot of hopes from Levon. But he buckled under pressure and finished way below in the rankings table. The next World Juniors in Athens 2001 went even more superbly as unbeaten Aronian scored 9½/13. But this time it was Peter Acs of Hungary, who was on fire as he edged him out and won the gold. Levon had to settle for bronze behind Merab Gagunashvili.

It was now his final chance. If he missed it here, he could never say that he was the best junior player in the world. He came to Cidade de Goa Hotel with only one intention: to go back home as the World Junior Champion. There was nothing else that mattered more to him. Levon played some of the best chess of his career and won the gold medal half point ahead of other competitors. After the tournament ended the Armenian said, "I was just lucky!"

20-year-old Aronian on his way to becoming the World Junior Champion | Photo: Vishal Sareen

Fast forward 15 years and things are still the same. Things don't really come easily to Levon Aronian. He has to fight tooth and nail not only with his opponents, but the demons within himself that tell him he is not good enough. Levon doesn't listen to them. Like the 20-year-old World Junior Champion, he believes in himself. And it was this self belief that carried him over the finish line of the World Cup 2017. A tremendous feat, and yet nothing has changed. After winning the title, modest Aronian once again said, "to win at the World Cup, you need to be lucky!"

Just as 2002 was his last year as a junior, this was Aronian's last chance to qualify for the Candidates 2018. He toiled really hard at this World Cup in Tbilisi. Right from his second round against Hou Yifan, things were not at all smooth. The third round match against Maxim Matlakov was a complete thriller that went all the way upto eight games. Wins against Dubov and Ivanchuk were relatively easy, but then came the mother of all battles — the semifinal duel with MVL. When he lost the first tiebreak game of 25'+10" it seemed as if Levon's road had come to an end. But once again he believed in himself and in must-win situation delivered the goods. The match went all the way upto the Armageddon when with the white pieces he was able to beat the French grandmaster. With this win, Levon had made it to the Candidates 2018.

Tiebreaks in the finals against Ding Liren

The main drama behind, there remained one more task, to determine World Cup Champion. The winner would take home the trophy, plus an extra USD $32,000 in (net) prize money.

Aronian had a huge advantage in games two and four in the classical section against Ding. However, in both the games he wasn't able to bring home the full point, and the match went to tiebreaks.

Hotel Biltmore, the iconic structure of Tbilisi, is where all the action was taking place | Photo: Amruta Mokal

When such a thing happens it is quite possible to assume that the player who missed his chances is not particularly in a great frame of mind. But Levon has a different outlook towards this. "I always felt that I was dominating. When you are pushing and you don't lose your enthusiasm, you finally score!  I was just telling myself that nobody said this was going to be easy. I had this trust in my abilities to extract a win out of this match."

Look at the fire in those eyes! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Game one — 25'+ 10"

In the first game Levon had the white pieces. He opened the game with 1.d4 and both the players blitzed out their opening moves. In a well known opening position, Aronian found an excellent novelty.


That's the look of a player who is very well prepared in the opening | Photo: Amruta Mokal

This novelty was enough to unsettle the Chinese player, as he consumed a lot of time. Levon just kept piling the pressure and very soon Black's position crumbled. It was a great attacking game by the Armenian.

[Event "FIDE World Cup 2017"] [Site "Tbilisi"] [Date "2017.09.27"] [Round "7.5"] [White "Aronian, Levon"] [Black "Ding, Liren"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D43"] [WhiteElo "2802"] [BlackElo "2771"] [Annotator "Sagar Shah"] [PlyCount "59"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [EventType "k.o."] [EventCountry "GEO"] [SourceTitle "playchess.com"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceQuality "1"] [TimeControl "1500+10"] 1. c4 {[%emt 0:00:00]} Nf6 {[%emt 0:00:01]} 2. Nf3 {[%emt 0:00:00]} e6 { [%emt 0:00:02]} 3. Nc3 {[%emt 0:00:00]} d5 {[%emt 0:00:01]} 4. d4 {[%emt 0:00: 00]} c6 {[%emt 0:00:01]} 5. Bg5 {[%emt 0:00:02]} h6 {[%emt 0:00:01]} 6. Bxf6 { [%emt 0:00:02]} Qxf6 {[%emt 0:00:02]} 7. Qb3 {[%emt 0:00:02]} Nd7 {[%emt 0:00: 16]} 8. e4 {[%emt 0:00:07]} dxe4 {[%emt 0:00:03]} 9. Nxe4 {[%emt 0:00:02]} Qf4 {[%emt 0:00:02]} 10. Bd3 {[%emt 0:00:06]} e5 {[%emt 0:00:07]} 11. O-O {[%emt 0: 00:04]} Be7 {[%emt 0:00:12] All this is pretty well known and standard. And now Levon unleashed this novelty with Rae1.} 12. Rae1 $5 $146 {[%emt 0:00:04] Levon has this huge bunch of interesting novelties which he is uses one by one at these rapid games.} exd4 {[%emt 0:03:35]} 13. Bb1 $5 {[%emt 0:00:08]} O-O { [%emt 0:00:47]} 14. Ng3 {[%emt 0:00:03]} Bd8 $6 {[%emt 0:05:48] After this Black's position becomes critical mainly because his pieces are undeveloped.} ( 14... Bd6 {This might look like a playable move, but it loses to} 15. Qd3 $1 ( 15. Nf5 Nc5 $19) 15... g6 16. Re6 $3 $16 Nf6 17. Ne2 Bxe6 18. Nxf4 Bxf4 19. Qxd4 $16) (14... Nc5 {might be the best move.} 15. Qa3 Qc7 $13 16. b4 $6 Ne6 $17) 15. Qd3 {[%emt 0:00:36]} g6 {[%emt 0:00:06]} 16. h4 $1 {[%emt 0:00:02]} Nf6 {[%emt 0:04:51]} 17. h5 $1 {[%emt 0:01:11] Levon was playing very fast and had a lot of time on his clock, while his opponent Liren was taking a lot of time for his moves.} g5 {[%emt 0:00:01]} 18. Ne5 $1 {[%emt 0:03:10]} (18. Nxd4 $14) 18... Ba5 {[%emt 0:04:38]} (18... Bc7 19. Ng6 fxg6 20. Qxg6+ Kh8 21. Re7) 19. Ng6 $1 {[%emt 0:01:04]} Qd2 {[%emt 0:00:05] It seems like Black has defended himself, but White keeps the initiative going.} 20. Ne7+ {[%emt 0:06: 03]} Kg7 {[%emt 0:00:25]} (20... Kh8 21. Qf3 $18) 21. Qb3 {[%emt 0:00:58]} (21. Ngf5+ Kh8 (21... Bxf5 22. Nxf5+ Kh8 23. Qb3 Bb6 24. c5 Bxc5 25. Nxh6 $18) 22. Qb3 $16) 21... Qf4 {[%emt 0:00:53]} 22. Rd1 {[%emt 0:01:14]} (22. Nef5+ Kh8 $1 23. Re7 Bd8 $13) (22. Ngf5+ $1 Bxf5 (22... Kh8 23. g3 $1 $18) 23. Nxf5+ Kh8 24. Re7 $18) 22... Bb6 {[%emt 0:01:16]} 23. Ngf5+ {[%emt 0:06:03]} Bxf5 {[%emt 0: 00:02]} 24. Nxf5+ {[%emt 0:00:01]} Kh8 {[%emt 0:00:01]} 25. g3 $1 {[%emt 0:00: 02] A very nice little move, The black queen is out of squares near her king.} (25. Nxh6 $14) 25... Qg4 {[%emt 0:03:31]} (25... Qc7 26. Nxh6 $16) 26. Nxh6 { [%emt 0:00:04] Black's position is already very difficult, but now he blunders. } Qxh5 {[%emt 0:01:22]} (26... Qe6 27. Rde1 $18) 27. Kg2 $1 $18 {[%emt 0:00:17] A powerful move, making way for the rook to come to h1.} d3 {[%emt 0:00:04]} 28. Qc3 $1 {[%emt 0:00:48]} (28. Rh1 Qe2 $1 {was the final trick.} 29. Nf5+ Kg8 {White has no good way to defend f2 and has to make a draw.}) 28... Kg7 { [%emt 0:00:38]} 29. Nf5+ {[%emt 0:00:20]} Kg6 {[%emt 0:00:02]} 30. Rh1 { [%emt 0:00:14] A great attacking game by Levon handing Ding Liren his first defeat of the tournament.} 1-0

Game two - 25'+ 10"

Ding Liren came to the game meaning business. He sat down at his board with his eyes closed trying to calm himself down. Scoring a win with white against Levon was going to be tough, but the World Cup title was at stake. Ding got the position that was ideal to play for a win.


Soon the position spiralled out of control and both the players missed a few important moves. Levon could have landed in great trouble had Ding played accurately, but once the Chinese player went wrong, Aronian was able to bring home the full point. Once the game was over the entire playing hall erupted into applause (check the video gallery at the end of this article).

Sheer joy for the Armenians at the playing hall! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

[Event "FIDE World Cup 2017"] [Site "Tbilisi"] [Date "2017.09.27"] [Round "7.6"] [White "Ding, Liren"] [Black "Aronian, Levon"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D38"] [WhiteElo "2771"] [BlackElo "2802"] [Annotator "Sagar Shah"] [PlyCount "66"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [EventType "k.o."] [EventCountry "GEO"] [SourceTitle "playchess.com"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceQuality "1"] [TimeControl "1500+10"] {Ding Liren was in a must win situation as he had lost the first game with black against Aronian.} 1. d4 {[%emt 0:00:00]} Nf6 {[%emt 0:00:00]} 2. c4 { [%emt 0:00:00]} e6 {[%emt 0:00:02]} 3. Nf3 {[%emt 0:00:00]} d5 {[%emt 0:00:01]} 4. Nc3 {[%emt 0:00:00]} Bb4 {[%emt 0:00:07]} 5. cxd5 {[%emt 0:00:00]} exd5 { [%emt 0:00:02]} 6. Bf4 {[%emt 0:00:00]} c6 {[%emt 0:00:41]} 7. e3 {[%emt 0:00: 07]} Bf5 {[%emt 0:00:10]} 8. Be2 {[%emt 0:00:10]} O-O {[%emt 0:00:15]} 9. O-O { [%emt 0:00:02]} Be7 {[%emt 0:00:03] After this move Ding was out of his preparation as he said after the game.} 10. Nh4 {[%emt 0:00:23]} Bg6 {[%emt 0: 00:03]} 11. Nxg6 {[%emt 0:00:34]} hxg6 {[%emt 0:00:12]} 12. Qb3 {[%emt 0:00:07] } Qb6 {[%emt 0:00:41]} 13. Qc2 {[%emt 0:00:02]} (13. Qxb6 axb6 14. a4 $5 $14) 13... a5 {[%emt 0:00:44]} 14. g4 $5 {[%emt 0:00:45] This move is doubled edged. It gains space and has some aggresive intentions but Black is very solid and can defend without too much trouble.} Nbd7 {[%emt 0:01:28]} 15. g5 {[%emt 0:00: 01]} Ne8 {[%emt 0:01:53]} 16. e4 {[%emt 0:00:02] Something seems to be wrong with White's play . He first pushed the pawn in front of his king and later broke in the centre. That's what a must win game can do to you.} dxe4 {[%emt 0: 03:03]} 17. Nxe4 {[%emt 0:01:22]} (17. d5 $5 Qd8 18. Rad1 $13 Bxg5 19. Bg3 $44) 17... Qd8 {[%emt 0:00:42]} 18. h4 {[%emt 0:01:06]} Nb6 {[%emt 0:00:03]} 19. Be5 {[%emt 0:02:08]} Nd5 {[%emt 0:00:59] Over the last few moves Black has consolidated his position, but White has been able to create imbalance which helps him continue to play ambitiously.} 20. Bg4 {[%emt 0:00:52]} Kh8 $6 { [%emt 0:08:12]} (20... Nef6 $1 21. gxf6 gxf6 22. Bh2 f5 23. Bxf5 gxf5 24. Nc3 $13) (20... Nd6 21. Nc5 $14) 21. Rae1 $1 {[%emt 0:01:29] White is not just better. He has all his pieces well placed and we can hope that he could have taken advantage of it. But it was not to be.} Nef6 $5 {[%emt 0:04:31] This move is a little too late. White has a way to keep his advantage.} (21... f5 22. gxf6 gxf6 23. Ng5 fxe5 24. Ne6 Qd7 25. Qxg6 $18) 22. gxf6 {[%emt 0:03:51]} gxf6 {[%emt 0:00:02]} 23. Bh2 {[%emt 0:00:29]} (23. Bg3 f5 24. Bxf5 gxf5 25. Nc3 $1 $16 (25. Qd1 {Ding wanted to play this during the game. This move is also very strong.})) 23... f5 {[%emt 0:00:02]} 24. Bxf5 {[%emt 0:00:01]} gxf5 { [%emt 0:00:02]} 25. Qd1 {[%emt 0:00:31]} (25. Nc3 Bd6 26. Bxd6 Qxd6 27. Qxf5 $13) 25... Rg8+ {[%emt 0:00:42]} 26. Kh1 {[%emt 0:00:05]} Rg4 $1 {[%emt 0:00: 32] This move was missed by Ding Liren.} 27. Ng3 {[%emt 0:01:29]} Rxh4 { [%emt 0:00:06]} 28. Nxf5 {[%emt 0:00:35]} Rh7 {[%emt 0:01:18]} 29. Nxe7 { [%emt 0:04:24]} Nxe7 {[%emt 0:00:02]} 30. Re5 {[%emt 0:00:01] Ding would like to exchange his rooks via h5, but Levon's next move stops that.} Nf5 $1 { [%emt 0:01:28]} (30... Qd6 $1 $15) 31. Rfe1 {[%emt 0:04:37]} (31. Qg4 Qh4 32. Qxh4 Nxh4 $15) 31... Qh4 {[%emt 0:00:52]} 32. Re8+ {[%emt 0:03:21]} Kg7 $1 { [%emt 0:00:02]} (32... Rxe8 33. Rxe8+ Kg7 34. Qg1+ Kf6 $19 {Also would have won, but what Levon does is much better.}) 33. Rg1+ {[%emt 0:00:02]} Kf6 { [%emt 0:00:01] A historic game. This gave us the new World Cup champion - the first man in the history of the game to have won the World Cup twice.} 0-1

The Ragozin Defense

The Ragozin is being played by every top grandmaster in the world - it is time you also add it to your repertoire to get interesting and dynamic positions against 1. d4!
GM Alejandro Ramirez analyses every single move that White can play once the Ragozin is reached, but due to several transpositional possibilities he always emphasises strategic goals to keep in mind.

Interview with Levon Aronian after he became the World Cup 2017 champion!

Ding Liren was a gracious loser and gave full credit to his opponent's superior play

The hall erupts into applause after Levon Aronian becomes the World Cup Champion!

Yes, there are lot of Armenians in Georgia and yes, chess is popular in Tbilisi | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Team Aronian: Physical trainer (left) with manager (right) | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Levon's second for this event was his good friend Ashot Nadanian, who was not present at the venue but helped him with his preparation

Closing ceremony:

The closing ceremony was held in the same playing hall at 8 p.m. The Minister for Sports and Youth Affiars, Tariel Khechikashvili, was present at the event and so was the Chinese Ambassador in Georgia Ji Yanchi.

Ding Liren with his USD $80,000 cheque (he takes home 20% less) and thanked the organizers for letting him wear sportswear on the final day of the tiebreak

Ambassador Ji Yanchi shows the coin which he was about to present to Georgian minister as a token of friendship

From left to right: George Giogardze (President of Georgian Chess Federation, Tariel Khechikashvili, Levon Aronian and ECU President Zurab Azmaiparashvili share a light moment together | Photo: Amruta Mokal

The sports and youth affairs minister Tariel Khechikashvili joked about the fact that he had made the opening move of the first game of the finals with 1.c4 and he was proud that Aronian had won the event after that! "So what's my share in the prize money!", Tariel asked! 

Levon Aronian with his beautiful trophy | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Wow! What's so beautiful about the trophy? Team Aronian tries to find out the special touches given to the trophy | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Video Gallery:

We have captured these videos with great care so that you get a feel of what went on right from the start on the last day of the FIDE World Cup 2017.

Start of game one of 25'+10" rapids at the World Cup 2017

Brilliant attack by Levon Aronian to win game one of the 25'+10" rapid tiebreak

Start of game two of 25'+10"

Four of the greatest champions of women chess in the press room including Gaprindashvili, Chiburdanidze 

Final moments of game two of the rapid that crowned Aronian's campaign!

Levon Aronian's manager Hrant Akopian after the victory

Videos from the closing ceremony

Zurab Azmaiparashvili speaks about his experience as the appeals committee head and organizer, Levon Aronian becoming the champion, and what we can expect from Batumi Olympiad in 2018.

Chess is my life: Nona Gaprindashvili

Gaprindashvili congratulates Ding and Levon for their fine performances

Ding, the runner-up at the World Cup 2017, receives his cheque for USD $80,000 and thanks the organizers for a special reason

Aronian receives his prize of USD $120,000, and also gives a small speech in which he talks about his tournament, his opponent, and the hospitality.

An important point in Levon's speech above is the praise he heaped on his opponent. "Very few people in the chess world can defend the fourth classical game as White, and Ding Liren did so easily. I learn a lot from his chess.

A sneak preview of the Batumi Olympiad 2018, that will be held in exactly a year's time

After the closing ceremony, all the officials and players went for dinner on the 30th floor of the Biltmore Hotel

Did Aronian create history?

Many people are arguing over the fact whether Levon Aronian is the first person in the history of chess to win the World Cup for the second time. The only other person in contention is Vishy Anand. 

Anand won the FIDE World Championship 2000 in Delhi/Tehran. This format was similar to the current World Cup, but had 100 participants instead of 128. In the year 2001-2 Ruslan Ponomariov became the FIDE World Champion by winning the 128 player knock out event. Anand won the second FIDE World Cup in 2002 in Hyderabad/Shenyang. This was a 24 player event with a league stage before going to the knock outs. This is much different from the current 128 players knock out World Cup format. Hence, we think that Aronian is the first player in the world to have won two World Cups.

Let us know what you think. Your comments on this subject are most welcome.

In two days from now, on 30th September, Levon Aronian will tie the knot with Arianne Caoili. We wish both of them a happy and fulfilling married life.


Sagar is an International Master from India with two GM norms. 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 and CEO of ChessBase India, the biggest chess news portal in the country. His YouTube channel has over a million subscribers, and to date close to a billion views. ChessBase India is the sole distributor of ChessBase products in India and seven adjoining countries, where the software is available at a 60% discount. compared to International prices.


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