A tough nut to crack: Arjun vs. Aronian

by Sagar Shah
2/1/2023 – Arjun Erigaisi reached an extremely difficult endgame against Levon Aronian in the third round of the Tata Steel Masters. Many players would have collapsed, but the 19-year-old is a tough nut to crack. He held his own and managed to draw the game. After the game, you could see Arjun and Levon analysing the game, but it was all just too complex to figure out without an engine. IM Sagar Shah spent a lot of time going to the depth of the position and now shares the findings with you. Do check out the analysis to unlock the secrets of a complex knight versus bishop endgame. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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A complex knight versus bishop endgame

Arjun ErigaisiIn the third round of the Tata Steel Masters 2023, Arjun Erigaisi landed in a difficult endgame against Levon Aronian. It was so complex that even though both sides had only one minor piece and three pawns, Aronian could not find a win.

I was commentating live on this game and during my commentary I was unable to understand what was the clear path to victory. So I woke up the next day and spent four hours studying this position closely. I would like to present my learnings below. First I would like to explain the endgame, and then you can check the replayable board for all the analysis, or you can play the YouTube video, or you can go to ChessRanga and try your hand at solving the positions in an interactive format.

[Pictured: Arjun Erigaisi | Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit]


The engines claim that this position is winning for Black. But how?

This is one of those positions where there are so many possibilities for each side that it is extremely difficult to analyse move by move. The good news for Aronian (Black) was that he reached this position where he had ample time on the clock, and after six more moves he would get an additional 15 minutes.

While time was plenty in Wijk Aan Zee, energy is not! When you are in the fifth hour of play, you are often unable to calculate with the same accuracy as you could in the first couple of hours. But let us just imagine if you were to reach the above position in your game. How would you tackle the task of trying to play for a win?

What I did was that I spent around an hour analysing different variations. Once I did that, I realized that there were a few positions which were critical to understand. Once I understood what was happening in those positions, it became easier to avoid errors as Black and to find ways to win. Let’s have a look at three important positions.

Please note: In most of the lines, White gives up the g-pawn with g4 hxg4 because he doesn’t want Black to come with his bishop and win the g-pawn and have his h and g-pawns intact.


This position is a drawn position. Why? Because the knight and the pawn on e6 create a barrier for the black king to approach towards the e6-pawn. At the same time, White’s king handles the black a-pawn. This is the scenario that White is aiming for to draw the game.


If Black were to get this position, then he is winning. That’s because White is in a zugzwang. The king is coming to b6 and there is no way for White to stop it.


This one was a very nice zugzwang position that I discovered. Black’s last move could be Bg5-h4 or Bh4-g5 depending on where the bishop is. And now White is lost because the knight cannot let the a-pawn run. So he can go Na4, but then Kf5-f4 wins. If instead Kd6, then Kf5 once again wins, as the White king is too far away and cannot stop the a-pawn. The above position is also winning for Black.

Once you have understood these three positions, you will realize that it is not so difficult for Black to win. I would call this schematic thinking. You think what position you want to reach and then work out the moves to reach it. But I can tell you that along the way there are many tricks and the position is not as static as one would imagine! A lot of calculation is also involved. Just to give you an example:


Aronian blundered in this position by playing Kd8. This allowed Nd5 and the game was drawn. But imagine in the above position if Aronian had instead played Ke8, then he was still winning. That’s because after Nd5, Black still has Bf6+! And the key point here is that after Kd6 a4 e7 Bxe7 Nxe7 a3, there is no Nc6 check, which would have happened if the king were on d8, and would go back to b4 and stopping the a-pawn.

It’s variations like these which strongly suggest that the position is sharp and requires accurate calculation. But at the same time, if you don’t know where you want to reach, then it’s very difficult to calculate as there are too many branches. This is the reason why I would call this endgame an extremely difficult one.

Solve this entire endgame on ChessRanga

IM Sagar Shah tries to explain the entire endgame in this 34-minute video



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.