GCT: Aronian snags Superbet Rapid & Blitz

by Macauley Peterson
11/11/2019 – Levon Aronian only finished in 5th place with 10 points from 18 games in this weekend's blitz tournament, but when combined with his 10 points in the rapid, his total tally tied him for first place with Sergey Karjakin, who won the blitz portion jointly with Le Quang Liem scoring 11/18. In the resulting playoff, Aronian scored a full point in the second game to snare the overall victory in the Romanian capital, Bucharest. | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

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Photo finish in the combined standings

The Superbet Rapid & Blitz finished in Bucharest with 18 rounds of 5 minutes plus 3-second delay blitz chess. Anton Korobov kept a narrow edge from the rapid through the first half of the blitz tournament, but faded on Sunday as he suffered a five-game losing streak at the outset and could not recover. In the first half of the day, it looked like former blitz champion Le Quang Liem could be on the verge of adding a first Grand Chess Tour title to his list of accolades this year. Despite finishing with 11/18, tied with Sergey Karjakin at the top of the blitz standings, he needed to post much higher numbers to make up the ground lost in the rapid tournament where he scored in the bottom half. Karjakin's 9 points and 5th place in the rapid standings combined with his 11 points at the close of the blitz left him equal with Levon Aronian on 20/36. Karjakin missed a clear win in his final round blitz game, and was even lucky to draw in the end, which undoubtedly left a sour taste in his mouth as he moved on to the playoff. After a draw in the first game, Aronian won a near-miniature in game two to take home the tournament trophy. Both players shared the first two prizes totalling USD $31,250 apiece.

The stage in Bucharest

Artemiev vs Karjakin, Aronian vs Giri, Anand vs So | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

The Le Quang Liem surge

The rapid and blitz tournaments of this year's GCT are made more interesting by the presence of wildcard players, who are not part of the regular tour. In Bucharest, it was one wildcard, Anton Korobov, who impressed in the first three days of rapid. Another wildcard, Le, finished the rapid with a sub-par 8/18 score, but turned his tournament around nicely by posting a stellar 7/9 on the first day of blitz.

After beating Korobov in the first round (a harbinger of things to come), he capped a four-game winning streak with a nice attack on the White side of a Dragon Sicilian against Anish Giri. 


White's position is better and it's time to make the decisive push forward. 24.f5! d7 25.d5 and without his dark-squared bishop, Black's king is in grave danger. 25...b5 was too little too late for Giri. 26.cxb5 axb5 27.d2! Black has no good defence but 27...a7 hastened his demise: 28.f6 (28.Qh6 first also works) ♚h8 29.h6 g8 30.exf7 and Black's position is in shambles. Resignation followed shortly.

Le stare

Le blitz stare | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

Le was the best performer on the first day of blitz, but Korobov narrowly retained the overall lead until the two met in round ten — the first game on Sunday that set the tenor of the day for the Ukrainian wildcard.


Again a fearsome kingside attack in the Sicilian, this time with extra material to boot. Black is on the verge of losing and Korobov evidently felt desperate times called for desperate measures: 39...f5 40.gxf5 gxf5 41.xf5 Black has no good options but 42...f8 allowed Le a pretty finish. Can you spot it?

42.fg1 (42.h6 also works) and the threat of mate on g8 forced the Ukrainian to extend his hand.

On Friday, when asked about his plans for the blitz, Korobov said, "the task for the blitz section is not to lose 18 games in a row. Let's start with this!" Perhaps he psyched himself out with this attitude as after his loss to Le we went on to drop four more games in a row, including hanging mate-in-one in the very next game against Aronian.


Korobov looking over his shoulder from the get-go | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

Karjakin joins the fray

After finishing right in the middle of the field in the rapid, Karjakin needed to start winning games, and set the tone for his eventual top-scoring performance from the early rounds on Sunday.


Live commentary host GM Alejandro Ramirez intimated that this endgame is a theoretical draw, but it's very difficult for White. After 58.f3 e4+ 59.g3 a3+ 60.e3+ g5 61.g2 can you find the fastest winning line? Karjakin did.

62...xe3 62.fxe3 g4 Black has a winning king and pawn ending.


Could have been a pianist too... | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

Karjakin proceeded to storm up the tournament standings. In round 14 he added to Caruana's misery after the American missed a winning combination in time pressure.


Here, if Karjakin plays 51.♕f6+ it's just a question of which player will give perpetual check. But Sergey went for the win with 51.a7 which turns out to be a blunder.

51...h1+ 52.e2 g4+ 53.e3 e1+? Throwing away the win. (Crushing was 53... ♛g5+ 54.♔e2 ♜a1! when the black queen and rook are coordinated for mate.) 54.d2 d1+ 55.c3 a1+ 56.b2 c1+ 57.b3 a5 58.xe5+ — a perpetual after all.


Not Caruana's day; he finished dead last | Photo: Justin Kellar / Grand Chess Tour

Aronian worked his way into contention with a trio of wins to start the day, but it was not all rosey for the Armenian as he gave back all three points including this barn-burner against Vladislav Artemiev.


Korobov redeemed himself — at least a little in the penultimate round — stunning Mamedyarov with a devilish tactical trick.


The skewer of Black's queen looks deadly, but Mamedyarov found the required resource 28...f3+ 29.xf3 only to grab the bishop on d3 with the wrong piece — 29...xd3 allowing the shot 30.a8! Suddenly it was White who was on the offensive and Korobov went on to win easily.

Karjakin and Aronian took a half-point lead into the final round, giving them the best prospects. Aronian finished first with a draw, and Karjakin looked destined to be headed for the sole victory as he built up an overwhelming position against Korobov.


37.♘xf5+ now would be winning on the spot, as 37...♚f7 38.♖e4 shuts down Black's threats, leaving Karjakin having all the fun. Instead, the attempt to trade queens with 37.g2 was rebuffed by the strong reply ♛b6! with a discovered attack and discovered checks on offer. Karjakin found himself in a messy position with little time on the clock. In the final position Korobov actually had a forced mate available but missed it and instead made a three-fold repetition! You can play through the whole game below, including the final moment captured on video:


Korobov decides to play for a win, but then settles for a draw

Blitz final standings


Rapid final standings


Combined standings

Final standings

Rapid, blitz, and combined standings

Tiebreak time

Karjakin's misstep meant he had to face Aronian in a rapid (and potentially blitz) playoff. The Russian got nothing out of his white game in an anti-Berlin Ruy Lopez, and Aronian took the opportunity to force a draw with a well known pattern on move 17:


17...xh3 18.gxh3 xh3+ 19.g1 g3 20.h1 Draw.

Aronian and Karjakin

The two friends (and Arianne Caoili in the middle) appeared quite relaxed in the green room despite the playoff | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

The second game was also equal out of the opening, an Italian game, but Aronian's bishop pair gave Karjakin an opportunity to go wrong in the early middlegame:


Black must now interpose the knight, but Karjakin instead played 23...b4? The difference is control of the d3-square. Aronian pounced with 24.d3 getting out of the pin while threatening d5. Black is forced to give up material and soon resigned.


Click or tap a result to open the game

Aronian with trophy

Aronian with the winner's trophy | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

The next and final stop of this year's tour is the Tata Steel Chess India Rapid and Blitz beginning in less than two weeks on November 22nd.

Closing ceremony

One final photo at the prize giving (click or tap to expand) | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

Live games and commentary


Commentary by WGM Jennifer Shahade, GMs Maurice Ashley, Alejandro Ramirez and Cristian Chirila


Macauley served as the Editor in Chief of ChessBase News from July 2017 to March 2020. He is the producer of The Full English Breakfast chess podcast, and was an Associate Producer of the 2016 feature documentary, Magnus.


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