Aronian shines in rapid playoff, wins WR Chess Masters

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
2/26/2023 – Levon Aronian convincingly prevailed in a three-player rapid tiebreaker to win the first edition of the WR Chess Masters. After quickly drawing their round-9 game, Aronian and Dommaraju Gukesh saw Ian Nepomniachtchi beating Vincent Keymer to join them in the lead. A double round-robin playoff between the three players followed. Aronian won his first three 10-minute games to secure the title. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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Gukesh and Nepo reach the playoff

It was a magnificent final day to what turned out to be an enjoyable first edition of the WR Chess Masters in Düsseldorf. The new super-tournament lived up to the expectations, with experienced grandmasters and strong juniors showing their skills throughout.

The day did not start as auspiciously, though, as co-leaders Levon Aronian and Dommaraju Gukesh signed a quick draw to both secure a spot in the playoff for tournament victory. All that was left to know was whether Ian Nepomniachtchi would join them or not. The Russian had the black pieces against an in-form Vincent Keymer and, true to his nature, displayed a fighting spirit since the start.

As hours went by — and all the remaining encounters finished drawn — Nepo and Keymer continued their strategic battle. In an endgame with queens and knights, it was Nepo who prevailed. Experience, this time, triumphed over youth, in a game that lasted over six hours.


This result meant that an exhausted Nepo would face Aronian and Gukesh in a rapid playoff (10-minute games with 2-second increments). A double round-robin format would be used to keep the colour balance.

One might think that sitting and waiting for the playoff was a big advantage for the players who entered the round as co-leaders, but according to commentator Yasser Seirawan, entering the deciding tiebreakers after winning your last game (as Nepo did) might turn out to be favourable. The positive emotions connected to the recent victory might be enough to get a victory over the likely anxious contenders.

Ian Nepomniachtchi, Vincent Keymer

Vincent Keymer resigns the game against Ian Nepomniachtchi | Photo: Lennart Ootes

The playoff

As it turned out, it was not a hard-fought tiebreaker mini-tournament. This did not take away from the enjoyment of following the rapid games, though, since Aronian’s display was certainly a treat for the spectators. The US grandmaster, who had been leading the event until round 7 — when he lost to Nepo — kicked off the playoff with back-to-back wins.

Aronian’s 2-0 start meant the next game between Nepo and Gukesh would decide who still had chances to realistically fight for the win. In an ending with rooks and knights, Gukesh’s resourcefulness while a pawn down allowed him to eventually get the win.


Nepo was so fixated on stopping White’s h-pawn that he underestimated his opponent’s active chances on the queenside. His 55...Nf6 was the losing mistake (55...Nc5+ or 55...b5 were better alternatives). Gukesh quickly replied 56.Nxc6, and went on to get the win despite losing his far-advanced passed pawn a couple of moves later.

Dommaraju Gukesh, Levon Aronian

Gukesh had a great showing in the classical portion of the tournament — he finished undefeated and climbed to the 20th spot in the world ranking! | Photo: Lennart Ootes

These results meant that Aronian was a win away from tournament victory. And in yet another showcase of creative, imaginative play, he defeated Gukesh to secure a memorable triumph and the €40,000 first prize.

Garry Kasparov’s words following Aronian’s victory at the 2015 Sinquefield Cup are once again fitting to the situation:

The chess world is a better place when Aronian is playing well!

Levon Aronian, Ian Nepomniachtchi

Good pals — Levon Aronian and Ian Nepomniachtchi | Photo: Lennart Ootes

All games - Tiebreaks


Results - Round 9


Final standings


All games



Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.