Great chess games

Carlsen, Magnus(2872) – Aronian, Levon(2812) [A29]

Carlsen and Aronian were dominating the super-tournament inZurich. Let’s examine the encounter between the world Nr.1 and Nr.2.

1.c4 It is impossible to predict the first moves of the top players nowadays. Carlsen decided to go for the English opening today.

1…Nf62.Nc3e53.Nf3Nc64.g3d55.cxd5Nxd5 Following the main lines. Actually we have a Sicilian defense with reversed colors, where White has an extra g3 tempo. This prevents Black from playing the sharpest Dragon variations with opposite side castling, but Be7 and 0-0 leads also to a very complex game with chances for both sides.

6.Bg2 Nb6 A necessary prophylactic move before finishing the development. [6…Be7? immediately would drop a pawn after the small tactics 7.Nxe5! Nxc3 8.Bxc6+ bxc6 9.dxc3c]

7.O-O Be7 White has a wide range of setups here, all of them with many subtleties. Carlsen plays the classical plan with a3-b4, known from the Dragon.

8.a3 O-O 9.d3 a5 now or at the previous move is considered to be less accurate as it gives an excellent post for the knight on b5!

9…Re8!? Aronian follows the latest fashion. Black intends to overprotect his e5 pawn with Bf8 in order to play Nd4. This is also the main plan in the reversed color Sicilian line, but for some reason, here the most common move is Be6 followed by f6.

10.b4 Bf8 11.Rb1 A rare move. I doubt that it was a prepared one as Carlsen thought for quite some time. White probably wants to strengthen his b-pawn, knowing that Black is going to play a5 next. [11.Bb2 with the idea of Rc1 and Ne4-c5 is the main line, but Black replies in the same way as he did in the game.]

11…a5! Before occupying the d4 square, Black makes the standard weakening on the queenside.

12.b5 Nd4

13.e3 [13.Nd2 is a common reaction in such situations. White keeps all the pieces on the board and kicks out the annoying d4 knight with e3 next. 13…a4 14.e3 Ne6 Nc5 next with an unclear game.; 13.Nxd4?! never really comes into consideration from a positional point of view because after 13…exd4 White ends up with a backward weakness on e2, which could be attacked with Bg4 and also the hole on c3 might tell later on, when Black puts his knight on d5.]

13…Nxf3+14.Bxf3a4! Fixing the targets on a3 and b5. White would have gotten rid of them by playing a4 himself. Black also wishes to install a bishop on b3!


15…Ra7! Black had to protect the b7 pawn to develop the c8 bishop. It would have been more natural to do it from b8, because later on that rook should go d8, but in this case the a4 pawn would become more vulnerable. White could have immediately attacked it with Qc2.

16.Bb2 Be6 17.Rfc1! Both sides are activating their pieces. White would like to improve his position with Ne4-c5. The other plan to open the position with Rfd1 and d4 made no sense now because it would give up the c4 square and it also moves into the Bb3 tempo.

17…Qd7 [Aronian pointed out that it would have been a great achievement to transfer the knight to c5 17…Nd7?!

but it would have allowed a nice positional sacrifice: 18.b6! Making use of the misplacement of the a7 rook. 18…cxb6

19.Nb5 Ra5 20.Bc3 Ra8 21.Bxb7 Rb8 22.Bc6+= White gets a clear edge.] 18.Ne4

18…Ba2! Another standard plan. White has attacked the e5 pawn and intended to gain the bishop pair with Nc5, therefore Black transfers his bishop to d5, but first he sends the rook to a slightly worse square.

19.Ra1 Bd5 Black is not threatening to play Qxb5 because c7 is the more valuable pawn, but he wants to attack it once more with Ra5. Carlsen finds a clever way to disturb the well-placed black pieces.

20.Bg4! Qd8! An excellent response. Black keeps the tension without weakening his position. [20…f5 would have given Carlsen some targets. 21.Bh3! Maintaining the pin and after 21…Qf7 22.Ng5 Qg6 23.e4! the position opens up and the two bishops start to work. White takes the initiative.]

21.Bc3 Anticipating the Ra5 idea. Black must look for another plan.

21…Nd7! Black grabs his chance to improve his knight. This maneuver was not working in the 17th move, but the circumstances have changed a bit, which allows Black to change the character of the game with b6 and Nc5!

22.Bf3 b6 The a7 rook protects both weaknesses from now on. Black should not worry about the c7 pawn anymore. The drawback could be that White might be able to settle a knight or a bishop on c6, but this will probably never happen. On the other hand Black is ready to trade some pieces with Nc5! [There was a pretty trap if Black plays 22…f5?

23.Nd6! White gets the very strong light squared bishop as 23…Bxf3? leads to a forced mate after 24.Qa2+!! Kh8 25.Nf7+ Kg8 26.Nh6+ Kh8 27.Qg8#]

23.Bb4!? A double edged move. White creates a doubled pawn, which could be weak, but actually controls the c-file. Black also gets a passed pawn on a4, which might also become a weakness after the opening of the a-file. A few moves later things will become clearer…

23…Bxb4 24.axb4 Qe7 25.Nc3 Carlsen has pinned his hopes to this move. He wants to gain some initiative along the c-file and the d5 square.

25…Bxf3 26.Qxf3

26…Nf6! A calm move to neutralize the important d5square. [After the greedy 26…Qxb4?! 27.Qc6 is quite unpleasant. Nd5 is coming next and the c7 pawn will fall.]

27.Rxa4! A clever simplification into a drawish endgame. Carlsen correctly judged that if he continues playing for an advantage Black might overtake the initiative. [27.Qc6 27…Rea8 could also only be better for Black. Black has easier play against the b-pawns and d3 than White against a4. 28.Qc4 Qd7 Keeping an eye on the h3 square connected with Ng4 forces White to play 29.Kg 2a330. Ra2Ne8! 31.Rca1 Nd6 Maybe Black had something better here… 32.Qd5 Qe8 We have reached a kind of mutual zugzwang. Neither side has an useful move. Perhaps Black could try something like Kf8, f6 and Qf7.; The passive 27.Rcb1?! does not really come into consideration. Black gets an easy game. 27…Rd8=+]

27…Rxa4 28.Nxa4 Qxb4 29.Nc3 Qb2 30.Qd1! White is in time to consolidate his position and control all the weaknesses.

30…Rd8 31.Kg2 h6 Opening the back rank.

32.h3 White also gives some extra air to his king and also prevents ideas like Ng4 just in case. A kind of waiting game could have started, but the position is balanced. Aronian decided to force a draw by perpetual check.

32…Rxd3 33.Qxd3 Qxc1 34.Qd8+ Kh7 35.Qxc7 Ne4

Seems to win a piece, but of course both players had foreseen the end of the game…

36.Qxe5! Nxc3




40.Qc8+ Kh7 A hard-fought positional battle with many subtleties and a deserved result. 1/2-1/2