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Player: United  KeSetoKaibaChessHere Gold Member Subject: Aronian & When You Can’t Stop All The Pawns

2020-09-01 08:11:10
Aronian & When You Can’t Stop All The Pawns

This game is from the 2007 event Morelia-Linares. This game, on February 22nd, was played during round 5 of the event with Levon Aronian playing the White pieces and Viswanathan Anand playing the Black pieces.

Both of these strong chess grandmasters had peak ratings over 2800, so let us see what kind of game we get here. Aronian had been playing especially well so far and just a few months later (May-June) for the Candidates Tournament of the World Chess Championship 2007: Aronian would tie Magnus Carlsen in the first 6 games they played against each other (3-3), tie in the rapid segment (2-2) and win in the blitz portion (2-0). In the finals for this event, he won against Alexi Shirov (3.5-2.5). However, Anand (playing Black in this game) actually won the World Chess Championship 2007.

1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 The Modern line of the Slav Defense is a common “book opening.” As we will soon see though, this game does not play any of the popular lines associated with the Slav Defense.

4. Qc2!? This interesting move is much less popular than options like 4. Nc3, but this is still a “book move” as well.

dxc4 5. Qxc4 Bf5 6. g3 Perhaps this opening isn’t as obvious because of the move order employed here, but this position can actually arise from the Queen’s Gambit Accepted (Mannheim Variation) via 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Qa4+ c6 5. Qxc4 Bf5 6. g3. This less popular opening option is fairly draw-ish, but White seems better if either player is.

Nbd7 White has a good reputation in this opening variation, but Black’s best respected moves to fight for the game are either 6…Nbd7 (as here) or 6…e6.

7. Nc3 e6 8. Bg2 Be7 9. O-O O-O 10. Re1 Ne4 11. Qb3 Qb6 The opening stage continues fairly logically with both sides furthering the development. On move 11 with Qb3 and Qb6, I would like to note that this motif is well known in several situations. It comes up in several Slav Defense lines, I’ve seen this motif in the London System and other openings feature this as well. Of course, the motif I am referring to is the fact that both sides do not want to exchange Queens. If either side trades Queens, then the a-pawn recapture will give the recapturing side an open file for the Rook. This is usually preferred over the doubled pawns here.

12. Nh4 Bxh4 Aronian goes after the Bishop pair with this Knight move. Anand decides that at least 12…Bxh4 compromises White’s pawn structure near their castled King. Maybe Anand was correct in intuition because White never did utilize this open g-file against the Black King (as is a common source of counterplay for the side with the shattered pawn structure near the castled King). If 12. Nh4 Nxc3?! 13. Nxf5 keeps the edge (since Knight capture on e7 comes with check).

13. gxh4 Nef6 14. e4 Bg6 At least White has the center; this must account for something. The game is still fairly equal, but White might be slightly better with more control of the center and indirectly potential pressure that these dynamic central pawns may become.

15. Qxb6 axb6 Can’t keep the tension forever and White probably judged that now they could exchange Queens so that pawns become more valuable. As the endgame approaches with more pieces exchanged, pawns (and especially passed pawns) seem to become more valuable because they have a greater chance at reaching the other side of the chess board and promoting. However, in the process of exchanging Queens: we see Black gain the a-file in compensation for the doubled b-pawns.

16. Bf4 Rfe8 17. Rad1 b5 We can see White seeking play with the central pawns and following the “Tarrasch Rule” of placing the Rooks behind pawns. Black’s potential counterplay might come from the a-file that the Rook currently occupies and the immediate threat of …b4 to remove the defender; kicking the c3 Knight makes the e4 pawn a target with one less defender than it previously had.

18. Bd6!? e5 Bd6!? is a creative way to prevent the b5-b4 pawn advance. Most likely, White wanted to avoid playing 18. a3 for legitimate concern of square weaknesses. After 18. a3, then the b5-b4 pawn advance is only halted temporarily and …Nb6-Nc4 looks menacing on its outpost while it attacks the weak Queenside pawns.

I like White’s creative move with the Bishop, but Black then plays …e5 instructively. White’s source of play was primarily in the center, so it makes sense for Black to strike in the center to break up White’s advantage.

19. d5 Nh5 Black’s Knight is headed for the f4 outpost; certainly, for Black, this is one advantage of White’s g-pawn being removed from the file.

20. Bf1 f6 White moves the important Bishop from the Knight’s grasp, since it anticipates …Nf4 soon. I think Black playing 20…Nf4 right away makes more sense from the original plan, but perhaps …f6 was thrown in first just to give a little added support to the e5 pawn.

21. b3 Nf4 The game is pretty equal here. Black now successfully moved the Knight into the f4 outpost and seems dominant on the Kingside. However, White used this time to prepare 22. a4 and Queenside counterplay.

22. a4 bxa4 23. bxa4 Bf7 24. Rb1 Ra7 I am sure Anand, with the Black pieces, wasn’t too happy with playing this move, but what else is there? A defending Rook to b8 blunders a piece since the d6 Bishop controls that square. Perhaps Black could have traded pawn for pawn, but it is difficult to see how Black emerges better once the fog of war clears.

Perhaps: 24…cxd5 25. Rxb7 (“pawn for pawn” earlier suggested) Nf8 and maybe Black is a smidge better, but in practical play, Black is on the defensive and White still has better central influence since the center will be exchanged off.

Illustrating this point after 24…cxd5 25. Rxb7 Nf8 is 26. Bb5 Rec8 27. Nxd5 Nxd5 28. Bxf8 Kxf8 29. exd5 and White has the center if either side does. 29…Bxd5 is met with 30. Rd7 and White has other central threats although the game state would still be about equal.

25. Red1 Rc8 Both factions are preparing for the inevitable central exchanges. White decides that the d5 pawn needs more support than the e4 pawn and Black places a Rook on c8 to x-ray the c3 Knight. The immediate threat is …cxd5 with a discovered attack on c3, so the Knight in danger must move to safety.

26. Ne2 Nxe2+ 27. Bxe2 cxd5 28. exd5 Nf8 29. Bb5 Raa8 Right now, the game is still up for three results as they say (win, loss, or draw). White has doubled h-pawns and more “pawn islands” (usually a weakness in pawn endgames from a pawn structure standpoint, but not always relevant), but also has potentially monstrous pawns on d5 and a4. The passed d5 pawn is especially nice for White. Black has the better pawn structure, but the pawns are less advanced. The game state is still fairly even.

30. Be7 Ng6 With equal material, another asset White has is the coordinated Bishop Pair; Black might try to exchange the Knight for a Bishop if given the chance.

31. d6 Nxe7 32. Bd7!? Nc6?! 32. dxe7 is more standard, but the interesting in-between move 32. Bd7!? displays that White is in no hurry to recapture the material. White only gains the slight advantage because Black slipped a little with 32…Nc6?! as 32…Ng6 would have been better for Black.

32…Nc6?! is dubious for Black in light of the simple 33. Rxb7 move. However, after 32…Ng6 33. Rxb7?? is overlooking 33…Rd8 and Black can safely blockade the pawns and has an easy endgame to convert into a theoretical win.

The better defense for Black would have been something like: 32…Ng6 33. Bxc8 Rxc8 34. Rxb7 when White’s “extra pawn” is only temporary. Black will likely win the d6 pawn starting with …Kf8 to blockade the pawn with the King, or …Rd8 instantly with the same goal in mind.

33. Rxb7 Nd4 With the b7 pawn falling, White is starting to get closer to a win. We can’t be too critical of Black’s play though: perhaps time pressure or fatigue were contributing factors. In post-game analysis, we have the luxury of free-time the players may not have had.

34. Bxc8 Rxc8 35. Rdb1 Rf8 Never a good sign for the defender when they must be forced into passive defense.

36. Rb8? Be8 White is too anxious to trade Rooks. They are currently up by a single pawn, but White must remember that the doubled h-pawn isn’t much and Black is already fighting to contain the d-pawn. Best was the instantly winning 36. d7! and the passed pawn is extremely close to promotion. A sample continuation may be: 36. d7! Be6 37. R1b6 Bh3 but White is much better at the end of it because of the passed a-pawn and d-pawn. Also note, Black can’t plan …Rc8-Rc1# because the c8 square is controlled by the passed d-pawn and …Ra8 doesn’t pressure the passed a-pawn due to the simple Rb8+ and simplifying through exchanging Rooks.

37. a5 Nf3+ Black must be thinking that White is forced into 38. Kg2 as 38. Kf1 looks to blunder into the simple Knight fork and winning the Rook on b1.

38. Kf1! Nd2+ 39. Ke1 Nxb1 40. a6! The point of 38. Kf1! Black was undoubtedly expecting 40. Rxb1? after which Black is winning the endgame. With 40. a6! instead, White is winning in style because the two passed pawns can’t be stopped. The Black Rook is passive (and may be exchanged if the Bishop moves), the Black Knight is out of play and the Black Bishop is overloaded even if it perches itself on c6 - the White passed pawns are simply too great a force!

Bc6 The best spot for the defending Bishop to try and hold the a8 promotion square and the d7 square to stop the d-pawn from advancing. However, after 41. a7, there is no defense and the poor Bishop is overworked.

41. a7 Kf7 42. d7 Ke7 Black is trying to hold everything together, but they are just short of success.

43. Rxf8 Kxd7 Naturally, the f8 Rook is immune to capture or either passed pawn promoting is lost for the Black side. In fact, the chess engine Stockfish already gives White a forced mate in 10 after 43…Kxf8??

44. a8=Q Bxa8 45. Rxa8 h5 46. Ra7+ Ke6 47. Rxg7 Kf5 48. Rg3 1-0 Black resigns.

The key to White’s success in this encounter was the passed pawns on the a-file and d-file created. These assets, working together, were able to put the opponent on the defensive and eventually White overloaded Black’s pieces.

Aronian was able to win with White when Anand (the Black pieces) couldn’t stop all the pawns. However, congratulations to Anand as well; since, he was able to eventually win the World Chess Championship that year (2007) and this is certainly a greater achievement than a single chess game. We should take this as a note that one game is just one game; we must not get discouraged when we lose. We must learn from our mistakes and “pull through” in the way that Anand was able to do.
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