Monday, January 30, 2012

Brilliancy by Aronian

Every January, Wijk Aan Zee holds the prestigious chess tournament. It is sponsored by Tata Steel, who bought Corus a few years ago, and have continued supporting the tournament. This year, it was won by Levnon Aronian from Armenia, who is among the only 5 players to ever cross the 2800 ELO rating.

His win with black over Anish Giri (a child prodigy himself, and a super-GM with rating over 2700) was a brilliancy. The entire game is very complicated, and is worth playing over. I would like to present just the final moves.

Be prepared to be amazed. If you want, you can pause here, look at the following position. With black to play, how will you proceed ?

Position after white's 41. Ra2

As you can see black (Aronian) has sacrificed the exchange (rook for a bishop). White doesn't have a strong attack, despite the open h file for his rook. On the other hand, black can build up strong attack on an open white king. That's easy to understand. But how should black proceed ?
41. ... Ne1!!
Position after black's 41. ... Ne1!!

The difference between a grandmaster and a wood-pusher (like me) is enormous. It's not just the memory, the knowledge, the ability to calculate many moves ahead or even the intuitive feel about a position. It's also the imagination. Calculating all the consequences of such a move is beyond us, that goes without saying. Truth is, we won't even try to calculate such a move, because such a move simply doesn't come into our imagination. This is where chess becomes what it is loved for - a truly unique combination of logic and art.

What's the point ? The threat is of course ...
42. ... Nd3+
and any way the king moves results in a lost position for white.
If 43. Kb1 Nc5+ wins the queen.
If 43. Kc1 Nxf2+ wins the rook.

White accepts the sacrifice. He doesn't have to, but finding the least damaging move in tournament play is extremely hard for such positions.
42. Rxe1
 Position after white's move 42. Rxe1

OK. But now what ? Black is down a full rook.
42. ... Qf4+!!
Black offers even more - now the queen. Of course, it's untouchable.
Position after black's 42. ... Qf4

If 43. Nxf4?? Rxe1+# is a pretty mate delivered with very little material.
That's the main point behind the knight sacrifice - to allow the queen to go to f4.

If the rook was still at h1, this queen offer wouldn't work, as the rook protects the e1 square from mate. But by being lured to come to e1 to capture the knight, the rook became a target instead !

But that raises another question - why does the queen want to go to f4 ?
Because it's on its route to the intended destination.
Naturally white plays the only real move
43. Kd1
Position after white's 43. Kd1

Now comes the quiet but crushing move.
43. ... Qe4!
Position after black's 43. ... Qe4!

White resigned due to the unstoppable threats on the b1-h7 diagonal.
Black queen goes to d3 and/or b1 to give mate or just win a lot of material.
This e4 is where the queen wanted to come after it has forced the white king to get stuck on d1 by giving the check from f4. But the check from f4 was not possible as that square was protected by white's knight. The idea behind the knight sacrifice is to lure white's rook to e1, which very indirectly enables the black queen to safely go to f4. This is beyond brilliant.

The question Aronian must have asked himself is, how to make it safe for the queen to travel to f4 and then to e4. This level of reverse reasoning is beyond us. Even if the question was directly asked, we won't be able to answer it. But remember, he even had to invent the question itself ! It's like explaining a magic trick. Sometimes it seems obvious when explained. But figuring it out is not the real genius. It is to be the one that comes up with the idea behind the magic trick.

In three amazing moves, without capturing anything, black won the game.

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