The following is adapted from a lecture I gave on the Internet Chess Club a few weeks after Aronian's stunning victory in Nalchik 2009. The majority of the audience was composed of members of the LeChess group. I hope you enjoy this fascinating game!
This blog article analyzes the recent game Mameydarov-Aronian 2009. Throughout the analysis we'll pay special attention to the topic of Modern Chess Tactics and Strategy. This is a lengthy article in which I'll make use of diagrams to hel address key points.
1.e4 e5 2.Nc3
The Vienna Game. This can be classified as a sort of waiting move. By avoiding development of the kingside pieces White reserves the option of a timely f2-f4, or a development scheme involving g3, Bg2, Nge2. In addition to that, he can still play Nf3 or Bc4 and so remains somewhat flexible. Though the Vienna Game is not popular at this level, one interesting modern trend is towards “flexibility”. Increasingly, modern players value systems which don’t commit key pieces until the opponent has clarified his or her intentions. This is usually a tool used by Black. Modern handlings of the Sicilian and Slav (we’ll see an example next week!) come to mind.
Already Black has a decision to make. If he plays the more natural 2…Nf6, then he is better prepared to deal with a system such as 3.g3 because he has immediate access to 3…d5! 2…Nf6 also gives Black the opportunity to try 3…Nxe4!? In the event of 3.Bc4. But as we said, one of the advantages of “flexibility” is being able to decide on one’s own strategy *after* the opponent has already declared his setup. Here Black’s last move encourages the aggressive 3.f4, because 3…exf4 ? 4.e5! is a disaster – after 4…Qe7 5.Qe2 , Black has no choice but to put the knight right back on g8. With Aronian’s 2…Nc6 Black can healthfully capture on f4 but can’t take advantage of an early …d5 break if White plays g3. Even on move two this topic of flexibility turns out to be quite interesting! Okay, let’s move on…
3.Bc4 Nf6 4.d3
White makes it clear that he’s aiming for a Bishop’s Opening. Black still has to be on the lookout for a sharp f2-f4, but on the other hand, the bishop on c4 is a sitting duck.
4…Na5 5.Nge2 Be7 6.O-O O-O 7.a4 Nxc4
Not a moment too soon, otherwise the bishop would escape to a2.
8.dxc4 d6 9.b3
The only other game in which White has tried the Bishop’s Opening at this level was Morozevich-Leko 2001. There White continued 8.Ng3. There has to be a reason so few elite players have been keen to go into this position as White. Let’s take stock.
Black has snapped White’s bishop off the board rather quickly and therefore wields the bishop pair. He’s even doubled White’s pawns in the process. But White has a semi-open d-file and either an outpost on d5 or a backwards pawn on d6 (if and when Black pushes …c6). White still has the option of striking with f2-f4 as well.
The real key comes when we try to assess what actions should be taken. The bishop pair and better pawn structure are long-term advantages which, if consolidated, could bear fruit in the late middlegame and endgame. Thus, Black’s job is to consolidate and make it difficult for White to achieve any aggressive intentions. White, on the other hand, should try to rapidly utilize his strengths and attacking chances before Black is able to do this – a very common scenario in modern chess. White has accepted a slight positional inferiority in the long run and so must play accurately to compensate with this by the initiative.
10.a5 is a completely new move here, seeking to put pressure on Black’s queenside with a6. But this is not a very serious threat, and as we’ll see the pawn actually becomes rather vulnerable on a6, demanding protection from the rook on a1.
10…c6 11.a6 b6 12.Ba3 Qc7
Development is basically completed, Black will transfer a rook to the d-file, and may then search for a breakthrough with …d5. In the meantime, it seems, Mamedyarov’s queenside initiative has accomplished very little. At this point I think the game is about equal if White continues with a sensible plan and doesn’t alter the structure too much. One idea is 13.Ng3!? Rad8 14.Qe2 g6!? 15.Rad1. White doesn’t have an initiative, but he at least contains Black’s chances and hasn’t harmed his structure. Instead, Mamedyarov continues to look for swift action.
This is quite a natural move, but it suffers from serious defects. Firstly, as White tries to get his attack underway he will find that his previous maneuver (a4-a5-a6) leaves his rook on a1 tied to the defense of the a6 pawn. This little fact makes it difficult for his a-rook to participate in the crucial fight for the d5-square (where Black could suddenly open the center) or to swing it over to the kingside. But the biggest problem with f4 will turn out to be the damage to the e4-pawn who now is without a potential pawn-defender and may very well end up on an open file. This e4-weakness, the constant threat of explosion in the center (…d5), and the a6-pawn spell a difficult position ahead for Mamedyarov.
What’s absolutely fascinating about this game is that from here on Aronian takes virtually perfect advantage of White’s one little mistake. Watch how much Aronian makes his opponent suffer for this slip.
Very logical, Black prepares the retreat …Bc8, which highlights, in the first place, the weakness of a6. It also takes the sting out of a potential f4-f5. Now f4-f5 would just fix the structure and would make the breakthrough …d5 all the more delicious.
Threatening the a6-pawn. Notice how Aronian achieves his strategic aims from here on while delivering threats on each move.
This is the beginning of a beautiful plan designed to free Black’s position and take immediate advantage of his better structure. Of course, the immediate threat is …Ne3. (Again: strategic aims fulfilled while creating threats!)
With the knight on g4, Black finally alters the structure. The knight is ready to plop into the unattended e5 square. I would mention the fact that Nimzovich first told us about all of this when he said “restrain, blockade, destroy!” … but then I might be accused of not fulfilling my promise to reveal the secrets of modern chess. Apparently, some things haven’t changed ;)
Strong players (and computers) wring the maximum out of the unique placement of their pieces. Before bringing the knight to its dream square on e5, Black first uses …Bh4!? to create the threat of …Nf2+. By doing so he gains time to stick a rook on e8. Aronian insists on achieving his aims by creating threats every step of the way.
White isn’t keen to weaken his light squares with g2-g3, and so defends against the threat in a more tame fashion.
18…Rfe8 19.h3 Ne5
Almost as if by magic, Black has lifted his rooks to the central files, and removed both bishops from the e-file and his knight has floated to the wonderful e5 square. Meanwhile there is the nagging pressure on the a6 pawn. I think Black’s combination of tactical threats and strategy has already been very instructive.
One should not forget the opponent’s right to exist. At this point, White may not have actually been too concerned. His plan is simply to bring the knight to the kingside and continue the kingside attack which he has been plotting. But strangely, I think that White has to assume a defensive posture. We’ll see this in a moment.
20…Bg5 21.Nh5!? Qe7
Aronian has restrained. He’s blockaded. Now he’s working on destroying the poor e4-weakness.
It wasn’t too late to have a change of heart and switch to a defensive setup. After 22.Nc3!? Black still has a significant pull, but converting it is not going to be easy. 22…Nd7? 23.Nxg7! would be a disaster. And 22…g6!? Is not as strong as after the move played in the game. White can calmly continue 23.Nf4 Nd7 24.Nd3, when his position isn’t delightful, but it’s definitely playable. The cold-blooded 22…f6 (removing Nxg7 sorties) 23.Ng3 Ng6 24.Qf2 still offers Black a nice position.
22…g6 -/+ 23.Nf4
23.Ng3!? is not much better. One sharp option continues: 23…Bh4 (23…Qf8!?) 24.Kh2 Qg5 25.Qf2 f5! 26.Bc1 fxe4 27.Nxe4 Bxf2 28.Nxg5 Bh4 29.Ne4 d5! -/+
24.Nh5?! This if the final stage of White’s attack, which by now can be classified as a kamikaze attack. Before we move onto Aronian’s rather heavy-handed destruction of this sacrificial assault – I’d like to really investigate this position. I highly advise working through the following variations on a chessboard - the variations are very beautiful and instructive.
Better is 24.Qf2!? Qf8!
a) 24...Nc5 25.Ned5! cxd5 26.Nxd5 Qe6 (only move) 27.Rae1 Nd7 28.Qg3 unclear
b) 24...Qxe4 25.Nd3 f5 26.Ng4! Qe2 (26...-- 27.Rae1!+-; 26...fxg4 27.Qf7#) 27.Qd4 Ne5 28.Rf2 Qe4 (only move) 29.Qxe4 fxe4 30.Ndxe5 dxe5 31.Nf6+ Bxf6 32.Rxf6 Black has a slight advantage;
c) 24...Bh4 25.Qd2 Nc5 26.Ned5! cxd5 27.Nxd5 Qf8! (27...Qxe4? 28.Qh6; 27...Qe6? 28.Qh6) 28.g3! Nxe4! (28...Bxg3? 29.Nf6+; 28...Bxh3 29.gxh4 Nxe4 30.Qd4 Re5 (only move) 31.Qxe4! Rxe4 32.Nf6+ Kg7 33.Nxe4+ Kh6 34.Bc1+ Kg7 35.Bb2+=) 29.Qd4 Nxg3+ (29...Re5) 30.Kg2 Re2+ 31.Kg1 Re5 32.Qxh4 Nxf1 33.Rxf1÷; 25.Ng4 (25.Qg3 Bf6! Black is much better) 25...Rxe4! 26.Qg3 f5 27.Nd3 (27.Nxg6 Rxg4! (27...hxg6?! 28.Nf2! Bf6 29.Nxe4 Bxb2 30.Nxd6!µ) 28.hxg4 Qh6+ 29.Qh3 hxg6–+) 27...Qe7 28.Nb4 fxg4 29.Nxc6 Qe6 30.h4 Re3 31.Nxd8 Bxd8 32.Rae1 Rxe1 33.Rxe1 Ne5 34.Bxe5 dxe5 35.Qxe5 Qxe5 36.Rxe5 Black is much better; 24.Rae1 Shipov 24...Bxa6 Black is much better
Of course after the fantastic 24…Qf8! Black still has a near-decisive advantage. But the moves shown here demonstrate how every factor of a position must be exploited. Just as Aronian has combined all of the resources in his position, Mamedyarov also missed an opportunity to set a serious practical problem for his opponent using every factor which was in his favor. Even after the correct 24…Qf8, White is still “more alive” than he is after Mamedyarov’s move.
Just ten short moves ago White played the aggressive f2-f4. In that short time, Black has achieved total coordination, and cooly picked off the weakness which was created by the move. Black is winning.
25.Qf2 f5 26.Ng4
A valiant effort, but it is easily thwarted.
26…gxh5 27.Nh6+ Bxh6 28.Qg3+ Kf7 29.Rae1
White has invested two pieces and a pawn for his attack. Aronian now finds a nice way to simplify the position – but even the greedy 29…Qxc2 is fully playable here.
29…Rg8 30.Qf2 Qxg2+! 31.Qxg2 Rxg2 32.Kxg2
Black has two pawns and two pieces for the rook. More importantly his pieces will quickly dominate the endgame. A sample continuation is: 32…Rg8+ 33.Kh2 Nc5 followed by …Nxa6. Before waiting for Black to make his move, Mamedyarov resigned.
A beautiful game! In it we saw a carefully constructed net of tactics and strategy. We also discussed, if only briefly, one of the newer concepts in opening strategy. I hope you’ve enjoyed this game (and analysis)!