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Levon Aronian Chess960 Rapid World Championship
WM Levon Aronian – Chess960-Weltmeister
28.-30. Juli 2009, 18:30 Uhr, Rheingoldhalle Mainz

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July 27- Aug 2nd, 2009 Rheingoldhalle, Mainz
Chess Classic Mainz 2009 (CCM9)
6. Chess960 Rapid World Championship
GM L. Aronian, GM V. Bologan, GM H. Nakamura, GM S. Movsesian



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Chess Classic

Aronian Shines on First Day of Chess960 FiNet World Championship

14.08.2007 - When Freddy Mercury declares to be one of a group of champions, the top players in Mainz know that things are starting to get serious. Traditionally, in Mainz the famous Queen-song signals the beginning of the round: The players go on stage, sit down to study the – this time unknown – position and the hall is darkened. The spectators fall silent to focus on the games shown on two huge screens towering above the stage. Those who look for some expert comment and do not trust the whispered comments by their friends put on their headphones to listen to the analyses of GM Artur Jussupow and GM Fabian Döttling. Or they just throw a glance on the two monitors in front of the stage, on which the computer program Spike reveals how he thinks, or rather calculates, the position should be evaluated.


How would Vishy Anand play Chess960? The many fans of the nine times Chess Classic winner were keen to find out – particularly because the World’s number one revealed before the tournament that he had hardly ever played this form of chess before. He himself said in the press conference after the first three rounds: “I think I coped reasonably well. However, you have to be careful because h- and a-pawns can be without protection right from the start and you have to overcome a mental block because you just cannot imagine that some squares are not protected.”

But even if Anand might have had some problems to get used to the unfamiliar beginnings of Chess960, he could still count on his defensive abilities – which he made ample use of. In his first serious Chess960 game he had to play Rustam Kasimdzhanov with the black pieces and after getting a good game he blundered, had to give a pawn and landed in a rook ending, which looked simply lost. Only the fact that Kasimdzhanov’s clock had run down to less than a minute seemed to be able to save Anand. But the ending was not that easy to win, which Kasimdzhanov later emphasized in the press conference: “Okay, I was in time trouble, but I only played natural moves and couldn’t win”. He also mused about the five seconds increment, which the players receive after each move: “Well, you quickly find out that five seconds aren’t much. You play quickly, but discover that you don’t gain any time.” Whatever the reason, finally Anand finished his Chess960 debut with a draw.

However, the real star of the first day of the tournament was Levon Aronian. He seemed to handle each of the three starting positions with uncanny ease. In the first round he had to play Etienne Bacrot and even though Aronian later admitted that “the position after the opening was nothing special” Bacrot burdened himself with an isolated queen pawn. Aronian promptly exerted pressure on this pawn, and this pressure soon turned into a dangerous attack. In a difficult position and being far behind on the clock Bacrot couldn’t find a defense and Aronian won the game with a couple of fine tactical shots.

Etienne Bacrot, World Nr. 1 in Chess960 against Levon Aronian, Chess960 World Champion

Aronian’s second round win against Kasimdzhanov seemed even smoother. Proving his creative and unprejudiced thinking advanced his f-pawn in the opening straightaway to f5, which later guaranteed him a structural advantage, and, to quote Aronian, “allowed my pieces to work well”. Kasimdzhanov was even more pessimistic in his evaluation of the position, which he considered “to be lost after six moves”. In fact, Aronian’s pieces soon developed considerable pressure, which Kasimdzhanov tried to ease by sacrificing a pawn. Aronian took the pawn, didn’t release the pressure and went on to win without problems.

Finally, Aronian had to play Anand. Anand later joked that his real fear in playing Chess960 was to get mated by Aronian in four moves, and in fact Anand mishandled the opening and had to give a pawn to avoid worse. Now, another imprecise move put Anand in real trouble and it seemed as if Aronian would finish the first day of the tournament with a 100% score. However, the Indian again proved to be a master of escape, albeit with a bit of help by his opponent. In a favorable ending Aronian just blundered his extra-pawn, after which the players immediately agreed to a draw.

Meanwhile Kasimdzhanov managed to make up for his loss against Aronian by winning against Bacrot. Being better throughout the game he finally won through energetic endgame play.

As Anand and Bacrot drew their second round game, Aronian emerges as the clear leader after the first day and the first three rounds. With 2.5 points he is one point ahead of Anand and Kasimdzhanov, who in turn are one point ahead of Bacrot. Tomorrow will show how quickly Anand was able to learn from today’s games and whether Aronian will be able to shine so brightly as he did today.

Johannes Fischer

Published by Harry Schaack

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