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Chess January 2012 recap

Levon Aronian has won the prestigious Tata Chess tournament of 2012. It was a remarkable display of his superb talent against the world’s elite, with a final score of 9/13 and a performance rating of 2891. He won an incredible seven of his thirteen games, which is the same amount of wins combined as Magnus Carlsen and Teimour Radjabov, who finished in equal second, along with rising star Fabiano Caruana of Italy. Despite losing his individual game to Carlsen, Aronian stole the show at Wijk aan Zee with his attacking and dynamic play.

 

Aronian is now only twelve Elo points behind Carlsen on the live ratings list (2823 to 2834) and yet one cannot help but feel that he has lived in the shadow of the Norweigan genius. It’s true that Carlsen has been the world’s highest rated player for quite some time and, indeed, he wins the majority of the top-level tournaments in which he participates. However, Aronian also wins his fair share of those elite contests, and often in equally if not more impressive style than Carlsen. The Tata tournament was a great illustration of this - Aronian’s games against Giri and Nakamura in particular featured very sharp and creative play. He won them both after sacrificing material for position and later analysis proved that even with best play his opponents would have been struggling for equality. Carlsen had solid wins against Gelfand and Aronian in his usual style, but was somewhat lucky in his other two victories, especially against Topalov. His play in the later stages of the tournament was lacking and his opening preparation did not appear up-to-scratch for such a high-level tournament.

Aronian’s preparation, on the other hand, was excellent - and it has always been reknowned for featuring a rare mixture of depth and accuracy. His win against Giri demonstrated this well, where the young Dutch champion went into a line of the Harrwitz Attack variation of the Queen’s Gambit Declied (7.Be2) that Aronian himself had pioneered and championed. Thus it was of little surpise that Aronian’s profound knowledge of the resulting position in the middlegame allowed him to completely dominate the play after a powerful exchange sacrifice (13...Rxf3!) and he later offered his queen in a mating combination that was arguably the finest attack of the entire tournament. It was a great example of the tactical and positional strength of his play that has got him to the highest echelons possible in the world today.

Another of the many feathers in Aronian’s cap is his shining record against the current World Champion, Viswanathan Anand, with ten wins to six and 24 draws - even more notable as many of these games were played when Aronian was a young player and Anand was in his prime. At the Tal Memorial in 2009, Aronian won with the black pieces in just 25 moves after an opening inaccuracy from Anand and showed his prowess when attacking with the bishop pair - a trait that has likened him to chess legend Bobby Fischer. Carlsen, on the other hand, has a negative score against Anand, with 9 wins to 15 and 30 draws. This can be attributed partially to his youth, although he was a formidable talent at a much earlier age than Aronian.

In terms of overall career winning percentages, they are within two percent of each other, with Carlsen on 60.5% (wins+draws/losses) and Aronian on 61.7%. Regarding their games played against each other, Aronian is leading with 13 wins to 11 and 28 draws. So, the questions remain as to why Carlsen stays in the spotlight when Aronian is so close to him on the Elo list, wins almost as many top tournaments and has the positive score in their individual game history.

The truth of the matter is that there have always been newsworthy events concerning Carlsen. This began with his meteoric rise to the top - he was a child prodigy and from a young age routinely dismantled top players. Youngsters of this ilk have always drawn huge worldwide attention - Nhyznyk is the contemporary figure. During his late teens it was announced that he was studying under Kasparov, which was hotly covered in the chess media. Hitherto solid and uncompromising players began collapsing against him. He won tournament after tournament, often producing the results that the crowds wanted, with games of great complexity apparently played with ease and computer-like accuracy. Given the opportunity he created monstrous attacks but it was more often with solid and slow positional play that he wore his opponents down. This has drawn comparisons to both Karpov and Capablanca - two of the greatest players in the history of the game - and there is absolutely no doubt to his incredible talent. Naturally, the winning of such high-level tournaments contributed to his growing fame, and it quickly became clear to the chess world that the next giant had arrived. Amongst his tournament victories were The International Chess Festival Biel Grandmaster Tournament, 2007, The Tata Chess Tournament in 2008 (shared first with Aronian) the Aerosvit event of the same year, The Nanjing Pearl Spring tournament in 2009 and the London Chess Classic, 2010, after which he took the number one spot on the Elo rating list. It’s a position that he’s never relinquished and from then until now  all eyes have remained on him as he continues to win many of the top tournaments in which he takes place. His controversial withdrawal from the World Chess Championship Qualifiers in 2011 sent further shockwaves through chess communites worldwide.

The familair faces of the chess elite joined Carlsen in the top ten - old hands such as Anand and Ivanchuk, as well as Kramnik, Morozevich and, of course, Aronian, who had made a name for himself in a much slower fashion. He learned the game at the age of nine and quickly mastered it, winning the world under-12 tournament in 1994. It was not long before he became a Grandmaster and during the years that followed he progressed steadily, becoming world junior champion in 2002 and soon competing at the highest levels. However, it was not until he was approaching his mid-twenties that his truest talents began to blossom. Amongst his victories were the prestigious Linares tournament in 2006, as well as sharing first place at Tata in 2007, the FIDE Grand Prix 2008-2010 (with one tournament to spare), and another shared first at the Tal Memorial in 2010. In November of that year he became only the sixth player in history to break the 2800 mark on the Elo rating system. Along with Kramnik, Anand and indeed Carlsen, he sifted amongst the top rankings in the world and has been a strong competitor at all the top tournaments.

Whilst Carlsen is delivering in many ways, he is not doing so without difficulty, and Aronian has always been one of the opponents who gives him the most trouble. 2012 will be a fascinating year regarding these two key players and the larger chess scene. Can Carlsen continue his breakaway lead on the Elo rating list? Will he break Kasparov’s all-time record of 2851? Similarly, can Aronian maintain his chase on Carlsen - or can finally seize his fair share of the worldwide spotlight by surpassing him and reaching 2852 first?

Also, this year, we will see Anand defend his title for the third time, and he goes into the match against Gelfand a strong favourite, despite his recent bad form. Undoubtedly, this match will receive a lot of worldwide attention - but it is at the end of the year that the most exciting tournament will place, as we will witness the candidate’s tournament for the 2013 World Championship Match. The entrants are Peter Svidler, Alexander Grischuk, Vassily Ivanchuk, Vladimir Kramnik, Magnus Carlsen, Levon Aronian and the loser of the match between Anand and Gelfand. This is sure to be a fantastic tournament as the stakes and the pressure will be high as some of the best players in the world fight in out for a place to take on the reigning champion. If either Carlsen or Aronian win, we could well see them playing for the title against each other in 2014, which would surely be history in the making. In any case, I look forward to watching and analysing the games of the year ahead with you all, and hope we can have some great discussions about them here at Killegar Chess.

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