25 September 2017

Bad Luck or Not Bad Luck? That is the Question

The first two World Cup Final games in the report of Eteri Kublashvili

As have been mentioned already, the World Cup final venue has relocated to the many-star The Biltmore Hotel Tbilisi. It is rather infrequent to see a definite article preceding the hotel name, with only The Ritz London coming to mind as an exception. In addition to a rich Arabian interior decor, the hotel boasts an ideal situation. It stands on Shota Rustaveli Avenue, the Georgian capital city’s main street. Let us recall that the hotel "grew up" next to the former institute of Marxism-Leninism, merging with this historic building later on.

A large number of architecturally iconic buildings are concentrated on Rustaveli Avenue: the old building of the Georgian Parliament, the Kashveti church, the Georgian Opera and Ballet Theater named after Paliashvili, the Tbilisi Russian Drama Theater named after A. Griboyedov, the Rustaveli Cinema, the Shota Rustaveli Theater and a great deal more.

Part of the Avenue running from the hotel to Freedom Square (inclusive) can be seen from numerous pictures below.

The Final started with great pomp. It deserves special mentioning that the playhall is as luxurious, as it is historic. It is here that the Georgian Parliament convened under Eduard Shevardnadze from 1992 to 1995. This is what Zurab Azmaiparashvili seems to have spoken about in the Georgian language before the start of the game, among other things.

Among guests of honor for game one were Minister of Sports and Youth of Georgia Tariel Khechikashvili and ex-world champion Nona Gaprindashvili with her family. The players were presented separately, and they took turns ascending the stage and taking their seats. Then the honorary guests were invited. When all officials encircled the players, the Minister of Sports made the first move for Levon Aronian.

Game one can be hardly characterized as being especially rich in events, but a couple of half-chances were available to White nonetheless. Anyway, the Armenian grandmaster adopted a more confident approach, and the game ended in a draw as a result.

Levon Aronian, “The opponent succeeded in taking me by surprise in the opening as I was not on the alert for 7…d4. I decided to react in a solid way, even though I was aware about Black being OK there. Still, I managed to get certain chances, but the 27. b4 idea does not seem entirely correct.


Aronian Ding Liren


27…axb4 28. abx4 b5

At first I thought that 29. f5 gives a certain edge to White, but upon more detailed considerations I realized that it should be a draw. I had other ideas, but Black is active in all lines. It felt unsafe to open up the f-file for Black.

The grandmaster demonstrated an interesting line, which he believed as not working out well for him: 29. f5 exf5 30. Nxf5 Rf7 31. Nxd4 Rg4 32. Nxb5 Ne6 33. d4 c6 34. Ra3 cxb5 35. d5 Rf2!

“If I start to retreat, the opponent has an active play. I should have gone for it anyway; otherwise, why play 27. b4 unless you follow it up with 29. f5? However, I thought that I might be in time to bring up my king into the game”, - was shared by Levon Aronian after the game.

A game was a draw by repetition several moves later: 29. Kg2 Nc6 30. Rb1 Rf7 31. Rh5 Rg8 32. Rh6 Bf8 33. Rh3 Be7 34. Rh6 Bf8 35. Rh3 Be7.

Although game two was a draw, it pushed up the drama considerably. Levon Aronian was very close to winning, and, having come out in one piece, Ding Liren was as happy as after having qualified into the final.

Up to a certain moment the game was an equal contest in the Catalan. Black organized a pawn storm on the queenside, and the trade of most pieces simplified the position greatly. However, Liren inadvertently allowed the opponent creating a remote a-passer, which marked the start of White’s many problems.


Ding Liren Aronian


After 30. Ncb3? b6 31. Nxc5 bxa5 Black created a dangerous passer, taking care of which proved far from easy.

The course of the battle was subject to active discussion among press center’s commentators. Maia Chiburdanidze, Nana Ioseliani, Genna Sosonko, a recent arrival from Moscow Mark Glukhovsky, Giorgi Giorgadze and other tournament guests would point to interesting and, most importantly, very precise continuations for both sides, only occasionally diving into other topics. Georgia is one of those rare places where lively and creative discussions of chess topics are only in the nature of things.

When Levon Aronian exchanged central pawns, the sixth World Champion recalled Gufeld’s words that one is best avoiding pawn trades in better positions and more clock time.

In general, the artificial intelligence would not always agree with the players; still, the analysis of this endgame takes calculations of both huge engine depth and sufficient time. Levon Aronian somehow managed to make a significant progress, and, being very low on time, the Chinese grandmaster went somewhat astray:

49. Nh5? g6 50. Ng3 Bd3 51. Bxh7 Nd4 52. Ne4+ Kb4 53. Bg8

Here the engine insists on 53...Nb3+ 54. Bxb3 Kxb3 55. Nd2+ Kb4 56. h4 Kc5 57. Nb3+ Kc4 58. Nd2+ Kd4 59. Ne4 Ke3 60. Nc5 Bf5, gradually infiltrating the kingside to get at all of White’s pawns.

Levon gave a more practical treatment of the position: 53…Nxf3 54. Nf6 Kc5 55. h3? Kd4 56. Ba2 Nxg5 57. h4 Ne4 58. Nd7

The above maneuvering happened with seconds on both opponents’ clocks, Levon having less time than his opponent at that. The Armenian grandmaster lost his way in a severe time trouble:


Leading to the coveted goal is a straightforward 58... Nc3 59. Bf7 Ne2+ 60. Kd2 Ng1, followed by Nf3 to win a pawn.

59. Nf6 Ke5

It was not yet late for Black to return to above lines with 59…Ne4. Meanwhile, the white knight landed on the central square - 60. Nd5.

White consolidated to thwart all direct threats and equalize the situation. A draw, so bitter for Levon Aronian and vice versa for Ding Liren, was sealed on move 75.

With two games over, the score is 1:1. But what is the balance of forces from a psychological point of view? We are about to find out very soon.