Aronian Cracks Berlin Defense, Leads By Full Point; Keymer Scores 1st Win
Aronian wins his third game in five rounds. Photo: Lennart Ootes / WR Chess Masters.

Aronian Cracks Berlin Defense, Leads By Full Point; Keymer Scores 1st Win

| 9 | Chess Event Coverage

More than halfway through the WR Chess Masters 2023, GM Levon Aronian leads by a full point after beating GM Anish Giri in round five.

GM Vincent Keymer scored his first win of the event against GM Nodirbek Abdusattorov after the latter's aggressive play culminated with one sacrifice too many. GM Gukesh D had chances to beat GM Ian Nepomniachtchi in their first-ever over-the-board encounter and leap into sole second, but Nepomniachtchi survived. GM R Praggnanandhaa also put GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda under serious pressure but signed the peace accord at the end of the day, a draw.

Finally, GM Andrey Esipenko was unable to startle the well-prepared GM Wesley So. Four moves after the opening novelty, they drew by threefold repetition.

Round six begins on Wednesday, February 22, at 5:00 a.m. PT/14:00 CET

See what happened:
The games of the WR Chess Masters 2023 can be found here

Monday was a rest day and marked the approximate halfway point of the tournament, which is nine rounds in total. Aronian was leading, with So and Gukesh tied in second-third.

On the rest day, the grandmasters participated in the "WR Table Tennis Masters." The inaugural WR Chess Masters is full of unusual yet exciting side events, including a bughouse tournament that will take place the day after the main event finishes. 

Until a month ago in Wijk aan Zee, Aronian and Giri hadn't played a classical game since 2021. While their last game ended in a 21-move draw in the Italian Opening, this game was decisive.

Aronian was surprised in the opening: "I didn't really expect the Berlin [Defense]. So I was somehow, the whole morning, I was preparing for the Open Spanish because it was kind of a problem for me. Last time when I played an Open Spanish, I barely equalized against Pragg." Jokingly, he followed up: "I found equality."

The decisive point came in the four-rook endgame, where Aronian already felt: "It's kind of a miracle that Black survives here." Giri didn't play the difficult and only move to defend, 37...Rh4!, which his opponent pointed out in the interview. Aronian converted the full point.

GM Boris Gelfand makes the ceremonial first move. Photo: Lennart Ootes / WR Chess Masters.

Remarkably, Aronian's lifetime score in classical games against Giri is +8 -0 =21 after this game. With this win, Aronian also breaks into the world's top-10 with an even 2750 rating once again.

The world's top-10. Image:

Keymer had a difficult start to the super-tournament, having started with two losses and two draws. In round five, he took down Abdusattorov, who after nearly winning Tata Steel Chess this year was arguably among the pre-tournament favorites. 

Abdusattorov, who has played both 1.e4 and 1.d4 with White, has not repeated a single opening in two games across this tournament with either color. With the black pieces in this game, he opted for the Ragozin Variation of the Queen's Gambit Declined, and he sacrificed a pawn right out of the opening.

Black had an initiative and bishop pair as compensation, and by move 25 he sacrificed an entire rook for a pawn. After the game, Keymer said: "...Rxg2 looks incredibly dangerous. Like, that this is not losing was some kind of miracle to me... . All his pieces are great, it's just that ... [he has] not enough pieces left."

This is our Game of the Day, annotated by GM Rafael Leitao

WGM Dana Reizniece-Ozola makes the first move for Keymer. Photo: Lennart Ootes / WR Chess Masters.

With the extra rook, the German champion defended and won the game. Both Keymer and Abdusattorov enter a five-way tie in last place.

Nepomniachtchi-Gukesh was nearly a game-changer in this tournament. Had Gukesh won, he would have proven himself against the world's second-highest-rated player in their very first classical game (!) and also jumped into sole second place. They had played just once before, a few weeks ago, at the 2023 Airthings Masters online.

A historic first encounter between Nepomniachtchi and Gukesh. Photo: Lennart Ootes / WR Chess Masters.

The Indian grandmaster opted for the Queen's Gambit Accepted, an opening he played for the first time ever against So earlier in this event. After Black comfortably equalized, the tide started to turn after a powerful queen trade initiated on move 22.

The clearest shot, and greatest miss, came on move 33. Had 33...b3 been played, he likely would have won the game, but after the game continuation, Nepomniachtchi resourcefully found the perfect defense.

Praggnanandhaa-Duda featured the Petroff Defense, one of the most solid openings in chess. The Indian grandmaster achieved a clear advantage in the heavy-piece endgame, however, and the critical moment came on move 29. 

29.g4, as in the game, allowed the position to peter out to a draw. If White had played 29.a5!! Black would have been hard-pressed to defend against the passed e-pawn with an unsafe king. The critical line starting with 29...b5 features three brilliant moves for White, including a pawn sacrifice—it's not clear they would have been played in the game, but White would have his chances to win.

The Indian teenager achieved an advantage against the Petroff, but it wasn't enough. Photo: Lennart Ootes / WR Chess Masters.

Esipenko-So was the first game to finish. The players followed a game from last year where Esipenko played the black side (Erigaisi-Esipenko, Chartres 2022). This time, he repeated Erigaisi's choice of 14.Rc1 with the white pieces, but So deviated with 14...Na5 (Esipenko played 14...Rac8). 

Four moves later, the players began to repeat moves with their knights and agreed to a draw after threefold repetition. This leaves So near the top of the scoreboard, a point behind Aronian, while Duda enters the large group of players in last with two points after five rounds.

Undefeated So after five rounds. Photo: Lennart Ootes / WR Chess Masters.

All Games - Round 5

Standings - Round 5

The WR Chess Masters 2023 takes place February 15-26, 2023, at the Hyatt Regency Dusseldorf in Germany. The format is a round-robin with 10 players. The time control is 120 minutes for the first 40 moves followed by 60 minutes for the next 20 moves and 15 minutes for the rest of the game plus a 30-second increment per move starting with move 61. The prize fund is 130,000 Euros.

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