Aronian Smashes Caruana In Speed Chess Rout
Aronian's margin of victory was the fourth-largest in the event's history.

Aronian Smashes Caruana In Speed Chess Rout

MikeKlein
FM MikeKlein
Jul 25, 2018, 8:07 AM |
46 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Fabiano Caruana had a good first 10 minutes of the opening match of the 2018 Chess.com Speed Chess Championship season, then had a completely forgettable final 170 minutes. He didn't even get his second win until around the second half of the match thanks to strong and resilient play by GM Levon Aronian, who won the match easily by the final score of 20.5-6.5.

Caruana Aronian

GM Fabiano Caruana and GM Levon Aronian have a very close lifetime score in classical chess, but that didn't mean anything yesterday. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

Not only was this Aronian's first-ever win in SCC history, it was also the largest margin of victory ever by a man not named Carlsen. It's the fourth-largest winning gap in the event's three-year history (GM Magnus Carlsen has the top three margins of 18, 17, and 15). Most were left stunned by the lack of competitiveness in the match, but recall that sometimes even elite players just get stuck in a rut—Carlsen's 18-point win came against none other than GM Wesley So.

"Fabiano wasn't playing his openings," Aronian said. "He's trying to hide his preparation for a bughouse match," he joked.

The rout was so impressive that GM Hikaru Nakamura, who plays the next SCC match tomorrow, commented in the live chat that there's only three betting favorites this season.

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Caruana's most recent days prior to the match were spent in world championship training. So did he think this loss portended any bad omens for November's title clash?

"Unfortunately a match like this really puts a dent in your will to really look at chess any more," he said. "You at least want a fight."

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Caruana's posture slumped on camera, perhaps in some sort of mind/body connection. As for GM Aronian's "club" lighting above him, he revealed after the match that he was playing from his music room.

That fight never really came. After winning game one, Caruana bounced around with a variety of different openings, and often found himself with a better position and advantage on the clock. Many times, he would squander both the pluses late in the game.

Aronian went on to score 4.5 of the next five games, then, as if he needed it, got a good luck charm at the end of the five-minute segment.

After the kiss from his wife, Aronian went on to win four straight, opening up an insurmountable lead. (He also had a five-game, non-affection-assisted streak later on in the bullet.)

There was no segment in which Caruana could compete yesterday. Aronian won the five-minute (6-2), then the three-minute (6.5-2.5), and the one-minute (8-2).

While chess fans didn't get the competitive battle they expected, the pair did continue their decisiveness. Coming into Tuesday afternoon, they had played 10 out of 11 decisive games in their most recent over-the-board rapid and blitz events. In their SCC match, 22 of 27 games produced a winner; they just happened to mostly be in favor of Aronian.

Caruana several times offered a pawn for the initiative, and that worked splendidly in the first game of the bout.

Aronian wasted no time leveling the match after Caruana played the French in his first game as Black. The commentators were highly suspicious of the choice.

"The the top level, I really do wonder why players play the French," IM Danny Rensch said. GM Robert Hess pointed out that Caruana himself won two games against the French at this year's U.S. championship.

Caruana's king never found a home as Aronian buffeted his shelter no matter which direction he ran.

Aronian took his first lead after game three, and he never looked back.

Caruana played the London System, which he would repeat a few more times on the afternoon. An absolute mess of a game resulted from White being forced to sacrifice a piece. Caruana then took a lead on the clock (54 seconds to 17 seconds), only to squander it, as he would later do a few more times in the match.

The final 40 moves were played with both players below 10 seconds, but the game ended with Aronian's pre-match fear not coming true. Although he said he expected to be "flagged mercilessly," it was Caruana who overstepped the time. 

In fact, Caruana flagged twice on the afternoon, the same as Aronian (and that's if you include the meaningless final-round game).

The world championship contender went 2-0 against Aronian at the 2018 Candidates' Tournament, but just couldn't find the same success for the rest of the day. Caruana had great chances in games five and seven, only to miss wins late in both games.

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The road had too many potholes today. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

With the score 6-2 going into the middle segment of 3+1, Aronian didn't let up. Caruana was ahead the exchange in the opening game, then made arguably his worst single move of the match. He inexplicably hung an exchange by just leaving his rook in take.

Caruana tried to mix it up in game 11 with some inventive play, but even that didn't work. Hanging a rook in the final position hardly mattered; Black was crawling all over White's position anyway.

"Fabiano's playing extremely poorly right now," Hess said after Caruana failed to find the tactic that saved the d6-pawn. The win was Aronian's fourth in a row.

Caruana ended the bleeding with his first win in about 90 minutes in game 12.

Aronian's dominance returned shortly after, and he closed the segment strong to win the three-minute 6.5-2.5 to lead by eight games going into the bullet.

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Chess.com's SmaChessrter statistical models had Aronian as a 68 percent favorite going into the match. After the first two segments, he was basically a lock going into the bullet.

In game 19, the second game of the 1+1 block, Caruana tried a double-fianchetto setup again, but didn't have the same success as the first game. Aronian had the classic "better bishop" and eventually his queen seal-crawled into White's camp. Black finished with a simple tactic that had Nakamura typing it in the chat nearly as quickly as the Armenian could play it:

The match now already out of reach mathematically, Caruana went back to his French in the next game. Unlike the first iteration of this report, it was Black who got to do the attacking. A breakthrough on g3 nearly netted Caruana a quick mate, but instead Aronian slithered out.

His king moved a whopping 12 times to travel from e1 to d8 via h1, all with queens on the board! Aronian wasn't just showboating; he also won the game.

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Maybe it was Aronian who was "TheKing" on Friday's Burger King event?

With the match in hand, Aronian treated himself to some slightly exotic chess. How about this speculative exchange sac on move 13? Upon further review, not speculative at all!

Amazingly, it was played on reflex but was perfectly sound. Must be nice being a 2800.

Aronian went on to win a trio more to extend his streak to five straight games (a "half-adoption" in internet-speak). Only a final-round win for Caruana ensured it wasn't a complete whitewash in the bullet, which Aronian still won 8-2. 

Still, the strong showing in the 1+1 didn't allay his fears for the later rounds.

"I think I was really bad in bullet," Aronian said. "If the match is closer I know this is my weakness. Unfortunately I really dislike bullet, and I don't think it's going to improve any time soon."

Next up for Aronian is the winner of the GM Anish Girl-GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov match. Aronian said he hopes to face Giri.

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The next SCC first-round match will be Nakamura-Hou Yifan on Thursday, July 26 at 5 p.m. Pacific, 8 p.m. Eastern, 2 a.m. Central Europe. A full calendar of SCC matches and other important events can be found here.

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