Aronian wins first game in Zurich

| 0 | Chess Event Coverage

Levon Aronian has won the first game in his 6-game match against Vladimir Kramnik. Grabbing a lead with the black pieces, the Armenian couldn't have had a better start in Zurich. The second game will be played on Sunday.

Vladimir Kramnik and Levon Aronian during the opening ceremony | Photo courtesy of the official website

DatesApril 21-28, 2012
LocationZurich, Switzerland
System6-game match

Levon Aronian and Vladimir Kramnik

Rate of play40 moves in 120 minutes, 20 moves in 60 minutes and, for the remainder of the game, 15 minutes plus an increment of 30 seconds per move
BonusAs a bonus for the audience, Kramnik and Aronian will play an additional rapid game if the main game on any given day is drawn in under three hours

Live commentary

Sergey Shipov is a highly acclaimed Russian grandmaster, coach, author and commentator. His Russian annotations at Crestbook are being translated by Colin McGourty, who did this many times before on his own site Chess in Translation. More information on the match can be found here. Below is Shipov's commentary of game 1.

[Commentary by GM Sergey Shipov - original in Russian at Crestbook]


[Event "Aronian-Kramnik Match"]
[Site "Zurich"]
[Date "2012.04.22"]
[Round "1"]
[White "Vladimir Kramnik"]
[Black "Levon Aronian"]
[Result "0-1"]
[Annotator "ChessVibes"]
[PlyCount "82"]
[EventDate "2012.??.??"]
[TimeControl "120+17"]
[WhiteClock "0:01:03"]
[BlackClock "0:01:21"]

{Greetings, dear chess fans and connoisseurs. This is Grandmaster Sergey
Shipov commentating live for you on the Aronian - Kramnik friendly match
that's about to start in Zurich. The venue is one of the world's oldest chess
clubs, which is celebrating its 200th anniversary. I must admit I can't
remember an occasion when a friendly match, even between very strong opponents,
has ever aroused such great interest among fans. In former times such matches
were simply for training, a warm-up before more important events. Now, however,
many are seriously comparing the Aronian - Kramnik match to next month's World
Championship match... Well, in terms of rating this match definitely is higher
- the second and third players on the rating list are taking part. By the way,
there are also rumours that the world no. 1 could have played in Zurich, but
for some reason Carlsen refused. In any case, we've got stars of the first
magnitude or, in Garry Kasparov's terms, players "of the first category".
Levon and Vladimir have already played around 40 games and overall the Russian
has the edge. Initially, five to six years ago, he really was superior to his
younger opponent, both in terms of how well he played and, in particular, in
terms of his opening preparation. Now the situation has altered. The Armenian
grandmaster has made a great improvement in all areas of play, getting rid of
his weaknesses and achieving an impressive stability in his results. It was
Aronian who won the last super-tournament - Wijk aan Zee 2012, while Kramnik
won the penultimate one in London last year. So the match line-up is symbolic
- tournament kings. It's also symbolic that the players are victims of
Grischuk from the Candidates Matches (Kazan 2011). Alexander managed to remove
the favourites from the race, but it came at a high price - he had no energy
left for the final against Gelfand. So it's the Moscovite who decided the
places and roles of the players in these two spring matches. In that regard
it's inappropriate that your humble servant is commentating on the match and
not Grischuk. I'm ready at any moment to concede him my place in the cockpit!
Before the start of the first game I lit a candle so that we can avoid the
Queen's Gambit. I don't want to witness again, as in Kazan, White's fruitless
suffering while trying to break through the impregnable. But, on the other
hand, in which opening does White have an easy time nowadays? The current
situation in computerised theory is that Black has plenty of solidity to spare
in all the topical openings. It's a very good thing that we're not threatened
by quick draws. The organisers have introduced a new rule which guarantees a
spectacle: if a draw is agreed less than three hours into play the opponents
will play an extra game at rapid chess, the outcome of which won't, however,
affect the ultimate result of the match. So there'll be something to watch in
any case. I'd like myself, and in the name of Rustam Kasimdzhanov, to convey
my gratitude to the organisers for that rule. It means, in effect, that the
idea of Rustam and myself about extra games in the event of a draw is making
progress. True, there are reservations and no sporting consequences as yet,
but it's nevertheless very significant. It's a first step in the right
direction! Of course in my work I'll make use of variations from our metal
friends, but as in our day viewers can see the computer's lines for themselves
I'll try to pay particular attention to the purely human aspects of play. Off
we go!} 1. Nf3 {Kramnik's favourite first move. It's directed against the
Grunfeld and Nimzowitsch Defences i.e. White can avoid those sharp openings.}
d5 2. d4 Nf6 3. c4 c6 {The Slav Defence. My candle in the church worked!} 4.
Nc3 e6 5. Bg5 {The most energetic move.} h6 {The Moscow Variation.} 6. Bxf6 {
A very reliable move.} ({For now Vladimir doesn't want to show his analysis
after} 6. Bh4 {which in the last 10-15 years has become the most topical
approach. There's a time for everything.}) 6... Qxf6 {Black has acquired the
advantage of the two bishops, but for now he's behind in development and his
queen is unfortunately placed.} 7. e3 Nd7 8. Bd3 {Kramnik is playing very
quickly and confidently.} dxc4 {And Aronian is keeping pace... The players are
instantly playing their prepared moves i.e. there haven't been any surprises
yet. They expected this line.} 9. Bxc4 g6 {Although we've avoided the Grunfeld
Defence some of its ideas are being implemented. Black has given up the centre
and is planning to counterattack in future, with the powerful g7-bishop taking
a lead role in that.} 10. O-O Bg7 11. Re1 {The first interesting moment. The
first pause for thought! White can choose between a few promising setups for
his pieces. His plan is to seize space with e3-e4-e5.} ({More often seen is
the immediate} 11. e4) ({and also} 11. Rc1) (11. b4 {and so on.}) 11... O-O {
But Levon didn't think for long. He remembered his home analysis and replied -
Black can't get by without castling.} 12. e4 {The first step has been taken...}
e5 {...but the second isn't going to happen soon! Black has mechanically
blocked White's aggressive pawn. And at the same time he's opened an outlet
for the c8-bishop.} 13. d5 {Of course there's no point in White exchanging
pawns on e5. Now that same potentially powerful black bishop becomes passive.}
Rd8 {Another local surprise. Black would more often immediately put pressure
on the d5-point with} (13... Nb6 {For example,} 14. Bb3 Bd7 15. h3 Rac8 16. Qe2
Rfe8 17. Rad1 Bf8 18. a3 h5 19. Rd3 Bh6 20. Red1 cxd5 21. Bxd5 Rc7 22. Nd2 Qe7
23. Nc4 Nxc4 24. Bxc4 Bc6 25. Bd5 {and White kept a small edge in the game P.
Leko - B. Gelfand, Miskolc 2010.}) 14. Re3 {Judging by the speed it was played
this line was something Vladimir prepared specially. He represents the most
complete opening encyclopaedia in the world, and in many lines he has
novelties prepared. For now, however, there's nothing new. The move in the
game was played very recently by the newly-crowned European Champion Valentina
Gunina. As it turns out, the best of the best are now her equals! It's not so
easy to explain the point of the move. The rook can carry out various
functions on the third rank. Perhaps it's supporting the f3-knight in case of
the Bc8-g4 attack. Perhaps it will switch to d3 to create a battery on the
d-file.} ({Men previously played more primitively:} 14. h3 Nc5 15. Qe2 a5 16.
a4 Bf8 17. Red1 Bd7 18. Rd2 Be8 19. Rad1 Rab8 20. Ba2 cxd5 21. Nxd5 Qg7 22. Qc4
Kh8 23. Nc7 Rxd2 24. Rxd2 Bxa4 25. Rd5 {and White had an initiative for the
pawn, A Grigoryan - S. Ter-Saakyan, Martuni 2011.}) 14... b5 {A reasonable
response. If White has left his queen on d1, in line with the d8-rook, and
also made a "strange" move with his rook - then it's high time to start
complications.} ({In case of} 14... Nb6 {, as well as the banal 15.Bb3, White
could "sacrifice" a second bishop as well -} 15. Qb3 $5 {with Ra1-d1 and
Re3-d3 to follow. In that case Black wouldn't be in time to deal with the
occupiers of the d5-point.}) 15. dxc6 bxc4 16. Nd5 {An important inbetween
move.} Qe6 $1 {A good novelty. As it's not difficult to guess, this is the
first line of the computer programs. Aronian's also up to date on the
achievements of theory. He's also studied Gunina's play carefully. The move
doesn't immediately jump out at you for one simple human reason - White is
allowed not only to take on d7 but is also given the option of a knight fork
on c7. But the problem is that you can't carry out those two threats
simultaneously... Kramnik is thinking. It seems he didn't expect that response
from his opponent. The advantage of the position of the black queen on e6 -
and it's absolutely obvious - is that it doesn't interfere with the operation
of the d8-rook, and it won't fall under the hooves of a white knight on c4.
Even without the video broadcast it's clear how unpleasant this is for Volodya
now. He's used to trapping his opponents with effective novelties, while now
he's the one who's been caught... The clocks illustrate the relationship
between their opening knowledge: 1.25 - 1.37. It seems it was deliberate that
Levon didn't play the opening quickly. He pretended to be unsure! And now it
turns out he was the one with something lying in wait for his opponent.} ({Of
course not} 16... Qxc6 $2 17. Ne7+ {and the queen is lost.}) ({The game V.
Gunina - A. Muzychuk, Gaziantep 2012, saw} 16... Qd6 17. cxd7 Bxd7 18. Nd2 $1 {
- this is the key to White's idea -} Bb5 $6 (18... Bf5 $1) 19. Qc2 Rab8 20. Rc3
Qa6 21. a4 Bf8 22. Nf1 Bc5 23. Qc1 Bc6 $2 (23... Be8 $1) 24. Nf6+ Kg7 25. Ng4 {
and White had a decisive advantage.}) 17. cxd7 {Finally. Kramnik spent 10 more
minutes, clearly simply kicking himself. After all, White didn't really have
another move. It seems Volodya was trying to work out how during his
preparation he'd managed to miss a black reply that's so straightforward for
an analyst of his level? It was in vain that he trusted the cunning temptress..
.} ({It was simply bad to play} 17. Nc7 $2 Qxc6 18. Nxa8 Qxa8 {with an edge in
material for Black.}) ({The clever retreat} 17. Nb4 {would be met by the
advance} a5 $1) 17... Rxd7 $1 {And this is the whole point. Black quickly
organises pressure against the d5-knight. White simply isn't in time to
restrict his opponent to the defence of the c4-pawn, as Valya Gunina managed.
And if that's the case then the advantage of the two bishops already gives
Black a certain advantage.} 18. Qa4 {A slightly unexpected choice.} ({I
initially looked at the line} 18. Nd2 Bb7 19. Nxc4 Bxd5 20. exd5 Rxd5 {in
which Black gets a certain superiority in the centre. After all, f7-f5 will
follow, and perhaps e5-e4.}) ({It also looked obvious to play} 18. b3 cxb3 19.
Qxb3 Bb7 20. Rd1 {with the idea of getting a stranglehold on the d5-knight. I
suspect Kramnik didn't like the continuation} Rad8 21. Red3 Kh8 $1 {and the
threat of the f7-f5 advance is quite unpleasant. Besides, it's particularly
difficult for a player at the board that Black's able to choose the moment for
that blow. He's got a few more useful moves... In general, each variation has
it's "but".}) 18... Bb7 {Well, new exchanges are inevitable.} 19. Qxc4 {It's
not clear. It's not clear that you had to take the doomed pawn immediately.} ({
A little more cunning was} 19. Rc1 {and only after} Bxd5 20. exd5 Qxd5 {was it
good to play} 21. Qxc4) 19... Bxd5 {Levon didn't decide to get into the subtle
nuances either. He played more straightforwardly.} ({It looked obvious to
first activate the rook with} 19... Rc8) 20. exd5 {What to take with? Should
he exchange queens? Not a trivial question... Let's look at the clocks: 1.08 -
1.29. Heaps of time.} Qxd5 {Aronian satisfies himself with a small advantage
in the ensuing endgame. The bishop will be stronger than the knight in a
struggle on two flanks, particularly if he manages to get in f7-f5 and e5-e4} (
{There was a more complex struggle after} 20... Rxd5 21. Rc1 Re8) 21. Qxd5 {
Avoiding the exchange would only harm White as after all in that case Black's
advantage in the centre of the board would be even greater. Moreover, the
white queen didn't have any obvious points of attack.} Rxd5 {Now White needs
to set up his defence so that the black rooks can't invade on the second rank,
where there's no lack of potential weaknesses. And the main one is f2.} 22.
Rae1 {Less an attack than prophylaxis.} Re8 {Now Black's plans include f7-f5.
What should White do? g2-g4 is asking to be played, so that Black's pawn
pushing will lead to the creation of mutual weaknesses. In that case White
will have the chance to create some counterplay.} 23. g4 $1 {Yes, he did it.
Kramnik's a wonderful practical player, a very tenacious defender. You really
need to work hard to beat him... On the other hand, Aronian's a wonderful
attacker, who can find fighting resources that even escape the electronic eye..
. But that's all in the abstract. At the board you need to resolve concrete
questions. Does Black have to play f7-f5 immediately? In that case you have to
take the white knight jumping to h4 into account. The alternative to an
immediate attack is the prophylactic 23...Kh7. It's also worth working out how
things should go on the queenside. Should the pawn be pushed to a5? I wouldn't
rush to do that... I think it's worth Levon considering it for a while, as
fortunately he's got a great deal of time: 0.54 - 1.23.} Kh7 {The choice of an
experienced fighter - with a safety margin. Aronian doesn't want to squander
his unquestionable and stable edge with careless actions.} ({Here's the kind
of variations that might have occupied the players in the preceding minutes:}
23... f5 24. Nh4 fxg4 ({or} 24... Rd4 25. Nxg6 Rxg4+ 26. Rg3 Kf7 27. Rxg4 fxg4
28. Nh4 Kf6 29. Ng2 h5 30. Ne3 {and White's fine}) 25. Nxg6 Kf7 26. Nh4 Bf6 27.
Ng2 Rd2 (27... Bg5 28. Ra3 $1 a5 29. Ne3 $11) 28. Ra3 Re7 29. Ne3 h5 30. Ra6 {
with mutual chances.}) 24. g5 {A very tough move by a courageous player.
Volodya understands the strategic risk of his position perfectly well and is
striving to generate complications at all costs. He's clearly afraid of being
strangled without counterchances. The difficulty of the move is that it leads
to the destruction of White's pawn structure. Personally I wouldn't be able to
decide on something like that. But the computer confirms Kramnik's choice is
correct. Well, they both know better.} hxg5 {Of course.} 25. Nxg5+ Kg8 {Now
White has three pawn islands while Black has two but, on the other hand, the
white pieces have become active. We'll see which factor proves more important.
I think Black still has a stable edge. He should be able to beat off White's
attacks.} 26. f4 {Correct. You have to attack. Strike while the iron's hot.
And after all, it could cool down very quickly. White only needs to lose a
tempo or two and Black will switch to the counterattack. But the question
arises: is Kramnik attacking too boldly? The move in the game involves the
sharp activation of the fearsome black bishop... It seems as though the
ex-World Champion has decided that nothing is too much in this position. And
that you need to live recklessly.} ({I looked at the flank manoeuvre} 26. Ra3
a5 27. Rb3 {and so on.}) ({Or the immediate} 26. Rb3 {with the idea of posting
the rook on the seventh rank.}) 26... Rb8 {A strong response. It turns out the
pinning of the e5-pawn is a myth, while the invasion of the black rook on b2
is a serious threat... Yes, it looks as though Volodya miscalculated.} 27. fxe5
{In for a penny, in for a pound!} ({More cultured variations weren't strewn
with roses:} 27. b3 exf4 28. Re8+ Rxe8 29. Rxe8+ Bf8 30. Nh7 ({or} 30. h4 f6
31. Ne4 Kf7 32. Ra8 Ra5 $1) 30... Kxh7 31. Rxf8 Kg7 32. Ra8 Rd1+ 33. Kf2 Rd2+
34. Kf3 Rxh2 $1 35. Rxa7 g5 {and Black's pawns are clearly stronger than
White's.}) 27... Rxb2 {What now? White's brave pawn doesn't have the right to
go further, as then the knight will fall with check. Exchanging rooks on e2 is
no good due to the fall of the e5-pawn. It seems you need to look for other
defensive resources... Let's glance at the clocks: 0.27 - 1.11. It's not yet
time trouble, but there's no longer any time for psychoanalysis.} 28. Nf3 {
This move can easily be criticised by anyone who can see a computer, but just
ask yourself if you'd be able to allow both enemy rooks onto the second rank
yourself! At the very least, it's terrifying...} ({The undead recommends the
bold} 28. h4 {with the idea of breaking through with e5-e6. And if} Rdd2 {it
coolly replies} 29. a3 $1 {As if to say, I'm not afraid of any checks! Well,
perhaps the computer would have been able to save this position, but it's
almost impossible for people to play like that.}) 28... Rxa2 {Black has now
staked a serious claim for the future. It'll be very difficult for White to
deal with the outside passed pawn... His chance is on the counterattack.
Perhaps he'll manage to exchange off some more material, and then drawing
motifs will appear.} 29. e6 {In extreme time pressure Kramnik is no longer
capable of grasping subtle nuances.} ({It seems it was worth first removing a
couple of rooks from the board with} 29. R3e2 $1 {and only then tearing the
centre to pieces.}) 29... fxe6 30. Rxe6 Rf5 $1 {An extremely unpleasant
refutation. The white knight has no stable posts on the empty board.} 31. Nh4 {
It has to head for the side. The dream of winning the g6-pawn isn't, of course,
fated to come true.} Rf4 {Careful, a trap!} ({It looked solid to play} 31...
Rg5+ 32. Kh1 Kh7 {with a big edge for Black.}) 32. R6e4 $1 {Naturally.} ({The
key variation is} 32. Nxg6 $2 Bd4+ 33. Kh1 Rff2 $1 {and Black wins too easily.
For such famous players.}) ({But} 32. Ng2 {was perfectly possible. And then}
Bd4+ 33. Kh1 Rf6 {and... and it's not clear that Black should exchange rooks -}
34. R6e4 $1) 32... Rf6 {A new surprise. Aronian is trying to extract the
maximum out of his opponent's time trouble: 0.15 - 0.49. Therefore he's
keeping as many pieces on the board as possible.} ({In a different situation
he might play more straightforwardly:} 32... Rxe4 33. Rxe4 Kf7 {retaining
serious winning chances. The a7-pawn would then come into action.}) 33. Rg4 Kf7
{The black king nevertheless enters the fight. True, it's tricky for him to
wander the board with four rooks around.} 34. Rc1 {Despite his twin problems -
with the position and the clock - Kramnik is playing accurately for now. He's
creating obstacles for his opponent and threatening him with checks from
different sides.} Bh6 {Graciously inviting the rook onto the seventh rank. In
that case the white king will be deprived of an important defender covering
the first rank. Oh, how I'd hate to play something like THIS as White in time
trouble...} 35. Rc7+ {Brave and strong!} Ke8 $1 {The only retreat.} ({No good
were} 35... Ke6 36. Rc6+ {and the g6-pawn falls.}) ({and} 35... Kf8 36. Nxg6+ {
The check prevents Black from going on the counterattack.}) 36. Re4+ {Covering
the e3-point, which the black bishop was aiming for, with tempo.} Kd8 {Each
problem solved is followed by a new one. The white rooks are very active, but
they're tied down by the necessity of defending the king... The clocks show: 0.
09 - 0.45.} 37. Rh7 {Boldly played. When there's no time to think you
instinctively want to attack something on every move - to limit your
opponent's options. In the given situation, however, White's risking losing
the coordination of his rooks.} ({More reliable was the less than obvious} 37.
Rcc4 {with the idea of stubbornly checking the black king for a long time.})
37... Bf8 {A strong reply, after which White's problems become even more
noticeable. The bishop is threatening to come to c5 with a quick mate.} 38.
Rd4+ Kc8 {It turns out that the black king is quietly making its way to the
queenside. It's got somewhere to hide there, and it won't feel the influence
of the white knight. The question is just whether Black has to sacrifice the
g6-pawn.} 39. Rc4+ Kb8 40. Rd7 $2 {Classic time trouble - White commits a
serious mistake with the last move before the control. Kramnik instinctively
decided to correct his inaccuracy and return the rook closer to home, but he
missed a tactical nuance. Aronian's tactics in complicating the struggle have
borne real fruit...} ({He should have played} 40. Rc3 {with the intention of
returning the knight to f3. True, in that case as well White would have had a
tough time -} a5 $1 {and so on.}) 40... g5 $1 {Exactly! The poor knight is
condemned to death as it can't retreat to g2 due to the fatal check from the
black rook on a1. Black will respond to the 41.Ng6 trick with the cold reply
41...Bd6! with decisive threats. It's all over.} 41. Ng6 {Fighting to the last.
} Bd6 {This threatens both taking the knight and check on h2 with Rf6-f1 mate
to follow. WHITE RESIGNED. What can you say... An ultra-confident win for
Aronian! He turned out to be better prepared in the opening, confidently upped
the pressure, and played more quickly and accurately than his opponent. White
was gradually losing, and in my view the final mistake only speeded up the
inevitable. It seems Kramnik has come into the match in less than his best
form. His unconvincing play, and even simply his behaviour at the board (I
watched the live broadcast after all), suggest he hasn't got into the swing of
things yet. Winning with the black pieces in such a short match is a serious
matter. Levon has a big advantage. However, we've still got five games to go.
Volodya's an experienced fighter who's capable of pulling himself together and
demonstrating his best play, as he's proved more than once in extreme
situations. Well, thank you for your attention. Working for you, dear viewers,
has been Grandmaster Sergey Shipov. See you tomorrow!} 0-1

Video commentary


Saturday, 21 April: 15:00  Round 1
Sunday, 22 April: 15:00  Round 2
Monday, 23 April: Rest Day
Tuesday, 24 April: 15:00  Round 3
Wednesday, 25 April: 15:00  Round 4
Thursday, 26 April: Rest Day
Friday, 27 April: 15:00  Round 5
Saturday, 28 April: 13:00  Round 6




More from ChessVibes
A lengthy interview with David Navara (part 2 of 2)

A lengthy interview with David Navara (part 2 of 2)

Robots in a Moscow park... playing chess (VIDEO)

Robots in a Moscow park... playing chess (VIDEO)