Nepomniachtchi Tops Aronian In Nail-Biter Speed Chess
Ian Nepomniachtchi fended off a fierce comeback from Levon Aronian with skilled trickery in the bullet portion of the match and will advance to face Sergey Karjakin in the quarterfinals. In the early match, Aronian was clearly the more dominant player, but better clock management, time-trouble tricks, and (unfortunately) superior internet brought Nepomniachtchi ultimate victory in his debut match.
For Aronian, this is his second disappointing first-round exit after he was defeated last year by Alexander Grischuk.
Aronian is thus far the player of 2017. The winner of Altibox Norway Chess, the Grenke Chess Classic, and the Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz has recently surged back over 2800. He is delivering strongly on promises to his fans of a resurgent chess career after a poor 2016. What's more, Aronian weds WIM Arianne Caoili in September. Truly, 2017 is a banner year for Armenia's beloved trash-talking champion.
For Nepomniachtchi, 2017 has been a mixed experience. He began the year ranked #11, but instead of breaking firmly into the top 10, he has fallen back to 21. Cited by Alexander Morozevich as one of the most-talented players in the world, Nepomniachtchi has been criticized by some colleagues for lacking discipline. Discipline matters little in blitz though where he is considered one of the world's elite. For many, this was anticipated to be the most hotly contested of the round-one matches in the Speed Chess Championship.
The match began with an uncompromising draw in which each player demonstrated his will to fight and no interest in giving any quarter to the opposition. In game two, Aronian won a clean and well-played victory to take the first lead in the match. "Nepo" bounced back with a fine win in game three featuring a clever refutation of Aronian's attempted kingside counterplay.
After another draw (they were to be rare), Aronian again won. This time he achieved his shortest win in the match with a Bf4 and h4-h5 attack that pleased GM Simon Williams who had recommended this approach. Nepo resigned rather than allow an attractive checkmate.
@ginger_gm) August 23, 2017
The author isn't sure when Aronian was caught with this grin, but he'd guess it might have been about now...
@AntonSquaredMe) August 23, 2017
Another fine Aronian win was followed by a draw, and one of Nepomniachtchi's better wins in the match. Thus, the clock ran out on the 5|2 portion of the match, but there was still the final Chess960 game that is played in each time control after the clock runs out and before the break and the next time control begins. Nepo was in firm control of the game before he missed a little trap from Aronian (he is renowned for them!) and had to suffer.
What is blitz without turnarounds though?! A natural recapture by Aronian later placed his rook in jeopardy and allowed Nepo to win the game and close the 5|2 portion down one point.
Score: 5|2 Time Control
The Internet's Interlude
With two prior wins, the momentum was entirely with Nepo, but Aronian was unaffected and had good winning chances for the majority of the first 3|2 game when (in a position that was now looking drawn), he forfeited on time and disconnected. When Aronian did not connect for his next game, a one-game forfeit was applied in accordance with the match rules. Daniel Rensch has issued a statement on the matter, and we quote here from the relevant sections in the rules.
"If a player is not online and logged into Chess.com/live at the official and published start time of the match, he or she will be docked the seconds and minutes that run from the total match timer of that portion and potentially the full point for as many rounds missed per the running countdown clock of that time control.
"No mouseslips or takebacks. In other words, there will be no rulings made to allow for "mouseslips," "takebacks" or the reversal of any move or result that happens due to loss on time because of "lagging connections," disconnections or any other online-chess-specific glitches that may occur. The player is acknowledging to be comfortable with Chess.com's online board and piece play format, and guaranteeing his/her own stable connection."
Understandably frustrated by this off-the-board turn of events, Aronian also lost his next two games. Thus Nepomniachtchi (and Caissa FIOS, the goddess of online chess) had turned a three-game deficit into six straight full-points and a three-game advantage.
The author is also unsure when this was tweeted, but he'd guess it might have been around here...
@FastChess) August 23, 2017
A fierce competitor, Aronian rebounded with a victory, but then Nepo won one of the most exciting games of the match as he sacrificed his queen in a Legal-style assault where a raucous bishop pair out-gunned Aronian's feminine royalty.
Two consecutive draws followed (the only two of the match), but Aronian won the Chess960 game and narrowed his deficit to two games as the pace of the match accelerated.
Score: 3|2 Time Control
Time Troubles And Mouseslips
A Nepo win to start the bullet portion preceded the most absolutely insane exchange of moves this author has seen in the history of bullet chess. Completely winning and in possession of an extra queen, Aronian mouseslipped, hanging his extra queen! Nepo immediately grabbed the queen, but in the process he missed checkmate in one! The reprieve allowed Aronian to grab Nepo's rook and win the game all over again!
Two fine endgame wins by Aronian bookended a checkmate by Nepo and closed the match to only a one-game deficit with Aronian pressing hard.
Aronian's best opportunity to tie the match then came as he missed an opportunity to win Nepo's bishop with seconds on his clock. Aronian generally struggled on time in the bullet portion. With a slightly better pacing, he could have certainly claimed the necessary points for a match victory in bullet.
Nepo won the next game, and given the remaining time, placed Aronian in a must-win situation for the final 1|1 game and the Chess960 game that followed. Aronian got the complications he needed in the penultimate game, but they once again lead to time trouble, and Nepo, experienced bullet player that he is, threw a spanner in the works with an unexpected promotion that leached the final seconds from Aronian's clock.
Aronian won a beautiful final game, sacrificing a rook and checkmating on move 23 (!), but this parting shot did not seem to alleviate the pain of ultimate match defeat.
Score: 1|1 Time Control
Nepomniachtchi advances to face the 2016 world championship challenger Sergey Karjakin at a date this fall to be determined. Nepomniachtchi is known to be good friends with Karjakin and has served as a training partner and second for the reigning world blitz champion. Perhaps just the two of them know who is a more skilled blitz player, but Karjakin's recent streak of 8/9 at the St. Louis blitz makes a formidable argument in his favor.
Can't wait for more speed chess action? Don't miss Fabiano Caruana vs Hou Yifan at 3 PT, August 24!
Missed the live event? Watch the replay in full with commentary from IMs Danny Rensch and Anna Rudolf.
As the match winer, Nepo collected $1,000 while another $1,000 was split between the players based on total points scored. Nepo collects $1,535.71 (and the future earnings ensured by his advancement) while Aronian receives $464.29.