Tuesday, July 18, 2017

A Knight to Remember: Geneva Grand Prix 2017

The Geneva Grand Prix 2017 has come to a close not long ago, with Teimour Radjabov scoring his first tournament victory in nearly 10 years. Today, we will look at one of the highlights of the tournament: Rising Indian GM Pentala Harikrishna, outplayed veteran GM Levon Aronian after a few inaccuracies from the latter.

Aronian (left) vs Harikrishna, Geneva Grand Prix 2017

The game, which took the form of a reverse Sicilian, was equal until Aronian (as White) decided to try and win a pawn... unknowingly giving Harikrishna a huge positional advantage. This allowed the Indian to centralize his pieces, and suddenly Black's knight was wrecking havoc in the kingside.

"Bishops are stronger than knights, they said"

Aronian, Levon vs Harikrishna, Pentala
Geneva Grand Prix 2017 (Round 6)

1. c4 e5
2. Nc3 Nf6
3. Nf3 Nc6
4. g3 d5
5. cxd5 Nxd5
6. Bg2 Nb6
7. O-O Be7
8. d3 O-O
9. Be3 Be6
10. Rc1 f5

The position resembles what is called a Reverse Sicilian: Instead of White, Black is the one who is preparing for a kingside advance.

11. a3

While White counterattacks on the other wing.

11... Kh8 12. b4 a6
13. Re1 Qe8 (D)

Position after 13... Qe8

Preparing ... Qg6 letting the queen join in the subsequent attack.

14. Qd2 Bd6
15. Bxb6

Aronian must have sensed the impending danger to his kingside, and decides to liquidate some of his opponent's firepower, and damage the enemy pawn structure at the same time.

15... cxb6
16. d4 exd4
17. Nxd4 Rd8
18. Nxe6 Qxe6
19. Qa2

So far White has succeeded in trading off most of the pieces. If he can exchange into the endgame, he will have the advantage due to his better pawn structure.

19... Qh6

Obviously, Harikrishna doesn't want any of that! He rejects the trade and continues with the kingside attack.

20. f4

Restraining Black's dark-squared bishop, and preventing any unwanted opening of the f-file.

20... a5 (D)

Position after 20... a5

21. b5?

This looks like a winning move, pinning the knight to the hanging b7 pawn. But it gives Harikrishna a huge positional gift: Previously, his dark-squared bishop was staring into a wall of pawns on both wings, but with this pawn advance his bishop now has access to the queenside. After something like ... Bc5 this also opens the file for his rook. Simply put, a seemingly harmless pawn move has allowed Black to greatly improve the position of his pieces!

Aronian was probably worried that after 21. bxa5 bxa5 any advantage that he might have in the endgame would be lost, since Black undoubles his pawns. But he might have seen that 21. Nb5! solves his problems as well; in fact, it helps to push the battle further into the endgame after 21... axb4 22. Nxd6 Qxd6 23. axb4 Qxb4 24. Qb1! After which one of Black's queenside pawns will fall. The resultant endgame is about equal.

21... Bc5+
22. e3? (D)

Position after 22. e3

Allowing a neat tactic that activates Black's knight. But even after 22. Kh1 Bf2 23. bxc6 Bxg3 24. h3 bxc6 25. Red1 Bxf4 Black has 3 pawns for a piece, but his queen-bishop duo are generating huge problems on the kingside.

22... Ne5!

Threatening a fork on d3 as well as Ng4 piling pressure on the kingside.

23. Rcd1

Black cannot capture: 23. fxe5? Bxe3+ loses the rooks.

23... Ng4
24. h3 Nxe3

The potential discovered attack is threatening. But even deadlier is 24... Bxe3+! 25. Kf1 Nh2+ 26. Ke2 Bxf4 driving White's king into the centre. Black now threatens moves like ... Re8 or ... Qxf4 after the exchange.

25. Rxd8

White trades to the best of his ability to slow down the attack. But it isn't enough.

25... Rxd8
26. Kh2 g5! (D)

Position after 26... g5

Blowing open the kingside cover. 26... Ng4+ looks tempting, but after 27. Kh1 Nf2+ 28. Kh2 Black isn't making progress.

27. fxg5 Qxg5
28. Qe6

28. Nd5 might have been better, centralizing the knight and keeping watch over f4.

28... f4
29. Ne4 Qg7
30. g4 Nc2

White would love to swap off another pair of minor pieces on c6, but Black's monster knight gives him no breathing space to do so!

31. Rf1 Nd4
32. Qf6

At last, Aronian has found a way to trade queens and slow down the attack. Unfortunately, Harikrishna can afford to do this since he is a pawn up and has a firm advantage in the resultant endgame.

32... Qxf6
33. Nxf6 Bxa3
34. Bxb7 Bd6

And the passed a-pawn, supported by Black's minor pieces, will decide matters.

35. h4 a4
36. g5 a3
37. Kh3 Be5
38. Kg4 Nc2 (D)

Position after 38... Nc2

What can we learn from this game?

  1. Sometimes, going for a small material advantage is not always good especially if it gives the opponent a major positional advantage.
  2. When defending, exchange pieces to slow down the opponent's attack.
  3. Always seek to centralize your pieces so as to maximize their potential!


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