Reports Sep 15, 2014 | 11:52 AMby IM David Martínez

Bilbao Masters 1: Anand nails it

Viswanathan Anand’s World Championship match warm-up in Bilbao started with a text-book win that gave Ruslan Ponomariov no chance in the first round of the 2014 Bilbao Masters. In the day’s other game Paco Vallejo had work to do after an opening gone wrong, but defended precisely to hold a draw against Levon Aronian.

The stage in the bright and airy Palacio de Euskalduna playing venue | photo: Bilbao Chess 2014

The 2014 Bilbao Masters is a four-player double round-robin featuring former World Champion Vishy Anand, current world no. 2 Levon Aronian, former FIDE World Champion Ruslan Ponomariov and Spanish no. 1 Paco Vallejo.

The event, together with the European Club Cup, was launched in Bilbao on Saturday in a colourful opening ceremony. For those not present the organisers produced the following dazzling recap:


Anand 1 - 0 Ponomariov

Viswanathan Anand didn't allow his opponent an inch of freedom in the first round | photo: Bilbao Chess 2014

Vishy Anand is one of the most universal of champions, but if we were to try and highlight one area where he stands out it would be his understanding of dynamic positions. That understanding manifests itself not only in complications and sacrificial attacks, but also in an ability to restrict his opponent’s options.

In Round 1 the Indian won a very instructive game against Ukraine’s Ruslan Ponomariov by starving his opponent of any hint of counterplay. He went on to win with an ease with which only great players can beat other top class opponents. The following game recalls Anand’s play in the Candidates, when his opponents were incapable of forcing complications at any point in the proceedings.

1. d4 d6 2. ♘f3 g6 3. c4 ♗g7 4. ♘c3 ♘f6 5. e4 0-0 6. h3 Vishy had previously only tried the more classical variations with Be2 and b4. This option is quite aggressive since, as we'll see, White's main plan is advancing his pawns on the kingside.

6... e5 7. d5 a5 8. ♗e3 ♘a6 9. g4 ♘c5 Ponomariov commented that the day beforehand he'd had a look at the game Tomashevsky-Nakamura, but Black's manoeuvre Nd7-b6 failed to convince him. However, the Ukrainian was also critical of this (very common) move and admitted he soon felt uncomfortable.

10. ♘d2 c6 11. ♗e2 ♗d7 12. g5 ♘e8 13. h4 f6 An inaccuracy that Anand punishes masterfully.

13... cxd5 is more precise, since it "forces" taking back with the pawn: 14. cxd5 (14. ♘xd5 would now simply be met by 14... ♘c7 ) 14... f6 This line would be similar to the game but without allowing the capture with a piece on d5 or the threat of dxc6 in order to capture on d6.

14. ♘b3! Anand: "Quite a typical manoeuvre here. I don't know if it's correct or not, but the idea is to exchange his best knight and leave him with the bad one on e8."

14... b6 15. ♘xc5 bxc5 16. ♕d2 Overprotecting g5 in order to play h5.

16... fxg5 17. hxg5 White's position is much better - he has two possible plans: to exploit the h-file or the d-file.

17... cxd5 18. ♘xd5

18. ♕xd5+ ♖f7 19. ♖xh7 Anand: "This wins a pawn, but in reality the h7-pawn isn't so vital to Black, so I decided not to go for it." 19... ♖a6 (19... ♘c7 is impossible due to 20. ♖xg7+ ♔xg7 21. ♕xd6 and Black's whole centre collapses.) 20. ♖h2 ♘c7 Anand: "And the knight heads for e6 and d4-f5".

18... ♖f7

18... ♘c7 isn't possible due to the weakness on d6. 19. ♘b6 ♖a6 20. ♕xd6

19. 0-0-0 ♖b8 20. ♖h2 ♗e6 21. ♘c3 White regroups without allowing the white knight to be exchanged.

21... ♕b6 22. ♘b5 Anand: "My idea now is to shut off the b-file and then try and exchange the light-squared bishops."

22... ♗f8 23. a4 ♕b7

23... ♘c7 , in order to activate the knight via a6-b4 or exchange the white knight, would be met by 24. f4! posing Black problems on the kingside.

24. ♕c2 Vishy now calmly improves his pieces before opening the position.

24... ♗e7 25. ♔b1 ♕c6 26. ♗d2 ♗d8 27. ♕d3 ♖bb7 28. ♖f1 ♖f8 29. f4 exf4 30. ♖xf4 ♖xf4 31. ♗xf4 Black's weaknesses - both on d6 and the queenside - have become even more exposed.

31... ♖f7 32. ♗d2 ♗e7 33. ♖g2! ♕b6 34. ♗g4 Completing the plan indicated on move 22.

34... ♗xg4 35. ♖xg4 ♘c7 36. ♖f4 The simplest approach. Vishy's dynamic understanding was always first rate, and in this manner he eliminates his opponent's active pieces in order to leave him with bad ones.

36... ♘e6 37. ♖xf7 ♔xf7 38. ♕d5 ♕d8 39. ♔a2 ♗f8 40. ♗f4 ♕d7 41. b3 Anand keeps ensuring that his opponent's counterplay is nonexistent.

41... ♗e7 42. ♘xd6+ The weak point finally falls.

42... ♔f8 43. e5 ♘xg5 44. ♕xc5 ♕g4 45. ♗c1! Bringing the bishop close to the white king to avoid any kind of counterplay.

45... h5 46. ♕xa5 ♕g2+ 47. ♗b2 h4 48. ♕b5 Threatening Qe8+.

48... ♕a8 49. c5 h3 50. c6 The white pawn is as far advanced as Black's with the bonus that it will queen with check.

50... ♗d8 51. ♕d5 ♗c7 52. ♗c1 Since Black has no counterplay the bishop heads to join the attack.

52... ♕a5 53. ♘b5

53. ♕xa5 was also sufficient - after the long sequence 53... ♗xa5 54. ♗xg5 h2 55. e6 h1Q 56. e7+ ♔g7 57. e8Q ♕g2+ 58. ♔b1 ♕xg5 White has a winning position, although you still have to be on your guard against perpetual checks since the king is unprotected.

53... ♕e1 54. ♗a3+ ♔g7 55. ♘xc7 h2 56. ♘e8+ ♔h6 57. ♘f6! Threatening an attractive mate on f8.

57... ♕e2+ 58. ♗b2 Ponomariov has distracted the white bishop, but only at the price of no longer supporting h1.

58... ♘e4 59. ♕xe4 ♕xe4 60. ♘xe4 h1Q 61. c7 A nice final trick. Black can no longer stop the pawn, so Ponomariov resigned.


Afterwards Anand commented that it still had the potential to go wrong in the final stages, so it was "not a bad idea to focus a little bit and just nail it!" 

At least it wasn't all negative for Ponomariov!

Ruslan had his own support club, with his wife Inés holding the "S" | photo: Manu de Alba, Bilbao Chess Facebook page

Vallejo 1/2 - 1/2 Aronian

After Round 1 Paco Vallejo talked about his semi-retirement after a bad loss in Bilbao in 2012:

Basically I needed a reset, like a computer. I wasn’t working properly – I wasn’t enjoying it at all. So I thought it’s time to stop and then after a while, actually, I was missing playing chess – this adrenaline. It’s kind of addictive!

In Sunday's game Levon Aronian’s excellent theoretical preparation paid off once more, since despite playing with the black pieces he was soon able to clamp down on Vallejo’s position. After two separate positional pawn sacrifices the Armenian reached a slightly better ending but was never able to consolidate his advantage due to his opponent’s activity.

1. d4 ♘f6 2. c4 e6 3. ♘c3 ♗b4 4. ♘f3 b6 5. ♗g5 An interesting variation that generates very complex play right out of the opening, since the best way to combat it is to play h6 and g5.

5... h6 6. ♗h4 g5! Aronian once more demonstrates his sublime preparation. The normal move is 6...Bb7, but Leon delays this move as long as possible in order to remove options for White - specifically Nd2 against Bb7.

7. ♗g3 ♘e4 8. ♕d3 White normally defends with Qc2 or Rc1 - Vallejo's idea is not particularly promising.

8... f5! 9. h4 Paco forces events.

9... ♗xc3+ 10. bxc3 ♘xg3 11. fxg3 g4 12. ♘d2 d5 Trying to obtain a calm position where White's weaknesses will be an important factor.

13. e4 Paco has no interest in such a turn of events and instead complicates the position further.

13... dxe4 14. ♘xe4! An attractive piece sacrifice.

14... ♗b7!

14... fxe4 is impossible, although the complications are far from straightforward: 15. ♕xe4 c6 The only move to save the black rook. 16. ♕g6+ ♔d7 (16... ♔f8 17. ♗d3 , followed by check on f1.) 17. ♕g7+ ♔d6 (17... ♕e7 18. ♕xh8 ) 18. c5+ bxc5 19. dxc5+ ♔xc5 20. ♖d1 and if the queen tries to run Qd4 is mate!

15. ♘d2 ♘d7 The bad news for White is that the black bishop now becomes a real thorn in his side. Vallejo remains true to his style and seeks the most dynamic solution.

16. ♕e3 ♕f6 17. ♗d3 ♗xg2 18. ♖h2 ♗b7 19. ♖e2 In exchange for the relatively unimportant g2-pawn the white pieces finally get some play.

Aronian: "I got tempted to go for a forced line that maybe ended up not being so good as it looked" | photo: Manu de Alba

19... 0-0-0 Aronian, meanwhile, decides to return the pawn in order to enter a slightly better endgame.

19... ♘f8 would maintain the material advantage but completely cede the initiative to White: 20. a4 0-0-0 21. a5 and material isn't the most important factor in the position.

20. ♕xe6 ♕xe6 21. ♖xe6 ♘c5 22. ♖e3 ♘xd3+ 23. ♖xd3 This ending is somewhat favourable to Black because all of his pieces and also his pawn structure are somewhat better. However, White is very solid and the position remains holdable.

23... f4 Trying to open lines.

24. gxf4 ♖df8 25. ♔f2 g3+ 26. ♖xg3 ♖xf4+ 27. ♔e3 ♖xh4 Aronian has managed to transform the position and his h-pawn can be dangerous, but Paco is just in time to coordinate his pieces and prevent the advance of the pawn.

28. ♖ag1 ♖e8+ 29. ♔d3 ♗c6 30. ♘f3 If the knight makes it to e5 then White has little to fear. Aronian finds a way to win a pawn, but it's not enough.

30... ♗e4+ 31. ♔d2 ♗xf3 32. ♖xf3 ♖h2+ 33. ♔d3 ♖xa2 34. ♖g7 Paco once again becomes active before Black manages to push his pawns.

34... ♔b8 35. ♖h7 ♖ee2 36. c5 Stopping mate on d2.

36... b5 37. ♖e3 ♖xe3+ 38. ♔xe3 ♖a3 39. ♔d2 ♖a6 40. c4 There's no way to avoid simplifications and therefore a draw.

40... bxc4

40... b4 41. d5 , followed by c6, would have left Black's king in trouble.

41. ♔c3 c6 42. ♖xh6 ♔b7 43. ♖h7+ ♔c8 44. ♖h8+ ♔b7 45. ♖h7+ ♔b8 46. ♖h8+ ♔b7 Good defence from Vallejo enabled him to save half a point after ending up in a critical position out of the opening.


Levon was asked whether he had jet-lag after travelling from St. Louis:

I thought I didn’t, but today I went to sleep at around 1 o’clock in the night and I woke up around 1:30 in the day, so I guess there is something. I normally don’t sleep for 12 hours.

He wasn't blaming that for his failure to win, though, feeling he'd played fine:

My position was very good but at one moment I got tempted to go for a forced line that maybe ended up not being so good as it looked.

So after a hard-fought opening day Anand has taken the early lead in this six-round sprint of an event. The manner of his victory also matters – if Vishy can maintain his form from the rest of 2014 he should go into his World Championship showdown against Magnus Carlsen in a confident mood.

In today’s second round Anand has Black against Paco Vallejo, while Ruslan Ponomariov again has the black pieces, this time against Levon Aronian. You can follow all the action live with commentary by GM Jan Gustafsson and IM Lawrence Trent here on chess24!

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