Reports Sep 16, 2014 | 12:03 PMby Colin McGourty

Bilbao Masters 2: Anand and Aronian win

Anand and Aronian found time to watch the games from the European Club Cup | photo: official website

Vishy Anand was briefly up to world no. 3 on the live ratings as his fine form continued in Round 2 of the Bilbao Masters. The former World Champion ruthlessly exploited a time-trouble mistake from Paco Vallejo to move to 2/2 (or 6/6, to be precise), while Levon Aronian got a welcome first win after inflicting yet more misery on Ruslan Ponomariov. Anand has the white pieces against Aronian in a crucial Round 3 encounter that you can follow live on chess24.

While former Anand operated with the same perfect composure he showed in the Candidates Tournament earlier this year, Paco Vallejo suffered some familiar woes, as Spanish IM David Martínez explains:

Vallejo runs out of time

Vallejo was Anand's second 2700-scalp in consecutive days | photo: David Llada

Paco Vallejo is once again suffering the same problems that led him to “retire” from chess two years ago. Back then the last straw was losing a winning position against Karjakin in serious time trouble. Yesterday the same issue saw him, as he put it, gift Anand half a point when a draw was in touching distance.

Little mention is usually made of the different rates of play adopted by tournaments. In the majority of classical events — including Paco’s recent outings in the Olympiad and the Spanish Championship — the 30-second increment started to be added from move one. In closed elite events, however, it’s also common for the increment to be added only after 40 moves have been made. That leads to “slower” players like Ivanchuk or Paco suffering the usual errors that occur when players move with only seconds to think. They end up making what are, at this level, the most “basic” of errors.

As we’ll see, it’s difficult to imagine Paco playing the move 26.Nb5? if he’d had more time.

1. d4 ♘f6 2. c4 e6 3. ♘f3 d5 4. ♘c3 ♗b4 Both players are great specialists in 4...Bb4 - the Vienna Variation - so it's no surprise that we get a real theoretical struggle.

5. cxd5 exd5 6. ♗g5 h6 7. ♗h4 c5 8. dxc5 ♘bd7 9. e3 ♕a5 10. ♖c1 ♘e4 While Vishy knew this position well Paco already needed quite a lot of time here to find an attractive sacrifice.

11. ♗e2! The best option.

11... 0-0 Vishy decides to reject the sacrifice.

11... ♘xc3 12. bxc3 ♗xc3+ 13. ♔f1 The position is very complex. The white king has lost the right to castle but the black pieces are more awkwardly placed. 13... ♘xc5 (13... ♕xc5 is obviously impossible since the bishop would be pinned. 14. ♕b3 ) 14. ♕xd5 ♗e6 15. ♕d6 There's no respite for Black. The threat is mate on e7.

a) 15... f6? is impossible due to 16. ♘d4! when almost all the black pieces are attacked and one of them will fall. 16... ♖d8 (16... ♗f7 17. ♘f5 with mate on e7) 17. ♗b5+ Followed by capturing on c5.

b) 15... g5

b1) 16. ♘xg5 is interesting, since accepting the sacrifice leaves the black king very exposed, but the zwischenzug 16... ♖d8! works in Black's favour. 17. ♕xd8+ (17. ♕f4 is no longer the same since it doesn't generate the same threats to the black king. 17... hxg5 18. ♗xg5 ♖c8 and if 19. ♕d6 then 19... f6 keeps everything under control - the knight on c5 is overprotected.) 17... ♕xd8 18. ♘xe6 ♕xh4 19. ♘xc5 ♕b4 and Black has an edge, though one difficult to convert.

b2) 16. ♘d4 ♖d8 17. ♗b5+ ♘d7 18. a4! (18. ♗g3 loses to 18... ♗xd4 19. ♕xd4 ♕xb5+ and the bishop is captured with check) 18... ♗b4 (18... gxh4 19. ♘xe6 fxe6 20. ♕xe6+ ♔f8 21. ♗xd7 with an edge) 19. ♗xd7+ (19. ♕e5 0-0 and Black has managed to get his house in order) 19... ♗xd7 20. ♕f6 0-0 21. ♗g3 with a double-edged position.

12. 0-0 ♗xc3 13. bxc3 ♘xc3 14. ♕d2 ♘xe2+ 15. ♕xe2 Black has to respond very directly.

15... b6!

15... ♖e8 16. ♘d4 ♘xc5 17. ♕b5 would be clearly better for White.

16. c6! The most critical line, sacrificing the exchange in return for a strong passed c-pawn.

16... ♗a6 Anand responds rapidly since he's still following his analysis.

Vallejo looked shell-shocked after the game | photo: Manu de Alba

17. ♕d1

17. ♕e1 ♗xf1 18. ♕xa5 bxa5 19. ♔xf1 ♘b6 is equal, as shown by the former World Champion in the post-game press conference.

17... ♘c5 18. ♕xd5 ♗xf1 19. ♔xf1 ♖ac8 20. ♘d4 The most stable position for the knight. Also interesting was

20. ♘e5 with the additional threat of Ng6-e7.

20... ♕d2 21. ♕c4 ♖fe8 22. ♕c2! Vallejo looks to exchange, or expel, the black queen from his camp.

22... ♕xc2

22... ♕a5 23. g4 would lead to a complex position.

23. ♖xc2 ♖e5 Improving the position of the rook.

24. ♗g3 ♖d5 25. c7

25. f3 would have been another option to improve the position without putting the c-pawn in danger. 25... ♘e6 26. ♘xe6 fxe6 27. e4 ♖c5 28. ♖xc5 bxc5 29. c7 ♔f7 30. ♗e5 , followed by Ke2-d3-c4, leads to a possible drawn position, since neither side can make progress. (30. ♔e2? would be a mistake due to 30... ♔f6! , threatening e5 to cut off the defence of the c7-pawn - 31. ♗d6 e5 with Ke6 to follow.)

25... ♖d7 26. ♘b5? A bad time-trouble mistake by Vallejo.

Translation: "What a pitiful game against Vishy — I'm ashamed not to have played Nc6 with a draw. One to forget"

26. ♘c6 would force Black to return material, and after 26... ♖dxc7 27. ♗xc7 ♖xc7 28. ♘d4 ♖d7 a draw would soon have been agreed.

26... a6 27. ♘d4? Vallejo doesn't find the means to put up the most resistance.

27. ♘c3 prevents the knight jump to e4, meaning that Black would require additional efforts to capture the c7-pawn. 27... f5 Aiming to follow up with g5 and f4. 28. ♖b2 ♘e6 29. ♖xb6 f4 30. exf4 ♖dxc7 and although White is still going to suffer he still has some drawing chances.

27. ♘a7 ♖dxc7 and the knight is trapped.

27... ♘e4! Now Paco's position is in ruins.

28. ♖c6 ♘xg3+ 29. hxg3 ♖dxc7 30. ♖xb6 ♖c1+ 31. ♔e2 ♖a8 The a-pawn is fundamental to achieving a win.

32. ♖b4 a5 33. ♖a4 ♖b1 34. ♘b3? Time trouble once again means that Vallejo makes things as easy as possible for Anand.

34. f4 , followed by Kf3 and g4, would still hold the position together.

34... ♖b2+ 35. ♔f3

35. ♔e1 ♖c8 and Black would enter on the 2nd rank.

35... ♖a6! Rf6 is inevitable, so Vallejo resigns.


In the above video interview after the game Anand had some sympathy for his opponent:

Suddenly my opponent was quite short of time and he got a bit confused. The problem is he blundered the game away in one move, so he was quite unlucky, I think. 

But of course you don't conquer world chess without leaving your opponents to worry about their own problems. Anand made that clear when Tarjei J. Svensen asked him about the upcoming World Championship match in an exclusive interview for chess24:

Tarjei: How’s your preparation for the Carlsen match going?

Vishy: It's going reasonably well. That's all I can say. (smiling)

It took some time before Carlsen signed the contract…

I really didn't think about his position too much. He had some issues that he had to work through and take a decision.

But could you understand his concerns?

I wasn't really sure what they were. It wasn't very clear to me, so I simply can't say. It was difficult to tell what were his concerns, what were some other people's concerns and some other people's opinions about his concerns and so on. It was a lot of noise and I couldn't filter it out very well, so I didn't know exactly who was concerned about what and who was saying what — it was caught up in the election.

When Tarjei asked Aronian the same final question the Armenian's response was "not really" — which recalls the views of Carlsen's grandmaster colleagues when they learned he'd pulled out of the 2011 Candidates Matches in Kazan. Of course the difference this time is that Carlsen will play.

Aronian back to winning ways

Can Levon stop Vishy - or we will have to start writing about another winning streak? | photo: David Kaufmann,

The other memorable response from Levon Aronian in that interview was when he was asked if he was tired playing his third tournament in a row:

No, since I wasn’t playing my best I really want to play more.

In Round 1 he couldn't quite put the ball in the back of the net, but in Round 2 he outplayed Ruslan Ponomariov from early in the game, even if the computer spots what Aronian described as a "miraculous defence":

1. d4 d6 2. ♘f3 ♘f6 3. c4 g6 4. ♘c3 ♗g7 5. g3 The fianchetto variation against the King's Indian is gaining in popularity and may even go on to surpass the more classical options.

5... 0-0 6. ♗g2 c6 7. 0-0 ♗f5 A modern idea, controlling the important e4-square.

8. ♗g5 According to my database this move is the 9th (!) most played in the position, so we can assume it came as a surprise to Ponomariov. Aronian simply completes his development. The main moves are Nh4, Ne1 or b3.

8... h6 9. ♗e3 ♘a6

9... ♘g4 hits the bishop again, but after the retreat 10. ♗d2 the threat is e4, which almost forces 10... ♘f6 to which White can respond with, for example, 11. ♕c1 ♔h7 12. h3 and similar play to the game.

10. ♕c1

10. ♕d2? would allow 10... ♘g4 and there's no good square for the bishop.

10... ♔h7 11. h3 ♖b8 12. g4 ♗d7 13. ♕d2 ♘c7 14. a4 White has achieved a big space advantage on all fronts, but the black position is still very solid, without weaknesses, and hence very playable. Now, however, Ponomariov takes a decision that Aronian criticised as "too optimistic".

14... b5 Completely changing the pawn structure and allowing a permament weakness on the a-file in exchange for counterplay that will prove insufficient.

14... d5 was the move Aronian proposed as a solid solution. Another option was

14... a5 with the idea of Na6-b4.

15. axb5 cxb5 16. b3 The position now is not only objectively somewhat better for White but also much easier to play in practice, since the plan is very simple. The a7-pawn is a permanent target and the c6-square has been left undefended — encouraging the f3-knight to occupy it after White plays d5.

16... bxc4 17. bxc4 ♖b4 18. ♕d3 a6 The only genuinely active piece Black has is the rook on the b-file, which finds itself all alone with no communication with the other pieces.

19. d5 Implementing the plan immediately. Another option was to play

19. ♖fb1 first, eliminating the black intruder.

19... e6

19... h5 would be an attempt at counterplay, but after 20. g5 ♗f5 White can sacrifice his queen with (20... ♘fe8 is ugly, since the black knights get in each other's way.) 21. gxf6 ♗xd3 22. fxg7 ♔xg7 23. exd3 and the white pieces wreak havoc.

20. ♘d4 exd5 21. cxd5 ♖e8 22. ♖fb1 ♖xb1+ 23. ♖xb1 The difference in the value of the two armies is obvious. Ponomariov tries to exchange pieces in order to reduce the pressure he's under.

23... ♘b5 24. ♘c6 A nice idea, rejecting material gains in order to get a strong passed pawn.

24. ♘cxb5 axb5 25. ♘xb5 ♗xb5 26. ♖xb5 seems very favourable for White, but Aronian preferred to have pawns on both sides of the board to avoid possible fortresses.

24... ♗xc6 25. dxc6 ♘xc3 26. ♕xc3 ♘d5 27. ♕c4 ♘xe3 28. fxe3 Up to this point the sequence has been almost forced since White played 24. Nc6. The weakness of the white kingside isn't so important since the king has a comfortable spot on h1 and its bishop will protect it from possible attacks. How different things would be if either of the black knights had survived!

28... d5! A fine defensive sacrifice. The idea, as well as temporarily preventing c7, is to open the h2-b8 diagonal, where the black bishop and queen can combine to try and create problems for the white king.

29. ♕xd5 ♕e7 30. ♔h1 ♖d8 31. ♕c4 ♗e5 Ponomariov has always been known for his tenacity and fighting spirit. The defensive net he's setting up is worthy of admiration.

32. ♖f1 ♔g7 33. ♗d5 f6 34. ♖b1 ♖b8 35. ♖b7 Aronian trusts that his passed pawn and threats against the enemy king will bring him victory.

35... ♖xb7

35... ♗c7 , trying to hold without exchanging while also threatening Qe5, was a defence worth considering.

36. cxb7 ♕d6 37. ♗e4? Approaching the time control on move 40 both players commit serious errors that could have altered the result.

37. ♗f3 was better since, as we'll see, it was important to keep e2 defended.

37... a5? A logical mistake, since White didn't seem to be threatening anything, but the b5-square will be very useful for the white queen. From there it can both support the b7-pawn and enter on e8 to attack the king and defend e2 — the key bastion for the defence of White's king.

37... ♕d1+ 38. ♔g2 ♕e1! This calm move conceals a line that would be difficult to see normally and practically impossible in time trouble. The black queen keeps attacking the key point on e2, while the white queen has no means of both defending e2 and supporting the advance of the b-pawn. Moreover, the dark squares are now weak, and the black queen or bishop coming to g3 is a threat that has to be taken seriously. There's no way for White to win. Let's look at some lines: 39. ♗xg6 seems to win, since you can't capture the bishop due to mate on g8. However, the b7-pawn has been left undefended and will fall: (39. ♕d3 is an attempt to try and enter on the 7th rank, but can be met by 39... ♕g3+ 40. ♔f1 ♕xh3+ followed by Qxg4. ; 39. ♗f3 even loses to 39... ♗g3 ) 39... ♕g3+ 40. ♔f1 ♕xh3+ 41. ♔e1 ♕h1+ 42. ♔d2 ♕xb7

38. ♕b5 ♕d8 39. ♔g2 ♗b8 40. ♕c6 ♕e7 Now that Aronian has made the time control he can plan how to achieve victory. He needs to combine two threats - queening his pawn and attacking the enemy king. At the same time it's important to keep his king protected, since there can be new shocks like the ones we saw before.

41. ♔f1 ♗c7 42. ♗d3 ♕d6 Ponomariov commits a bad error of calculation that means he loses the game immediately. Bishop moves along the diagonal such as Bh2 or Bh3 would have forced Aronian to work flat-out for the win. It's important, however, not to play

42... ♗e5? because it blocks the attack on e3, and White can win with 43. ♕c8 h5 44. ♗c4 when Black has no time to organise effective counterplay.

43. ♕e8! f5 44. ♗c4! The black king now succumbs to an attack on the light squares.

44... ♔f6 45. ♕f7+

45. h4 , removing the king's escape square, was also possible, since 45... ♕e7 runs into 46. g5+ and the queen falls.

45... ♔g5 46. gxf5 gxf5 47. ♕g7+ ♔h4 48. ♗e6! The key move! The bishop interferes with the black king's defence of the h6-pawn.

48... ♗d8

48... ♕xe6 49. ♕xc7 is hopeless.

49. ♕xh6+ ♔g3 50. ♕g7+ ♔h4 51. ♔g2 and Ponomariov resigned - his king has suffered enough!


In his post-game interview Levon Aronian talked about the challenge ahead in Round 3:

So, using the 3/1/0 "football" points system in place in Bilbao, the field has become clearly ordered after only two rounds:

1.Anand, Viswanathan27856
2.Aronian, Levon280442907
3.Vallejo Pons, Francisco271212601
4.Ponomariov, Ruslan27170

At 15:00 today Anand has the white pieces against Aronian. The last time that happened in a classical game was the first round of the Candidates Tournament, when Anand achieved a win that became the foundation of a fantastic performance. This time in Bilbao there's less at stake — though Anand can still move to 3/3, take a giant step towards winning the tournament and claim the world no. 3 spot. In the other game Ponomariov finally has the white pieces, and will be looking to continue his incredible run of 8 wins, 3 draws and 1 loss against Vallejo.

Watch the action live with computer analysis and commentary by Jan Gustafsson and Lawrence Trent! (you can also rewatch Round 2 here)

See also:

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