Ruslan Ponomariov put two losses behind him to beat Paco Vallejo with a sparkling combination in Round 3 of the Bilbao Masters. Afterwards the Ukrainian commented that he “wanted to show my friends and people that support me here that I can play”.
The heavyweight clash between Vishy Anand and Levon Aronian was a tense draw in a Ruy Lopez variation that’s the height of fashion among the world elite. Vishy is no longer on course for a Caruana-like winning streak, but remains in control going into the rest day.
Freshmen Media captured the atmosphere perfectly as the players came to compete in Round 3:
Top-level chess can be an excruciatingly painful game. In Round 2 a single bad move turned the tables in Vallejo’s game against Anand, and in Round 3 history repeated itself.This time, however, the crucial mistake came as early as move 11 in a razor-sharp Sicilian. The Ukrainian former World Champion went on to exploit his advantage flawlessly and extend his lifetime score against Vallejo to 9 wins, 3 draws and 1 loss. Most of that “damage”, however, was done back in 2002/3, when Ponomariov was yet to turn 20 but was already World Champion.
Spanish IM David Martínez analyses the spectacular game:
1. e4 c5 2. ♘f3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. ♘xd4 ♘f6 5. ♘c3 a6 6. h3 e6 7. g4 ♗e7 8. ♗g2 ♘fd7 9. ♘ce2 An idea that's rare in this system, but as Ponomariov pointed out after the game, common in similar positions of the Paulsen - with the white pawn still on g3!
10... h5⁈ And Paco, in his dynamic style, fights directly against White's plan. The move is natural, but as Ponomariov goes on to demonstrate, the delayed development can prove very costly. Paco had various interesting ways he could have continued, such as:
11. gxh5 ♖xh5? The genuine error, since the sequence that follows is forced, although the position already strikes me as a little better for White, who can hold on to his h5-pawn. Of course any other move would have left the game wide open.
14... ♖c4 was a way to give up the exchange. 15. ♗f1 ♖xd4 (15... ♖xc3 loses now to 16. ♗b2 and there's no square for the rook.) 16. cxd4 d5⁉ 17. exd5 ♘f6 A nice way to bring out the pieces. After 18. ♗g2 ♗xb4+ 19. ♗d2 ♗xd2+ 20. ♕xd2 cxd5 Black would have a pawn for the exchange and it wouldn't be easy to break down his position, but the white edge is appreciable and Paco wanted to avoid giving this type of technical advantage to a player like Ponomariov.
22... ♖c3 Aronian's suggestion after his own game in the press conference. The refutation is pretty: 23. ♗xc3 ♕xc3 24. ♘d5! and 24... cxd5 would be met by 25. ♕xd5 ♖a7 26. ♖fc1 capturing on c8. A rule of thumb is that pieces that are discoordinated also tend to be weak - and provide targets for your opponent's pieces.
23. ♕d2 Missing a very aesthetic finish, but the position is still desperate for Black.
27... cxd5 28. ♖fe1+ ♔d7 29. ♕g7 ♕f8 30. ♗xd5 ♖xd5 31. ♖xd5+ ♔c7 32. ♗e5+ ♔c6 33. ♕xf8 And Vallejo resigned. A game decided right in the opening, since after snatching the initiative Ruslan never gave the black king the slightest opportunity to find a safe haven.
After the game Ponomariov talked about his frustration at his poor start, the moment he realised Paco had blundered and his football plans for the rest day:
Until move 11 former World Champion Anand was following Caruana’s play from his win against Aronian in Round 4 of the recent tournament in St. Louis – an encounter where Aronian was slowly put to the sword after ending up in a totally passive position. Peter Svidler, who analysed that game brilliantly for chess24, commented: “We have courtside seats for a Fabiano clinic on how to exploit this advantage”.
Anand was the first to deviate in Bilbao, but although he managed to ratchet up the tension there was no repeat of events in St. Louis. The Armenian no. 1 sacrificed a pawn for active defence and managed both to hold the draw and hold on to his no. 3 spot on the live rating list.
We take a look at the game, including the players' own analysis from the post-game press conference:
3... a6 4. ♗a4 ♘f6 5. 0-0 ♗e7 6. d3 The more closed options, once considered secondary, have for years now been considered just as critical as the old main lines - above all in order to avoid the Marshall.
11... ♗xa2 12. ♖xa2 ♘c6 13. ♗g5 This was Vishy's idea. Curiously, the manoeuvre Bg5 followed by Bxf6 is considered the "hallmark" of Magnus. After playing through so many of his games something has stuck!
14. ♕b1 , in order to play a4, or
14. ♕d2 , awaiting developments.
b) 18... ♘d4 19. ♘xd4 exd4 20. ♖a7 is very good for White since Black can't easily relieve the pressure. Anand and Aronian showed the following variations in the press conference: 20... bxc4 (20... ♕c8? 21. ♖xc7! ) 21. dxc4 ♕e6 22. b5! (22. ♕xd4? runs into 22... c6 and Bb6.) 22... ♕xe4 23. ♖e1 ♕h4 24. g3 and White will capture on d4 with a dominant position.
c) 18... ♘e7 19. ♕b3 (19. ♖a7 is no longer possible due to 19... bxc4 20. dxc4 ♘xd5 21. ♕xd5 ♖xb4 ) 19... bxc4 20. ♘xe7+ (20. dxc4 ♘xd5 21. exd5 f5 and Black is even better.) 20... ♗xe7 21. ♕xc4 With equality.
19... c6 , in order to play Bb6, was also an interesting possibility. As we'll see, Levon has a very direct idea.
20. ♕b1 "I wanted my queen to be able to get to b3 without blocking the rooks, since I also wanted to occupy the d-file with my rooks." - Anand
20... d5⁉ The rhythm of the game changes.
21... ♘xd5 22. ♘xd5 ♕xd5 23. ♖e1 ♗f6 24. ♖ae2 White has finally managed to put pressure on the e-pawn. Aronian, however, has correctly judged that he can sacrifice that pawn in exchange for good compensation.
26. cxb4 holds on to the pawn, but both players agreed in the press conference that Black has no problems since the d-pawn is weak and Black's bishop is good. Play might continue 26... g6 (26... h5 was the idea pointed out by Vishy, taking away all the good squares from the knight. 27. ♖e4 ♖a8 28. d4 ♖a4 and Black shouldn't suffer.) 27. ♖e4 ♖fd8 28. d4 ♗g7 and White has no way to make progress.
26... ♗xe5 27. ♖xe5 ♕xd3 28. h3 h6 29. ♖1e3 ♕d1+ 30. ♖e1 ♕a4 31. ♖b1 ♕xb4 32. ♖xb4 ♖fc8 33. ♖bxb5 ♖xb5 34. ♖xb5 ♖xc3 An interesting strategic game in which Aronian managed to defuse White's pressure with some precise play.
So at the half-way stage in Bilbao Vishy Anand
continues to lead, though Ruslan Ponomariov has now leapfrogged Paco Vallejo
into third place:
Wednesday is a rest day, with the second half of the Bilbao Masters commencing at 15:00 on Thursday 18 September, when Ponomariov and Anand have the white pieces against Aronian and Vallejo. You can again watch the action live here on chess24 with computer analysis and commentary by Jan Gustafsson and Lawrence Trent! (Round 3 can be replayed here)
We respect your privacy and data protection guidelines. Some components of our site require cookies or local storage that handles personal information.