Sunday, January 29

Levon Aronian Wins Tata 2012

(Giri vs Aronian, the beginning of a brilliancy. Photo from tournament website.)

This weekend, #2 ranked Levon Aronian further established himself among the World elite by taking clear 1st at the 2012 Tata Chess Tournament at Wijk aan Zee in the Netherlands. The Armenian scored 9.0 out of 13, losing twice, but winning an impressive seven games to finish a point ahead of the field. Showing his ability to fight on either side of the board, three of his victories came with the black pieces. Aronian gained 15 FIDE rating points to push his live rating up to 2824, surpassed only by two men ever--Garry Kasparov and the current #1, Magnus Carlsen.

Special congratulations both to Aronian and his former coach, Melik Khachiyan (now living in Southern California). In fact, both Grandmasters have a taste for positional exchange sacrifices, such as move 13 in Giri vs Aronian (round 10).

Three challengers stayed hot on the winner's heels, but could not catch up. As the top seed, Carlsen can be disappointed with plus-3, especially his one defeat. In post game interviews, he criticized his own play, at one point even uttering a profanity. He did manage to hold on to his 2835 rating. Teimour Radjabov was the only player to escape defeat in Tata 2012, bringing his new rating up to 2784. And the young Italian star, Fabiano Caruana, cracked the top 10 of the World with four wins and just one setback, gaining 26 rating points.

Final Standings
  • 9.0 Aronian
  • 8.0 Carlsen, Radjabov and Caruana
  • 7.5 Ivanchuk and Nakamura
  • 7.0 Kamsky
  • 6.5 Karjakin
  • 5.5 Van Wely
  • 5.0 Topalov, Gashimov and Gelfand
  • 4.5 Giri and Navara
The bottom of the standings included a few surprises. Not so long ago, Veselin Topalov was at the top of his game. However, the Bulgarian lost four times in Wijk aan Zee, winning once. The oldest rated over 2700, Boris Gelfand still expected to score better than minus-3 as he prepares for a title match this May against World Champion Viswanathan Anand. Lastly, the Dutch youngster Anish Giri started out well at 4.0/7, but then lost five in a row to drop into the cellar. I am sure he will be back soon.

The two Americans moved up in the rankings with scores above 50%. Both won three rounds, but Gata Kamsky lost twice while Hikaru Nakamura just once. Nakamura now stands as #6 in the World, behind Carlsen, Aronian, Kramnik, Anand and Radjabov.

Let me complete my round-by-round list of favorite games from Group A.
  1. Karjakin 0-1 Aronian -- Ruy Lopez closed
  2. Aronian 1-0 Nakamura -- Dutch Leningrad
  3. Carlsen 1-0 Aronian -- Queen's Gambit Declined + BN vs R endgame
  4. Navara 0-1 Karjakin -- Ruy Lopez Berlin + pawn endgame
  5. Nakamura 1-0 Navara -- English Opening, reversed Dragon
  6. Gelfand 0-1 Nakamura -- Dutch Leningrad
  7. Kamsky 1-0 Navara -- Ruy Lopez Berlin + R and B endgame
  8. Giri 0-1 Gashimov -- Sicilian Najdorf, 6.Bg5
  9. Ivanchuk 1-0 Giri -- Queen's Gambit Declined + R and N endgame
  10. Giri 0-1 Aronian -- Queen's Gambit Declined + exchange sacrifice
  11. Carlsen 1-0 Topalov -- Bb5 Sicilian (Canal-Sokolsky)
  12. Gelfand 0-1 Aronian -- Queen's Gambit Declined, Petrosian
  13. Kamsky 1-0 Topalov -- Queen Pawn Game, Indian

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