Aronian and Carlsen Race in London
By GM Ian Rogers   
March 22, 2013
Ivanchuk and Carlsen, Photo Cathy Rogers

With the Candidates tournament in London less than half over, the contest to find Anand's next world title challenger seems to have  already been whittled down to one of two players – Magnus Carlsen or Levon Aronian, the world one and two for most of the past 15 months.

After six of fourteen rounds, Carlsen and Aronian are a point and a half clear of their nearest rivals, former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik and his Russian compatriot Peter Svidler.

As Aronian was at pains to point out, such a lead can be wiped out in a moment but both Carlsen and Aronian look in great shape, each winning games with their own disparate styles.

While the 22-year-old Norwegian has steadily outplayed his opponents, making strong Grandmasters like Grischuk and Svidler appear to be weak players, Armenian hero Aronian, 30, picked up his wins with wonderful tricks and traps.

Readers of my previous report from the Candidates venue, the Institute of Engineering and Technology in the centre of London, will have already seen Aronian's magnificent trick against Gelfand in round 3 – 26.Bh6+!!

Aronian's trap against a short of time Teimour Radjabov in round six was less spectacular but equally traumatic for the victim...

London Candidates 2013
White: T.Radjabov
Black: L.Aronian

Aronian has just reluctantly played 52...Qb4-a4, running himself down from 17 minutes to three in the process. 
Radjabov had 1 minute 44 seconds left to reach move 60 and he used only 8 seconds before playing
53.Nxe5?? Qxe4+ 
Suddenly Radjabov realised the horrible truth – after 54.Kf1 Aronian can do the impossible and play 54...Qxe5! because 55.Bh6+ Kf6! saves the queen and wins the game. "I forgot about Kf6," admitted Radjabov. "I just thought that ...Qxe5 never works. After 53.Qe2 followed by 54.Rc1, White was fine."
54.Nf3 Nf4+ 0–1

Radjabov lost on time but after 55.Kg3 Bxc5! his position is hopeless in any case.

“Only through luck did I manage to break Teimour's resistance,” admitted Aronian. But, contrary to a common misconception, luck is all you need.

Of course if you try to trick Carlsen, you can be sure that the Norwegian will not only see your trick, he will raise you one.

London Candidates 2013
White: P.Svidler
Black: M.Carlsen
Position after Black's 32nd move

Here Svidler could keep his position afloat with 33.Re8 – although with more time and a good position, Carlsen would be strongly tipped to win anyway.
However Svidler, who before this game was sitting just half a point behind the Norwegian, decided to try his luck with
Now White has two mating threats – the obvious one with 34.Qf5+ and the sneaky one with 34.Rh8+! Kxh8 35.Qxh6+!. Svidler thought that the reply 33...Qe6 was forced, but instead came...
Turning the tables. Now 34.Rh8+ Kxh8 35.Qxh6+ Qh7! is not mate – in fact it is nothing for White.
34.Rb2 Rd5! 35.Re2 Qb1+ 36.Kh2 f6! 0–1

Both Aronian and Carlsen had to survive near-death experiences in the fifth round, with the Norwegian favourite surviving  a difficult endgame against tail-ender Vassily Ivanchuk and Aronian close to lost for most of his epic six hour battle against Kramnik. (Kramnik used the word “miracle” 15 times in the post-game press conference to describe Aronian's save.)

London Candidates 2013
White: V.Kramnik
Black: L.Aronian
Position after White's 67th move 


Despite the 'wrong' h pawn, Black has to play with enormous precision to hold this endgame.
67...Kg3! 68.Bc4
Against the more obvious 68.g6 Kramnik though that both 68...Bf8 and 68...Bf6 would hold the game but Aronian showed him that only  68...Bf8! holds and Kramnik's proposed defence 68...Bf6? 69.Bc4! Bb2 would lose to 70.Kg5 Bc1+ 71.Kf5 Bh6 72.h5 Kh4 73.Be2! Bg7 74.Bd1!! when Black is in zugzwang.
Once again heading for the key f8-h6 diagonal.
69.Be2 Bg7 70.Bc4 Bf8 71.g6 Kf4 72.Ba2 Bg7 Draw Agreed
Carlsen's fifth round escape was almost equally impressive.

London Candidates 2013
White: V.Ivanchuk
Black: M.Carlsen
Position after White's 45th move 


Carlsen had knocked back a draw on move 31 - “an unprofessional decision” he said and one regretted only two moves later. By now Carlsen has escaped into a complicated knight endgame but despite his outside passed pawn, Black appears to be in big trouble, e.g. 45...Ke6 46.Ne3 Kf7 47.Kh6 Kg8 48.Nc4 and White will start pushing his pawns, or 45...a5 46.Kh6 and White's g-pawn is too fast.
However Carlsen found the only way to save the game – the aggressive king.
45...Ke4! 46.Ne3
After the game Ivanchuk proposed 46.Ne7 as an improvement but after Carlsen showed him the wonderful defence 46.Ne7 a5 47.Kh6 a4 48.Nc6 a3 49.Nb4 Kf5 50.f4 Nd6! 51.Kxh7 Ne4!, he conceded that perhaps there was no win for White.
46...Nd6! 47.Kh6 Nf7+ 48.Kxh7 Nxg5+
Now a draw could happily be agreed but Ivanchuk plays on until the bitter end.
49.Kg6 Nh3 50.Nd1 Kf3 51.Kf5 Nxf2 52.Nxf2 Kxg3 53.Nd1 a5 54.Ke4 a4 55.Kd4 a3 56.Nc3 a2 57.Nxa2 Draw

For chess fans a two-horse race between Carlsen and Aronian for the right to play Anand should be a delight.
Aronian & Svidler, Photo Cathy Rogers

The two have roughly similar runs home in the remaining eight rounds, with the exception that Carlsen will have White against Aronian in their individual round 8 game.

Incredibly, one pundit has already given the tournament to Carlsen. Having watched Carlsen outsprint Aronian this year in Wijk aan Zee, and seen Carlsen's amazing ability to lift for the final rounds of a tournament in multiple tournaments in recent years, it is easy to see why the Norwegian might (still) be favorite. However Aronian seems to have the sharp eye (and the luck) reminiscent of Mikhail Tal's rise and rise, so writing him off seems foolhardy. 

Carlsen, never one to get ahead of himself expressed satisfaction with his form, the Ivanchuk game apart, and said simply "I am where I need to be."

Whoever wins, a huge winning score may be necessary – just the sort of race to the finish that chess fans love to see.
Photo Cathy Rogers

Yet it must be admitted that for the world at large, the Candidates tournament has been a low key affair. London is a city of eight million yet the paying spectators numbers seem stuck at around 100 each day while local media coverage has been decidedly mixed.

After a flurry on the first two days, the press centre has been sparsely populated, with almost as many commentators (for ICC, Playchess and various Russian web sites) as journalists. (Sadly, this writer has now joined the exodus.)

However the viewing figures for the live internet coverage of the games – which includes streaming video, audio commentary and all press conferences – tell a far more promising story.

At the start of the first round, 50,000 internet spectators tried to log on to the tournament web site almost simultaneously, causing the World Chess Federation FIDE's servers to overload and crash. Once up and running again the broadcast's viewing numbers have increased strongly day by day, with 250,000+ individual viewers from almost 200 countries checking in to date.

London Candidates 2013
Scores after 6 of 14 rounds:
=1.Carlsen(Nor), Aronian(Arm) 4.5;
=3.Kramnik(Rus), Svidler(Rus) 3;
=5.Radjabov(Aze), Grischuk(Rus) 2.5;
=7.Gelfand(Isr), Ivanchuk(Ukr) 2.

All games begin at 10am EST

Round 7 Saturday 23/03/2013
Round 8 Sunday 24/03/2013
Round 9 Monday 25/03/2013
Round 10 Wednesday 27/03/2013
Round 11 Thursday 28/03/2013
Round 12 Friday  29/03/2013
Round 13 Sunday 31/03/2013
Round 14 Monday 01/04/2013

Where to Watch the Games, Video and Commentary
Games may be watched using  multiple platforms via
while live video streaming of the games and the official commentary can be found on