Home Page arrow Chess Life Online arrow 2009 arrow January arrow Aronian Leads as Controversy Strikes in Corus
Aronian Leads as Controversy Strikes in Corus Print E-mail
By GM Ian Rogers   
January 29, 2009

Magnus Carlsen in his game against Lenier Dominguez, Photo Cathy Rogers

“This has to be the most exciting round we have ever had in Corus,” exclaimed the press officer Tom Bottema after Wednesday’s tenth round of the legendary Corus chess festival in the small Dutch seaside town of Wijk aan Zee.

Bottema’s hyperbole was understandable; the 72nd Corus tournament had been looking somewhat anaemic until it exploded into life on Wednesday. 

Reasons for the sedated start to the tournament were many. Of course the absence of Anand – still celebrating his world title win -, Kramnik – celebrating his new child and Topalov – preparing for his Candidates Final next month - took some gloss away from the top group. Also, the industrial group Corus announcing massive job cuts soon after the start of the tournament cannot have raised the spirits of the Wijk aan Zee locals, many of whom rely on employment from the nearby Corus steelworks.

Corus’ cost cutting was also evident around the town. Many of the giant signs on bridges and in fields, which greeted visitors to Wijk aan Zee in years past, were missing. Even the press were grumpy when they discovered that their traditional supply of Dutch treats such as Chocomel and Appelsap had been replaced by a mini-fridge containing bottles of water. Fortunately, the tournament’s legendary pea soup – still only 3 Euros per bowl – remains as thick as ever and Wijk aan Zee’s traditional attractions of wind, rain and sub-zero temperatures remained stubbornly unaffected by global warming.

The biggest worry for the organisers in 2009 had been the large number of short draws in the elite top group – a feature of top GM chess which some had thought was disappearing thanks to the Sofia anti-draw rules (not in use in Wijk aan Zee). Corus choose their field very carefully every year to maximize the entertainment potential but in 2009 even wonderboy Magnus Carlsen had been unable to escape the draw virus and his first nine games had ended peacefully.

Nonetheless, Wednesday’s dramatic events served to remind everyone why Wijk aan Zee is still regarded as the world’s premier chess festival.

The De Moriaan hall in Wijk aan Zee holds more than 1,000 players – most competing in their own 10-player group against opponents of similar strength. Yet many found it hard to concentrate on their games on Wednesday as one drama after another appeared on the display screens.
Aronian in the press conference, Photo Cathy Rogers

Levon Aronian, entering the round in a three way tie for first, made his move for the 10,000 Euro first prize by defeating England’s Michael Adams in Adams’ own style, slowly tightening the noose around his opponent’s neck until panic set in.


1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3

"By analyzing Michael's games my second [Maxim Rodshtein] and I decided that he was not so comfortable in the Catalan - he did not play the main lines," explained Aronian.

3...d5 4.Nf3 dxc4 5.Bg2 Nc6 6.Qa4 Bb4+ 7.Bd2 Nd5 8.Bxb4 Ndxb4 9.Nc3!?

"A rare move," said Aronian. "Maxim had told me that it was an interesting try."
Rodshtein himself thought that he might have seen the idea in Boris Avrukh's new 1.d4 repertoire book but it turns out that Avrukh recommends 9.0-0, believing that the endgame which arises after Aronian's 13.Qxc4 should be fine for Black.
"It's a good book," said Rodshtein, "but of course it contains some mistakes."


Since the resultant endgame proves far from easy, 9...Bd7 10.0-0 a5 11.Qd1 was Aronian’s preference, "with a complicated position" added Aronian helpfully.

10.Ne5 0-0

"10...Bd7 was still possible," said Aronian, "for example 11.0-0 b5 12.Qa3 and you will find many amusing lines."

11.Nxc6 Nxc6 12.Bxc6

On 12.Rd1 Nxd4! 13.e3 Bd7 holds for Black.

12...bxc6 13.Qxc4 Rb8 14.b3 Qd6

During the game, Aronian was more worried by 14...a5 although he trusted that after both 15.Qc5 and 15.Rd1 he could retain some advantage.

15.Ne4! Qb4+

"15...Qd5 16.Qxd5 cxd5 17.Nc5 is even worse than the game," explained Aronian. "The knight is dominant."

16.Qxb4 Rxb4 17.0-0-0 e5! 18.Rd2!

Position after 18.Rd2


Black's first clear error but a serious one.

18...exd4! 19.Nc5 (19.Rhd1?! d3! is the tactical point behind Black's play.) 19...Re8 was far stronger. "I think I am still better but he has some counter chances against e2," said Aronian.

19.Rhd1! a4 20.Nc5 axb3 21.axb3 Be6 22.Kb2

"This position is real torture to play with Black," said Aronian. "If he takes twice on d4 I will play e4, f4, and I can torture my opponent until the end of the game."


22...Rfb8 loses to 23.dxe5!.

23.Rc1 Rfb8 24.Rc3 exd4?!

"During the game, I thought that Mickey is really tricky and that he wanted to play 24...e4!, said Aronian, "because if he puts his bishop on d5 it will be much harder to break through. This was one of his last chances."

25.Rxd4 h6

"If he moves the bishop I play 26.Na6 and take a pawn," explained Aronian.

26.Nxe6 fxe6 27.Rd7

"There is no need for this," Aronian admitted. "The rook is perfect on d4."

27...R8b7 28.Rd4

28.Re3 c5 "and I have just complicated things," Aronian conceded. "This is a really bad position - he will lose one pawn sooner or later."

28...Kf7 29.h4 Ke7 30.Re4 R7b6 31.Rce3 c5 32.Rg4 Kf7 33.Rf3+ Kg8 34.Rc3 Rd6 35.Ra4 Kf7

35...Rd2+ 36.Rc2 Rxc2+ 37.Kxc2 will also drop a pawn sooner rather than later.

36.Kc2 Ke7 37.Rg4 Ra5

"A desperate try," said Aronian. "He had to return and keep on suffering. Now I take all his pawns - and his king is in trouble as well."

38.Rxg7+ Kf6 39.Rxc7 Ra2+ 40.Kc1 Rxe2

On 40...Rdd2 Aronian had prepared 41.Rf3+ Kg6 42.h5+! Kxh5 43.Rxc5+ Kg4 44.Re3! and if  44...Rxe2 45.Rxe2 Rxe2 46.Rc2 the b pawn will run free.

41.Rf3+ Kg6 42.Rxc5 Rdd2 43.h5+ Kg7 44.Rc7+ Kg8

Position after 44...Kg8

45.Re3! 1-0

An early resignation but Black cannot maintain both rooks on the seventh rank and after 45...Rxe3 (45...Rxf2 46.Rxe6 also forces an exchange of rooks.) 46.fxe3 Rd3 47.Kc2 Rxe3 48.b4 Rxg3 49.b5 the b pawn runs through.

Next Magnus Carlsen finally showed his teeth, taking out Aronian’s co-leader Leinier Dominguez is a game the Norwegian teenager admitted was a calculated gamble.


Four moves earlier Carlsen had declined a draw offer; a decision based entirely on his opponent’s slight time shortage.
Carlsen had subsequently sacrificed a pawn but admitted that Dominguez could now effectively force a draw by playing 29...Qd5. However, torn between playing safe and playing for a win, Dominguez soon finds himself in the worst of all possible worlds.

29...Rbd8?! 30.Qa3 Bc2?!

It was not too late to head for safe harbours with 30...Bc4 31.Rfe1 Qa8!.


Carlsen was very pleased with this move, which prepares to answer 31...Rfe8 with 32.Rxe5!.

31...Qa4? 32.Qb2! Bd3 33.Rb7!

“Now he has only 4 minutes left and I have a lot of tricks,” said Carlsen. “Maybe he has a way to hold but it is not easy.”


33...Rd7 is well met by 34.Nxe5!.

34.Qb4! Rfe8 35.Re1! Be2

Position after 35...Be2

Allowing a snappy finish, but 35...Ba6 36.Ra7 Ra8 37.Rxe5!! also breaks Black’s resistance.

36.Nxe5!! Bxe5 37.Bxe5+ Rxe5 38.Qxf4 Qf5 39.Qh6 1-0

Soon after Carlsen had finished his demolition of Dominguez, an incident blew up in the corner of the playing hall and led to huge crowds craning their necks to see what the commotion was about.

The dispute arose when local hero Jan Smeets was involved in a crazy time scramble against Azeri Teimour Radjabov.
According to the arbiters, Smeets had only two seconds left and Radjabov 6 when the following position was reached:

Position after 38...Be8

Here Radjabov played 39.Re7 but in doing so knocked Smeets’ bishop on e8. Smeets instantly restarted his opponent’s clock and made a verbal indication that Radjabov should reset the pieces – just as Radjabov had done against Ivanchuk earlier in the tournament.

Rather than replace the bishop, Radjabov almost immediately restarted Smeets' clock, causing an arbiter to step in, stop the clocks, and tell Radjabov that he had lost on time. (Presumably Radjabov had used almost all of his six seconds on Re7 since the above events happened so quickly that Radjabov would have lost only a single second on his clock from the incident.)

Radjabov immediately indicated that he wished to protest, apparently because his opponent had distracted him by talking to him.

This is an argument, which has been used with success before.

Two decades earlier, former World Champion Anatoly Karpov had been competing in a rapid tournament in Spain against Leonid Yudasin. According to reports at the time, Karpov allowed mate in one whereupon Yudasin expressed surprise and pointed to the f1 square exclaiming “That’s mate!”

Karpov conceded the game but later, on the urging of the organizers for whom Karpov was the tournament’s main drawcard, entered a protest on the grounds that Yudasin’s comment had distracted him. Sure enough, Karpov’s protest was upheld, the game replayed and Karpov won the game and the tournament.

There was also some doubt that restarting an opponent’s clock was obeying the letter of the law, even though this procedure is standard practice at all levels of play and, from personal experience, I know has the stamp of approval of Chess Café’s Geurt Gijssen.

The threat of an appeal seemed to strongly influence the chief arbiter who proposed to the players that they should agree a draw; after all, Radjabov had been winning in the final position.

Smeets was probably thinking “So if his mobile phone had rung when he was in a winning position, would I have to give a draw there as well?” but, under pressure to show sportsmanship in front of his home crowd, he agreed to the proposal. Smeets’ decision was widely appreciated, especially by Radjabov and the arbiters.

The moment when Smeets agreed to the draw. Blocking out Radjabov are the chief arbiter, Pavel Votruba on the left and Cor Roet, who originally forfeited Radjabov. Photo Cathy Rogers

Radjabov now joins an elite group of players, headed by Kasparov and Karpov, who have finished with at least half a point after losing a game on time (with the opponent having plenty of mating material). Karpov, a living legend, has managed to do it twice!

American World Championships candidate Gata Kamsky, his eyes on next month’s final match against world number one Veselin Topalov, is stuck in mid-field, where a single point separates 10 of the 14 players in the top group. Kamsky did well to hold off a revived Vassily Ivanchuk in round 10 but whether he finishes third or twelfth will not be of great concern to Kamsky, who will simply be valuing the match practice he is gaining against top opposition.


With three rounds to play, few would be betting against Aronian retaining the Corus title he won in 2008, although Ukraine’s teenage star Sergey Karjakin is sitting only half a point behind the favourite and is ready to pounce should Aronian slip up.

The Corus games, which begin at 7.30 EST, can be viewed live at coruschess.com or the Internet Chess Club. The second and third groups in the Festival, both high category Grandmaster tournaments in their own right, are also well worth watching with wily veterans such as Henrique Mecking and Nigel Short pitted against rising stars such as Hou Yifan, Wesley So and Anish Giri.