SPRAGGET ON CHESS
Aronian has been an exceptionally difficult adversary for the French superstar Bacrot in recent years. So much so that up to this next game Bacrot had not been able to win a single game in more than a dozen encounters! And even with him playing White in the vast majority of these games.
The truth is that Aronian’s opening repetoire is so well thought out and thoroughly prepared at home that it is very unlikely that anyone can surprise him in the opening stage of the game. This keeps the Armenian superstar out of danger, and helps him maintain a high level of success in tournaments.
In the present game Bacrot introduces a new idea that he and his seconds had worked out several months before, and surprisingly, Aronian had not considered this in his preparation! This meant that the Armenian grandmaster had to work out , over the board-with the clock ticking, all of the variations in an incredibly chaotic and complicated position.
This proved to much for Aronian, and he failed to find the best defence. A small tactical error at the critical moment sealed his fate. Bacrot scored a beautiful win with forcefull and elegant play! Undoubtedly it must have come with much satisfaction as he had forgotten what it was like to win against Aronian!
The readers will be able to see Bacrot’s post-game comments (in French) at the following site:
This game has been incredibly difficult to analyze, even with the help of a chess-engine, because the positions that arise are so chaotic and unusual. I trust that the readers will understand that my analysis can not be 100% perfect, and does not assume to be, but that I have strived to make sense of what is undoubtedly one of the great games of chess played this year. Enjoy!
Bacrot, E – Aronian, L
Novi Sad, Round 5
1. d4 Opening with the King Pawn has not brought Bacrot any success against the Armenian
1… d5 Aronian has very classical tastes in the openings
2. c4 c6 The Slav family of the QGD openings enjoys great popularity
3. Nf3 This move and Nc3 are virtually interchangeable, though delaying Nc3 has the advantage that sometimesWhite can opt for an early Qb3 or Qc2.
3… Nf6 Aronian always plays like this. Some players play 3…dxc4
4. Nc3 Also very popular is 4.e3
4… e6 5. Bg5 The sharpest move! The more solid 5.e3, however, is seen just as often in modern practice and , not surprisingly I suppose, does just as well in terms of results. It is a case of personal taste and style. It is worth mentioning, also, that in the 6th round of the Tal Memorial which is going on right now, Gelfand used 5.e3 to defeat Aronian in a very interesting game!5… h6
Aronian has never been a fan of the Botvinnik System: 5… dxc4 6. e4 b5 7. e5 h6 8. Bh4 g5
; Note that 5… Nbd7
would transpose into normal QGD systems.
6. Bh4 !? Considered the sharpest move in this position. White gambits a pawn in an effort to gain the initiative. It is suicide for anyone to play this way unless a lot of work has been done at home! Play can become very chaotic and the slightest slip can be very costly.
Earlier in the year Bacrot played the more sedate 6. Bxf6 against Aronian (diagram , right). This is a more positional continuation and much less risky. However, with everybody so well prepared these days, this line has not been scoring very well.
The game continued 6… Qxf6 7. e3 Nd7 8. Bd3 dxc4 9. Bxc4 g6!
(diagram, right) This is the solution to Black’s opening problems and it is well known today that White gets virtually nothing.
10. O-O Bg7 11. e4 e5 12. d5 Nb6 13. Bb3 O-O 14. Rc1 Rd8 15. Qe2 Bg4 16. dxc6 bxc6 17. Nd1 a5 18. Ne3 h5 19. h3 Bxf3 20. Qxf3 Qxf3 21. gxf3 a4 22. Bd1 Rd2 (diagram below)
Black has everything under control and holds the position easily. The remaining moves were: 23. Rxc6 Rxb2 24. Bc2 Nd7 25. Bd3 Rxa2 26. Bc4 Rb2 27. Rc7 Nf8 28. Rxf7 Kh8 29. Bd5 Ra6 30. Ra1 Nh7 31. Bc4 Ra8 32. Bd5 Ra6 33. Bc4 Ra8 34. Bd5 Ra6 1/2-1/2, Bacrot,E – Aronian,L , Jermuk ARM 2009 5th FIDE GP
6… dxc4 !? Like the Botvinnik System, but not quite! Relatively unknown 25 years ago, today this line is all the rage and hardly any tournament goes by that does not see this opening played atleast several times!
A provocative and super sharp line
7. e4 Ofcourse! White occupies the centre immediately
7… g5 If Black wanted, he could play 7… b5 8. e5 g5 transposing into the Botvinnik System. However, the Botvinnik System has not been doing so well in recent years and, besides, Aronian never plays it!
In this way Black holds on to his extra pawn
8… b5 Black keeps his extra pawn, but at the cost of giving White the centre and incurring weaknesses on the King side. The theoretical verdict is still out of this line, and Aronian loves to play it with either colour!
9.Be2 The oldest line, favoured by the young Spassky! And the most popular move in praxis
White calmly intends to castle King side before continuing with the attack.
Boris Spassky, world champion from 1969 to 1972, helped to popularize many of the attacking systems that today’s top players have incorporated into their opening repetoires. The Marshall Gambit is just one obvious example. In this week’s game (Bacrot vs Aronian) 10.Be2 was employed by Spassky long before either of them were born!
When Fischer played Spassky in the 1972 match, the second half of the match was characterized by Fischer trying as hard as possible to avoid Spassky’s super aggressive opening play against the Najdorf : he jumped from the Alekhine to the Pirc to the Khan Sicilian.
The principal alternative is 9. Ne5!? (diagram, right) which seeks to attack Black immediately, before having first castled. Though this line is less frequently played than 9.Be2, Aronian himself (with White!) has played this way in the recent Tal Memorial against Peter Leko, and so we might draw the conclusion that Aronian considers it best!?
Aronian vs Leko, before play, Tal Memorial 2009
Let’s take a look at this line more closely:
9… Bb7 10. h4! The weakened Black King side must be attacked
(diagram,right) It is only with aggressive and ambitious play that White can justify his pawn sacrifice.
10… g4 (…Rg8 is seen sometimes)
The superstar Alexander Grischuk has preferred the slow 11. Be2 Nbd7 (diagram, right) when playing against Aronian, and a number of important games between these two have recently been played.
Now if 12. Bxg4 Rg8 13. Nxd7 Qxd7 14. Bf3 O-O-O 15. Qd2
brought Grischuk some success (diagram,right) but after 15… Rxg3! 16. fxg3 e5! an incredibly chaotic position arises with chances for both sides , as in Grischuk,A – Aronian,L , Bilbao ESP 2009 2nd Grand Slam Masters
Instead, next time Grischuk played 12.Nxd7 and after 12… Qxd7 13. Be5 Qe7 14. O-O Rg8 15. b3 Nd7 16. Bg3 b4 17. Na4 c3 18. Qd3 h5 19. a3 a5 20. axb4 axb4 21. Nc5 Rxa1 22. Nxb7 Grischuk found himself over reached. (diagram,right) Aronian now has a shot that gives him a clear advantage
22… Ne5! 23. Rxa1 Giving up the Queen is the best practical chance. 23… Nxd3 24. Ra8 Kd7 25. Bxd3 Qf6 (diagram, right)
White’s counterattack is not as dangerous as it looks, and coupled with the passed pawn on c3 Black must win.
26. Be5 (26. Ra7 Qxd4 27. Nc5 Ke8 28. Ra8 Qd8!) 26… Bd6 27. Bxf6 Rxa8 28. Kf1 Ra1 29. Ke2 Ra2 0-1, Grischuk,A – Aronian,L , Ohrid MKD 9/10/2009 25th ECC. Aronian is a tough man to beat!
Grischuk trying everything against Aronian, but to little avail!
But Aronian (against Leko) simply took the g-pawn off: 11.Nxg4 and after 11… Nxg4 12. Qxg4 Qxd4 13. Rd1 Qf6 14. a4!? (diagram,right)
(Not so good is 14. e5 Qf5 15. Qd4 Be7 16. a4 c5 17. Qd2 a6 18. axb5 axb5 19. Nxb5 Qe4 20. Be2 Qxg2 21. Nc7 Kf8 22. Rf1 Ra4 23. Nxe6 fxe6 24. Qf4 Kg7 25. Qg4 Kf7 26. Qf4 Kg7 27. Qg4 Kf7 28. Qf4 1/2-1/2, Cheparinov I – Aronian L , Jermuk 11/ 8/2009 “FIDE Grand Prix”)
Aronian explaining the game to the spectators, as Leko looks on helplessly
14… h5 (14… Bb4 15. e5 Qf5 16. Qd4 O-O 17. Qe3 is good for White, as in Akobian,V – Rodshtein,M Aeroflot 2009) 15. Qg5 Qxg5 16. hxg5 a6 17. Be5 Rg8 18. Rxh5 (diagram,right) and White went on to win a great game in Aronian,L – Leko,P 7/11/2009 Tal Memorial
Finally, it should be mentioned, for sake of completeness, that if White first plays 9.h4
then after 9…g4 10.Ne5
we simply transpose into the above variation.
NOW BACK TO THE ACTUAL GAME:
9… Bb7 Black must hurry and develop his pieces
10. O-O White’s edge in development is clear. Is it worth more than a pawn?
10… Nbd7 It is always good to develop a piece!
11. Ne5!? The most common move seen here, and we can consider this to be the main line. Instead 11. d5 was seen in Radjabov vs Anand, Linares 2009 and Black was quite ok in the complications after 11… cxd5 12. exd5 Nxd5! 13. Nxb5 a6! . For curiosity’s sake, it should be mentioned that Boris Spassky played this way (11.d5) in the stem game of this variation!
11… Bg7 Not the only move seen at the top: 11… h5!? 12. Nxd7 Qxd7 13. Be5 Rh6 when 14. Qc1! leads to interesting play that has not yet been worked out.
12. Nxd7 A logical move, and the most popular one in this position.
Last year Topalov scored a success with the incrediblly risky 12. Nxf7
What a shocker! White sacrifices a piece in the true spirit of the word. The idea is to prevent Black’s King from escaping from the centre. Ofcourse, it is too speculative and its real value is in surprise: it is likely only to win the first game where it is played!
12… Kxf7 13. e5 Nd5 14. Ne4 Ke7 15. Nd6 Qb6 16. Bg4
(diagram,right) All more or less forced up to here. White has compensation, but no real advantage against correct play on Black’s part.16… Raf8 17. Qc2 Rhg8!
best ( after 17… Qxd4? 18. Qg6 Qxg4 19. Qxg7 Kd8 20. Nxb7 Kc8 21. a4! with advantage, as in Topalov vs Kramnik WAZ 2008) 18. a4?
(18. Rad1!) 18… Ba8 19. Rfe1 Nc7!
Timman, J – Ljubojevic, Lj and Black is betterFinally, it should be mentioned that 12. b3!?
was once played by Carlsen to defeat Van Wely in 2008, though nobody was impressed enough to copy it so far.
NOW BACK TO THE ACTUAL GAME:
12… Nxd7 Dangerous is 12… Qxd7 as after 13. e5 Nd5 14. Ne4 the Knight is threatening unpleasant things on c5 and d6
White must do something quickly as Black is going to simply castle
13. Bd6 Logical, necessary…and all well known!
Black is prevented , for the moment, from castling
Bacrot has just played his Bishop to d6. Does Aronian look worried?
13… a6!? Black consolidates and can now consider …c5 at some future point
It must be noted that 13… Bf8 does horribly in practice: 14. Bxf8 Rxf8 (14… Kxf8 is no better) 15. e5 (15. a4 a6 16. e5!? is worth considering) 15… Qb6 16. Ne4 O-O-O 17. Nd6 Kb8 18. a4 and White has a promising attacking position.
14. a4!? Sharpest: intensifies pressure on the Q-side. It is known that 14. Bh5 Bf8! is fine for Black
14… e5!? Black strikes back in the centre in an effort to take the initiative
15. Bg4!? Equally sharp! The hand to hand combat intensifies
There are reasonable alternatives in this position;A: 15. Re1 Qf6 16. Ba3 Bf8 17. Bg4 Rd8 18. axb5 axb5 19. Bxf8 Kxf8 20. Bxd7 Rxd7 21. dxe5 Qe6 22. Qh5 Qxe5 23. f4
with an unclear game, Kramnik,V – Leko,P , Nice FRA 2009; blindfold game
B: 15. d5 (diagram,right) White tries to break open the position, but nothing comes of it with correct defence
15… c5 16. b4 Qb6!? 17. bxc5 Nxc5 18. Bxc5 Qxc5 19. axb5 axb5 20. Rxa8 Bxa8 21. Qa1 O-O 22. Qa5 Rb8 23. Rb1 Bf8 24. Nxb5 (24. Rxb5 Rxb5 25. Qxb5 Qxb5 26. Nxb5 Bb7 27. Bxc4 Ba6 28. Kf1 Bxb5 29. Bxb5 Bc5 so far Gustafsson, J. – Aronian, L. 2007 Khanty-Mansiysk (m/2)) 24… f5 25. Qa6 Kramnik,V – Karjakin,S , Nice FRA 2008 Amber Blindfold and now 25… fxe4!= is completely even.
BACK TO THE ACTUAL GAME:
15… exd4! Black says to White: ”Show me what you got!”
16. e5! White wants to blow open the center to get at the Black King
16… c5! Black activates his Q-Bishop and defends d4. What a chaotic position!
A rich position for analysts!
Alternatives to 16…c5 are few: 16… Nxe5?! is met by 17. Qxd4!
(diagram,right) Very strong! 17… Nf3 (17… f6 18. Bh5) 18. gxf3 Bxd4 19. Rae1 and Black is lost! (This explains why Black first defends his d4 pawn)
Or if instead Black tries 16… dxc3? then White has 17. e6! breaking open the Black King’s defences (diagram,right)
17… Ne5 (17… Nf6 18. Bh5 Nxh5 19. Qxh5 Qf6 20. exf7 Kd7 21. Rad1 Kc8 22. Qg4) 18. e7 Qxe7 19. Bxe7 Kxe7 20. bxc3 and again Black is smashed!
17. f4!? looks like a new move! Bacrot said later that he and his seconds had analyzed this idea several months before the present game. Originally he had hoped to play it against Magnus Carlsen, but Carlsen had played a different opening variation.
A new move, but not everybody was impressed with it!More common is 17. Re1, and an important line is 17… Nxe5! 18. Bxe5 O-O 19. Bxg7 Kxg7 20. Ne2 f5 21. Bh5 f4
first seen in Kramnik, V – Aronian, V 2008 Wijk aan Zee, and now just this week at the Tal Memorial Anand came up with an interesting idea: 22. Nxd4!?
Anand explaining the game to the audienceThe idea is to give back the piece in exchange for some threats against the King: 22…cxd4 23. Re6 !
Black must play …Rf6! to maintain the balance23… Bc8?! 24. Rg6 Kh7 25. axb5 Rf6 26. Rxf6 Qxf6 27. Qc2 Bf5 28. Qxc4 Rc8 29. Qd5 axb5 30. h3 Kh8 31. Qxb5 Rf8 32. Ra6 Qg7 33. Rd6 d3 34. Qb6 Qe5 35. Bg6 d2 36. Bxf5 Qxf5 37. Qd4 Kh7 38. Qxd2 Rf7 39. f3 h5 40. Rd5 Qg6 41. Qa5 Rg7 42. h4 Qb1 43. Kh2 Qxb2 44. Rxg5 Rxg5 45. Qxg5 [1:0]
Also known is 17. Bf3, which was played in Rybka vs Deep Fritz 2007. Theory still has to reach a verdict on this move.
BACK TO THE ACTUAL GAME:
17… dxc3!? Bacrot said afterwards that he felt that Aronian was surprised by 17.f4 If this is the case, and Aronian and his helpers had not considered the move in their home preparation, then Aronian would have had to work out everything at the board. As Bacrot pointed out, in this line this is very difficult, since Black has at every turn 4 or more key variations to consider.
Has Aronian played a second best move?
This position is so chaotic that I have a headache just from looking at it! While I can not be 100% certain, after one week of study I have come to the conclusion that 17… gxf4!? is Black’s best defence and I see nothing better for White than a draw.
The defensive theme is similar to many of the sharpest lines in the 6.Bg5 Najdorf: Black walks a tight rope and escapes with his King only because White does not have enough pieces to deliver mate!18. Bf3!
(18. Rxf4 Nxe5!; 18. e6 Nf6 19. Bf3 Qxd6 20. Bxb7 Rb8) 18… Bxf3
( weaker is 18… Nxe5?! 19. Bxb7 Qxd6 20. Bxa8; or 18… dxc3 19. Bxb7 cxb2 20. Rb1 and Black is just worse.
19. Qxf3 dxc3 ( too dangerous is 19… Nxe5 20. Qd5 (diagram, right)
White will simply play his Queen Rook to e1 and it is not clear how Black will save himself.)
20. e6! (diagram, right) A reccurring theme in this line is the use of the e-pawn as a battering ram. Black’s moves are now forced20… Bd4! ( losing quickly is
20… Ne5? 21. exf7 Kxf7 22. Qd5 Kg6 23. Qe4 Kf7 24. Rxf4 Kg8 25. Bxe5)
21. Kh1 Ne5! Black is saying to White: ”Show me what you got!”
22. exf7 ( not quite sufficient is 22. Qd5 f6! 23. Rae1 Qc8! 24. bxc3 Bxc3 25. Re4 Qc6! and Black is ok) 22… Kxf7 (22… Kd7? 23. Qd5) 23. Qxf4 ( leading no where is 23. Qd5 Kg6 24. Rxf4 Re8 25. Raf1 Qd7 26. Rf6 Kg7 27. Bxe5 Qxd5 28. Rf7 Kg8 29. Rg7 Kh8)
23… Ke6! (diagram,right) An incredible position! You would think that the Black King can not survive in the centre like this, but Black actually escapes! Steinitz long ago taught that the King is indeed a fighting piece!
In anycase, even with computer help I can not find a way for White to do more than draw!
The great Steinitz taught that the King is not an inherently weak piece, but rather it is the weaknesses around the King that create danger for his majesty. In the above position, Black’s pieces defend those weak squares and , at the same time, provide (temporary) safety for the King.
24. Bxe5 Rf8! Forced! But a great defensive resource, giving back the extra material
(Losing quickly is 24… Bxe5 25. Qf5 Kd6 26. Rad1 Bd4 27. Qg6 Kc7 28. Rf7 etc)
25. Qxh6! Kd5! (diagram, right)Now White must be careful at this point. He could lose if he pushes his luck too far. It appears that the game peters out to a draw….26. Bxd4 cxd4 27. bxc3 Qd6 28. Qg7 d3 29. Rxf8 Rxf8 30. Qd4 Ke6 31. Re1 Kd7 32. Qa7 Kc8 33. Qa8 Kc7 34. Qa7 Kc8;
Finally, it should be mentioned that 17… Nb6
gets into trouble after 18. fxg5! Qxg5
(18… dxc3 19. bxc3 Qxg5 20. e6 Qe3 21. Kh1) 19. Bf3!
and it is not clear how Black should defend.
NOW BACK TO THE ACTUAL GAME!
18. bxc3! [Black defends successfully after 18. e6? Bd4! 19. Qxd4 cxd4 20. exd7 Qxd7]
An important recapture: White maintains the same threats and Black must still solve his problems.
18… Bf8 Black must do something about White’s threat of e6!
The most reasonable move to defend the Black position. Black will exchange the powerful Bishop on d6. Alternatives are less attractive:
A: 18…gxf4 (same idea as in the last move, but here it is not to be recommended!) 19.e6! (diagram,left)
The difference here is that Black does not have …Bd4ch available, and as a result the White attack is more potent. Play is pretty much forced from here on: 19…Nf6! (19…Ne5 loses immediately to 20.e7) 20.Bh5!
20…Nxh5 21.Qxh5 Qxd6 22.Qxf7ch Kd8 23.Qxg7 Re8 24.Qxb7 (it looks like Xmas!) (diagram,right)
The open d-file and heavy pieces on the board expose the Black King to very unpleasant threats. White can try either 25.Qf7 or 25.Qh7, in both cases with excellent winning chances.
B: 18… Nb6 (diagram,left, below) Looks logical, but White has a simple way to proceed with his attack, making life even more difficult for Black. 19. fxg5 Nc8 (19… Qxg5 20. e6! Qd5 21. exf7 Kd8 22. Bf3 Qxd1 23. Raxd1 Bxf3 24. Rxf3 Kc8 25. Rg3) 20. Rxf7! crushing (diagram,right,below)20… Kxf7 21. Qf1 Bf6 22. Bxc5 hxg5 23. Rd1 etc
C: 18… Nf8 (diagram,right) once again reasonable looking, but White has again a simple way to build up his attack 19. fxg5! (also strong is 19. Bf3 Qc8 20. f5 (20. fxg5 hxg5 21. Bd5 Bxd5 22. Qxd5 Ra7 23. axb5)) 19… hxg5 (19… Qxg5 20. axb5) 20. Bh5! a very strong move, forcing Black’s reply 20… Rxh5 21. Qxh5 Qd7 22. Rad1 Qe6 23. Qxg5 Bh6 24. Qh4 and Black has problems finding his next move
NOW BACK TO THE ACTUAL GAME!
19. Qe2! A simple but strong move that allows the Q-Rook to enter into the game
19… Bxd6 Black must continue with his plan
Again, there are no good alternatives: 19… Be7 , trying to cover up the e-file allows 20. fxg5 hxg5 21. Rad1! and what is Black’s next move? Or 19… Nb6 allows 20. fxg5! (less clear seems 20. Rad1 Nd5! (20… Bxd6 21. Rxd6 Qc7 22. fxg5 hxg5 23. Qf2) 21. Qe4 gxf4 22. Rxd5 Bxd5 23. Qxd5 Bxd6 24. exd6 O-O 25. Rxf4 Qg5 26. Qd2 Rae8) 20… Qxg5 21. Rf5 Qg7 22. Raf1 Bd5 23. Bf3 and Black is busted
White hurries to open up files for his Rooks
20… Kf8 forced; the Black King tries to find safety on the K-side
21. fxg5 As always, this is a key move for White’s attack
21… hxg5 Black just needs a move to consolidate
It has been suggested that instead 21… Rh7 might be better, but this is not so: after 22. g6! the attack gains momentum: 22…Rg7 23. gxf7 Bxg2 (23… Nf6 24. Bf3 Bxf3 25. Qxf3 Rxf7 26. axb5) 24. Kxg2 h5 25. Qe6 etc.
22. Be6! With an obvious threat!
22… Rh7 There is nothing better.
Trying to block the f-file with 22… Nf6? fallss into 23. Rxf6! Qxf6 24. Rf1 (diagram,right) and Black finds himself in a lost ending after 24… Qg6 (even worse is 24… Qg7 25. Bxf7 Qxf7 26. Qe7) 25. Rxf7 Qxf7 26. Bxf7 Kxf7 27. Qe7 Kg6 28. Qxb7
23. Qc2 ! White is relentless and creates threat after threat.
Black has no time to breath! He must defend each move against all the direct and indirect threats.
23… Kg8?? A terrible blunder that ends the game immediately.
Aronian’s last move seems logical: it defends the attacked Rook and gets the King off the f-file. The problem is that it walks into a an ambush! BEFORE SHOWING THE CORRECT DEFENCE (AS IT IS A BIT LENGTHLY) LET ME SHOW HOW BACROT QUICKLY PUT AN END TO THE GAME!
24. Rxf7! A powerful sacrifice that uses the pin to rip open the Black King position
24… Rxf7 At this point Aronian’s moves are all forced.
The pin on the Rook will prove decisive
25. Rf1! White’s last reserve comes into play
25… Nf8 Nothing is changed if Black tries 25… Nf6: 26. Qg6 Kh8 27. Qxf7 etc
Aronian must have not seen White’s next move
26. Qf5! A very precise move that ends the game immediately. Aronian must have only considered White taking the Rook immediately, when he has more chances of surviving.
26… Nxe6 [26… Kh8 27. Qxf7 Nxe6 28. Rf6 is exactly the same thing]
27… Kh8 28. Rf6! Another cruncher! Black must give his Queen to prevent the mate
28… Qxf6 29. Qxf6 Ng7 30. d7 This pawn can not be prevented from promoting. Aronian can now resign.
30… b4 As this is a team match, Aronian plays on a few more moves so as not to discourage his team mates.
31. cxb4 cxb4 32. d8=Q Rxd8 33. Qxd8 Kh7 34. Qb6 ! As Fischer would put it: ”Mopping up!”34… Be4 35. Qxb4 Bd3 36. Qa5
An that is that! White will take the a-pawn off and charge up the board with his own a-pawn.
Aronian has had enough! He resigns. A wonderful attacking display by the French superstar, and one of the most important theoretical games of the year!
RETURNING TO THE CRITICAL POSITION AFTER BACROT’S 23rd MOVE:
Here Black has only one move to try to successfully defend:
23… Rg7! This looks less logical than the move played by Aronian (…Kg8) as the King stays on the f-file, but it is only in this way that Black can stay in the game.
Afterwards Bacrot , when interviewed, stated that Black may still have drawing chances here. I am not sure about this, but it is possible. Everything depends on the evaluation of a certain Rook and pawn ending that arises almost by force!
First, in the above position, White has many choices, but only one really strong move (24.Qf5). Alternatives to this are less clear:
a) 24. Rae1 Nf6
b) 24. Bxf7 Rxf7 25. Rxf7
(25. Qg6 Nf6 26. Qh6 Ke8) 25… Kxf7 26. Qh7 Ke6 27. Re1 Kxd6
c) 24. Rxf7 Rxf7 25. Bxf7 Kxf7 26. Qh7 Ke6
; is the same thing as b.
d) 24. axb5 Nf6!; 25.Qf5! (diagram,right) White is just going to take off the pawn on f7 with the Bishop, and so Black’s next move is forced24…Nf6!
) Black must give back material to impede White’s attack.25. Qxf6 there is nothing better 25…Qxf6
(25… Qxd6? 26. Qh6! with a winning attack)
26. Rxf6 (diagram,right) Black has reached an ending. Precise calculation is now necessary as White threatens to double on the f-file and win immediately.26… Rd8!
(26… Ke8 27. Bf5) 27. Raf1
(27. Bf5 b4) 27… Rxd6
28. Rxf7 Rxf7 29. Rxf7 Ke8 (29… Kg8 30. Rxb7 Rxe6 31. axb5 axb5 32. Rxb5 Re5 33. Kf2 is like the game, but worse for Black as the King is less active) 30. Rxb7 Rxe6 31. axb5 axb5 32. Rxb5
Everything comes down to the evaluation of this position! Rook and pawn endings are notoriously difficult to analyze, and this one is no exception to the rule.
Material is , for the moment, equal, but Black’s pawns are all weak and easy to attack. Black has two basic plans: to defend passively, hoping that White can not make much progress, or to chuck a pawn and play actively, trying to go after the weak pawn on c3.
A: 32… Re5 In principle, passive play is less successful in practice in Rook and pawn endings. White can simply improve the position of his King and attack the g-pawn.
33. Kf2! Kd7 34. Rb6! Otherwise the Black King will come to c6 and try to infiltrate via d5 and e4, causing headaches for White. 34… Kc7 35. Rg6 (diagram,right)
Black is tied down and White will simply bring in his King, going after the g-pawn. At some point Black will have to chuck his g-pawn and go after the c-pawn, leading to positions similar to what follow in ‘B’
B: 32… Re3 The active defence: going after the c-pawn and trying to create drawing chances with a passed pawn. Essentially everything will come down to some theoretical-looking positions!
33. Rxc5 Rxc3 34. Rxg5 (diagram, right) Can Black hold this ending? White is simply going to put his Rook behind the c-pawn and then carefully advance his K-side duo. Black has to try to get his pawn to the second rank. My gut feeling is that the position is lost.
For example, after 34… Rd3 35. Rc5 c3 36. h4 Rd4 37. g3 Rd1 38. Kg2 Rd2 39. Kh3 c2 (diagram,right)
The position offers no hope for Black as his pawn is the ‘wrong’ pawn you want to have on in this type of ending. To understand this, you have to take a look at the positions below:
This is an important theoretical draw that is covered in most good endgame books. Here the fact that Black has a b-pawn (instead of a c-pawn, as in the Bacrot vs Aronian game) means that Black is just able to squeak by with a draw. It is worth showing how in order to better understand this ending1. h5 Kf6!
it is always better to stay in the centre 2.Kh4
White must watch out for Black’s King blockading the two pawns: 2. g4? Rc5! 3. Rxb2 Kg5 (diagram below
A dead draw once the pawns are blockaded!2… Kf7 3. g4 Kg7 4. Rb6
) now he is threatening h6 and advancing the pawns. Less precise is 4. Rb7 Kf6! 5. g5 Kf5 6. g6 Rc4 7. Kg3 Kg5 8. g7 Rc8 and the draw is clear
4… Kf7! a key tempo move Wrong is 4… Rd2 5. h6 Kh7 6. Kh5 Rh2 7. Kg5 and the White pawns advance unchecked. 5 g5 (diagram,below) There is no other way of making progress. Premature is 5. Kg5 Rc5 6. Kh6? Rc6!; or 5. Rb7 Kf6! 6. g5 Kf5! 7. Rb5 Kf4! and the White King is in trouble!
Now Black can start checking with his Rook and successfully drive the White King away
5… Rc4 6. Kg3 Rc5!
It is this idea that scuttles White’s winning chances. Black will exchange his b-pawn for one of White’s dangerous connectors. Now futile is 7.Kf4 Rc4! 8. Ke5 Rc5 and the King must go back, repeating the position. So White is left with 7.g6 Kg7 8. Rb7 Kh6 9. Rh7 Kg5 10. Rb7 Kxh5 with a dead draw.
SO NOW RETURNING TO THIS SAME ENDING WHERE BLACK HAS A C-PAWN INSTEAD OF A B-PAWN, THE READER CAN NOW EASILY UNDERSTAND WHY IT IS LOST. (diagram below)
Black’s c-pawn limits the scope of the Black Rook!
Proceeding as in the theoretical case (a b-pawn): 1.h5 Kf6 2.Kh4 Kf7 3.g4 Kg7 4.Rb6 Kf7! 5.g5! now this is especially strong 5…Rc4ch 6.Kg3 Rc5 7.Kf4! Rc4ch 8.Ke5! (diagram, below)
This is the fundamental difference between a c-pawn and a b-pawn: with a c-pawn the White King is able to attack the Black Rook , gaining a tempo, and allowing him to both protect his connectors and drive the Black King to the back rank with mating threats. The game is lost, as the readers can easily verify for themselves.
The readers will have to forgive me for being so technical here, but to properly evaluate the Rook and pawn ending that could have arrived in the Bacrot-Aronian game (with the c-pawn), it is necessary to consider the what theory says of such endings.
It is difficult to be certain, but I think that the ending that Aronian could have escaped to contains few drawing chances. I stand to be corrected. Rook and pawn endings are notoriously difficult!