gm Bacrot, E — gm Aronian, L
round 8 (France vs Armenia)
1.Nf3 d5 2.d4 Nf6 3.c4 e6 4.Nc3 Be7 5.Bf4 O-O 6.e3 Nbd7 7.c5 c6 8.h3 b6 9.b4 a5 10.a3 h6 11.Qc1 Bb7 12.Bd3 Qc8 13.O-O Ba6 14.Bxa6 Rxa6 15.Qc2 Qb7 16.Rab1 axb4 17.axb4 Ra3 18.Rfc1 bxc5 19.bxc5 Qa6 20.Ne1 Ra8 21.Qb2 Qc8 22.Qb7 Qxb7 23.Rxb7 Bd8 24.Bc7 Bxc7 25.Rxc7 R8a6 26.Nd3 Rb3 27.Ne5 Nxe5 28.dxe5 Raa3
White is somewhat better, no doubt, but Aronian is not without counterplay. It appears the best White can do is force a Rook and Pawn ending a pawn up, but with drawish tendencies: 29. exf6! Rxc3 30. Rxc3 Rxc3 31. Rc8!+ Kh7 32. fxg7 Kxg7 33. Rxc6
The White Rook is passively placed and Black will be able, at the appropriate time, to set in motion a passed d-pawn (…e5…d4) that will likely force White to exchange his c-pawn for it, leaving a very drawish 3–2 Kingside majority. No doubt the White King might be able to stop the d-pawn, but even in this department the Black King is the more active. Ofcourse, if the Carlsen vs Anand match is any guide, having a drawn ending and actually drawing it is not the same thing!
I am absolutely certain that Bacrot saw this continuation to win a Pawn, but he must have felt that White could try for more by avoiding the immediate simplification. It turns out, however, that he either underestimated Aronian’s counterplay or simply overlooked it. In any case, we spectators must thank Bacrot for his courage, as the game soon takes an extraordinary turn!
At first sight this looks better than it is: the Black Knight is under attack, as well as the c-Pawn, which can not be defended. And don’t forget about the coming Nd4.
29… Ne4 30. Rxc6 Rb2!
The star move! White’s weakness is the 2’nd rank.
THERE QUICKLY FOLLOWED:
31. Rc8+ Kh7 32. Re1
Bacrot must have by now come to realize that he has some difficulties and therefore decides to maintain his Knight on e2 so as to try to limit the coming doubling of Rooks on the 2nd rank.
32… Raa2 33. Kf1
White hopes that his barracade is sufficient. Bacrot is ready to concede a draw should Black want it: 33…Nc3 34.NxN Rxf2+ etc with perpetual check. But now it is Aronian who wants more!
This subtle move is not so much about trying to win the pawn as it is about limiting White’s options. White’s pieces are all tied up and Black must be careful about not hurrying things and unnecessarily giving White chances.
This natural move has been criticized, unfairly in my opinion. It is difficult to suggest better, though some have suggested making weakening Kingside pawn moves…I think that Bacrot’s key mistake was made earlier.
A powerful manoeuvre , threatening …Nd3, tearing apart the White barracade along the 2nd rank. If now 35. Rc1? Rxc1 36. Nxc1 Ra1 winning a piece and handily containing the c-Pawn. Bacrot decides to place his hope on his advanced c-Pawn…
35. c7!? Nd3 36. Rd1!?
The best try, especially as 36.Rb8 Rxe2! is crushing.
A very creative solution to the position, and instructive too. It must be admitted, however, that 36…Nxf2 would have probably done the trick also, but not as quickly. If it were Black to move in the above position, then he has a forced mate with the 2-Rooks and Knight combination . The reader can easily verify this for himself….Bacrot tries to put up the best resistance:
The finish is very appealing to the spectators!
37… Kxh8 (37.Kg6 has been suggested!) 38. c8=Q+ Kh7
Despite having the Queen, White is completely helpless!FOR EXAMPLE: If now 39. Kg1 Nxf2 40. Rb1 Ne4 with numerous mating threats; or if 39. Qc3 Rxf2+ 40. Kg1 Rxg2+ 41. Kh1 Nf2+! 42.KxR NxR+ etc.
Curiously, White loses only because the White Queen is undefended! The game would be only drawn had there been a pawn on c3, for example, as the reader might want to verify for himself. Having Rooks doubled on the 7th rank , though strong, does not in itself guarantee victory.
It makes no difference which direction the White King heads: 40. Kg1 Rxg2+ 41. Kh1 Rh2+ 42. Kg1 Rag2+ 43. Kf1 Rc2 is almost identical to the game continuation.
40. Ke1 Rxg2+ 41. Kf1 Rgc2
The mating threat on the first rank forces White to give up her Queen for one of Black’s deadly Rooks, leaving Black with an easily won ending, two Pawns up plus an overwhelming positional advantage.
A remarkable finish! And one that Bacrot will not likely forget for some time, especially since had he taken the Knight on the 29th move and only drawn the advantageous Rook and Pawn ending, then France would have won the European Team Championship!! INSTEAD, France only finished 2nd!