Aronian, L. - Navara, D., St. Louis Rapid & Blitz 2017, Queen's Indian 1-0
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GM Levon Aronian continued his steady climb back up the rating lists by winning the 2017 St. Louis Rapid & Blitz leg of the Grand Chess Tour. Not only did the field feature 4 players rated over 2800, but former World Champion Gary Kasparov also came out of his 12 year retirement for one last time. After a shaky start due to poor time management, Kasparov finished the event strongly but is was Aronian who stole the show. Not only did he wrap up 1st place with 2 rounds to go, but he also uncorked the following spectacular brilliancy that many commentators have suggested could win the prize for the year's Best Rapid Game of the Year! This attacking gem is a model template game that every developing player should study very carefully.

[Event "Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz (Rapid)"] [Site "St. Louis, MO USA"] [Date "2017.08.14"] [Round "1"] [White "Aronian, L"] [Black "Navara, D"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "E15"] 1. d4 {Instructive game tags: Queens Indian defence, Disruptive Bb4 check, capturing away from center for d-file pressure, Knight supported on e5, amazing intuitive Knight sacrifice, central pawn wedge, taking out a key defender, e4 pivot square for attack, taking away king escape squares, weaving a mating net. Notes by WAC based in part on commentary from the St. Louis Chess Club and Chess to Impress.} 1... Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 {The Nimzo-Indian after 3. Nc3 Bb4 is a perfectly sound defence for Black. Thus White will often play the text move avoiding the pin. The opening could then transpose to any number of Queen's Gambit lines or to the Queen's Indian as in this game.} 3... b6 4. g3 Ba6 5. b3 Bb4+ {This is a standard maneuver here by Black. The point is to force White to block his Queen's pressure on the d-file.} 6. Bd2 Be7 7. Nc3 O-O 8. Bg2 d5 9. cxd5 exd5 10. O-O Re8 11. Ne5 Bb7 12. Qc2 {Not yet a novelty but still rarely seen. Navara, on the White side of the position, has played the far more popular 12. Rc1 and won. Presumably Aronian was looking to put his opponent in less familiar waters. Given the rapid time control, it is a good practical strategy.} 12... c5 {Black responds to White's rarely seen opening treatment by aggressively inviting the so-called 'hanging pawns' structure in order to generate dynamic counterplay. The game Wang, Hoa (CHN) - Sasikiran, Krishnan (IND) 2010 seems to be the stem game for this line of play.} 13. dxc5 bxc5 14. Rad1 {The idea is to play 15. Bg5 with big time pressure against d5.} 14... Qc8 15. e4 {This sharp challenge to Black's centre appears to be new. The Wang - Sasikiran game continued with the logical 15. Bg5 but Black had enough defensive resources to draw in 37 moves. Aronian's idea is not only introducing some sharp tactics but it is also strategically quite logical. When playing against 'hanging pawns', the classic way to oppose them is to force one of the pawns to advance, then blockade the structure and eventually gang up on the backward supporting pawn. Obviously Black does not want to swap on e4 since that 'bowling pin' on c5 would surely fall sooner or later.} 15... Bf8 16. f4 d4 17. Nd5 Nxd5 18. exd5 f6 {Here we have Black's idea: with those annoying White Knights removed from their advanced central posts, Navara surely reasoned that his backward c5 pawn would be no more of a target than White's isolated button on d5. However the very creative Aronian has prepared a brilliant surprise.} 19. Rde1 {Whoa! Engines? What engines?! We don't need no stinkin' engines! Aronian instead appears to be channeling his inner Tal. There is certainly no way that either player could work through all the resulting tactics from this piece sacrifice. But forget Aronian's inspired intuition for the moment. The question is, 'What will White have for the sacrificed Critter?' Well to begin with, those advanced connected passers White will have after the swap on e5 are scary looking by themselves but Black has even more problems. That open f-file is going to be an attacking player's dream. Think of the lines in the King's Gambit where White gives up a Knight as well to open the f-file for attack. Note also that Black's King will not have many defensive pieces to help defend the light squares. Thus after a subsequent push to e6, White will be controlling f7 and eying the h7 square. White certainly gets big time compensation and very real attacking chances.} 19... fxe5 {Those of us watching the live stream of the game noted that Navara took very little time in deciding to grab the piece. However, if he did not accept the sac. then he would have seriously weakened his position, particularly that e6 square, for nothing and be forced to give White control of the e-file as well.} 20. fxe5 Nd7 21. e6 Nf6 22. Rxf6 {Bang! It is spectacular of course but Black is rated over 2700 and had to have anticipated it. It was probably White's next move that he failed to fully appreciate.} 22... gxf6 23. Qf5 {Nasty. Not only is f6 hanging, but it is already looking quite drafty around Black's King. The technical keys to the attack for White are the denial of f7 as an escape square for Black's King and that fantastic "turning point" square at e4 which allows for a powerful Rook lift. Last but not least, it must be noted that although White is down a Rook, Black's extra Rook and his light squared Bee may as well not even be on the board.} 23... Qd8 24. Re4 Re7 25. Rg4+ Kh8 {It was Reuben Fine who once advised that in such positionally advantageous positions, "Combinations are as natural as a baby's smile." Thus if Black had tried 25... Bg7 then the natural 26. Be4 is crushing. A sample line: 26... Kf8 27. Bh6! Bxh6 28. Qxf6+ Ke8 29. Rg8+ Bf8 30. Rxf8++} 26. Be4 Rc8 27. Rh4 Kg8 {If 27... Qc7 then 28. Qxf6+ Kg8 29. Bf4 Qd8 30. Be5 Bg7 31. Bxh7+ Kh8 32. Bg6+ Kg8 33. Bf7+ etc. is the kind of line that experienced players don't even bother calculating in advance. It is just assumed at this point that there is a winning line no matter what Black tries.} 28. Rxh7 Bxd5 29. Qg6+ Rg7 {Or 29... Bg7 30. Rh8+! and mate next.} 30. Qh5 Bxe4 31. Rh8# {A brilliant attacking game by Aronian that at least one commentator suggested should win a prize as the Rapid Game of the Year. Given Aronian's demonstration of many of the classic attacking elements for weaving a mating net, the game will surely find its way into many future instructive game compilations. It is games such as this that keep true chess lovers coming back for more.} 1-0

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