"It could easily be one of my best games," said the world champion Vishy Anand after he brilliantly defeated the Armenian grandmaster Levon Aronian in the fourth round of the traditional Tata Steel Chess Tournament in the Dutch coastal town of Wijk aan Zee this week. The game would make a nice addition to Anand's award-winning collection of his well-annotated games, published byGambit Publications
Anand's victory reminds us that the ghosts of the glorious chess past are still alive. After the game, the Indian grandmaster said that it looked incredibly close to the classic duel between Gersz Rotlewi and Akiba Rubinstein, a marvelous tactical masterpiece played more than a century ago. Today, computers would have won the game differently than Rubinstein, depriving us of seeing one of the finest combinations in chess history. Let's have a look at both games.
Aronian, the last year's winner at Wijk aan Zee and currently rated number three in the world, talked about falling into an opening trap in the Semi-Slav defense, but it was not that simple. Anand acknowledged that he prepared the variation for the last year's world championship match against Boris Gelfand, but didn't say where precisely the preparation ended and the game began. His three seconds, Rustam Kasimzhanov, Radek Wojtazsek and Surya Shekhar Ganguly, used the idea after the match, but their games didn't not take the path chosen by Aronian. And Anand used it in a spectacular way.
Anand's love of the Semi-Slav defense goes way back. In 1991 in Brussel, the then 21-year-old Indian grandmaster made headlines by exchanging punches with the former world champion Anatoly Karpov during their quarterfinal Candidates match. The Semi-Slav was Anand's main defense. The score was tied before the last game.
I was there as Nigel Short's coach, guiding him to victory over Boris Gelfand. Before the last round I accidentally bumped into Karpov on the street. "Is there anything good against the Slav?" he asked desperately, but with a guilty smile. He knew I would remain silent.
The next day both Anand and Gelfand lost and were eliminated. But time heals and we saw them back last year in Moscow, playing for the world title. Vishy could not use his Semi-Slav analysis there, but it served him well now in Wijk aan Zee against Aronian.
The magical use of the long diagonal h1-a8 helped Anand to win the world championship matches against Vladimir Kramnik in 2008 (Game 3) and Veselin Topalov in 2010 (Game 12). He owns the diagonal, it is his highway to the chess crown. Aronian saw the light bishop come to life and it was a monster. And things got worse after Anand also included the dark bishop into his attack.
The 1991 Karpov-Anand games revolved around the line 6.Qc2 Bd6 7.Be2 0-0 8.0-0 dxc4 9.Bxc4 and now 9...Qe7 or 9...a6.
6...dxc4 7.Bxc4 b5 8.Bd3 Bd6
Anand spent a lot of time choosing the bishop move over the Meran variation 8...a6 9.e4 c5.
9.0-0 0-0 10.Qc2 Bb7 11.a3 Rc8!?
The rook helps black to break with c6-c5 and white has no way to stop it. It is an improvement on 11...a6 that can be met by 12.Ng5 Bxh2+ 13.Kxh2 Ng4+ 14.Kg1 Qxg5 15.f3 Ngf6 16.e4 Qh4 17.Be3 and with strong center and a bishop pair, white has an excellent compensation for a pawn, as was played, for example in the game Anand-Aronian, Linares 2009. The roles were now reversed.
Luring Anand to the same positional trap 12...Bxh2+ 13.Kxh2 Ng4+ 14.Kg1 Qxg5 and now after 15.f3 Ngf6 16.b4 white was better in Wojtaszek - Negi, German Bundesliga 2012.
The c-pawn can't be chained with 12.b4 because black can still play 12...c5! as Anand's team found out, concluding it leads to a draw after 13.bxc5 Bxf3.
And these were the reasons:
A. 14.gxf3 Nxc5! An amazing temporary piece sacrifice, equalizing the chances. 15.dxc5 Rxc5 and now trying to keep the piece leads to a draw: 16.Bb2 Bxh2+ 17.Kxh2 (17.Kh1 Nd5-+) 17...Rh5+ 18.Kg2 Rg5+ with perpetual check.
In the game Topalov -Kasimdzhanov, London 2012 white protected his king side, but lost the piece back 16.f4 Nd5 17.Bb2 Nxc3 18.Bxc3 Qc7 19.Rfc1 Rc8 and drew in 37 moves.
B. Another Anand's second, Ganguly, played 14.cxd6!? against Zherebukh in Fujairah City 2012, and after 14...Nd5 15.gxf3 Nxc3 16.f4 Nf6 17.Qb2 black could have played 17...Qd7!?, for example 18.Bd2 e5!, threatening 19...Qg4+ and equalizing. Instead he played 17...a6 and lost in 48 moves.
Everything breaks loose. When black's pieces aim at the white king, a couple of pawns is not important. It is stronger than grabbing the pawn: 12...Bxh2+ 13.Kxh2 Ng4+ 14.Kg1 Qxg5 15.f3 Ngf6 16.b4 and white had the edge in Wojtaszek - Negi, German Bundesliga 2012.
After the passive 12...g6 white succeeds tying black up with13.Nge4 Bb8 14.b4.
Aronian wins a pawn, but his knight gets stranded. Anand was sure that after 13.Bxh7+ Kh8 black is fine.
Rubinstein's final attacking sequence also begins with this knight leap. Anand pointed out that from the time consumption it was clear he tried to check and recheck his analysis, but it was nice to have this position as a starting point. He knew that black's chances are good and he could play with confidence. Not as good is 13...c4 14.Nxf6+ Nxf6 15.Be2 with white's edge.
Aronian blocks the diagonal h2-b8, but Anand finds a clever way to find a new roadway for his dark bishop. The computers suggest that the position is still level after 14.h3 Bh2+! - an important check according to Anand - 15.Kh1 Qh4 black has plenty of counterplay, for example:
B. 16.Be4 Bxe4 17.Qxe4 f5! 18.Qxe6+ Kxh7 19.Qxd7 Bb8 20.Kg1 (Or 20.f4 cxd4 21.Qxd4 Nf2+ 22.Kh2 Rfd8 and white can't cope with the activity of black pieces.) 20...Bh2+ 21.Kh1 Bb8 leads to a repetition.
Taking the exchange 14.Nxf8? leads to a disaster after 14...Bxh2+ 15.Kh1 Qh4 and black wins.
The exchange sacrifice weakens white's center. Anand used 30 minutes for this move. Black has fully equalized. It is a critical moment for white.
This was the right time to capture the exchange 15.Nxf8 Bxf8 16.h3! (After 16.exd4? Ndf6! white can't protect the d-pawn and after 17.h3 Qxd4+ 18.Kh1 black wins with either 18...Bc5! or 18...Nh5.) 16...dxc3 17.hxg4 with roughly equal chances, for example:
Anand's pieces walk on hot embers without getting burned. The world champion is not showing off, it is the most precise way to victory. He could have tried to take different paths, for example:
A. 16...Bxd4+ 17.Kh1 Ndf6 since 18.Bxg4? Nxg4 19.Nxf8 leads to the game, but white can spoil the fun with 18.Nxf6+.
B. 16...Qh4 17.Bxg4 Bxd4+ 18.Kh1 Qxg4 19.Nxf8 Nf6 20.Qe2 Qh3 21.f5 e5 22.Rf3 Bxf3 23.Qxf3 Qh4 and white can still play.
The other knight can't be taken: 17.fxe5 Qxd4+ 18.Kh1 Qg1+ 19.Rxg1 Nf2 mate.
White gets also mated after 17.dxc5 Qd4+
A. 18.Be3 Qxe3+ 19.Kh1 Qh3, threatening 20...Qxh2 mate.
B. 18.Kh1 Nf2+ 19.Rxf2 Qxf2 and black mates either on g2 or on the first rank.
17...Bxd4+ 18.Kh1 Nxg4 19.Nxf8
After 19.Ng5 f5 20.h3 Rf6 wins.
Anand was proud of this move. White is lost. There was no reason to allow white to escape after 19...Qh4 20.Qh7+.
Preventing the queen sortie 20...Qh4 for the time being. Black wins after 20.Qd3 Qh4 21.Qg3 Qxg3 22.hxg3 Kxf8 23.Rd1 (23.Nd1 Ke7 threatening 24...Rh8 mate.) 23...Bxc3; or after 20.Qe2 Qh4! 21.Qxe6+ Kxf8 22.Qxf5+ Kg8 23.Qe6+ Kh8.
Other moves would not help either 21.Qd3 Qxg6 22.Qg3 Nf2+-+; or 21.Ne5 Nxh2! 22.Rf2 Qh4 23.Kg1 Qg3-+.
After 22.hxg4 Qh6 mates.
Threatening 23....Qxh3 mate. It is the queen, not Rubinstein's rooks, that finishes white off.
The game deserved the following brilliant ending: 23.Qxe6+ Kh8 24.Nd5 Rd8 25.Qe7 Qxh3+!!
26.gxh3 Bxd5+ black mates soon.
White could have only prolonged the suffering with 23.Rf3 Nf2+ 24.Kh2 (24.Rxf2? Qxh3+ 25.Kg1 Qxg2 mate.) 24...Bxf3 25.Qxf3 Qxf3 26.gxf3 Bxc3 or 26...Nd3 and there is no doubt about black's victory.
Blocking the defense of the h-pawn and threatening to mate with 24...Qxh3+. And after 24.Bxe3 Qxh3+ 25.Kg1 Qxg2 mates.
The game Rotlewi - Rubinstein was played at the Lodz club championship in 1907. Lodz was at that time a large textile Polish city that was a part of the Russian Empire. Rotlewi's career was cut short. He died in 1920 at the age of 31. Rubinstein became one of the best players in the world before World War I.
Andrew Soltis ranks Rubinstein's signature masterpiece as number 10 in his book The 100 Best Games of the 20th Century, Ranked, published by McFarland. It is a model game on how to act in symmetrical positions. White's inaccurate opening play is punished by three incredible rook moves, making it one of the most famous combinations.
The parallels with Anand's game are striking: the same knight leap into the attack, a bishop pair on the same diagonals bearing down on the white king at the same corner and the decisive queen sortie to the h-file.
Rubinstein is pictured around the time the game was played.
White wasted too much time in the opening and this is a losing move.
With the rooks on the open files and the bishop combo looking at the white king, something is bound to happen. Rubinstein only needs to unlock the last pieces for a powerful storm.
A signal to a decisive attack, threatening 22...Qh4. It is based on a poorly protected light bishop on d3.
After 21.Qxg4 Rxd3 , threatening 22...Rd2 and 22...Rdxc3, white is in dire straits. White can't plug the diagonal h1-a8 with 21.Ne4 because of 21...Qh4! 22.h3 Rxd3! 23.Qxd3 Bxe4 24.Qb3 (Or 24.Qxe4 Qg3 25.hxg4 Qh4#) 24...Be3! finishing the same way as the Aronian-Anand game, threatening 25...Qh3 mate.
Today, computers would spoil Rubinstein's elegant combination with 21...Nxh2! , for example
A. 22.Rfe1 Rxc3 23.Bxc3 (23.Qh5 g6 24.Qxh2 Rb3-+) 23...Qh4 24.g3 Qxg3 25.Qxh2 Bxe4+ 26.Rxe4 Qxc3 27.Rae1 Rd1!! and black wins.
B. 22.Qh5.Bxe4 23.Kxh2 Bxg2! wins.
The black pieces are ready to pounce after 22.h3 Rxc3!
A. 23.Bxc3 Bxe4 24.Qxg4 (24.Qxe4 Qg3! 25.hxg4 Qh4#) 24...Qxg4 25.hxg4 Rd3 26.Kh2 (26.Rac1 Rh3#) 26...Rxc3 27.Rac1 Rc4! and black should win.