Aronian on perfect 3/3 as Tata Steel Chess India begins

Levon Aronian beat Sam Shankland, Adhiban and Vidit as he began the Tata Steel Chess India Rapid with a perfect 3/3. The Armenian star took a full 1-point lead over Vidit and teenage stars Praggnanandhaa and Arjun Erigaisi as the first top-level Indian chess event in two years began in Kolkata. Four foreign stars are taking on six Indian players, though the Indian line-up will change again for the blitz that follows. 

You can replay all the games from the Tata Steel Chess India Rapid using the selector below.

Tata Steel is an Indian company that took over the steelworks in Wijk aan Zee and, since 2018, it’s decided to hold a chess tournament in India as well as in the traditional Dutch seaside town. In 2018 the winner was Hikaru Nakamura, though Vishy Anand delighted local fans in Kolkata by finishing joint top in the blitz portion, while in 2019 World Champion Magnus Carlsen came to town and was at his most dominant, despite a stomach upset that saw him offer Vidit a draw on move 5 in the first game of the final day! 

As you can see, the line-up there, for an event that was part of the Grand Chess Tour, is as good as it gets. This year, Carlsen and Nepomniachtchi are of course busy, though Magnus found time to post a message.

The European Team Championship is also taking place at the same time, but more significantly simply holding the event at all has been an achievement given the pandemic, which caused it to be cancelled in 2020. 

The 2021 field features just four foreign players, Levon Aronian, Sam Shankland, Liem Quang Le and Parham Maghsoodloo, while in total we’re going to see 10 India stars in action. Vidit and Adhiban are playing in both the rapid and blitz, while the other players will be swapped around. 

For the rapid — three days of 25+10 chess where each player plays each other once — Praggnanandhaa, Arjun Erigaisi, Karthikeyan Murali and Vaishali play, before Gukesh, Raunak Sadhwani, Harika Dronavalli and Nihal Sarin take over for the blitz, which features 18 rounds of 3+2 chess, with the players facing each other twice. Vishy Anand is in Kolkata, but is acting as an ambassador rather than playing. 

Day 1 was dominated by Levon Aronian, who is both the top seed and, with Vidit, the only player to have played in all three editions of the event. He would admit afterwards that his games weren’t quite as impressive as he score.

I enjoyed them all. I can’t say I was playing particularly well, but I was getting some fun positions. In rapid or blitz it’s not necessarily that you’re going to play correct chess. I think it’s more important to play something that your opponent will not feel comfortable with.

In Round 1 it looked as though Sam Shankland had things under control when he played 29.Bh3!?

That was offering up a queen for a rook and bishop, with 29…Ra3 30.Qxa3 Qxa3 31.Bxd7 following. Levon was impressed:

Bh3 surprised me, because I thought this is a good move, otherwise Black’s position is unpleasant. After this it’s probably a draw.

Things were balanced until Sam, under pressure on the clock, lost the thread of the game.

Levon pointed out that sacrificing the pawn with 43.Bd7!? Qxd5 44.Bh3 should just be a draw on the spot, but Sam’s 43.Kg2?! ran into 43…h3+ 44.Kxh3 Rxf2 and, in an already tough position, 45.Kg4? was the losing mistake, blundering a rook to 45…Qc4+!. 46.Re4 was the only try, but was hit by 46…f5+! 

In Round 2 Levon took down Adhiban, whose 3…f5!? against the Ruy Lopez perhaps didn’t have the impact he hoped on Levon, who told Tania Sachdev and Sagar Shah afterwards:

The Schliemann, the opening of my childhood! I played it forever, so I know it quite well.

Levon felt he got lazy in the middlegame, but when Adhiban missed a chance to eliminate the dangerous queenside pawns he was always fighting an uphill battle, and eventually succumbed. 

While Levon was winning his first two games, his Round 3 opponent Vidit had done the same, starting with a somewhat fortunate win over Adhiban. 

Adhiban sensed the time had come for a sacrifice, but spent almost 12 minutes here. His problem was that there were two very plausible ways to sacrifice a piece for two pawns. The winning one was 15.Nxg5! Nxg5 16.Qxh5+ Nh7 17.f4!, when the computer gives White a huge advantage. 

Instead the “Beast”, who was playing after recently getting married, went for 15.Bxe5+!? dxe5 16.Nxe5 Kg7 17.f4, but with accurate defence, starting with 17…g4!, Vidit showed that it didn’t work.

Vidit soon got to take over.

His 25…c6! trapped the white queen. The only way to try and prevent Ra7 was 26.Nxc6, but after 26…Be4+ 27.Kg1 Bxc6 28.bxc6 there was 28…Ra7! anyway, and Adhiban’s attempts to save himself only allowed Vidit to demonstrate more brilliancy.

Vidit then scored a fine win over Liem Quang Le in Round 2, but in Round 3 he met his match against Aronian. For a long time it looked as though Vidit was doing well, but then Levon seized the iniative.

25…Nd5!, and after 26.Qd4!? Nf4! it was constant pressure from Black until Levon ultimately out-tricked his opponent in the endgame. 

That win left Levon a full point ahead of Vidit and two of the rising stars of Indian chess, 16-year-old Praggnanandhaa and 18-year-old Arjun Erigaisi. 

Pragg won their very hard-fought individual encounter and drew against Sam Shankland, while his toughest game was in fact his first against his older sister Vaishali. 

She would have had excellent winning chances after 28.Rxd6! Rxd6 29.Rxd6, but perhaps feared 29…Bc5 and pushing the g-pawn. Nevertheless, after e.g. 30.Rd2 g2+ 31.Rxg2 Nxg2 32.Kxg2 she would have had a healthy extra pawn. 

In the game after 28.Rxf2?! gxf2 29.Kxf2 Ke7 (29…Nxh3? 30.Kg3! and the knight is lost) the battle fizzled out into a draw. 

The game in fact cost Vaishali some rating points, since her 2210 rapid rating is 300 points above her brother’s 1821 — there hasn’t been much official over-the-board rapid chess for prodigies to play during the pandemic! 

Arjun Erigaisi, who started the recent Lindores Abbey Blitz with an amazing 10.5/11, reached 2nd place after beating Iran’s Parham Maghsoodloo in Round 1. Parham had arrived late after visa issues and had a tough start, though a desperado attack by Adhiban in the last round of the day helped him get off the mark.

Arjun then bounced back from the loss to Pragg to beat 2-time Indian Champion Karthikeyan Murali in just 17 moves. In a very tricky position, 16…b6? was a losing blunder (16.f6! and the game goes on).

17.Ne8! is an unusual but devastating fork — as well as attacking the queen on c7 it threatens mate on g7. Murali resigned.

So the standings look as follows after Day 1 of the Tata Steel India Chess Rapid.

On Day 2, after facing Liem Quang Le, Aronian will start to play some of the younger players, Maghsoodloo and then Praggnanandhaa. He joked of facing the new generation before the battle began:

I want to beat them while they’re little so they remember me as a bad uncle who beat them and made them unhappy!

Don’t miss all the action live here on chess24 from 14:00 IST | 09:30 CET!

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