This match was played between May 27 and June 3, alongside seven other first round Candidates Matches in Elista, Russia.
A much anticipated match-up between two young grandmasters both ascending the rankings. Aronian has already made his mark as a super grandmaster, and the teenage Carlsen’s starting to make a serious impact at these high levels.
Aronian takes the lead when Carlsen fails to take an active approach against Aronian’s Ruy. Aronian finds 26… Rf3!? and Carlsen fails to find a safe continuation, allowing Aronian’s queenside pawns to exert a decisive influence to take the first game.
Aronian lets a great position slip against Carlsen’s Benko in game 2, and a short draw is agreed.
In game three Carlsen takes full advantage of a better pawn centre to decisively weaken Aronian’s kingside, and then mops up in the resulting rook endgame. After three games, the match is on.
Carlsen’s quiet play in game four gives the upper hand to Aronian squeezes his opening advantage into a positional win.
Carlsen repeats his game three victory by taking a superior pawn centre and translating it into a kingside pawn attack and a winning rook endgame.
Game 6 is a nervy affair with Carlsen fighting back from what seemed like a losing position to secure a well fought draw.
After 6 games the two superGM’s are locked head to head so the match headed into a rapid-play tiebreak. Aronian wins the first game, and with two further draws Carlsen is against the wall to win the final game to stay in the match.
The tiebreaks seem to swing Aronian’s way with a good win in the first game followed by two hard-fought draws. In the third game Aronian is on the verge of another draw when he blunders allowing Carlsen to even the match scores.
And the match heads into a blitz finish. Game one saw a bait-and-switch as Aronian broke through on the kingside to secure the win. Game two was a fraught tactical play where Carlsen overplayed his position in an attempt to win. Aronian wins material, the game and finally the match.
Carlsen – Aronian, Game 1
Carlsen avoids Aronian’s Marshall with an early deviation from the mainline Ruy Lopez with 6. d3 and into a quiet game. Carlsen manoeuvres his queenside knight to g3 via c3 and e2, and Aronian counters by building up his play on the queenside and in the centre. An exchange of bishops on e6 doubles Aronian’s e-pawns giving him the semi-open f-file and control of the d5-square.
Carlsen’s 17. d4?! gives him some space in the centre, but Aronian’s little centre is sufficient to retain the balance. Carlsen seizes space in the centre but Aronian turns the position around and starts to exert pressure around Aronian’s king after Carlsen opts for a slightly passive continuation with 25. Ne2?!. Aronian has a strong bishop on …e5, and doubled rooks on the f-file.
Carlsen is stunned by Aronian’s unexpected 26… Rf3!? and loses the thread of this position, leaving Aronian with a strong passed pawn on the queenside. Carlsen’s position collapses under Aronian’s queenside pressure.
Aronian can be very happy with his typically stellar approach to the Black side of an anti-Marshall type setups, although it took a blunder from Carlsen to gain the first point.
Aronian – Carlsen, Game 2
Carlsen adopts the Benko Gambit, an opening he’s used a few times before. Its a clever choice because Aronian’s only faced it once before. Aronian seizes the advantage on the queenside, but fails to find the best continuation which allows Carlsen to stem the queenside pressure and regain his sacrificed pawn. A draw agreed in a balanced position.
Carlsen can take some consolation at gaining a draw with the Benko, although he was in trouble at one stage before Aronian let him off.
Carlsen – Aronian, Game 3
Carlsen unveils another surprise, a Symmetrical English. He deviates from a previous Aronian game against Kramnik with 7. Re1 with a position that’s no stranger to grandmaster play this century. Carlsen gets a better foothold in the centre, leaving Aronian with a fairly typical Queen’s Indian/Grunfeld pawn structure. Carlsen works up some kingside pressure forcing Aronian to ditch into a queenless middlegame. But Carlsen ratchets up the pressure with a passed d-pawn and forcing the exchange of knights to reach a very promising rook endgame. Carlsen exploits the weak pawns on the kingside, trapping the Black king on h8, while his d-pawn prevents Aronian’s rook from activating. With a decisive strike, Carlsen conjures up two passed pawns on the kingside forcing Aronian to resign.
A wonderful and confident display by Carlsen to fight his way level in the match.
Aronian – Carlsen, Game 4
Carlsen’s cautious handling of an off-beat Queen’s Indian sees Aronian emerge from the opening with a small advantage. Aronian swops off the light-squared bishops to open up entry points into Black’s position. Aronian creeps forward, tieing up Carlsen’s pieces, and gradually taking over the White squares. He succeeds in pushing Black’s pieces to the back rank and infiltrates Black’s position through the centre. This forces Carlsen into a nasty pin on the seventh rank, and he’s helpless to prevent the loss of his queenside pawns. Carlsen throws in the towel.
A typical Aronian performance.
Carlsen – Aronian, Game 5
From a Kasparov / Petrosian Queen’s Indian Carlsen gets a nice centre in exchange for giving Black space on the queenside. Aronian gets a little carried away on the queenside, losing time to consolidate his position. This gives Carlsen the advantage in the centre to start a kingside attack, which compels Aronian to provoke a crisis on the queenside. Carlsen’s strong 19. Bg5 seizes the initiative and starts a piece attack against Aronian’s king. Carlsen allows Aronian to wriggle off Carlsen’s kingside attack at the cost of a pawn. In the semi-endgame Carlsen smashes through on the kingside, and with a combination of threats wins an exchange and Aronian resigns.
A duplicate of game 3, and another exposition of Carlsen’s excellent technique.
Aronian – Carlsen, Game 6
Aronian grabs the advantage out of a Slav, but Carlsen retains resources. Carlsen’s queenside is tied up and his kingside is non-existent but throws up a dogged defence. Although a pawn up, Aronian misses a string of stronger continuations. Carlsen manages to co-ordinate his pieces nicely on the kingside which propels the game into a draw by repetition.
Aronian betrays some unsteady nerves, and Carlsen shows he is still up for a fight.
Aronian – Carlsen, Rapidplay Tiebreaks
Carlsen comes out fighting in tiebreak game one with an aggressive Modern Benoni, but the position is roughly equal. Aronian takes over the centre with his mobile pawn chain, squeezing Carlsen’s position and crashes through with a pawn advance winning an exchange. He exchanges off into a won endgame.
In game 2, Aronian sparks a tactical frenzy out of a quiet-like English Opening and has to trade his queen off for a knight and rook. Aronian’s piece activity is sufficient to hold back White’s advantage.
Game 3 sees Carlsen again getting an advantage out of an off-beat Modern Benoni. He misses a few chances and his advantage is wiped out in the double rook endgame. Aronian misses one chance to take control of the game (missing 32. Bd5+!) and the game is agreed drawn.
Aronian heads into a hedgehog from a side-line in the Queen’s Indian Defence. After equalising with a …d5 break Aronian heads into complications which nets him a pawn at the cost of dislocating his pieces. Carlsen recoups his pawn and retains an advantage, but when the game reaches a queen ending it is roughly even. Aronian then blunders allowing Carlsen to tighten a mating net around Aronian’s king. And Carlsen wins to equalise the match.
Aronian – Carlsen, Blitz tiebreaks
Aronian quickly locks down Carlsen’s position in an unusual English Opening, and dominates the queenside. He uses his outside passed pawn to divert Carlsen’s pieces to the queenside. An Aronian breakthrough on the kingside wins material and a few moves later the game.
Yet another do or die game for Carlsen in the second blitz game, a Nimzo-Indian Samisch. Aronian regroups his pieces to fend off White’s passed d-pawn and while Carlsen is distracted by a kingside initiative, Aronian’s rooks gain entry to White’s position down the e-file. In the complications Carlsen’s attack is stretched too far causing an immediate loss of material. Aronian’s two extra pieces is enough to secure a win.