Levon Aronian, the 34-year-old Armenian world No2 who has dominated recent tournaments, took the $120,000 first prize at the World Cup in Tbilisi by beating China’s Ding Liren 4-2 in the final. Both qualified for the eight-player Candidates in Berlin in March 2018 which will decide who challenges for Magnus Carlsen’s world title later next year.
Aronian stood better in four drawn classical games but was unable to convert against Ding’s stubborn defence. He switched to a more fluid attacking style in the fifth, a speed tie-break, provoked errors and broke through for a mating attack. Faced with a must-win sixth game, Ding mishandled a promising position and was overwhelmed by a swift counter.
The problem for Aronian in Berlin will be his history of below-par results in previous Candidates, plus the presence of in-form opponents. Sergey Karjakin, who lost narrowly to Carlsen in 2016, has already qualified along with Aronian and Ding, while Fabiano Caruana and Wesley So of the US are virtually sure of the two rating spots.
Their rival, Russia’s former champion Vlad Kramnik, collapsed in the early rounds of the current Isle of Man Open, where he lost in this week’s puzzle diagram to 65-year-old James Tarjan, who was an Olympiad gold medallist before Kramnik was born, then drew with the English IM Lawrence Trent, who shrewdly found an opening to chop off most of the pieces.
Two Candidates places remain to be settled at the Grand Prix final in Palma de Mallorca in November, with France’s Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and the Azeri Shak Mamedyarov the favourites. One place is an organiser’s wild card but there is no German with the required 2725 minimum rating.
Meanwhile the Chess.com Isle of Man Open has its final two rounds this weekend (1.30 pm start on Saturday, midday on Sunday). Carlsen took a clear lead on 5.5/6 but several contenders including the England No1, Michael Adams, were within striking distance. India’s 12-year-old Rameshbabu…