The late middlegame is often where the dance is. In a fairly even position, the opponents are under great pressure, while the clock ticks relentlessly on. Such a situation occurred in Liren Ding (20 years-old, three-time Chinese champion) vs. Levon Aronian, the world’s No. 2 player, in the first round of the Alekhine Memorial. Despite a rating disadvantage of more than a 100 points, Ding Liren found a way to give up the exchange and to prevail with an attack by just a couple of pieces.
Alekhine Memorial 2013
Liren Ding (2702) vs. Levon Aronian (2809)
1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 a6 The "Chebanenko Slav" named after the Moldovan trainer Vecheslav Chebanenko. 5. e3 e6 6. c5 One of the more popular replies. White blocks Black's bishop and tries to fix the b6 square. 6. …Nbd7 7. b4 b6 8. Bb2 a5 9. a3Be7 10. Bd3 O-O 11. O-O Ba6 12. Ne1 A novelty. Other games have gone 12. BxB or12. Qe2. White hopes to get his knight to d3 after the exchange of bishops which will help hold b4 and e5. 12. …Bc4?! This strikes me as overly ambitious. Better was just 12. …BxB with a small plus for White. 13. Bxc4 dxc4 14. Qe2 Rb8 Indirectly protecting the c-pawn as 15. Qxc is answered by bxc 16. dxc Nxc5. Maybe Qb8 is better with the same idea but keeping the rook on the a-file15. Ra2! b5 Forced to save the pawn but now Black's queen-side play is slowed down. 16. e4 Rb7 17. Nc2 Nb8 18. Raa1 Qc8 19. Rad1 Rd8 20. Bc1 Na621. Bf4 Another idea is 21. Bg5 with the idea of exchanging bishops and weakening d6. 21. …Rbd7 Not so much to put pressure on the d-pawn but to prevent a d5 by White. 22. h3 Ne8 23. Qe3 Better may be 23. bxa5 and Black will with have trouble getting the pawn back. 23. …Bf6 24. e5 Be7 25. Ne4 Nac7 26. Nd6 Qa8 27. Qg3 Nd5 28. Ne3 Nc3 Possibly based on a miscalculation as this attempt to win material leads to a fierce attack by White. 29. Rde1 Stopping 29. … Ne2+. 29. …Bxd6 30. exd6 Ne4 Heading to d2 to win the exchange but Black does not live long enough to enjoy it. 31. Qh4 Nd2 32. Nd5! Nxf1?! He still has time to bail out with 32. … Nf3+ which leads to a small plus for White after 33. gxN exN 34. Bd2. 33. Nb6 Qa7 34. Rxf1 Nf6 35. Be5 Nd5 36. Nxd5 exd5 37. Bxg7! (Diagram) Kxg7 38. Qg5+ Kf8 39. Qf6 Kg8 One gets the feeling that Aronian thought this was just a draw — White is down a rook after all! 40. Qg5+ Kf8 41. Qf6 Even here, my engine pronounces a draw but not after White's next move. 41. …Kg8 42. Re1!! Now the computer realizes that there is no stopping one of two winning rook lifts. 42. …axb4 Still losing but at least avoiding mate is 42. … h6 43. Re3 Kh7 but Black wins after 44. Re7 threatening 45. Qxf7+ which forces Black to play 44. … RxR (44. …Rf8 45. Qf5+) and then after 45. dxR Rg8 46, Qf7+ Kh8 47. e8 (Q). 43. Re5! Not 43. Re3 as 43. …Qxa3! would force the draw. 43. …h6 44. Rh5 Qxa345.Qxh6 Not 45. Rxh6 as 45. …Qa1+ and 46. …QxR holds. 45. …f6 46. Qxf6 There is no stopping mate; 1-0