Aronian wins WR Masters on Tiebreaks

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The champ (courtesy WR Masters)


With a two-game lead headed into the final four rounds, the question was whether anyone could stop American GM Levon Aronian. It turns out, the answer was: almost.


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"You want me to do what?" (courtesy WR Masters)


In their seventh-round encounter, Russian GM and world number two Ian Nepomniachtchi gave himself a huge morale boost headed into the impending World Championship match. Aronian was unable to blockade his opponent’s isolated queen’s pawn, and had nothing better than to “grovel” for a repetition of moves. “Nepo” had other plans, (eventually) continuing to push on the kingside until an unseemly blunder right before the time control ended Aronian’s dreams of clinching the tournament with a round to spare.



With Aronian no longer running circles around the competition, Nepo was among a field of contenders playing catch-up. The first to fall back to the pack was American GM Wesley So, whose trusty Italian Game quickly went wrong against German upstart GM Vincent Keymer.



Yas Keymer
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A happy Keymer celebrates during post-game analysis with a famous table tennis player (courtesy WR Masters)


At this point, the only player who managed to catch up to Aronian was Indian GM Gukesh. His flawless seventh-round win over Russian GM Andrey Esipenko showed off his understanding of the trendy “Pseudo-Catalan” structure that White deployed.



In the final round, Aronian and Gukesh decided to play the waiting game, quickly shaking hands after 18 moves.


Gukesh Aronian
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The first of three Gukesh and Aronian games on the final day (courtesy WR Masters)


They were waiting to see whether Nepo would be able to outwit Keymer in a grueling endgame to join the pair on 5½/9 in the tiebreaks.


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Keymer, wondering where it went wrong (courtesy WR Masters)


Keymer struggling to hold (or win) difficult endgames under time pressure is quickly becoming a recurring theme in his chess, but there is no better way to learn than by doing.



Back to the original question. After five rounds, Aronian had a two-game lead over the field. At the end of the ninth and final round, Aronian was in a three-way tie for first.


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Welcome to the club! Do all top players have secret handshakes, or only these two? (courtesy WR Masters)


Given the epic comeback, Nepo stopped Aronian, right? And Gukesh caught up, too, yes? Not exactly.




In the tiebreaks, which were a series of 10-minute games with two-second increments as the three players rotated in-and-out, Aronian was unstoppable. After defeating both Gukesh and Nepomniachtchi, he took out Gukesh one more time for good measure. Replay all the tiebreakers below.






With the victory, Aronian earned the trophy and 40,000 euros. Gukesh and Nepomniachtchi earned 20,000 each for their shared second and third.

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