With his fourth consecutive victory, Levon Aronian won the tournament with a round to spare.

Friday, Levon Aronian beat Hou Yifan Friday in Round 6 of the Grenke Chess Classic. It was Aronian’s fourth straight win the event and after all the rest of the games ended in draws, it clinched first place in the tournament with a round to spare.

Aronian, who is from Armenia, now has 5 points, while his nearest rivals, Magnus Carlsen, the World Champion from Norway, and Fabiano Caruana of the United States, each have 3.5 points.

Against Hou, Aronian sacrificed a pawn to gain the bishop pair and activity for his pieces. When Hou was unable to hold on to her extra material, it left Aronian with a large advantage and he soon converted it into a win.

Aronian, Levon vs. Hou Yifan
GRENKE Chess Classic | Karlsruhe GER | Round 6 | 21 Apr 2017 | 1-0
25. Rac1 White is down a pawn, but the activity of his pieces and his bishop pair give him with more than enough compensation. But with accurate play, Black should be hold to hold a draw.
25... Be6? This is complacent.
25... Ne3! This should equalize. The point is that Black can follow up with f5, pushing the strong bishop on e4 off his perch.
26. Re1 f5! 27. Bd3 f4 And the strong knight on e3 should secure Black a decent enough position.  )
26. Bxb7 Ra7 27. Be4 White has restored material equality and has an active bishop pair on an open board. That was enough of an advantage for Aronian.
27... a5 28. Rd4 Ne5 29. Bg3 f6 30. a3 Rd7 31. Bxe5! The art of good technique is knowing how to exchange one advantage for another. Aronian cedes the bishop pair for some activity that will net him a pawn.
31. Rxd7 Nxd7 Black is definitely worse, but can struggle on.  )
31... fxe5 32. Rxd7 Bxd7 33. Rc7! Forcing and strong. The bishop lacks a good square.
33... Bb5 Alternatives were not any better.
33... Ba4 34. Ra7 Since Black cannot advance a4, the a-pawn will be lost.  )
33... Be6 34. Rc5 Black must lose either the pawn on e5 or a5.  )
33... Bc8 34. Ra7 Wins the a-pawn.  )
33... Re7 34. Bf5  )
33... Rd8 34. Rc5  )
34. Rc5 Black cannot avoid the loss of a pawn. After that, she was unable to put up much resistance.
34... Rb8 35. Rxe5 a4 36. h4 Kf7 37. Rc5 Be8 38. Bc2 Rb2 39. Rc4 Ra2 40. Bxa4 Ra1+ 41. Kh2 Bxa4 42. Rxa4

After starting the tournament with 2.5 points in her first three games, Hou has fallen back to a score of 50 percent.

Though the rest of the games in the round were drawn, they were hard-fought. Carlsen had a tense position against Arkadij Naiditsch of Azerbaijan, but both players navigated the complications well and neither player ever gained a significant edge.

Arkadij Naiditsch vs. Magnus Carlsen
GRENKE Chess Classic | Karlsruhe GER | Round 6 | 21 Apr 2017 | ECO: A45 | 1/2-1/2
1. d4 Nf6 2. Bf4 g6 3. Nc3 d5 4. e3 Bg7 5. h4 h5 6. Be2 O-O 7. Nf3 c5 8. dxc5 Qa5 9. O-O Qxc5 10. Nb5 a6 11. Nc7 Ra7 12. Nb5 axb5 13. Bxb8 Ra8 14. Be5 b4 15. Bd4 Qa5 16. c3 Bg4 17. Qb3 bxc3 18. Bxc3 Qc7 19. Rac1 Qd8 20. Rfd1 e6 Naiditch finds a forcing continuation, but not too much comes of it.
21. Bb4 Re8
21... Bxf3 The engine prefers this move, the point being that after:
22. gxf3 Ne8! Black is happy to give up the exchange as he will win the pawn on h4.  )
22. Bb5! Energetic. White applies the maximum amount of pressure to Black's position.
22... Nd7 23. e4! More forceful play. Black now has to be very precise to hold on, but Carlsen was up to the task.
23... Bxf3! 24. Qxf3
24. gxf3 Qxh4 25. Bxd7 Red8 And White cannot keep his extra material because the attack is too strong after:
26. Bb5 Bh6  )
24... Ne5! Black gains a critical tempo to bring the passively placed knight on d7 to the more active square c6.
25. Qh3
25. Qb3 The engine prefers this move, but after:
25... Nc6 26. exd5 exd5 27. Rxc6 bxc6 28. Bxc6 Qxh4 29. Bxa8 Rxa8 30. Qxd5 Rb8 I think Black should hold without much trouble.  )
25... Nc6! 26. exd5 exd5 27. Rxc6 Very forcing. The next sequence of moves left neither player with any real chance to deviate.
27... bxc6 28. Bxc6 Rxa2 29. Bxd5!
29. Bxe8 Qxe8 Is better for Black.  )
29... Kh7! Not fearing for the rook on a2 and getting out of the way of any discovered attacks.
29... Rxb2 30. Bxf7+  )
30. Qf3
30. Bb3 Qb6 31. Bxa2 Qxb4 Is just a draw
32. Bxf7? Re1+ 33. Rxe1 Qxe1+ 34. Kh2 Qxf2 And White has to play precisely as both Qxf7 and Be5+ are serious threats.  )
30... Rxb2 31. Bxf7 Rxb4 Not the only move but it is enough.
31... Qxh4 32. Bxe8 Qxb4 33. g3 Qe7  )
32. Rxd8 Rxd8 33. g3 Rb6 The engine prefers White, but Black has a fortress and cannot lose.
34. Bxg6+ Rxg6 35. Qxh5+ Rh6 36. Qf5+ Kh8 37. Kg2 Rf6 38. Qh5+ Kg8 39. Qe2 Rdf8 40. Qc2 Rxf2+ 41. Qxf2 Rxf2+ 42. Kxf2

Fabiano Caruana could have kept his hopes to tie for first by beating Matthias Blübaum of Germany. But Blübaum held a pawn-down ending with accurate defense.

Matthias Bluebaum vs. Fabiano Caruana
GRENKE Chess Classic | Karlsruhe GER | Round 6.4 | 21 Apr 2017 | ECO: D27 | 1/2-1/2
1. d4 d5 2. c4 dxc4 3. e3 Nf6 4. Bxc4 e6 5. Nf3 c5 6. O-O a6 7. b3 b6 8. Bb2 Bb7 9. dxc5 Bxc5 10. Qxd8+ Kxd8 11. Ne5 Ke7 12. Be2 Nbd7 13. Nxd7 Nxd7 14. Nd2 Rhd8 15. Bf3 Bxf3 16. Nxf3 f6 17. Rfd1 e5 18. Kf1 a5 19. Nd2 a4 20. Ne4 Ke6 21. bxa4 Rxa4 22. Nc3 Rc4 23. Nb5 Rc8 24. Ba3 Bxa3 25. Nxa3 Rb4 26. Rab1 Rxb1 27. Rxb1 Ra8 28. Nc4 Rxa2 29. Nxb6 Nc5 30. Rd1 Rc2 31. f3 e4 32. fxe4 Nxe4 33. Nd5 g5 34. Nb4 Rf2+ 35. Kg1 Re2 36. Nc6 Rxe3 37. Nd4+ Ke5 38. Nf3+ Kf5 39. Rf1 Nc3 40. h4 Kg4 41. Nh2+ Kxh4 42. Rxf6 Re1+ 43. Nf1 h5 44. Kh2 Kg4 45. Rf3 Nd1 46. Rf6 h4 47. Rf8! White gives himself distance to make checks with the rook.
47. Rf7 This also holds but it is not as easy because:
47... Kh5 Cannot be met by g3.
48. g3 Kg6! 49. Rf8 Re2+ 50. Kh1 h3 And Black would eventually win.  )
47... Kh5 48. g3! Well calculated. White forces a pair of pawns off the board to ease his defense
48... Re2+ 49. Kg1 h3 50. Rh8+! The point of Rf8. Without this check, White would be losing.
50... Kg4 51. Nh2+ Kxg3 52. Nf1+ Kg4 53. Nh2+ Black is unable to escape the checks and consolidate. He tried:
53... Kf4 But once he was left with just one pawn there was no longer a way to make progress.
54. Rxh3 g4 55. Nxg4 Not necessary, but it is sufficient to hold a draw. Rook and knight vs rook is a very easy draw for a strong player and Blbaum had no problems defending the position.
55... Kxg4 56. Rh8 Nf2 57. Kf1 Rc2 58. Ke1 Kf3 59. Rf8+ Ke3 60. Re8+ Ne4 61. Kd1 Rh2 62. Kc1 Kd4 63. Rd8+ Kc4 64. Rc8+ Nc5 65. Kd1 Rg2 66. Ke1 Kd4 67. Rd8+ Ke3 68. Re8+ Ne4 69. Kd1 Rg6 70. Kc2 Rc6+ 71. Kb3 Kd3 72. Rd8+ Nd6 73. Rh8 Rb6+ 74. Ka4 Nc4 75. Rh3+ Kd4 76. Rh4+ Kd5 77. Rd4+ Kc5 78. Rd5+ Kc6 79. Rc5+ Kxc5

While first place has been decided, there is still a lot to play for and Aronian will have a tough game with Black against Caruana in the finale. I remember one year in Wijk Aan Zee, Aronian completely dominated the field and clinched first with a round to go, only to get demolished by the Loek van Wely of the Netherlands, who was the bottom seed, in the last round. I’m sure he is not eager to repeat that experience and will not celebrate too soon.


Samuel Shankland is a United States grandmaster ranked No. 4 in the country. He is a professional player and recipient of the Samford Fellowship in 2013, the most prestigious award in the United States for young chess players. He was also a member of the team that won the gold medal at the 2016 Chess Olympiad. He is at @GMShanky on Twitter, has his own site, and is also on Facebook.