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Harikrishna speaks about his win over Levon Aronian

by Sagar Shah - 01/08/2017

In the sixth round of the Geneva Grand Prix, India's Pentala Harikrishna was pitted against the in-form Levon Aronian. The Armenian had recently won the Norway Chess and had completely outplayed Magnus Carlsen. Hari also had the black pieces. But the Indian player was undeterred. He played some fantastic chess to outplay his 2800+ opponent. In this interview with Sagar Shah, Hari sheds light on this victory, what was going through his head before, during and after the game. You will also get to know about Hari's second and his future plans.

Interview with India number 2 Harikrishna Pentala

Sagar Shah (SS): How happy are you with your performance at the Geneva Grand Prix 2017?

Pentala Harikrishna (PH): I am satisfied with my performance in terms of quality but result wise I am not satisfied. Eighth round loss to Li Chao and not winning against Mamedyarov  spoiled my chances to fight for first place.

Final standings

1 12 GM Radjabov Teimour AZE 2724 6,0
2 4 GM Grischuk Alexander RUS 2761 5,5
  6 GM Nepomniachtchi Ian RUS 2742 5,5
4 2 GM Mamedyarov Shakhriyar AZE 2800 5,0
  3 GM Giri Anish NED 2775 5,0
  5 GM Svidler Peter RUS 2749 5,0
  8 GM Harikrishna Pentala IND 2737 5,0
  9 GM Adams Michael ENG 2736 5,0
  10 GM Li Chao B CHN 2735 5,0
  17 GM Riazantsev Alexander RUS 2654 5,0
11 1 GM Aronian Levon ARM 2809 4,5
  7 GM Eljanov Pavel UKR 2739 4,5
  11 GM Gelfand Boris ISR 2728 4,5
  14 GM Jakovenko Dmitry RUS 2703 4,5
15 13 GM Inarkiev Ernesto RUS 2707 4,0
16 15 GM Rapport Richard HUN 2694 2,5
  16 GM Hou Yifan CHN 2666 2,5
18 18 GM Salem A.R. Saleh UAE 2638 2,0


SS: One of the best results for you in this tournament was your win against Aronian with the black pieces. How did you prepare for it?

Beating Levon Aronian with the black pieces, especially after his monstrous performance in Norway is no mean achievement!

PH: I prepared like any other game and followed my routine. I did not focus on whom I am playing and didn't see any reason to do something additional. I knew that it would be a hard-fought game with some novelty waiting for me!


SS: When facing a player like Aronian, what are some of the things that you take care about, especially because he prepares highly unusual ideas. His recent scintillating win against Carlsen with a3 followed by exchange sac comes to mind.

PH: Many of his ideas are highly interesting and he also puts a lot of hard work during the game to convert those ideas into point. But like I said above I mainly concentrated on what I will do and nothing else. When he played 1.c4, I went for the 1...e5. The English opening is very rich in ideas and both sides have many interesting tries. I was not worried that I will be out prepared.


Aronian vs Harikrishna, position after 18 moves

SS: How did you evaluate this position during the game? Were you thinking that a draw would be a good result at this point?

PH: I evaluated  that White has a pleasant position after the queen exchange with Qa2. At the same time, the computer underestimates Black's knight jumps. I am pretty sure that is the reason why Levon started with f4. He wanted to stop Black's knight from going to g4. It is too early to think about making draw. When position is worse you need to defend!


Position after Black's 22...Ne5

SS: Had you see this move (...Ne5) before or it was only after Aronian had played e3? Do you think Aronian missed it?

PH: I saw this idea as soon as he played f4. Since I had lot of time I did not hurry in playing  the whole sequence and took my time to calculate further. He missed this idea. If not for Ne5, White is doing well.


SS: How did it feel to beat such a world class player like Aronian. Especially after such a long time. (Hari's last win against Aronian in a classical game was in 2001)

PH: It felt nice to make Ne5! And win a good game. There was not much time to think about the victory and I started to prepare for the next game.

 It's not that Hari has not beaten top players like Aronian in the past. But given the importance of the tournament and the form that his opponent was in, this will definitely count as a great victory.

(The entire game between Aronian and Harikrishna with analysis is given after the interview.)


SS: You came to this event with Markus Ragger as your second. How did your association with him begin? How helpful is it to have him by your side during such events?

Markus Ragger is Austria number one with a rating of 2656

PH: We started working from the beginning of 2016. I joined Solingen chess club in 2015-2016 season and that's how we got in touch. In Geneva he was sleeping around 4 or something every night, working hard on the openings that I was going to play. Morning he would explain his impressions and then we decided what to play.  


SS: Currently you have a base in Serbia. How do you apportion you time between Serbia and India?

PH: It is hard to say, as I am travelling most of the time. I spend majority of the year in Europe, as I have my training sessions here and when I am free I visit Hyderabad.


SS: What are the next events that you would be playing?

PH: Next up on the agenda is Biel Masters in Switzerland, followed by World Cup 2017 in Tbilisi, Georgia. Knock outs are unpredictable and the best would be just prepare well for the event!

Hari will begin as the top seed along with David Navara (both are 2737) at the Biel Grandmaster Event from 24th of July. After seven rounds he is on 4.5/7 (+2)

SS: ChessBase India will be in Georgia to cover the World Cup 2017. What is your opinion about ChessBase India and its newspage. Has it made a positive impact to Indian chess?

PH: Lot of Indians are going to play at the World Cup! So it will be great to have Chessbase India there. You guys are covering all the events where Indians are playing and winning! You are doing a wonderful job. Keep it up!


SS: Thank you Hari for your time! We hope that you do well in Biel and then finish in top two of the World Cup and qualify for the Candidates.


At ChessBase India we have believed that there is a lot of talent in Indian players when it comes to writing as well as annotations in chess. The newspage is thriving thanks to contributions from all corners of the country. During the Geneva Grand Prix, we had a young boy named Tanmay Srinath annotating Harikrishna's games in every round. He has shared his experience of annotating below. We hope that after reading it, many of you might be interested to contribute your analysis to the newspage. As Mikhail Botvinnik would say, "The best way to improve is to indulge in intensive analysis and then get it published." All you have to do is send your analysis to It could be analysis of an interesting game at a recent tournament, or your very own game. We look forward to your contribution!

Experience of annotating games of Geneva Grand Prix:

By Tanmay Srinath

I am in 12th grade, where free time is hard to come by. So instead of practicing my first love (chess), I took annotating Harikrishna's games as an opportunity to learn something new. Every day, after finishing my college work at 10:00 p.m, I would go the computer and download Hari’s game from


First, I would delete the tactical analysis that would appear in the file and then I would open the Live Database. The purpose of this is to check for the theory that occurs in that game, and suggest some alternatives. Harikrishna played games in the h3 Najdorf and also the quiet Italian that has been causing quite a lot of noise at the top level. Doing this really helped, as I learnt quite a lot of theory exploring Hari’s games. I will probably play the Italian in my next tournament, over my pet Ruy Lopez!


When I analyse a game, I always make it a point not to consider the engine’s moves and suggestions at the beginning. First, I go over the game on my own, and the variations I have included are the ones I would have played in that position. I use an engine only as a blunder check, and to get me some variations of the moves I chose as alternatives. I used Houdini 5 for the purposes I mentioned above, and I put it on tactical mode to calculate some of the deep sacrifices.


I would normally take an hour plus surplus to finish annotating, and would send over the games to ChessBase India. This experience showed me that when I do things I love, time is just a number. Also, annotating Hari’s games was a revealing experience, as I was taught firsthand what small advantages meant, and how hard it is to win games at the top level. I learnt defense, offense, positional and tactical nuances, and thus I was able to level up my own game.

Overall, it was a fantastic experience . I really enjoyed working on this project, and learnt some very important lessons along the way. Thanks to Sagar and team for providing me this opportunity to annotate Hari’s games. For a chess lover like me, this is the world. Like a great man once said: Chess is art, science, sport and most importantly, fun!

Levon Aronian vs Pentala Harikrishna

[Event "FIDE Geneva Grand Prix 2017"]
[Site "Geneva"]
[Date "2017.07.12"]
[Round "6"]
[White "Aronian, Levon"]
[Black "Harikrishna, Pentala"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "A29"]
[WhiteElo "2809"]
[BlackElo "2737"]
[Annotator "Tanmay Srinath"]
[PlyCount "76"]
[EventDate "2017.??.??"]
{This 6th Round game pitted the in form Levon Aronian, the latest re-entry
into the 2800 club, and the Indian No.2 Pentala Harikrishna. It was a complex
battle, and both players gave it their all. It produced a decisive result,
that could potentially have a huge impact on the standings.} 1. c4 {Levon is a
stragecially oriented player, and plays closed openings almost all the time.
To see him play c4 is not a surprise.} e5 {1...e5 is the reason many top
players avoid the 1.c4 move order nowadays. Black has a multitude of good
lines at his disposal , such as the Reversed Rossolimo, the Reversed Dragon
etc. Also, since Hari plays e4 as white, this is not a new structure for him.}
2. Nc3 Nf6 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. g3 d5 {The most principled continuation.} (4... Bb4 {
Leads to the reversed Rossolimo, popularised by Karpov and Anand. This is the
line Levon essayed against Nepo as black this year. After} 5. Bg2 O-O 6. O-O e4
7. Ne1 Bxc3 8. bxc3 Re8 9. f3 d5 {Black has an acceptable position, though he
went on to lose later.}) 5. cxd5 Nxd5 6. Bg2 Nb6 {We have now arrived at the
main line of the Reversed Dragon, with some subtle differences, the main one
being the knight's placement on b6.} 7. O-O Be7 8. d3 O-O 9. Be3 Be6 {The
opening phase is almost over, and both sides have developed meaningfully.} 10.
Rc1 {Levon essays a line that has scored heavily in the recent past. By
developing the rook to the half open c-file, white plans to start operations
on the queenside. There are also some lines where the LS bishop is traded for
the knight to weaken black's queenside. Interestingly, Nakamura played the
same line last year against Hari, and went on to lose as well.} (10. a3 {
has been the main move in this position till now. After} a5 11. Rb1 Nd5 12.
Nxd5 Bxd5 13. Qa4 Qc8 {Black has an equal position and went on to win,
Carlsen-Karjakin.}) 10... f5 {A queenside assault is best met by counterplay
in the center or on the kingside. Hari plans a quick and timely f4 or e4 break.
} 11. a3 {An interesting continuation, and a favourite among the top players.}
({When Vishy had white against Hammer in Norway 2014, he had gone for} 11. b4
$5 {The game continued} a6 ({The point is Nxb4 isn't really possible as after}
11... Nxb4 12. Nxe5 $14 {White grabs a center pawn and is better.}) ({The move
} 11... Bxb4 {is even worse. After} 12. Ng5 $1 Bf7 13. Nxf7 Rxf7 14. Qb3 Bxc3
15. Rxc3 f4 16. Bxb6 axb6 17. Bd5 $16 {White is much better.}) 12. a3 Kh8 13.
Na4 Nxa4 14. Qxa4 Bd5 15. Bc5 Bd6 16. Qc2 Qf6 17. e4 $1 $14 {and white
eventually won.}) 11... Kh8 {Hari puts his king out of harm's way, and allows
a possible g5-g4 thrust.} ({It was possible to immediately go} 11... g5 {
and after} 12. d4 f4 13. d5 Nxd5 14. Nxd5 Qxd5 15. Qxd5 Bxd5 16. Bc5 Rae8 $13 {
an unclear position arises, with chances for both sides.}) 12. b4 a6 13. Re1
Qe8 14. Qd2 {Both sides have started carrying out their respective plans, and
now is the time to accurately assess the position as black- whether to further
the kingside assault or play in the center on the half open d-file.} Bd6 $6 {
An unnecessary move. While not a blunder, it worsens the situation.} (14... Rd8
$1 {was called for, with equality after} 15. Qb2 Bf6 16. Bg5 Bxg5 17. Nxg5 Bg8
18. Red1 Qg6 $11) 15. Bxb6 $1 {White now gets an opening, that Levon exploits.}
cxb6 16. d4 exd4 17. Nxd4 Rd8 18. Nxe6 Qxe6 19. Qa2 Qh6 20. f4 $2 {Levon has
played well till this point. He has a good LS bishop, against black's slightly
bad DS bishop, he has real pressure on the queenside, and Black's assault on
the kingside not a reality yet. But now, he falters.} (20. e3 $1 {[%csl Rf4]
[%cal Yc3e2,Ye2f4,Yf4d5,Ya3a4,Ya4a5,Ye1d1] is the correct way to blockade the
dark squares further. By stopping f4 for now, white can start thinking about
the d-file and the queenside. After} g5 21. Ne2 Be5 22. Red1 Rxd1+ 23. Rxd1 f4
24. exf4 gxf4 25. gxf4 Bxf4 26. Nxf4 Qxf4 27. Qb2+ Qf6 28. Qxf6+ Rxf6 29. Be4
$16 {White has a tangible edge, and black has a small mountain to climb in
order to save the game.}) 20... a5 $1 {Hari finds the right move, attacking
the b4 square multiple times, and equalises.} 21. b5 $2 {Now, I believe this
is the move that lost Levon his point. It is seriously anti positional,
vacating control of c5, and begging the bishop to improve itself to an already
weakened diagonal (drawback of f4).} ({It was time for damage control with} 21.
Red1 {and after} axb4 22. axb4 Bxb4 23. Nd5 Bc5+ 24. Kh1 Qe6 25. Qb2 Ne7 26.
Nxe7 {White manages to hold fort.}) 21... Bc5+ $15 {[%csl Gc5,Gd4,Ge3,Gf2,Gg1]
The bad dark square bishop transforms into a monster. Black is now better.} 22.
e3 $6 {Another inaccuracy. White is providing targets for black to hit.} (22.
Kh1 {going off the dangerous diagonal, and avoiding potential x-rays and
discoveries, was clearly better. After} Bf2 23. Red1 Bxg3 24. h3 Bxf4 25. bxc6
bxc6 26. Rxd8 Rxd8 27. e3 Bxe3 28. Rd1 Rxd1+ 29. Nxd1 $15 {Black is better,
but only a little.}) 22... Ne5 $1 $17 {[%cal Gc6e5] A cute move, that takes
advantage of lack of support to e3 to improve the knight to a better square.}
23. Rcd1 $4 {A blunder in a bad position.} ({Ofcourse not} 23. fxe5 $4 {
as after} Bxe3+ 24. Kh1 Bxc1 25. Nd5 f4 $19 {Black cleans house.}) (23. Nd5 {
had to be played, strengthening e3 and blocking the d-file, though after} Nd3
24. Ra1 Nxe1 25. Rxe1 Rd6 26. Bf3 Qe6 $19 {Black has all the trumps.}) 23...
Ng4 $1 {Now it is almost over. Hari adds decisive pressure to e3 and h2.} 24.
h3 Nxe3 25. Rxd8 Rxd8 26. Kh2 g5 $1 {Forcing more lines open. Hari smells
blood, and goes after it.} 27. fxg5 Qxg5 28. Qe6 f4 $1 {Another strong move.
Now, it is all over.} 29. Ne4 Qg7 30. g4 Nc2 31. Rf1 Nd4 $1 {Forces the
exchange of queens, after which black will mop up the a3 pawn and queen his
a-file passer.} 32. Qf6 Qxf6 33. Nxf6 Bxa3 34. Bxb7 Bd6 35. h4 a4 36. g5 a3 37.
Kh3 Be5 38. Kg4 Nc2 {And Aronian saw no further use of continuing the game. A
great game by Harikrishna, who now joins the leaders on +2, and greatly
increases his chances of winning this Grand Prix. He took the chances offered
today and clinically demolished one of the world's best players in style. A
better conversion rate with white will go a long way in improving his chances
of qualifying for the Candidates. As for Levon, his chances are almost
completely spoilt, and he now finds himself under pressure to win more than
half of his remaining games to stand a chance.} 0-1


Coverage on ChessBase India

Geneva Grand Prix Round 1 & 2: Hari off to a great start!

Geneva Grand Prix Round 3: Hari misses a big chance against Mamedyarov

Geneva Grand Prix Round 4: Hari maintains his second spot; holds Radjabov to a draw

Geneva Grand Prix Round 5: Grischuk joins Radjabov in the lead; Hari draws Nepomniachtchi

Geneva Grand Prix Round 6: Harikrishna stuns Levon Aronian! 

Geneva Grand Prix Round 7: Radjabov overtakes Hari and Grischuk to take sole lead

Geneva Grand Prix Round 8: Harikrishna’s chances to win the Geneva GP evanesce

Geneva Grand Prix Round 9: Radjabov takes home the winner's trophy, Hari finishes joint third

Coverage on Firstpost

Firstpost and ChessBase India have collaborated to bring you extensive and detailed coverage of the chess scene in India and internationally.


The Geneva Grand Prix 2017 has been covered extensively by Aditya Pai for both ChessBase India and Firstpost.



Geneva FIDE Grand Prix: P Harikrishna beats Alexander Riazantsev after 84-move grind in round one 

Geneva Grand Prix Round 2: Mamedyarov wins in just 20 moves; Michael Adams holds Harikrishna to a draw

Geneva Grand Prix, Round 3: P Harikrishna fails to capitalise on Shakhriyar Mamedyarov’s errors in drawn game

Geneva Grand Prix, Round 4: P Harikrishna stays second after 20-move draw against Teimur Radjabov

Geneva Grand Prix, Round 5: P Harikrishna draws vs Ian Nepomniachtchi; Alexander Grischuk joint top

Geneva FIDE Grand Prix: P Harikrishna cutting Levon Aronian to size the highlight of round six

Geneva Grand Prix: P Harikrishna knocked off top perch after modest show against Alexander Grischuk

Geneva Grand Prix: P Harikrishna faltered at key moments against Li Chao to get knocked out of title race

Geneva Grand Prix: P Harikrishna's joint-third finish applaudable despite Candidates qualification fix

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