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By John Henderson

A dramatic conclusion to the Goldmoney Asian Rapid semis witnessed not only Magnus Carlsen being sensationally eliminated but also one of his rating-rivals Ding Liren, as underdogs Levon Aronian and Vladislav Artemiev both stunned the big favourites with heroic comeback wins to contest the final on Saturday and Sunday.

After beating nearest rival Wesley So in the quarterfinals, Carlsen not only extended his lead in the overall standings of the $1.6m Meltwater Champions Chess Tour from the Play Magnus Group, but he also looked poised to record a hat-trick of tour victories, with his confidence back and having previously won the New In Chess Classic and the FTX Crypto Cup in recent months.

But it turned out to be fool’s gold for the Norwegian, for despite winning the opening set of his semis against Aronian, he was stung as the wily Armenian pulled off a remarkable comeback win in the second set to take the match into the tiebreaks – and then he hit Carlsen with the double whammy of an emphatic 2-0 victory to book a place in the $100,000 event’s final.

Acknowledging that “Magnus had a day off” in his post-victory interview with Kaja Snare, veteran Aronian – who at 38, is now set to become the oldest player to contest a Tour final – added that “This is something I dedicated my life to – proving people wrong. I am always excited when I can.”

And we are now set for a final of the generations that no one would have predicted after day 1 of the semis, as Artemiev somehow managed to recover from even further behind. After losing the opening set to China’s Ding Liren, Artemiev was on the brink of being knocked out, only for the world #3 to make a horrific blunder that let the young Russian back into the match.

And from there, there was no way back for a visibly distraught Ding, as the 23-year-old speed maven also comfortably won the tiebreaks to become the youngest player to play in a Tour final.

There’s a lot at stake for both Aronian and Artemiev, as the final carries a $30,000 first prize and a coveted spot in the Tour finals in September for the winner. But for a dejected Carlsen and Ding, they now have to be content to fight it out for Tour points in a third-place play-off match.

The Goldmoney Asian Rapid Finals starts at 12:00 BST (07:00 EST | 04:00 PST) on Saturday 3 July and played on the chess24.com playzone. There’s live commentary with host Kaja Snare, GM David Howell & IM Jovanka Houska on Chess24.com, Twitch, YouTube, and live on Norwegian TV 2.

GM Levon Aronian – GM Magnus Carlsen
Goldmoney Asian Rapid s/final (2.4)
French Defence, Exchange variation
1.e4 e6 Either a big surprise for Aronian from Carlsen, as he’s not known to play the French, or a sign that the world #1 and tour leader was becoming frustrated that the Armenian was making a dramatic comeback in the match. I think more the latter. 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 Needing to draw to take the match to a deciding blitz tiebreaker, Aronian opts for the notoriously drawing Exchange variation. If Carlsen wan’t to try to win this game to avoid the tiebreaker, then he’s going to have to take risks. 3…exd5 4.Nf3 Bd6 5.c4 Nf6 6.Nc3 dxc4 7.Bxc4 It’s simple chess with a typical IQP set-up – White has more space and the better piece-play, but Black has long-term chances against the IQP. 7…0-0 8.0-0 Nc6 9.h3 h6 10.Re1 a6 11.a3 Bf5 12.Ne5 Typical play in the IQP set-up, as the knight slots into e5 for free and easy piece-play. 12…Bxe5 13.dxe5 Qxd1 The exchange of queens must have frustrated Carlsen even more, but there’s nothing he can do about it. 14.Nxd1 Nd7 15.e6 A temporary pawn sacrifice, just to allow Aronian to speed up his development. 15…fxe6 16.Bf4 Nd4 17.Ne3 Bd3!? The only try for Carlsen, with the tactics giving him a a slight edge – but likely nothing he can work with, as more pieces will be traded. 18.Rad1 Rxf4 19.Rxd3 c5? If there was a “moment” for Magnus, then it was here – he simply had to try 19…Ne5! but after more forced trades with 20.Rc3 Raf8 21.Bxe6+ Nxe6 22.Nd5 Nc6 23.Rxe6 Rxf2 24.Ne7+ Nxe7 25.Rxe7 R8f7 26.Rexc7 Rxb2 27.Rc8+ Kh7 28.a4 Rff2 29.Rg3! although the engine still maintains Black has the advantage (pushing up to -0.90), even with the extra pawn the reality is that this double rook ending at super-GM level looks more than likely to end in a draw. Perhaps Carlsen realised this and instead decided to “push the envelope” in frustration, but all it does is backfire and gift Aronian a big confidence-booster going into the tiebreaks, which he duly won 2-0. 20.Bxe6+! This simplifies everything. 20…Nxe6 21.Rxd7 Rf7 22.Rd5 Rd8?! Another little inaccuracy from Carlsen. He has to play 22…b5! 23.Rd6 Nf4 and Black can’t be any worse. 23.Rxd8+ Nxd8 24.Rd1 Ne6 25.Rd6! [see diagram] Simple chess at its best – Aronian just puts his rook on a logical square and he clearly has the better of this equal position. 25…Nd4 26.Kf1 Nb3 27.Rb6 Nd2+ 28.Ke2 Ne4 29.f3 Nf6 For all his threatening knight manoeuvres, all Carlsen has achieved is to help improve Aronian’s rook and have his king become more centralised. 30.Kd3 Rd7+? Carlsen’s “mood music” was clearly out of kilter by now, frustrated by Aronian’s comeback, as the pieces systematically get traded off in this game, and with it he’s decided to press the “self-destruct” button and take his frustration out on the position rather than coming to terms with the situation. The match is heading for a tiebreak regardless of whether it’s a draw or Carlsen loses – but by allowing Aronian the opportunity to win, all he has  done is let the confidence-booster genie out of the Armenian bottle, as no-one likes to play Aronian when he has his tail up. 31.Kc4 Rd4+ 32.Kxc5 Rd3 33.Ng4 Nd7+ 34.Kc4 1-0 Carlsen resigns – and after this debacle, an upbeat Aronian went on to win the tiebreaker.

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