It’s make or break time in the final leg of the $1.6m Meltwater Champions Chess Tour, with the Aimchess US Rapid seeing a frantic race on the final day of the prelims to see who the fateful eight would be to go through to the knockout stage, as with it – for some – comes a late chance to go forward into the Tour’s grand final that will be held later next month in San Francisco.
The first to seize his big chance was Vladislav Artemiev, as the 23-year-old Russian turned in a near-flawless performance to edge out current tour leader Magnus Carlsen in the 16-player prelims with his unbeaten final score of 10.5/15 to ease his way into the quarterfinals of the competition.
Artiemev and Carlsen safely made the cut, as did the tour leader’s nearest rivals, Wesley So and Levon Aronian, and they’ll also be joined by Alireza Firouzja, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Jan-Krzysztof Duda and Leinier Dominguez – but not so Anish Giri, with the Dutchman going through the competition unbeaten (14 draws, one win), only to find himself being squeezed out by Dominguez on tiebreak for the final spot.
If the stated aim of the game is to checkmate your opponent’s king, then easily the highlights of the prelims was the swashbuckling, no-holds barred clash (see game) between Carlsen and Firouzja, the young rival seen as a future threat to his crown, as the 18-year-old seized a magical moment that had the crowds cheering him on as he checkmated the world champion’s king in the middle of the board!
And for Firouzja, who is now playing under the French tricolour (following his self-exile from Iran), that sensational win went a long way to the teen finally making it into the knockout stage of the tour for the first time. Firouzja now features in one of the two picks of the knockout ties, as he faces the in-form So. The other pick is the intriguing match-up between Carlsen and the newly-minted World Cup winner Jan-Krzysztof Duda.
Prelim final standings:
1. Vladislav Artemiev (Russia), 10.5/15; 2. Magnus Carlsen (Norway), 10; 3-4. Levon Aronian (Armenia), Alireza Firouzja (France), 9.5; 5-7. Wesley So (USA), Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan), Jan-Krzysztof Duda (Poland), 9; 8-9. Leinier Dominguez (USA), Anish Giri (Netherlands), 8; 10-11. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France), Vidit Gujrathi (India), 7.5; 12-13. Daniel Naroditsky (USA), Liem Quang Le (Vietnam), 6; 14. Jordan van Foreest (Netherlands), 4.5; 15. Eric Hansen (Canada), 3.5; 16. Awonder Liang (USA), 2.5.
Artemiev v Dominguez
Carlsen v Duda
Aronian v Mamedyarov
Firouzja v So
The Aimchess US Rapid quarterfinals begins Tuesday 31 August, starting at 11:00 EST (08:00 PST | 17:00 CET). There’s live coverage on the official Meltwater Champions Chess Tour site with the regular commentary team of host Kaja Snare, GM David Howell and IM Jovanka Houska.
GM Alireza Firouzja – GM Magnus Carlsen
Aimchess US Rapid | Prelims, (4)
1.e4 d5 A popular choice at club-level, the Scandinavian Defence – previously known as the Center Counter – was brought back into chess popularity by one of Carlsen’s Nordic predecessors, none other than the great Dane himself, Bent Larsen. 2.exd5 Qxd5 For those with a spirit of adventure, and extremely popular especially at club-level, is the alternatives of the “Portuguese Variation” with 2…Nf6 3.d4 (Or after 3.c4 e6!? the “Icelandic Gambit”) 3…Bg4!? with typical gambit counter-play of rapid development etc. 3.Nc3 Qa5 The two other alternatives are 3…Qd6!? or even the more obscure 3…Qd8, but regardless all three queen moves become typical Caro Kann-like affairs. 4.d4 Nf6 5.Nf3 Bf5 6.Ne5 c6 7.Bc4 e6 8.g4 Bg6 9.h4 Nbd7 10.Nxd7 Nxd7 11.h5 Be4 12.0-0 The point is that 12.f3 Bd5 and Black stands well with the dark-square vulnerability on White’s kingside, especially after a timely …Qc7. 12…Bd5 13.Nxd5 cxd5 14.Bd3 Bd6 15.Qf3 Fundamentally, Black stands well – but there is that fear for Carlsen of where he’s going to put his king for safety, especially with the kingside looking very dodgy. 15…0-0-0 The only option under the circumstances. 16.Be3 Snatching on f7 is dangerous for White. After 16.Qxf7 Rde8! suddenly Black is aiming to play …Rhf8 with White in deep, deep trouble. 16…g6 17.h6 Rhf8 Carlsen has emerged from the opening with a big plus – but this is a tad cautious, as he missed a trick with the very strong 17…e5! and suddenly the game is rapidly opening up to Black’s advantage. 18.a3 f5 19.c4 Now both sides are on the offensive, looking to blast their way through to each others kings. 19…e5 20.b4 Qc7 21.c5 Be7 22.Bb5 What a wonderfully buccaneering position – and the sort that can easily blow up for either player with just one minor slip-up. 22…e4 23.Qh3 f4 24.Bd2 Bg5?! There’s a great temptation to just play 24…g5!? with the idea of annexing the h-pawn off by threatening …Rf6 and …Bf8 – but it is risky, as White can throw a spanner in the works with 25.c6!? bxc6 26.Bxc6 Qxc6 27.Rfc1 Nc5 and your guess is as good as mine as to what’s actually happening here! I imaging Magnus looked at this, and thought he had a better way to mitigate the risks involved – but it all spectacularly backfires on him. 25.c6! Nf6? Admittedly, it does look the obvious move – but the position has gone critical very quickly for Magnus, and he failed to appreciate that he really needed now to play 25…Nb6 26.Rac1 Kb8 just to try and survive. But in all honesty, faced with a double-edged position spectacularly blowing up in your face, your first instincts is to try and generate your own attacking chances, hence his …Nf6. 26.cxb7+ Qxb7 27.Rac1+ Kb8 28.Bc6 Qe7? It’s the follow-up blunder that’s the real killer here – but then again, it takes nerves of steel to accept that the engine find of the “safe” escape with 28…Qc7!? 29.b5 (If 29.Bxd5 Qd7! and Black has dodged a bullet with …Qxg4+ coming next.) 29…Qc8! 30.Bxd5 (If 30.f3 exf3 31.Ba5 Qxg4+! 32.Qxg4 Nxg4 33.Bxd8 f2+! 34.Rxf2 Bxd8! and Black seems to be holding his own.) 30…Qxg4+ 31.Qxg4 Nxg4 32.Bxe4 Rxd4 33.Bb4 f3! and Black is far from dead. But such unhuman-like fantasy saves don’t come into your thinking in the heat of battle, when you are fighting for your very survival. 29.Rc5! The rook-lift proves to be a killer, threatening Rb5+ and highlights just how precarious Carlsen’s king has become – but it was sporting to see the world champion allowing his young rival the coming king walk and mate in the middle of the board! 29…e3 30.fxe3 The clinical kill was 30.Rb5+! Kc8 31.Bb7+ Kd7 32.Bxd5 exd2 33.Rb7+ Kd6 34.Rxe7 Kxe7 35.Bb3 etc. 30…fxe3 31.Be1 A nice retreat that threatens Bg3+ – but Black has more resources here than many thought, including even Carlsen! 31…Ne4? The only try to grimily hold on was 31…Rd6! 32.Rf3! (With 32.Bg3 e2! being a table-turner with Black winning, you might be scratching your head wondering why the engine wants to play 32.Rf3! – but in Blackadder lore, it is a move “as cunning a fox who’s just been appointed Professor of Cunning at Oxford University.”) 32…Rfd8 (The point was that Black wants to play 32…Ne4 that looks a winner, were it not for the uber-cunning winning queen retreat of 33.Qf1!! and the double threat of 34.Qb5+ mating or 34.Rxf8 winning.) 33.Qh2 e2 34.Rb5+ Kc8 35.Qe5! Qxe5 36.Bb7+ Kb8 37.dxe5 and as the dust settles, White is winning. 32.Qh2+ Kc8 I suppose if you are going down in flames, may as well do so in style! Especially as 32…Nd6 33.Rxf8 Rxf8 34.Bg3 Rf6 35.Rxd5 e2 36.Re5 is easily winning. After all, who knows, your opponent might go wrong. 33.Bd7+! Nope, Alireza isn’t going to crack! 33…Kxd7 34.Rc7+ Ke6 35.Qe5# 1-0 [see diagram] You have to admit it is not every day you see a world champion’s king going on walk and mated in the middle of the board!