According to all the dictionary definitions, if your aim is true, you hit the thing you were throwing or shooting at. And for Magnus Carlsen, his aim has certainly been true when it came down to the crucial knockout stage of the Aimchess US Rapid, the final leg of this season’s $1.6m Meltwater Champions Chess Tour, as he turned in two big back-to-back impressive performances to go forward to yet another Tour final.
Not only did Carlsen get his instant karma World Cup revenge with a demolition job on Jan-Krzysztof Duda in their quarterfinal clash, but now, after a tough semifinal victory over old foe Levon Aronian, the Norwegian reinforces his position at the top in the season-ending overall standings as the Tour’s No 1 player.
The match-up between these two long-time rivals and friends was expected to be close, and indeed, the opening set went that way, with nothing much between them with four draws and ending at 2-2. But the tide turned Carlsen way with a sublime opening game win in the second set that turned out to be nothing short of a masterclass handling of the the Black side against the Ruy Lopez.
And then needing to win ‘on-demand’ with the Black pieces in game four, Aronian risked everything to try to battle his way back into the match and take it to a deciding tiebreaker – but the complicated position just got too random and out of hand, and Carlsen seized his chance in a complex position as he notched up a second win to take the deciding set by 3-1.
Carlsen will now meet Vladislav Artemiev in this weekend’s final of the Aimchess US Rapid, as the 23-year-old young Russian proved to be more than a match for the teenage tricks of 18-year-old Alireza Firouzja, in a tough match that went right to the wire of the Armageddon tiebreak decider.
The two newer-generational stars were level at 2-2, 2-2, 1-1 through two rapid sets and a blitz tie-break before Firouzja – the Iranian exile who now represents France – with Black and less time, though only needing a draw to progress under the rules, crumbled and crashed in the decisive Armageddon game.
Carlsen and Artemiev are already into the $300,000 Tour Finals to be held later this month in San Francisco, and will be joined by Wesley So, Aronian, Teimour Radjabov, Anish Giri, Ian Nepomniachtchi and Hikaru Nakamura, with the 10-player final being completed by the inclusion of two wildcard places that are yet to be decided.
The Aimchess US Rapid final between Magnus Carlsen and Vladislav Artemiev takes place on Saturday and Sunday, 4-5 September, 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 top commentary team of host Kaja Snare with GM David Howell and IM Jovanka Houska.
GM Levon Aronian – GM Magnus Carlsen
Aimchess US Rapid | Semifinal, (2.1)
Ruy Lopez, Anti-Marshall
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 0-0 8.a4 The Anti-Marshall, aimed at taking all the fun out of Frank J. Marshall’s eponymous attack after 8.c3 d5!? 8…Bb7 9.d3 Re8 10.Bd2 b4 11.Bg5 Na5 12.Ba2 h6 13.Bh4 d6 14.Nbd2 c5 15.Bxf6 Bxf6 What’s not to like here for Magnus? Black has “won” the opening skirmish by having the bishop-pair and a big clamp on White’s center with his b4-e5 pawn-chain. Sure, Black has the advantage – but it takes Magnus at his creative best to find a couple of unlikely piece manoeuvres that quickly turn his advantage into a winning one. Not only that, but when the crash comes, the speed of Aronian’s downfall is simply breathtaking. 16.Nc4 Nxc4 17.Bxc4 a5 18.g3?! This signals the start of Aronian’s rapid decline – he had to try 18.c3 which at least opens up Qb3 attacks on f7 and tries of cxb4 axb4 and possibly threats of pushing the passed a-pawn that will deflect Black going all-out for the attack. 18…g6 19.h4 h5 20.Nd2 Bg7! Timing is everything in chess, and here, with the knight going to d2, Magnus picks just the right moment for a strategic bishop retreat back to g7 and out again to the very active post on h6; and note this was only possible as Aronian can’t play Qd2 preventing this. Very clever and instructive chess from Magnus. 21.Nf1 Bh6 22.Qf3 Rf8 The obvious way to defend f7 is with 22…Qe7 – but now comes another genius strategic retreat from Magnus, as his rook returning to f8 not only defends f7, but has designs later in the game of bursting open the f-file with …f5. 23.Ne3 Ra7! Magnus now channels his inner Richard Reti with this hypermodern manoeuvre, as not only is the rook placed well here to possibly shoot over to the kingside, once the …f5 pawn-break comes, it also makes way for the über-ingenious …Qa8 that piles pressure down the potentially vulnerable a8-h1 diagonal. And this game is nothing short of a Magnus masterclass in how he executes his devastating attack. 24.Nd5 Kg7 And with it, now…f5 is looming large on the horizon. 25.Rf1 f5 26.exf5 Rxf5 27.Qe2 Bc6 28.Rae1 A desperate try as 28.b3 Qa8 29.Qe4 Raf7! 30.f3 Bd2! with the idea of …Bd2-c3-d4+ is crushing. 28…Qa8! [see diagram] Ruthlessly, Magnus isn’t even interested in grabbing the a-pawn with 28…Bxa4, as he knows Aronian is going to get killed down the long a8-h1 diagonal. 29.Ne3 Bf3 30.Qd2 d5 31.Ba2 Rf8 32.c3 Amazingly, Aronian has only made a couple of ‘iffy’ moves, but such is Magnus’ grip on the position that the Armenian now finds himself in dire straits – and not in any good way with Mark Knopfler licking the riffs! 32…d4 33.cxd4 exd4 34.Qc2 dxe3 35.fxe3 Rc7 With Magnus a safe piece up and a pair of very active bishops cutting Aronian in half, the rest of the game is just a formality now. 36.Qc4 Bg4 37.Rxf8 Qxf8 38.d4 Kh7 The game is all over bar the shouting, but Magnus still finds the energy for one further strategic touch of class, as the king finds a little bolthole from any possible Qf7+ awkwardness, as it makes way for the retreating bishop on g7 to hone in on the weak link on d4. 39.e4 Bg7 40.Rf1 Bxd4+ 41.Kg2 Qc8 42.Rf7+ Rxf7 43.Qxf7+ Bg7 44.e5 Qf5 0-1