It’s not all over yet, and the champagne has temporarily been put back on ice, as Magnus Carlsen suffered a minor setback in his quest to win the marquee event of the $300,000 Meltwater Champions Chess Tour Final, with the World Champion being beaten twice by Russia’s Vladislav Artemiev in what proved to be a nervy-infused performance in their round four match-up.
After a positive and upbeat start to his campaign, Carlsen looked to have built-up an unassailable 6 point leader over his nearest rival, Wesley So, but the Norwegian seemed nervy out of sorts as he crashed to a crushing 3-1 defeat, losing twice to the young Russian who turned in an impressively steely and polished performance, that saw his lead at the top cut to 4 points.
Artemiev is a dangerous young player on the rise, and during the regular tour season made his mark as the runner-up in both the Goldmoney Asian Rapid and the Aimchess US Rapid. He explained in his post-victory interview that his plan of playing aggressively against Carlsen worked well and overall it had been “really a great day for him!”
But despite the Norwegian frontrunner’s setback, So had to be kicking himself, especially as the reigning US champion blew a big chance to drastically cut Carlsen’s lead ahead of their big final round clash, as he went on to lose to his fellow countryman Hikaru Nakamura in a blitz tiebreaker. If he had converted for the full 3 points, So would have cut the deficit down to two points, and given himself a genuine chance of mounting a serious challenge going down the homestretch.
1. M. Carlsen (Norway), 23½; 2. W. So (USA), 19½; 3. L. Aronian (Armenia), 15; 4-5. T. Radjabov (Azerbaijan), H. Nakamura (USA), 12; 6. A. Giri (Netherlands), 9½; 7-8. V. Artemiev (Russia), M. Vachier-Lagrave (France), 8½; 9. S. Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan), 5½; 10. J-K. Duda (Poland), 5.
Live coverage of the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour Final is available with commentary from the regular tour team of host Kaja Snare, GM David Howell and IM Jovanka Houska (plus surprise guests) is available at www.championschesstour.com and chess24’s Twitch and YouTube channels. All games will be played in the chess24.complayzone.
GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Vladislav Artemiev
Meltwater Champions Chess Tour Finals, (4.2)
Sicilian Defence, Czerniak Attack
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.b3 The legendary Israeli champion IM Moshe Czerniak (1910-1984) was the first – although he much preferred it via 2.b3 first – to experiment successfully with this innocuous looking anti-Sicilian system in the 1950s and through the early ’60s, but it only gained popularity after Boris Spassky adopted it in the late ’70s. For Spassky, it was the ‘lazy man’ approach, as the former world champion just wanted a position he could play that avoided all the main-line Sicilian theory – and for much the same reason, now Carlsen is the latest big-name to adopt it. 3…a6 4.Bb2 Nc6 5.d4 cxd4 6.Nxd4 Qf6! Given a free-hand, Carlsen will slip into a Maróczy Bind formation – but Artemiev isn’t going to play ball, as the X-ray pin on the Bb2 puts the kibosh on any normal Sicilian set-up for White. 7.Be2 Bc5 8.c3 Forced, what with the many pins (d4, b2) and mate threat on f2 – and with it, Black has achieved easy equality from the opening. 8…e5 9.Nf3 Nge7 10.0-0 0-0 11.b4 Ba7 All Artemiev needs to do is resolve the problem with his backward d-pawn – if he achieves that, then he’s clearly on top with his better-placed pieces. 12.a4 Ng6 13.Bc1 A grudging admission from Carlsen that his opening has backfired a little, as his fianchettoed bishop has no future now on b2, and he has to challenge Artemiev’s powerful dark-square bishop. 13…h6 14.Na3 Rd8 15.Be3 The only other plan was to try and prevent the freeing …d5 with 15.b5 Nce7 16.c4 but after 16…Bc5! 17.Be3 Bxe3 18.fxe3 Qb6! where Black is in total control with the attack on e3, and will soon be following up with …d6, …Be6 and …Rac8 for a strong initiative. 15…d5!? Artemiev strikes before Carlsen can rearrange his pieces. 16.exd5 e4 Also an interesting alternative was 16…Nf4!? where again Black has the better prospects. 17.Nd2 Rxd5!? A spirited reply against the world champion, as the easy option looked like 17…Qxc3 18.Bxa7 Nxa7 19.Nxe4 Qxb4 20.Bf3 Ne5 and, long-term, White may well find that his d-pawn could well be picked off. 18.b5?! Artemiev’s enterprising play seems to have surprised the world champion, who quickly goes astray. He had to play 18.Bxa7 Nxa7 19.Nxe4 Qe5 20.Qc2 Bf5 21.f3 Rad8 22.Nc4 Qe6 White has a pawn but Black is the one with all the pressure and piece-play. But Carlsen blinks at the critical moment with his mis-step, and Artemiev seizes his chance. 18…Bxe3! 19.fxe3 Qxc3 20.Nac4 Carlsen’s hand is forced here, especially as 20.bxc6? Rxd2 21.Qe1 Qxe3+ 22.Rf2 Qd4! 23.Rb1 e3 24.Rf1 Nh4! and with …Qe4 coming next, White is close to resignation point. 20…Nce5 21.Nxe4?! Carlsen seems to get confused and loses the thread of the game, as the best try to stay competitive was 21.Ra3! Qb4 22.Rb3 Qc5 (Not 22…Qxa4? 23.Nb6! Rxd2 24.Nxa4 Rxd1 25.Rxd1 and White is on top.) 23.bxa6 bxa6 24.Nb6 Be6! 25.Nxa8 Rd8 26.Nxe4 Qe7 27.Qb1 Bxb3 28.Qxb3 Rxa8 29.Qb6 a5 and equality. 21…Rxd1 22.Nxc3 Rxa1 23.Rxa1 Nxc4 24.Bxc4 Ne5 25.Bd5 axb5 26.Nxb5 Ra6! Artemiev just has a little advantage with the better pawn structure – but nothing to write home about that would have lost the game for Carlsen. 27.Rc1 Bd7 28.Bb3 Be6 29.Nc7?? Halloween seems to come round earlier each year, as we’re not quite in October yet, but Carlsen seems to be seeing ‘ghosts’ in this position as the natural move was 29.Bxe6 Rxe6 where Black has slightly the better endgame prospects with the weak White pawns on e3 and a4, though nothing you wouldn’t think that Carlsen couldn’t easily deal with. But bizarrely, rather than that, the world champion blunders away the game. 29…Bxb3 30.Nxa6 bxa6 31.Rc8+ Kh7 32.a5 Bc4 33.Kf2 Bb5 The minor pieces dominate the rook is these sort of endings – but worse for Carlsen here is that his a5-pawn is liable to be easily picked-off. 34.Rc2 Nc4 35.Ra2 Kg6 36.Kf3 Kf5 37.g4+ Ke5 [see diagram] Artemiev’s king now dominates the center, and for Carlsen the end is nigh, as all those placard-waving street doom-mongers used to proclaim in cartoons. 38.h3 g5 39.Kf2 f5 40.gxf5 Kxf5 Now Carlsen also has to worry about …Ke4 possibly picking off the e3-pawn. 41.Ra1 Ke5 42.h4 g4! All three of Carlsen’s pawns are weak and vulnerable – and it doesn’t take Artemiev long to start picking them all off. 43.Rc1 h5 44.Rd1 Nd6 45.Rc1 Bc4 Just prolonging Carlsen’s agony by keeping his rook out of the game. 46.Rb1 Nf5 47.Rb7 g3+ 48.Kg1 Nxh4 49.Rh7 Be2 50.Rg7 0-1 And Carlsen resigns before Artemiev forces home his big advantage with 50…Nf3+ 51.Kg2 h4 etc.