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Revenge came doubly sweet for Magnus Carlsen in his big Aimchess US Rapid quarterfinal clash with Jan-Krzysztof Duda, as the world champion turned in a true tour de force performance as he bossed his way into the semifinal of the last leg of the $1.6m Meltwater Champions Chess Tour from the Play Magnus Group.

It was a determined and business-like Carlsen who got off to an explosive start by crushing Duda in the opening set with two impressive White wins; a platform from which he went on to easily clinch the second set for the match – a result that went a long way to avenge Carlsen being knocked out in the semifinal of the recent World Cup to the young Pole, who famously went on to win the only title in the game that the Norwegian doesn’t have.

“I don’t get revenge by beating people once,” Carlsen remarked with a little menace in his voice on his first set victory that all but broke his opponent’s spirit. And after knocking out Duda, a more than content Carlsen further added “I had a fairly decent day today. In general I have been outplaying him. Generally my level of play has been very decent.”

Carlsen now goes into a semifinal clash with his old foe Levon Aronian, who beat Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. And there was double joy for Carlsen in the quarterfinals as his young heir apparent, Alireza Firouzja, also turned in a sublimely stunning performance to knockout Wesley So – the Norwegian’s nearest rival in the overall standings – to reach his first tour semifinal.

With So going out, that now means Carlsen can’t be caught in the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour overall standings, and he’s confirmed in the No 1 spot. There’s also no joy either in the standings for Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, as Vladislav Artemiev beating Leinier Dominguez now means that the young Russian picks up a further 20-points (and possibly more) and will leapfrog ahead of the Frenchman in the standings.

With those extra points in the bag, Artemiev will now go forward to join Carlsen, So, Levon Aronian, Teimour Radjabov, Anish Giri, Ian Nepomniachtchi and Hikaru Nakamura in the $300,000 Tour Finals to be held later this month in San Francisco, with the 10-player final being completed by two wildcard places still up for grabs.

The Aimchess US Rapid is not a direct qualifier into the Tour Final, but tantalisingly, Firouzja and Carlsen could well be set for a collision course in the final – potential making for a generational showdown that will not only excite the chess fans, but one where a strong showing from the teenager could put him right into contention for one of those two coveted wildcard spots.

Aimchess US Rapid Semifinals:
Artemiev v Firouzja
Carlsen v Aronian

The Aimchess US Rapid semifinals begins Thursday 2 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 commentary team of host Kaja Snare with GM David Howell and IM Jovanka Houska.

GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda
Aimchess US Rapid | Quarterfinal, (1.3)
Sicilian Defence
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.b3 The anti-Sicilian with an early b3 was little-played and little-known in praxis until Boris Spassky championed its cause in the late 1970s, doing so just to avoid big mainline Sicilian theory. It’s also become a line that Carlsen has played with success in the past. 3…Nc6 4.Bb2 a6 5.d4 cxd4 6.Nxd4 Qa5+ 7.Nd2 Nf6 8.Nxc6 dxc6 9.Bd3 Bb4 Setting Carlsen many problems: First, he can’t castle due to the hit on the Nd2 and secondly, if 10.a3 Bc3! 11.b4 Qe5 favours Black – so just how is Carlsen going to solve his problems here? 10.Ke2!!? Carlsen finds a very radical solution – definitely a ballsy move that would have had average club players scratching their heads! 10…0-0! The bold king move secured the c4 square for the knight, and now if 10…Bc3 11.Nc4! Qh5+ 12.Kf1 Bxb2 13.Qxh5 Nxh5 14.Nxb2 0-0 (No better is 14…Nf6 15.e5 Nd7 16.Nc4 and White has the better pieces and more space.) 15.e5 Nf4 16.c4 it’s just all getting a little awkward for Black with White having a big clamp on how he develops his bishop. 11.Nc4 Qc7 On reflection a waste of time, and Duda may well have preferred the full retreat with 11…Qd8. 12.Be5 Qd8 13.c3 Be7 14.Bc2 It’s all just a little awkward fro Duda, as it is going to take time for him to untangle his pieces – but for Carlsen, this is his sort of position, as he can see transitions into endgames where he can torture and grind his opponent all day long. 14…Nd7 And for the reasons noted above, Duda avoids trading queens with 14…Qxd1+ 15.Rhxd1 b5 16.Na5 Bd7 17.Bd6! and White holds a big advantage. The young Pole is hoping to generate some counterplay against Carlsen’s king by keeping the queens on the board – but Carlsen soon snuffs this out. 15.Bd6 b5 16.Ne3 It’s too dangerous for White to try 16.Bxe7?! Qxe7 17.Qd6 Qf6 18.Qxc6 Qxc3! 19.Qxa8 Qxc2+ 20.Nd2 Ne5 21.Qa7 (There’s no time for 21.Rhd1? Qd3+ 22.Ke1 Qd4! with …Bd3+ and …Rd8 coming.) 21…Qd3+ 22.Kd1 (The alternative is 22.Ke1 Rd8 23.Rd1 Qc2 and again Black has a big advantage with …Nd3+ and ..Nc1+ in the air.) 22…Qd6 and it is just not easy for White to find safety for his king marooned in the middle of the board. 16…a5 17.e5 b4 Perhaps what Duda needed was to mix it more with 17…c5 looking to open as many lines to Carlsen’s king as possible? 18.Qd3 g6?! More to the point was 18…f5!? 19.Rhd1 c5 because now if 20.Nc4 Bxd6 21.Qxd6 Ra6! 22.Qd3 Qh4 and Black has serious attacking chances. 19.Rad1! The hold on the d-file proves to be Carlsen’s ace. 19…Bxd6 20.Qxd6 Qg5 21.Qxc6 Ra7 It gets trickier for Black with 21…Ra6!? due to 22.Qc7! but perhaps “going random” with 22…Nxe5 23.c4 Rc6 (Not 23…a4?! 24.f4! Qh5+ 25.Kf2 axb3 26.Bxb3 Ng4+ 27.Nxg4 Qxg4 28.Rhf1 and Black still can’t finish his development.) 24.Qxa5 Ra6 is Black’s best hope to try to salvage something from the game, as White has to tread carefully now after 25.Qc7 Rxa2 26.h4 (White also has to be careful now, especially when you see lines like 26.h3?! Nxc4! 27.bxc4 b3 28.Rd2 bxc2 29.Rc1 f5 and Black’s not without his own counterplay.) 26…Qf4 27.Ra1!? (If White is worried, he can always bailout now with 27.Rd2 Nd3! 28.Qe7 Ne5 29.Qc7 Nd3 30.Qe7 Ne5 and a repetition.) 27…Nd3! 28.Qxf4 Nxf4+ 29.Kf3 Rxa1 30.Rxa1 e5 31.Ra5 f6 32.Be4 and White holds the advantage with Black’s b-pawn a juicy target. Of course, all easy to see and say when the engine is showing you the path through the woods here – a different matter for the players trying to calculate all these complications at the board with little or no time left on their clocks! 22.c4 Qxe5 23.Qd6 Qh5+ 24.f3 f5? Duda cracks under the pressure of pushing for a win to stay in the opening set. He should have settled for 24…Qc5! 25.Rhe1 Ra6 26.Qf4 f5 27.Kf1 Nf6 28.Qd4 Qxd4 29.Rxd4 e5 30.Rd2 and White only has a a slight advantage due to his better-placed rooks. 25.Qxe6+ Kg7 26.Qd6 Nf6 27.Qd4 Re7 28.Kf2! Once the king walks out of the danger zone and the rook comes to e1, Carlsen has a big advantage. 28…Rfe8 29.Rhe1 Bb7 There’s no time to snatch on h2 for Duda, as now 29…Qxh2 30.Nd5! Rxe1 31.Qxf6+! Kh6 32.Rxe1 Rxe1 33.Qf8+ Kh5 34.Kxe1 Qe5+ 35.Be4! fxe4 36.Nf6+ Kh4 37.Nxe4 Qa1+ 38.Kf2 Qd4+ (No better is 38…Qxa2+ 39.Kg1 and the king escapes the checks on h2 and now threatens mate with Qh6 or Qf4.) 39.Ke2 Qb2+ 40.Ke3 Qc1+ 41.Kf2 Qb2+ 42.Kg1 and we return to the theme of the king escaping the checks via h2. 30.Qf4 Kg8 31.Nf1! [see diagram] One very accurate move now from Carlsen, and the game is all over bar the shouting as Duda can’t avoid the coming trade of rooks due to the little matter of Ng3 trapping the Black queen. 31…g5 32.Qxf5 Rxe1 33.Rxe1 Qh4+ 34.Ng3 Qd4+ 35.Kf1 Rxe1+ 36.Kxe1 Qe3+ 37.Ne2 Kg7 38.Qxa5 1-0

 

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