All eyes are on the next stage of the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour, with the FTX Road to Miami kicking off a summer of chess in Florida this week – and with it, a qualifier into the second Major of the Tour, the FTX Crypto Cup (15-21 August) with a $210K plus prize fund (and an additional $100K tied to the ever-fluctuating price of bitcoin) which will make it the biggest esports chess tournament ever to be held on US soil.
To get there, all you need is a top-finish in the online qualifier, the FTX Road to Miami, which several established elite stars hoped to punch their ticket to the marquee event – but the big guns didn’t have it all their own way, as some young guns made their mark on their Tour debuts.
Levon Aronian just scraped into the business end of the knockout stage – but not so lucky was recent Candidates third-place finisher Teimour Radjabov, who sadly had to pull out of the contest on day two due to an illness. And with a typically inexplicable meltdown, also knocked out was Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, whose final round loss to Sam Sevian sealed the Azeri’s fate and produced a stunning prelims victory for the 21-year-old from Massachusetts.
Also joining Sevian in the fateful eight of the quarterfinal was 21-year-old Texan Jeffrey Xiong – but the young Stars and Stripes hopefuls hit roadworks rather than being on the road to the FTX Crypto Cup, with Sevian losing to Wei Yi, and Xiong eventually being ground down by Hungarian ex-Candidate Richard Rapport, the world No.8.
Also heading for the exit was Dutchman Anish Giri, who crashed out to Poland’s World Cup winner Jan-Kryysztof Duda. But despite a set-back in the prelims, old hand Aronian was back to his best with a comfortable victory over teenage Indian sensation Arjun Erigaisi.
The FTX Road to Miami semi-final line-up sees Wei Yi v Rapport and Duda v Aronian. Play gets underway at 6pm CEST (12pm EST | 9am PST) with live coverage and commentary both on the official Tour site and on Chess24.
GM Sam Sevian – GM Levon Aronian
FTX Road to Miami | Prelims, (7)
English Opening, Bremen System
1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 e5 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.g3 d5 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.Bg2 Bc5 7.0-0 0-0 8.d3 The English Bremen System is just a Reversed Sicilian Dragon – but Black has to be alert with White having the extra move, as often the sharpest lines in the Yugoslav Attack will backfire. 8…h6 The normal Yugoslav set-up would see 8…Be6 – but this is the dilemma with colours reversed, as 8…h6 is played to avoid any potential Ng5 awkwardness. 9.Nxd5 Qxd5 10.Bd2 Re8 11.Bc3 Qe6 12.Nd2 a5 13.a4 Qg6 14.Nc4 Qh5 15.Qd2 Bh3 16.Bxh3 Qxh3 17.Nxa5 Nxa5 More accurate was 17…e4! as 18.Nxc6 Bxf2+! 19.Rxf2 e3 is good for Black. 18.Bxa5 e4 19.dxe4 Rxa5?! An eye-catching but nevertheless purely speculative exchange sacrifice. There was nothing wrong with 19…Re5!? 20.Bxc7 Rh5 21.g4 Qxg4+ 22.Bg3 Qxe4 23.Rfc1 Rd5 24.Qc2 Qg4 and Black has more than enough compensation for the pawn, with the direct caveman threat of ….h5 and …h4 looming. 20.Qxa5 Re5 21.Qxc7 Rh5 Sevian looks doomed, but fortunately there’s a saving resource. 22.g4! Qxg4+ 23.Kh1 Qxe4+ 24.f3 Qxe2 You get the feeling that White shouldn’t survive this, but Sevian has just enough resources to both defend and keep winning chances – but he has to play very carefully. 25.Rae1 Qxb2 26.Qd8+ Bf8?! Removing a piece from the attack has to be wrong. Best was 26…Kh7! 27.Qd3+ g6 28.Re2 Qf6 and it is hard to see how White can think about winning this position. 27.Qb8 Kh7 Forced, otherwise Re8 was all but winning on the spot. 28.Rb1 The position is getting more difficult, but definitely best was 28.Qg3 with the idea of Qg2 (or Of2 if Black plays ….Rg5) and then Rb1 and Qg4-e4 etc. 28…Qa3? The decisive mistake. The only way to save the game was to keep the stranglehold on the White king along the seventh rank with 28…Qa2! as 29.Rxb7 Qxa4! and Black looks safe with all the pawns restricted to the one side of the board, meanwhile 30.Qxf8 allows 30…Rxh2+! 31.Kxh2 Qf4+ 32.Kh3 Qf5+ 33.Kg3 Qg5+ 34.Kf2 Qd2+ 35.Kg1 Qg5+ and a perpetual. 29.Qxb7 Bd6 It looks as if Aronian is getting his act together with his pieces, but Sevian has all the bases covered now. 30.Rf2 Rf5 If 30…Qxa4? 31.Qxf7 and Black’s king is in danger of being mated. 31.Qb3 Qc5 32.Qc2! [see diagram] The pin on the rook and king is an added bonus, as Sevian stays calm to easily coverts for a deserved victory. 32…Qe5 33.Re2 Qf4 34.Qe4! Forcing the trade of queens and now an easy endgame win. 34…Qxe4 35.fxe4 Ra5 36.Ra2 Ra6 37.a5 Bc5 38.Rb5 There was a little time issue for Sevian which allows Aronian to play on longer than he should, but now the game is effectively over with the rest needing no explaining, as he calmly expertly shepherds the a-pawn up the board to victory. 38…Bd4 39.Rd5 Be3 40.Kg2 g5 41.Kf3 Bg1 42.e5 Kg7 43.Rd6 Ra7 44.a6 Rc7 45.Rd3 h5 46.h3 Kg6 47.Ke4 h4 48.Rd6+ Kh5 49.Kf5 Rc3 50.Kf6 Rf3+ 51.Kg7 g4 52.hxg4+ Kg5 53.a7 Bxa7 54.Rxa7 h3 55.Rxf7 1-0