AI Cup: Carlsen beats MVL, reaches Grand Final

by André Schulz
9/28/2023 – Maxime Vachier-Lagrave proved to be a worthy opponent for Magnus Carlsen in the final of the AI Cup winners’ bracket. In the end, however, the Norwegian prevailed in Armageddon. In the losers' bracket, Ian Nepomniachtchi defeated Alireza Firouzja, while Anish Giri got the better of Shakhriyar Mamedyarov.

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In the final of the AI Cup winners’ bracket, Magnus Carlsen faced Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. On the way to the final, Carlsen had eliminated Hikaru Nakamura and Ian Nepomniachtchi quite smoothly. Vachier-Lagrave had won just as smoothly, without a playoff, against Alireza Firouzja and against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov.

In the final, the Frenchman proved to be an equal opponent for the Norwegian. In the first game, Carlsen played 3.Bb5 against Vachier-Lagrave’s Najdorf, but didn’t achieve much. The game ended in a draw. In the second game, Carlsen himself tried the Najdorf variation, was slightly worse for a long time, but finally achieved a draw in a knight ending.

The third game gave the former world champion the lead. Once again, the Najdorf appeared on the board. The two contenders followed well-known ideas of the English Attack. In the endgame with unequal material, Carlsen finally gained the upper hand.

In the fourth game, Vachier-Lagrave was in a must-win situation. And he succeeded in doing so. Against Carlsen’s Sicilian Four Knights, MVL soon had some advantage, but couldn’t get more than an endgame with queen and pawns against two rooks and pawns. Objectively it was a draw, but Carlsen lost his focus for a moment and was mated.

A bidding Armageddon ensued: the player who bids the shorter time gets to choose the colour and then plays with that time against the rival’s 15 minutes. A draw is enough for Black to win. Carlsen won the bidding with 8 minutes, played with black and achieved a draw, thus winning the Armageddon and the match.

In the losers’ bracket, Anish Giri continued to show good form, beating Shakhriyar Mamedyarov 2-0, while Ian Nepomniachtchi eliminated Alireza Firouzja in Armageddon.

On Thursday, Giri and Nepomniachtchi will play in the losers’ bracket semifinal and the winner will play Vachier-Lagrave in the losers’ bracket final. On Friday, the winner of that bracket will face Carlsen, who can now rest for a day.

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André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.