MVL beats Carlsen twice, wins AI Cup

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
9/30/2023 – With a remarkable performance, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave got to beat Magnus Carlsen in two consecutive matches to win the AI Cup, the sixth and final ‘regular’ event of the 2023 Champions Chess Tour. Carlsen had defeated MVL in the final of the winners’ bracket, before the Frenchman gained the right to a rematch by beating Ian Nepomniachtchi in the final of the losers’ bracket.

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“That was a fair outcome”

Magnus Carlsen has shown incredible results throughout the 2023 Champions Chess Tour (and since the start of the era of online, elite tournaments during the pandemic). Out of the six ‘regular’ events, he played in five, won three, and his worst performance was a third place in the Chessable Masters.

Now, in the AI Cup, he seemed headed to yet another victory. To reach Friday’s Grand Final, the Norwegian beat none other than Hikaru Nakamura, Ian Nepomniachtchi and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, scoring 4 wins, 7 draws and a single loss.

In fact, after beating Nakamura in the first round, Carlsen had this to say when asked about who he considered to be his biggest rivals:

Given his track record, both in over-the-board chess and especially in the online tours, this is surely a fair assessment.

Beating Nepo in the second round only made Carlsen more of a favourite, but the fact that he needed Armageddon to beat MVL in his third match of the event showed that the Frenchman was in excellent shape.

Losing to Carlsen sent MVL to the losers’ bracket, where it was his turn to beat Nepo, who came from obtaining a remarkable victory at the strong Levitov Chess Week tournament (which was played over the board, but also with a rapid time control). Thus, the French grandmaster gained the right to a rematch against Carlsen — to win the event, though, he would need to beat the former world champion twice in a row.

In the Grand Final, MVL beat Carlsen by a 2½-1½ score. Then, in the Grand Final Reset, a 2-0 victory gave allowed the French star to grab the title. Carlsen later noted:

That was a fair outcome. [...] There was never really any reason for [MVL] all of a sudden to be falling off — this is the level he’s always been capable of playing at.

Thanks to this win, Vachier-Lagrave qualified to the series’ finals, set to be played in Toronto in December. Carlsen, of course, had already qualified, as he ended in clear first place with a massive advantage over second-placed Fabiano Caruana and Nodirbek Abdusattorov.

Vladimir Fedoseev beat Vladislav Artemiev to win Division II, while Sam Sevian beat Rauf Mamedov to win Division III.

The Grand Final

MVL got off to a great start, winning with black after showing good technique to convert a superior bishop endgame into a full point. A draw followed, and then Carlsen failed to make the most of his advantage in game 3. The Norwegian had the white pieces.

Here 31.Qg3+ (or Qg2+) keep White’s large advantage — e.g. after 31...Kf8, White has 32.Rxf5 and Black cannot capture the rook due to the mating sequence starting with 32...Qg7, and White’s coordinated army (not to mention the connected passers) is lethal.

Instead, Carlsen simplified into an endgame with 31.Qxf5 Qxf5 32.Rxf5. He was still in the driver’s seat, but a mistake two moves later allowed MVL to restore the balance. A draw was signed on move 43, and a third consecutive draw in the following game meant a Reset was necessary to decide the champion of the event.

The Grand Final Reset

Only two rapid matches are played in the reset, and once again MVL kicked off with a black victory. Carlsen played fearlessly, giving up his queen for two minor pieces and two pawns early on. The former world champion had a strong initiative as well, but the decision to push his pawn to g5 on move 31 was not approved by the engines.

31.g5 is a natural, human move, but computers give 31.Bxa8, grabbing the exchange, as the best alternative here. Of course, giving up one of the two nicely centralized bishops is incredibly difficult under the circumstances. However, engines also give 31.Nf7, ‘adding value’ to a potential g4-g5, as a strong continuation — and, more importantly, one that a human might find in a rapid game.

A sharp calculator, MVL handled the ensuing complications superbly, albeit not without errors.

Carlsen’s final mistake came on move 42.

42.Nf3 loses to 42...Rd3, which MVL found immediately.

There was no looking back for the Frenchman from this point on. MVL got a 57-move win in this game and went on to take advantage of his opponent’s reckless play in a must-win situation to score a 29-move victory in the next encounter. Magnifique!

All games

Division I

Division II

Replay all the games from Division III at


Division I

Division II

Division III


Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.