Aimchess US Rapid: Firouzja, Carlsen and Aronian win first sets

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
8/31/2021 – The first sets of the Aimchess US Rapid quarterfinals were played on Tuesday. Magnus Carlsen, Alireza Firouzja and Levon Aronian won their first 4-game mini-matches, which means a draw on Wednesday will grant them a spot in the semifinals. The one match that finished drawn was Vladislav Artemiev vs Leinier Dominguez, as the Russian won game 4 on demand to tie the score. | Photo: Amruta Mokal

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No easy opponent

Looking at the quarterfinalists’ previous results both in the tour and in this tournament, it would be accurate to call Wesley So, Magnus Carlsen, Levon Aronian and Vladislav Artemiev the favourites to win their matches. However, while Carlsen and Aronian did start with wins in the first set, Artemiev barely managed to draw against Leinier Dominguez and So was in fact defeated by Alireza Firouzja.

This is the first time Dominguez makes the cut and reaches the knockout stage in the tour, and he is facing a player who reached the semifinals of the Chessable Masters (after knocking out Hikaru Nakamura) and made it into the final of the Goldmoney Asian Rapid (after mounting a comeback against Ding Liren). Artemiev also showed great control to win the preliminaries in this event, but could not defeat his Cuban-American opponent on Tuesday.

Even more impressive has been So’s performance throughout the tour. The American star won 3 out of the 8 events in this year’s series, and also showed his strength in over-the-board rapid chess, as he won the Paris Rapid & Blitz tournament back in June. Perhaps his not-so-solid performance so far at the Aimchess US Rapid has to do with the fact that he has been playing almost non-stop throughout the year. The Filipino-born grandmaster is not yet lost, though, as he might still knock out his young opponent in Wednesday’s rematch.

Aimchess US Rapid 2021

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Firouzja 2½ - ½ So

In the first game of the match, So was under pressure with the black pieces, but failed to find a manoeuvre that would have kept the game going on move 45.

 

45.Rb7 is a scary move if you are playing black and have little time on the clock. However, there is a way to survive the apparently decisive invasion — 45...Qc5+ 46.Kh2 Qf5 and Black’s rook and queen defend the king along the f-file. So did not find this defensive recourse, though, and went for 45...Qxb7, entering a losing endgame. Resignation came 7 moves later.

Firouzja also won the next encounter, so a draw in game 3 was enough to secure set victory against his famed opponent. The 18-year-old has reached the quarterfinals three times in this year’s tour, but never managed to advance to semis.

 

Select an entry from the list to switch between games

Carlsen 2½ - ½ Duda

The world champion also finished off his opponent with a game to spare. Carlsen won both his games with white, and did not shy away from entering complications against a rival well known for his tactical strength.

If Duda manages to hit back on Wednesday, that would not be the first time he comes back from behind in this tournament — in the prelims, the Polish star lost the first two games and went on to score five wins and no losses in the next 13 rounds to reach the quarterfinals.

 

Aronian 3 - 1 Mamedyarov

It is not at all surprising that Aronian and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov played the most double-edged set of the quarterfinals. Both players are known for their creativity and tactical prowess, and they always give it all when they are paired up against each other.

There were no draws in their 4-game mini-match on Tuesday, with Aronian surviving a losing position before getting a win in the first encounter of the day.

 

Mamedyarov, playing black, was a pawn up and had a strong initiative on the queenside at this point. The Azerbaijani, however, rejected the direct 32...Qxd4, which is completely winning — after 33.Qg6, Black has 33...Rg8; while after 33.Ra3, 33...Qb2 is devastating. 

None of this was seen on the board, as Mamedyarov opted for 32...Nc6, which is also good but not as strong. After 33.Ra3, though, 33...Qxd4 comes a move too late, as White gets counterplay with 34.Bxd3, unleashing the power of the bishop pair. 

Not only did Black lose his clear edge, but he went on to falter in the endgame to lose the game. Mamedyarov bounced back in game 2, but Aronian scored back-to-back wins in the remaining two encounters to get ahead on the scoreboard.

 

Artemiev 2 - 2 Dominguez

After barely making it into quartefinals, Dominguez kicked off the day by beating the winner of the prelims, thus inflicting Artemiev’s first loss of the tournament. Two draws followed, and the Cuban-born grandmaster was actually in the driver’s seat with the white pieces in game 4. A slip-up in a sharp middlegame, however, allowed his opponent to tie the score.

 

34.Qd6+ Ka7 followed (the more restrained 34.Nf4 was called for), and White fully lost the thread with  34.Qxe6, allowing 34...Re5 35.Qg4 Qe3. Black grabbed the initiative with his queen infiltrated in opposite camp,and Artemiev went on to get the much-needed win soon after.

 

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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.
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Aighearach Aighearach 9/1/2021 08:51
So's queen blunder seems somewhat inexplicable, maybe he couldn't sleep the night before?
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