Aimchess US Rapid: Firouzja knocks out So after thrilling second set

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
9/2/2021 – For the first time in the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour, Alireza Firouzja has made it past the quarterfinals. And the 18-year-old did it in style, knocking out one of the toughest opponents in the tour, Wesley So. In the semis, Firouzja will face Vladislav Artemiev, who defeated Leinier Dominguez in a close match. The other semifinal will see Magnus Carlsen playing Levon Aronian. | Photo: Amruta Mokal

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So wins twice on demand, loses tiebreaker

Wesley So has been showing signs of fatigue at the Aimchess US Rapid, as he comes from playing a combination of over-the-board and online events one after another since the start of the year. Despite this shortcoming, though, the ever-humble grandmaster managed to reach the knockout stage and was inches away from advancing to the semis from the toughest of situations — needing to win twice on demand to force a tiebreaker against Alireza Firouzja.

Impressively, So did score back-to-back wins, taking the match to the pair of blitz deciders (and a potential Armageddon). After drawing the first game with white, So got in deep trouble early in the rematch.

 

The seemingly innocuous 16...Rxe1+ is a mistake — after 17.Rxe1, Black can no longer protect his knight with 17...Ne4 due to 18.Nxe4 dxe4 19.Qxe4, threatening mate both on h7 and e8.

 

Notice that in the first diagrammed position, Black could still go for 16...Ne4, as the rook on e8 prevents the same double attack to appear on the board. 

After the text, Black has nothing better than 17...Ne8, when White gets a clear advantage with the forcing 18.g4 Bg6 19.Bxg6 hxg6 20.Qb4

 

Black is in trouble due to his lack of development. Notwithstanding, So found a way to muddy the waters, giving up pawns to activate his pieces. At some point, it seemed like the Filipino-born star was about to escape miraculously, but at the moment of peak tension, Firouzja managed to keep things under control and ended up getting a much-deserved win.

This is the first time Firouzja reaches the semis in the tour, despite having made it into the quarterfinals multiple times. The 18-year-old will have yet another tough task in the semis, as he will face the ever-resourceful Vladislav Artemiev.

 

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Artemiev qualifies to the Tour Final

By beating Leinier Dominguez in the second set of his quarterfinal match, Artemiev not only qualified to the semis, but also secured a spot in the grand finale of the tour. The Russian grandmaster only joined the series in the Goldmoney Asian Rapid event, the sixth (out of 9) tournament of the tour.

He finished 2nd in that event (lost the final against Levon Aronian) and went on to get 3rd place at the Chessable Masters (was knocked out by So in the semis). After — at least — reaching the semis in the Aimchess US Rapid, he gained a ticket to the Tour Final, which starts on September 25 and offers a hefty prize fund of $300,000.

After drawing the first two games of the second set against Dominguez, Artemiev got ahead on the scoreboard by scoring a 58-move win with black. In a must-win situation, Dominguez went all out in game 4, but he faltered on move 38.

 

Placing the queen on e6 was an unfortunate decision. White can now play the simple 39.Rh8+, and Black has nothing better than 39...Be8, losing a piece, since after 39...Kb7 or 39...Kd7 White will fork the king and queen with the knight from c5.

Dominguez continued playing in a completely losing position until move 83.

 

Carlsen and Aronian get clear wins

Most of the suspense on Wednesday was seen on the aforementioned matches, as both Carlsen and Aronian only needed three games each to secure a spot in the semis — where they are paired up against each other.

After beating Jan-Krzysztof Duda 2½-½ in the second set, the world champion seemed to be satisfied with his play.

 

Meanwhile, Aronian, who knocked out Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, described his match against the Azerbaijani as “an emotional battle”, and told the commentators that he needed a rest after such a tough fight.

 

Aimchess US Rapid 2021

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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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