Airthings Masters QF: Aronian and MVL score

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
12/30/2020 – Levon Aronian and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave won their first mini-matches in the quarterfinals of the Airthings Masters and only need a draw in tomorrow’s second ‘set’ to reach the semis. The remaining two matchups finished tied, with Magnus Carlsen and Daniil Dubov trading wins while Teimour Radjabov and Ian Nepomniachtchi drew all four of their 15-minute encounters. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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Nakamura and So against the ropes

It was a bad day for the two American representatives in the Airthings Masters. Wesley So was defeated by an inspired Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who came from barely making it into the knockout stage, while Hikaru Nakamura was outplayed by Levon Aronian. Both So and Nakamura need a win on Wednesday’s four-game clashes to take their matchups to tiebreaks — if they manage, the blitz tiebreaker will be held immediately afterwards.

Meanwhile, in the most anticipated encounter of the day Magnus Carlsen and Daniil Dubov each won one game to keep the score tied going into day 2 of the quarterfinals. Let us not forget that Dubov was the only player — other than Carlsen — to get a tournament victory in the previous online tour, as the world champion triumphed in four out of the five events played between April and August this year.

Airthings Masters

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Vachier-Lagrave 3 : 1 So

The Frenchman won twice with the black pieces to get the most convincing mini-match victory of the day — in fact, he could have got the job done a game earlier, as he was in the driver’s seat in game 3.

His first win came after So failed to foresee a tactical shot:

 

It had been a tough struggle, with the players entering a position with a rarely seen material imbalance. Thus, we cannot blame So for having missed the coming trick, especially in a 15-minute game — 44.Rb1 allowed 44...Rxg2 45.Kxg2 Rxg3 and White resigned due to 46.Kxg3 Qg6+, grabbing the rook and getting a vastly superior queen endgame four pawns to the good.

 

Select an entry from the list to switch between games

Aronian 2½ : 1½ Nakamura

While Nakamura’s conservative style with the white pieces led nowhere against a well-prepared Aronian, the Armenian got a winning advantage both times he got to move first. The second time he gained an edge, though, he only needed a draw to secure mini-match victory, so he agreed to split the point on move 40.

Aronian’s win came in game 2, when he outplayed his opponent in a closed position with opposite-coloured bishops and heavy pieces still on the board:

 

Both bishops have limited mobility due to the blockaded pawn structure, but White’s bishop has a clearly better scope, as it controls key squares around the opposite king. After skilfully manoeuvring his pieces along the dark squares, Aronian broke through in the diagrammed position — 31.Rxg6 and Black has nothing better than 31...Qxg6 32.Rxg6 Kxg6, giving up the queen and a pawn for two rooks.

The trade might not seem that advantageous for White if we only look at the material on the board, but given the structure of the position the rooks will have a much harder time finding ways to create threats than the queen. The game continued 33.Kg1 a6 34.Kh2 Rb7 35.Qa1:

 

Black captured the “free” pawn with 35...Rxb3 but now came 36.Qa4 Rb1 37.Qd7 Bxc4 (another free pawn?) and 38.Qe7:

 

Aronian’s queen and bishop are ready to wreak havoc along the dark squares. Nakamura played 38...Rbb8 and resigned.

 

Carlsen 2 : 2 Dubov

The world champion kicked off the day with the kind of win that prompted him to climb to the very top of the world rankings a bit over a decade ago — he entered a slightly better rook endgame and masterfully tortured his opponent until provoking a mistake to get the full point.

Dubov got a chance to retaliate immediately in similar style, but he could not get the job done against the ever-resourceful Norwegian. However, the Russian star got to show his tactical strength in game 3, when he found a lethal blow in a rather sharp position:

 

Almost certainly Carlsen would not have played 31.Qxa5 in a classical game, as the white king’s position is obviously very vulnerable — the world champion would have looked into Black’s killer response, 31...f5, noticing that there is no defence for White. 

There is nothing better than 32.gxf5, as any quiet defensive move like 32.Qd2 runs into 32...Qxg4#. After the text, the game continued 32...Qxf5 33.Qb5 Re6 34.Re2 Rg6+:

 

The black rook has successfully been transferred to an active square — 35.Kf2 Qf4 36.Qb1 Kh6 37.Qd3 Qxh2+ 38.Ke3 Re6+:

 

After having captured the h-pawn, Black can exchange everything on e2 and promote his passer into a new queen. Carlsen resigned.

 

Nepomniachtchi 2 : 2 Radjabov

This was the longest mini-match of the day, with the contenders signing draws after 73, 39 and 40 moves in the first three games. The longest encounter of the day, however, was the fourth one, as Radjabov entered a superior endgame on move 41 and kept trying to outplay his opponent until move 104!

 

White manoeuvred for a while to reach this position, in which Black cannot defend the pawn on g5 after 61.Nc6 — note that 61...Bf6 fails to 62.h6+ while 61...Kf8 62.Nxe7 Kxe7 63.Kxg5 is also a trivial win. Thus, Nepomniachtchi responded with 61...Ba3, and the game continued 62.Kxg5 Bc1+ 63.Kf5:

 

This endgame is a draw, but Radjabov did not hesitate to test his opponent’s technical skill for no fewer than 41 moves. The ever-fighting ‘Nepo’ kept things under control to go into Wednesday’s second mini-match with the score still tied.

 

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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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