Airthings Masters QF: Dubov knocks out Carlsen

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
12/31/2020 – On a thrilling day of action, Magnus Carlsen, Hikaru Nakamura, Wesley So and Ian Nepomniachtchi were all knocked out of contention in the quarterfinals of the Airthings Masters. Most notably, Daniil Dubov eliminated the world champion by showcasing his trademark uncompromising playing style. Nakamura was quickly knocked out by Levon Aronian, while Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Teimour Radjabov moved on to the semis only after defeating their opponents in Armageddon. | Photo: Lennart Ootes / World Rapid Championship 2018

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A good day for the underdog

Except for Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, all the players that advanced to the semifinals of the Airthings Masters were lower-rated than their quarterfinal opponents (in rapid). Moreover, it was somewhat surprising to see Wesley So knocked out by ‘MVL’, as the Filipino-born grandmaster came from winning the Skillings Masters — in fact, all four players that were knocked out on Wednesday reached the semis in the first event of the Champions Chess Tour.

Nonetheless, it seems odd to call Levon Aronian, Teimour Radjabov and Vachier-Lagrave “underdogs”. But we cannot say the same about Daniil Dubov — the Russian star has proven once and again that he can beat anybody on a good day, but he has not shown enough consistency not to be considered a dark horse when facing the world champion.

Those that have been following the online tournaments closely this year, however, must feel that Dubov’s win does not come as a huge surprise, mainly because of his victory at the Lindores Abbey Rapid Challenge in June but also due to his great performance in the Russian Superfinals a couple of weeks ago.

His attitude when playing Carlsen might have something to do with it as well, as the outspoken Russian has openly talked about how important it is for him to face the most dominant player of our era — he declared after winning the Lindores Abbey event:

If you’d ask me what would I prefer, to win the Lindores Abbey or to win a series of matches against Magnus, I would definitely think about it. [...] And, in terms of the way I see things, I would probably prefer to beat Magnus, to be honest.

Shortly after being eliminated, Carlsen, who was visibly upset by his play during the second mini-match of the quarterfinals, tweeted:

Since the players are being filmed while they play, we could all see how excited Dubov was when he knocked out the Norwegian. A former second of the world champion, the Russian apologized for having celebrated so much, to which Carlsen responded, also on Twitter:

On a lighter note, Daniil just wrote me to cheer me up after beating me, and apologize for his celebration on air. Told him I did not see it, and it would upset me more when people stop celebrating after beating me. Congrats to a most worthy opponent and great dude!

A competitor at heart, the world champion demonstrated with the latter tweet that he likes to be challenged by a deserving rival. He will surely be looking forward for a chance to beat his outstanding colleague in future events.

Airthings Masters

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Dubov 2½ : ½ Carlsen

The eventual winner of the matchup managed to create the sort of complicated positions that favour his remarkable tactical strength. In game 1, he got a big edge in the early middlegame, lost his advantage, and finally won after Carlsen blundered in a sharp position:


Black needed to play the defensive 38...Qh8 at this point, as the doubled rooks on the seventh rank threaten to create mating nets if left unchecked. Carlsen’s 38...Qa1+ seems harmless enough, but it allows the king to leave a potential pin along the c5-g1 diagonal with 39.Kg2.

After 39...Bxe3 40.Rh7+ Kg5 Dubov quickly showed why Carlsen’s 38th move had been a mistake by playing 41.Rxb7, ignoring the fact that his queen is under attack — in case of 41...Bxf2, Black mates with 42.f4+ Kf6 43.Rbf7#.  


White’s light-squared bishop is perfectly placed. In the game, Carlsen played 41...Rf8 and resigned after 42.Qxe3+, with mate in one on the board.

Playing White, the world champion was on the good side of a drawish 4 v 3 rook endgame, but could not convert his advantage into a full point to even the score. In game 3, Carlsen got a massive advantage, which he blundered away in a single move:


Black escaped the ‘check’ against his queen by placing the attacked piece in the worst possible square with 34...Qe7. The attack starting with 35.Qd4+ is now lethal — you can see by yourself by moving the pieces on the diagram above how Black could have defended against this attack had he played 34...Qa5, 34...Qc5 or 34...Qa8. 

The game continued 35...Kg5 36.f3 f5 37.fxg4 Rc8:


38.Qf4+ Kf6 39.Qxf5#, with a mating pattern resembling Dubov’s win on day 1 of the quarterfinals.


Select an entry from the list to switch between games

Radjabov* 2 : 2 Nepomniachtchi 

*Won in Armageddon

Naturally most eyes were put on Dubov’s victory early on, but the excitement continued way past the time the Russian had knocked out the world champion. The matchup between Radjabov and Nepomniachtchi was particularly dramatic, with ‘Nepo’ winning on-demand in game 4 — after having lost the first encounter of the day — to take the second mini-match to a blitz tiebreaker.

The Russian went on to win the first 5-minute game with black:


White needs to be careful with the opponent’s queen and rook trying to create a mating pattern against the vulnerable king. However, it was possible to capture the bishop with 37.fxe5, as there are enough defensive resources to hold the draw. Instead, Radjabov’s 37.Rg3 was losing. Nepomniachtchi found 37...Qh2 and there is no way to defend against mate without giving up massive material.

Radjabov went for 38.Bg2 and resigned after 38...Qg1+ 39.Bf1 Qxf2+:


‘Nepo’ had all the momentum going for him, but the drama continued as the ever-fighting Radjabov won game 2 of the tiebreaker. In the Armageddon decider, Nepomniachtchi chose to play white only to see his opponent holding a draw to get a ticket to the semifinals!


Vachier-Lagrave * 2 : 2 So 

*Won in Armageddon

The rollercoaster mini-match between Radjabov and Nepomniachtchi was not the longest of the day, though, as So and Vachier-Lagrave also went the distance. ‘MVL’ had won on Tuesday, but saw his opponent getting an early win in the first game of the second mini-match on Wednesday.

Vachier-Lagrave could not even the score in the rapid section but kicked off the blitz tiebreaker with a win:


White is better, but there are ways for Black to keep the struggle going. However, with little time on the clock (it was a 5-minute game after all) So blundered by going for 51...Rg2+

The game continued 52.Kf6 Rf2+ 53.Ke7 Re2+:


Black does get a queen first, but it is not enough — 54.Rxe2 a1Q 55.f8Q Qa3+ 56.Ke8 and White will escape the checks and win with his extra rook. So resigned.

On a thrilling day of rapid and blitz chess, this matchup also went to Armageddon, as So bounced back with a win in the second game of the tiebreaker. Much like Radjabov, however, Vachier-Lagrave held a draw with the black pieces in the Armageddon decider to secure a spot in the semifinals.


Aronian 2 : 0 Nakamura

Curiously, the day had kicked off with a rather surprising result, as Aronian and Nakamura had a very short day at the office. The American star needed a win after having lost on Tuesday, but two straight losses in the second mini-match meant he could only get a draw at best, thus allowing Aronian to go into the semis as the most rested participant.

The Armenian’s connected passers on the b and c-files gave him his first win of the day: 


35.Rxa6 and Black resigned.



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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