Airthings Masters SF: Advantage Radjabov, Aronian

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
12/31/2020 – Levon Aronian and Teimour Radjabov kicked off the semifinals of the Airthings Masters with mini-match victories over Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Daniil Dubov respectively. They both reached game 4 ahead on the scoreboard and saw their opponents overpush in must-win situations. | Photo: FIDE

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Trapped knights

Levon Aronian has lost only one game so far in the Airthings Masters — he was defeated by David Anton in the last round of the preliminary stage, when he had already secured a spot in the knockout. He obtained a convincing victory over online-blitz specialist Hikaru Nakamura in the quarterfinals and is now ahead on the scoreboard in the semifinals against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, another rapid-play expert.

If the Armenian continues his run of good form on Friday, he will face either Teimour Radjabov or Daniil Dubov in the final of the Champions Chess Tour’s second competition. After eliminating Magnus Carlsen in a memorable match, Dubov needs to win on demand in the second mini-match against Radjabov, as the Azerbaijani kept a steady hand to get a 3:1 win in the first ‘set’ of the semifinal.

With an uncommon year coming to an end, we join Radjabov in wishing all our readers a happy new year. Luckily for us chess followers, from the very first day of 2021 we will get to see four of the best players in the world showing what they are capable of in an event whose existence we could not have predicted exactly a year ago!

Airthings Masters

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Aronian 3 : 1 Vachier-Lagrave

On more than one occasion Aronian has stated that the Berlin Defence provides plenty of fighting opportunities if the players are willing to enter unexplored territories, and he showed that is the case in both his games with black on Thursday.

In the first encounter of the day, the Armenian came out on top after the opening and saw his opponent voluntarily placing his knight on the rim on move 27:

 

The engines consider Vachier-Lagrave’s 27.Nxa7 to be the best move in the position, but it is never easy for a human to play with a piece that far from the action and with almost no mobility — Black played 27...c6 immediately, taking away all of the knight’s escape squares.

Aronian was in the driver’s seat, and he slowly increased the pressure — as one does in these queenless positions — transferring his king to the queenside to capture the unfortunate knight:

 

33...Kb7 and White soon gave up his knight for the c6-pawn. Vachier-Lagrave defended stubbornly until move 67, but to no avail — Aronian did not falter in the final, technical phase.

A draw in game 2 was followed by another Berlin. This time around, it was Aronian who had a knight stuck on the edge of the board:

 

Black’s knight had been sitting still on h4 since move 22, and White finally got to attack it in the diagrammed position with 37.Kg3. Unlike MVL’s knight in the first game, however, Black can save his piece here with 37...g5. Aronian had been defending a tough position, and he continued to do so until move 46, when a triple repetition meant the Armenian would go into the last rapid game of the day only needing a draw to win the set.

In the last game of the day, Vachier-Lagrave tried but could not get anything going with the black pieces. The Frenchman now needs a win to force a blitz tiebreaker on day 2 of the semis.

 

Select an entry from the list to switch between games

Radjabov 3 : 1 Dubov

As mentioned by Peter Leko during the commentary webcast, Radjabov is a player that has the ability to both play solid chess and show great tactical strength when needed. Leko explained that the Azerbaijani learned this as a young prodigy, when he played sharp openings against the likes of Kasparov or Kramnik and was duly punished by ‘correct’, strategic play once he made the slightest mistake.

This ability served him well against the ever-dangerous Dubov in the first set of their semifinal clash. In game 3, Radjabov got a strategic advantage out of the opening, to which his opponent reacted appropriately, defending his weaknesses until entering what seemed to be a savable endgame. The Azerbaijani kept putting pressure, though, until an imprecision by Dubov allowed him to grab a pawn:

 

The material is even, but White’s knight is ready to attack Black’s weak pawns on the kingside with Dubov’s king far from the action. A move like 70...Rb2 would have maintained the tension, while the committal 70...f6 led to 71.Rd2 Be5 (71...Rb4 was better) 72.Nxf6:

 

Radjabov needed ten more moves to convert this position into his first win of the semifinals.

In a must-win situation, Dubov tried to complicate matters out of a Sicilian, but it was Radjabov who got the upper hand in the middlegame. The Azerbaijani ended up collecting another victory after 53 moves.

 

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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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