Airthings Masters SF: Well-deserved finalists

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
1/2/2021 – Levon Aronian and Teimour Radjabov obtained convincing victories to reach the finals of the Airthings Masters, to be played on Saturday and Sunday starting at 15:00 CET. Aronian got the better of Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, while Radjabov eliminated Daniil Dubov, who came from knocking out world champion Magnus Carlsen. | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

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A short day at the office

Both clashes on day 2 of the semifinals finished earlier than expected, as Teimour Radjabov and Levon Aronian secured a spot in the finals after playing two and three games respectively. Radjabov beat Daniil Dubov twice in a row from the get go, making it impossible for the Russian to get more than a draw in the second mini-match (Radjabov had won the first ‘set’), while Aronian got a 2:1 advantage after winning game 3 against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, which also made it impossible for the Frenchman to mount a comeback.

Given their strong performances throughout the event, we can safely say that we will see two well-deserved finalists in the deciding matchup to be played on Saturday and Sunday. Aronian has lost only once during the whole event, while Radjabov showed great nerves to take down Ian Nepomniachtchi in the quarterfinals and put forth a successful strategy to knock out Dubov in the semis — Dubov came from eliminating none other than Magnus Carlsen.

Radjabov talked about his approach to face the ever-dangerous Russian:

I was trying to cool him down as much as I could. This way it worked. This was the strategy I had in the match, to play as boringly as possibly.

The plan worked wonders, as the Azerbaijani defeated Dubov in four out of the six games they played in the semis. That strategy might not work in the final against an in-form Aronian, though, as the Armenian comes from knocking out two of the biggest experts in rapid and blitz, Hikaru Nakamura and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.

Airthings Masters

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Radjabov 2 : 0 Dubov

The first game of the day cannot be described as boring, although we understand what Radjabov meant if we take into account how sharp Dubov’s games can get. Playing black, the Azerbaijani got a big edge in the middlegame, with his opponent’s king stuck in the centre of the board:

 

White does have threats against the black king, but it is Black who can break through first — 26...Rxe3+ 27.Kf1 (not 27.fxe3 due to 27...Qf1+ 28.Kd2 Qd3+ 29.Ke1 Rf1#) Qxg4 28.Rxg4 Rd3 29.Rc2:

 

Radjabov exchanged queens and enjoyed having a better position while only needing a draw in the mini-match to move on to the finals. He was not too accurate from this point on, but he nevertheless reached a knight endgame a pawn up:

 

Dubov was as tricky as ever defending this position, but Radjabov finally managed to get the full point on move 63.

In game 2, Radjabov demonstrated great poise to keep his opponent’s threats at bay while making the most of the attacking chances he got when he got them. A second win in a row meant the match was over earlier than expected.

 

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Aronian 2 : 1 Vachier-Lagrave

Two draws were followed by Vachier-Lagrave entering a position (with black) which guest commentator Peter Svidler considered to be rather unpleasant for the Frenchman:

 

White is clearly better positionally, although perhaps MVL thought he was better prepared in this setup, which would allow him to hold a draw and try to win with white in the fourth game of the day. Aronian continued to improve his pieces until getting what seemed to be an easy-to-convert advantage:

 

At this point, commentators Peter Leko, Tania Sachdev and Svidler were looking for direct ways to get a win for white, but a stubborn defence by Vachier-Lagrave and a safety-first approach by Aronian almost allowed the Frenchman to miraculously save a draw to continue the struggle.

In what the engines already considered to be an equal position, Black did not go for a forcing sequence that would have eased his job immensely:

 

MVL went for 67...Ke7, and after 68.Bb5 Bd5 69.Nd3 White was once again in the driver’s seat. Aronian went on to show he knows how to mate with bishop and knight against a lone king to get a 113-move win.

In the diagrammed position, however, Black could have gone for 67...Bxc5 68.dxc5 Bxa4:

 

The position is drawn. If White goes 69.Kd4 Black has 69...Kf5 70.Kd3 Bc6, while after 69.Ke4 White gives a check first with 69...Bc6+ to get the same setup.

 

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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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