Airthings Masters: Ding leads, Carlsen struggles

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
2/20/2022 – Ding Liren had the best start at the Airthings Masters online tournament. The Chinese scored 10/12 points after winning three games and drawing one on the first day of action. Ian Nepomniachtchi and Andrey Esipenko are placed second and third, while Magnus Carlsen is currently eleventh after losing in rounds 3 and 4, against Esipenko and Nepomniachtchi respectively. | Photo: Amruta Mokal

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Playing in the wee hours

Covid-related travel restrictions continue to impact the chess world. Recently, FIDE announced that Ding Liren will not be able to make it to Belgrade for the second leg of the Grand Prix, soon after the Chinese star had missed the first stage played in Berlin. This unfortunate circumstance makes it all but impossible for the world number 3 to play this year’s Candidates Tournament — save for an exceptional late withdrawal.

Fortunately for Ding, the fact that online tournaments seem to be here to stay means he can still face elite opposition from home. However, since most players are European — and perhaps because the big bulk of the audience also comes from that area — the 29-year-old from Wenzhou is set to start his workday at 1 a.m.

Despite this difficulty, the ever-humble grandmaster managed to go into day 2 of the Airthings Masters tournament in sole first place. To get his 10/12 score — wins are worth 3 points, draws are worth 1 point — Ding beat Vincent Keymer, Praggnanandhaa and Le Quang Liem, while only US rising star Hans Niemann managed a draw in their round-2 game.

Ding is closely followed by Ian Nepomniachtchi, who won three games and lost one for a 9/12 score, and Andrey Esipenko, who stands a further point back. Coincidentally, both Nepo and Esipenko defeated world champion Magnus Carlsen on Saturday. The perennial favourite and the tour’s defending champion stands on 4/12 at the bottom half of the table. The top 8 players in the preliminaries will move on to the knockout stage.

Airthings Masters 2022

The tournament did not start all that swiftly for Ding. Facing Vincent Keymer with the black pieces, he was on the worse side of a materially imbalanced endgame.


In this peculiar position, Black has three pawns for White’s bishop and both players have pawns one square away from queening. Keymer’s best chance to keep fighting for a win was to place his king on g1 and then play Bg2. The young German instead ventured with his monarch to the centre of the board with 53.Ke3, though, allowing Ding to coordinate his queen and rook while harassing the white king.

The game continued 53...Qe7+ 54.Qe4 Qc5+ 55.Kd3 Qb5+ 56.Ke3 Qc5+ 57.Kd3 Qb5+ 58.Ke3 Qb6+ 59.Kd3 Rd6+, and Black was already in the driver’s seat.


Ding activated his major pieces along the dark squares, and it is tough to defend this position with White while his rook is stuck preventing the passer from promoting — especially in a rapid game. Keymer soon faltered again, and Ding eventually took the full point.

Unlike in his initial encounter, Ding kept things under control to win twice and draw Niemann in his remaining three games of the day. You can replay all four of the leader’s games from in the dynamic replayer below.


Ding was one of six players who kicked off the event with a win. Carlsen was also among the first-round winners, as he got the better of Vladislav Artemiev with the white pieces. 


An excellent technical player, Artemiev nonetheless faltered with 35...Qg4. As Karsten Müller mentions in his annotations (replayable below), mating motifs often occur out of the blue in queen endings. Carlsen found the refutation — 36.Qe7+ Kh6 37.Qf8+ Kh5 38.Qf3


The world champion correctly calculated that, after a queen exchange, his d-pawn will queen first and give mate before Black gets to activate a potential new queen on the a or b-files.

After this good-looking win, Carlsen got in trouble but managed to save a draw against world rapid champion Nodirbek Abdusattorov. Back-to-back losses against Esipenko and Nepomniachtchi followed. These results left him sharing 11th-13th place on 4/12 points going into the second day of action. 

See all games played by Carlsen on Saturday in the replayer below.


Endgame analyses by GM Karsten Müller

Besides the aforementioned endgame seen in Carlsen vs Artemiev, our in-house expert looked at a knight vs rook ending seen in the first-round game between Niemann and Eric Hansen.


Niemann’s 51.Kf2 immediately failed to 51...b2, since the rook is forced to capture the pawn and run into a fatal fork — 52.Rxb2 Nd1+, and White resigned six moves later. This was the first of two consecutive victories by the ChessBrah, who then went on to lose against Le and draw his round-4 game against Artemiev.

Go through both GM Müller’s instructive analyses in the replayer below.


Crosstable (3 pts for a win, 1 pt for a draw)


All games



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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