Airthings Masters: The plot thickens

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
2/22/2022 – A fierce battle to reach the knockout awaits on day 4 of the Airthings Masters preliminary stage. Only Ian Nepomniachtchi has secured a spot in the quarterfinals, as he has an overwhelming 7-point lead going into the final three rounds of the all-play-all stage. Magnus Carlsen is one of three players sharing second place. The world champion recently contracted Covid and confessed to a lack of energy. | Photo: Niki Riga

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Covid-infected Carlsen climbs to second place

Meltwater Champions Chess TourIan Nepomniachtchi continues to dominate the preliminary stage of the Airthings Masters online tournament. The Russian has collected eight wins, three draws and has only lost against Vladislav Artemiev for an outstanding 27/36 score — with 3 points granted for a win and 1 point for a draw. Nepo already secured a spot in the knockout stage.

The fight for the remaining seven spots is fierce, though. With three rounds to go, no fewer than eleven players have between 15 and 20 points. Given the scoring system, it is all to play for on Tuesday.

Three players are sharing second place, a whole 7 points behind Nepo: Vladislav Artemiev, Vincent Keymer and Magnus Carlsen. The world champion won two games, drew one and lost one on Monday to make his way up the standings table after a subpar performance — for his standars — on the first two days of action. After round 12, Carlsen was interviewed, and revealed that he had contracted Covid-19. He explained that he feels all right, but has been lacking energy, especially on the first two days of the event.

A point behind the chasing pack stand Anish Giri and Eric Hansen. The latter — much like Keymer — has stunned with his performance in the rapid event. The Canadian streamer is the second lowest-rated player in the field, and is well within range of making it to the knockout after having collected wins over Carlsen, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Jan-Krzysztof Duda, among others.

Airthings Masters 2022

Nepo’s 7-point lead

Despite being so far ahead of the field, Nepomniachtchi was very critical of his play while talking to the online commentators after the day’s action. The Russian convincingly beat Hans Niemann and Praggnanandhaa on Monday, but also failed to convert a clearly superior position against Keymer and lived dangerously against Le Quang Liem.

 

19.Kh2 was not a good defensive move by Nepo, as it fails to 19...Nxh3 (19...Bxh3 also wins for Black) 20.gxh3 Bxh3, and White is doomed. Le, who came from scoring a crucial win over Andrey Esipenko, strangely missed these continuations and played 19...Ne6 instead. The complex middlegame was now dynamically balanced.

Nepo not only missed the aforementioned tactical shot — and was lucky his opponent did too — but then failed to make the most of his positional advantage in the late middlegame.

 

White is an exchange up and can play against the badly placed black bishop. Here 35.Qxa5 is very strong, as there is no effective tactical recourse that will help Black deal with his problems. Nepo, trying to keep things simple, went for 35.Qa2 instead, and slowly began to lose his advantage.

An endgame with two rooks against rook, bishop and an extra pawn was eventually reached. Le succeeded in defence as a draw was signed after 79 moves.

Go through Nepo’s games from rounds 9-12 in the replayer below.

 

Hansen beats Carlsen

After losing to Giri in round 9, Hansen had the tough task of facing Carlsen with the black pieces. Fortunately for the Canadian though, as he put it, the world champion made a couple of “lazy moves” in the opening. Hansen safely equalized and even got a slight edge in the late middlegame. Eventually, Carlsen faltered, on move 30.

 

30.Rb1 allowed 30...Nxf4, threatening to capture the queen with check. Carlsen later explained that he entered this line because he thought there was a way to trap the black queen on the queenside. After 31.Qf1 Qc3 32.Bb5 Ng6, the game ended abruptly.

 

The world champion was still trying to find a way to trap the queen when he mouse-slipped with 33.Bxa4. Resignation followed quickly afterwards.

 

Endgame analysis by GM Karsten Müller

Our in-house expert explains how Nepomniachtchi failed to convert a superior endgame with opposite-coloured bishops against Keymer. 

 

As Müller shows below, Black here needed to defend against d7 with 35...Rb7, trusting that he would get the win by playing actively in the opposite-coloured bishops position. Nepo instead rushed with 35...a3, allowing Keymer to show excellent technique to hold the draw.

 

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

 

All games

 

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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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