Airthings Masters: Keymer and Hansen make the cut

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
2/23/2022 – Underdogs Vincent Keymer and Eric Hansen qualified to the knockout stage of the Airthings Masters on Tuesday. On the other hand, the likes of Anish Giri, Levon Aronian and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov did not make the cut. Ian Nepomniachtchi was the clear winner of the round-robin with a commanding score of 29/45 points.

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Giri and Aronian eliminated

Meltwater Champions Chess TourThe modifications to the format in this edition of the Champions Chess Tour bode well for the series. An exciting single round-robin with a mixed field (à la Wijk aan Zee) left four of the rating favourites out of contention at the Airthings Masters. Levon Aronian, Anish Giri, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Jan-Krzysztof Duda did not manage to finish among the top 8 in the final standings table.

Naturally, this means that a number of underdogs did reach the quarterfinals. The two sub-2700 rated players who made it to the knockout stage are 17-year-old German star Vincent Keymer and Canadian streamer Eric Hansen.

Among the quarterfinalists rated barely above 2700 are Vladislav Artemiev, Le Quang Liem and Andrey Esipenko. These three players have already shown in previous years that they have what it takes to face the big guns, with Artemiev reaching the semifinals of the Goldmoney Asian Rapid last year.

The new format for this year’s series also stipulates that the quarterfinals and semifinals will be decided on a single day. In the first stage of the knockout, to be played today, the winner of the preliminaries Ian Nepomniachtchi will face Keymer, while world champion Magnus Carlsen will play Le Quang Liem. See the full bracket below.

Airthings Masters Chess 2022

Hansen beats Nepo

After taking down Carlsen on Monday, Hansen kicked off the final day of the preliminaries with a convincing victory over the runaway leader.


Sound positional play by the Canadian left him with a clear strategic edge in the middlegame. Nepo’s over-optimistic play with the black pieces had him on the back foot for the remainder of the game.

Ten moves after the diagrammed position above, the material was still balanced, but White already had a massive advantage with his well-coordinated army.


35.g4 is a good-looking pawn push. There followed 35...Qe6 36.Qh5+ Kh7 37.Rxb7, and it was apparent that Hansen had everything under control. Nepo continued fighting until move 53, when he accepted defeat for a second time in the tournament.


Esipenko takes down Ding and Aronian

Given his strong performances in top events like the Tata Steel Masters and the Grand Swiss, it is no surprising to see Esipenko beating some of the strongest players in the world — remarkably, he beat Carlsen in their first classical confrontation last year in Wijk aan Zee

Now, on day 4 of the preliminaries, the 19-year-old defeated both Aronian and Ding Liren to reach the knockout. And he beat both super-GMs with the black pieces.

In the last round, with both players tied on 21 points, Aronian blundered the game away by placing his dark-squared bishop on c1 instead of d2.


After 20.Bc1 Esipenko played 20...d3 and Aronian resigned. Placing the bishop on d2 seems to be a good idea on general principle, since the rooks are connected and the bishop itself defends e1. However, that generic assessment is not enough to decide what to play in such a sharp position. After all, the bishop on d2 blocks the queen along the second rank as well.

It was a matter of specific calculation, and Aronian failed to see all the subtleties. in the game, the US grandmaster cannot grab the pawn with 21.Qxd3 due to 21...Qxf2+, of course.

In the alternative line with the bishop on d2, however, after 21.Qxd3 Bxf2+ White barely saves a draw due to a perpetual check — 22.Kg2 Qg3+ 23.Kf1 Qg1+ 24.Ke2 Re8+


In order to play 20.Bd2 in the first diagrammed position, Aronian would have needed to foresee that 25.Be3 saves a draw in this position! After 25...Bxe1 White can give endless checks with the queen from d5, f5 and h5.


Endgame analysis by GM Karsten Müller

In the penultimate round, Keymer was successfully defending a tough position against Le for quite a while. But suddenly, in a pure rook endgame, the German faltered by choosing to defend his remaining pawn passively.


As our in-house expert demonstrates, the active 50.Rb8 actually draws for White! Keymer’s 50.Ra1 was duly refuted by the Vietnamese grandmaster.


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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