Airthings Masters SF: Carlsen and Nepo reach the final

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
2/25/2022 – It has been a tough day for everyone. Vladimir Putin’s appalling decision to invade Ukraine has shocked the world, and his actions have been condemned by most world leaders. At the Airthings Masters, three out of four semifinalists hail from Russia, with Ian Nepomniachtchi confessing after beating Andrey Esipenko, “I can’t think”. Nepo will face Magnus Carlsen in the finals of the online tournament, in a rematch of the recent contest for the World Championship title. | Photo: Niki Riga

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Clouded minds

We could not have asked for a better pairing in the final of the Airthings Masters, but the whole semifinals of the online tournament were overshadowed by the crisis in Ukraine. With three out of four players hailing from Russia, we cannot but attribute — at least partly — what was seen on the matches to the sombre situation in Eastern Europe.

Ian Nepomniachtchi, who got a clear 2½-½ victory over Andrey Esipenko playing from his house in Moscow, later lamented:

My play is very, very bad. I can’t think, I only rely on intuition, and I can’t calculate any lines. [...] Every day is challenging, and today, yeah, I would say especially.

Meanwhile, his 19-year-old opponent shared on Twitter:

Very much hoped for a peaceful solution to the situation... It’s horrible to know that all this is happening...

Ian Nepomniachtchi

Ian Nepomniachtchi in Moscow

The remaining Russian in the semis, Vladislav Artemiev, also lost his match after only three games, as he was defeated by world champion Magnus Carlsen by the same 2½-½ score.

Now that world leaders have announced sanctions against Russia, and other sporting organizations have been resolute in their condemnation of Putin’s actions, the chess world is waiting to see how FIDE reacts to the situation. The International Chess Federation, headed by Russian Arkady Dvorkovich, planned to hold this year’s Olympiad in Moscow. As per their tweet, they will “review holding of all the planned FIDE official chess competitions and events in Russia”.

Peter Heine Nielsen, Carlsen’s main coach, concisely shared what is currently the general sentiment among chess enthusiasts on social media:

We can only agree.

Nepomniachtchi 2½ - ½ Esipenko

After a draw in which both players missed chances to get ahead on the scoreboard, Nepo took the lead by outplaying his young compatriot in a tactical skirmish.

 

Esipenko could not resist attacking the invading rook with 26.Nf2, which turned out to be the losing mistake. Nepo immediately found the refutation — 26...Rxd2 27.Bxd2 Nxg2

 

Black has crashed through, with his queen and bishop ready to infiltrate on f3. Esipenko tried to defend with 28.Re4, but soon realized there was no way to stop Black’s forces from wreaking havoc on the kingside. Resignation came four moves later.

 

Carlsen 2½ - ½ Artemiev

The world champion kicked off with a win, and then showed his usual stupendous endgame technique to convert a knight endgame a pawn to the good.

 

As our in-house expert GM Karsten Müller shows in his annotations (see game 2 in the replayer below), 72.Nd6 drew for White, while Artemiev’s 72.Ng5 is actually the deciding mistake. The problem is that after 72...Nd8, the white knight has been fully neutralized.

 

The conversion from this position was no easy task, however. Artemiev only conceded defeat after move 102!

 

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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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