Airthings Masters: Carlsen and Nakamura set up showdown

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
2/8/2023 – The two strongest and most consistent online-chess players in the world reached the final (in the winners’ bracket) of the Airthings Masters. Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura both drew their rapid encounters against Arjun Erigaisi and Wesley So, respectively, and went on to draw with black in Armageddon deciders to set up a much-anticipated showdown. Meanwhile, Alexey Sarana and Dommaraju Gukesh remain in contention in the losers’ bracket.

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“A masterclass in terms of control”

That is how commentator David Howell described the Airthings Masters finalists’ performances in semis, soon after Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura drew with black in Armageddon to set up a much-anticipated showdown for Wednesday.

The loser of the 4-game match will still have chances of winning the tournament, though, since the new regulations of the Champions Chess Tour include a losers’ bracket (i.e. a player needs to lose two matches to be ‘fully’ knocked out). The tournament’s Grand Final — and potential Grand Final Reset — will be played on Friday.

While Nakamura defeated Wesley So after drawing four times in rapid (in games lasting 63, 28, 27 and 14 moves respectively) and drawing the Armageddon with black, Carlsen lost control of the situation temporarily in his match against Arjun Erigaisi. After winning the first game and drawing the second, Carlsen failed to make the most of a superior position in game 3 and even went on to lose that encounter. A safe draw in game 4 led to the aforementioned Armageddon.

To figure out who plays black in the sudden-death game, a bidding process takes place, with the player who bids the lower amount of time getting black and draw odds in the deciding encounter. White gets 15 minutes in the game.

Tuesday’s bids:

  • Arjun Erigaisi - 11:59
  • Magnus Carlsen - 10:01
  • Wesley So - 9:44
  • Hikaru Nakamura - 9:28

Before the start of the winners’ bracket semifinals, 2-game matches took place among those still competing in the losers’ bracket. Alexey Sarana and Dommaraju Gukesh defeated Alireza Firouzja and Rauf Mamedov respectively. It was shocking to see Firouzja, one of the favourites to win the event, losing twice against Sarana — which means he lost five games in a row in the tournament (Arjun defeated him 3-0 in the quarterfinals).

Sarana vs So and Arjun vs Gukesh are Wednesday’s pairings in the losers’ bracket. The all-Indian matchup is sure to attract the audience’s attention!

Carlsen* 2½ - 2½ Arjun

*Drew with black in Armageddon

In his first loss of this year’s Tour, Carlsen faltered with white in a technical position. Up to this point, Arjun had shown incredible resilience, after missing some chances to convert his advantage earlier in the game (out of the opening, Carlsen had the upper hand).


Black threatens to capture on f2, which prompted Carlsen to play 43.Rd2. The alternative 43.Qxd3 was called for, but to play such a move one needs to calculate a few difficult forcing lines, and the players were already blitzing out their moves after having battled it out in complex positions throughout the game.

Arjun found the correct plan to refute White’s idea — 43...Qe4 44.Qxe4 dxe4 45.Kg2 (45.Bxd3 was the only way to keep the battle going) Bc3 46.Rd1 Bd4 47.f3 Rxf3 and Black is dominating.


Carlsen resigned two moves later, but regained his composure and moved on to the final after drawing twice with black in the last two games of the match.


Select an entry from the list to switch between games

Nakamura* 2½ - 2½ So

*Drew with black in Armageddon

These two multiple US champions are known for keeping it simple in rapid and blitz, prioritizing time management and technical proficiency in these formats — which, by the way, has worked wonders for both in the last few years.

Unfortunately, though, when two players using this strategy meet, it is likely that spectators will get to witness the infamous ‘Berlin draw’.


Game 4 was a 14-move draw following a triple repetition with Qd4-e4-d4 and ...Qd6-e6-d6.


All games - Division I


Division II

Five top stars continue in contention in Division II, with Fabiano Caruana and Yu Yangyi still in the winners’ bracket, while the Russian trio of Ian Nepomniachtchi, Daniil Dubov and Vladimir Kramnik might still pull a comeback from the losers’ bracket.

Nepomniachtchi was unable to play on Tuesday. 

All games - Division II


Division III

Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu and Sam Sevian reached the final of the winners’ bracket in Division III, while Oleksandr Bortnyk, Pranav V, Aleksandr Lenderman and Alexey Dreev still have chances to win the event coming from the losers’ bracket.

Replay all games from Division III at


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.