Airthings Masters: Carlsen beats Nakamura in Armageddon

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
2/9/2023 – Magnus Carlsen advanced to the Grand Final of the Airthings Masters by beating Hikaru Nakamura in the winners’ bracket final. All four 15-minute games were drawn in the all-star showdown, leading to a sudden-death decider. Carlsen, who presented a bid merely one second shorter than Nakamura’s, drew with black in Armageddon to win the match. Nakamura will face either Wesley So or Arjun Erigaisi in the final of the losers’ bracket.

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A single second made all the difference

The first (out of six) ‘regular’ event of the 2023 Champions Chess Tour is allowing fans to get used to the new, more dynamic format of the series. Tournaments now last five days, and by the third day we already know who will be one of the players that will fight for the $30,000 top prize in the Grand Final. Meanwhile, all participants get a single chance to bounce back after a defeat in the losers’ bracket.

In the Airthings Masters, Magnus Carlsen already made it to the Grand Final, while Hikaru Nakamura, Wesley So and Arjun Erigaisi are still in contention in the lower bracket.

The perennial favourites in these fast-paced online events reached the final in the winners’ bracket after barely making it through in the semifinals — Carlsen and Nakamura both drew with black in Armageddon, against Arjun Erigaisi and Wesley So respectively. Predictably, it was a close match, with five games ending in draws.

That does not tell the whole story, though, as Carlsen twice missed chances to get ahead on the scoreboard. In game 1, he had a slight edge in an endgame, while in game 2 he failed to find a tactical shot with the black pieces.


Naka spent 51 seconds before choosing to play the risky 25.Bd7. The US grandmaster was probably calculating the lines following 25...Qe7, which would have actually given Black a large advantage. However, instead of playing the queen move that creates a discovered attack along the f6-a1 diagonal, Carlsen perhaps ‘believed his opponent’ and went for 25...Kg7 instead.

Black still had the upper hand, but White got a key tempo to neutralize his opponent’s active chances and ended up escaping with a 44-move draw.

Two quicker draws followed (lasting 25 and 21 moves), which meant it all would be decided in Armageddon. Since Nakamura had not managed to get much in his games with white, Carlsen bid a rather short amount of time for the sudden-death decider, edging Nakamura by a single second! Commentator David Howell later noted:

Hikaru’s only blunder, I would say, was bidding 8m 59s rather than 8m 57s. But fair play to Magnus, he did it — small margins, but he did deserve the win.

Carlsen bid 8m 58s! In Armageddon, Nakamura had a massive advantage on the clock and correctly tried to keep things complicated, but a cold-blooded Carlsen did not make large mistakes while progressively evening out the times left for each player.

On move 29, it was the world champion who (again) missed a chance to get a clear advantage.


29...Nxe5 was the killer blow, since 30.fxe5 fails to 30...Qc6+ 31.Kh2 f4 (diagram below) and White cannot both save his knight and prevent ...Rh6, grabbing the queen.


None of this happened, though, as Carlsen went for 29.Nb4, also threatening Qd7-c6+ albeit not with the same effect. Nonetheless, the Norwegian only needed a draw and managed to grab the pawns on c2 and d3 shortly after, simplifying into a slightly better endgame.

Nakamura never quite got winning chances and ended up offering a draw on move 60. Carlsen was happy with the win, but a bit disappointed with the level of play:

I think the chances are pretty high that I’ll be facing him again, and then I hope we both can play a bit better, because I think this was a match that was not representative of our levels.

Evidently, the world champion considers it likely that Nakamura will win the losers’ bracket on Thursday.

In the lower bracket’s semis, Arjun and So won 2-game matches against Dommaraju Gukesh and Alexey Sarana to remain in contention for tournament victory. They will face each other to decide who plays Nakamura in the fight to get the second spot in the Grand Final.

Carlsen* 2½ - 2½ Nakamura

Drew with black in Armageddon


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All games - Division I


Division II

Former world champion Vladimir Kramnik continues to impress in Division II, as he defeated Ian Nepomniachtchi and Matthias Bluebaum in back-to-back matches to reach the quarterfinals of the losers’ bracket.

Among the winners, Fabiano Caruana and Yu Yangyi made it to the final and will fight for a place in the Grand Final.

All games - Division II


Division III

Sam Sevian beat Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu in the final of the winners’ bracket, but will need to beat him again if he wants to win Division III of the Airthings Masters.

After losing to Sevian in Armageddon, the ever-resilient Pragg defeated Oleksandr Bortnyk in the final of the lower 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.