Airthings Masters: Nakamura knocks out So, reaches Grand Final

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
2/9/2023 – Hikaru Nakamura will face Magnus Carlsen in the Airthings Masters’ Grand Final on Friday. The famed streamer drew Wesley So with black in Armageddon to win the losers’ bracket and set up a rematch against the world champion. So had gained the right to face Nakamura by scoring a 1½-½ victory over Arjun Erigaisi in the semifinal of the lower bracket.

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On to the rematch

The double-elimination format used at this year’s Champions Chess Tour gives players a chance to redeem themselves in case they perform below their usual level on a given day. Or as Hikaru Nakamura put it after beating Wesley So in the final of the losers’ bracket:

Double elimination definitely favours the stronger players because they have to have two bad days as opposed to one bad day.

Nakamura came from losing a close match against Magnus Carlsen which, according to the world champion himself, “was not representative of [the contenders’] levels”. The US star will get to face Carlsen again in Friday’s Grand Final, when the Norwegian will get an extra chance to beat his opponent in case Nakamura wins the initial 4-game match — a 2-game match, dubbed the Grand Final Reset, would follow in that case. Every player gets a second opportunity, even the winner of the upper bracket.

While Nakamura qualified to play in the final of the lower bracket after losing to Carlsen, So made it to that stage by beating Arjun Erigaisi 1½-½ in semis. After winning the first game with white, So showcased his great calculation abilities in a complex struggle, finding forcing lines that neutralized his rival’s daring attempts to score in a must-win situation.

 

Arjun tried 28.Nh5+ here, which is in fact losing. So had calculated this line and quickly replied by 28...Qxh5 29.Rxd1 g3 — i.e. the refutation. Black had a winning position, but So forced a draw by perpetual check when he got a chance, since that was enough to win the match.

So’s performance in this game prompted commentator Jan Gustafsson to praise the elite grandmaster’s tactical skill, while also noting his unwillingness to enter such positions on a regular basis:

Impressive stuff! If he’s forced to play sharp chess he rarely makes a mistake — he just can’t force himself to do it.

So 1½ - ½ Arjun

 
 

Select an entry from the list to switch between games

In the final of the losers’ bracket, Nakamura drew twice and won the Armageddon decider with black — albeit only after So over-pushed from a drawn position, since he was forced to win with white. Nakamura had drawn his way to victory in Tuesday’s semifinals (also against So) before drawing all five of his games against Carlsen (he drew with white in Armageddon).

Unlike against Carlsen, Nakamura ‘won’ the bid against So by going even lower than in the upper bracket’s final. So’s bid was not much higher, though.

  • Hikaru Nakamura - 8m 5s
  • Wesley So - 8m 29s

Given how evenly matched the two US representatives have been throughout the event, this match could have been decided in the first game, when So missed a forcing chance to score a full point in a queen endgame.

 

White wins here with 53.Qf3, forcing the queen swap, since all pawn endgames favour him thanks to the majority on the kingside. So would have surely found such a recourse in a classical game, but with little time on the clock (a time control of 15+3 is used in the knockout) he decided not to force matters without having calculated all the relevant continuations. 

A draw was agreed after 53.Qe6+ Kg7

Nakamura* 1½ - 1½ So

Drew with black in Armageddon

 
 

All games - Division I

 
 

Division II

Much like in Division I, the player who lost the final in the winners’ bracket will get a rematch in the Grand Final of Division II. Yu Yangyi lost 2½-½ against Fabiano Caruana in the upper bracket’s final, but went on to defeat Nodirbek Yakubboev in the final of the lower bracket to set up a rematch against the former World Championship challenger.

To reach the final in the lower bracket, Yakubboev knocked out Vladimir Kramnik in Armageddon. Kramnik’s bid in sudden-death was even lower than any of the bids seen in Division I — the Russian legend acceded to play with 7 minutes and 30 seconds on his clock!

All games - Division II

 
 

Division III

Samuel Sevian won Division III after beating Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu by a 2½-1½ score in the Grand Final — unlike in previous rounds, the deciding encounter is a 4-game match. Sevian’s prize amounts to $5,000 and 20 Tour points.

Replay all games from Division III at Live.ChessBase.com

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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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