Carlsen beats Nakamura again, wins Airthings Masters

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
2/10/2023 – Magnus Carlsen won the Airthings Masters, the first event of this year’s Champions Chess Tour, after beating Hikaru Nakamura 2½-1½ in the 4-game Grand Final match. Carlsen won game 1 with white and drew the three remaining encounters to secure tournament victory. This was the second time Carlsen beat Nakamura in the 5-day event.

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Magnus Carlsen, the world champion in classical, rapid and blitz chess, continues to dominate the now habitual online circuit. After winning the three first yearly series organized by the Play Magnus Group, Carlsen started the year with yet another victory at the revamped Champions Chess Tour — now organized in conjunction with 

The world champion twice defeated Hikaru Nakamura on his way to overall victory in the Airthings Masters, which is a major feat in itself if we consider how strong of an online-blitz player ‘Naka’ has proven to be throughout the years. After beating Alexey Sarana and Arjun Erigaisi on the first two days of the knockout, Carlsen defeated Nakamura in the upper bracket’s final. Once the US star gained the right to play a rematch by winning the lower bracket, Carlsen again beat him in Friday’s Grand Final.

As self-critical as ever, Carlsen later confessed:

Overall, I am a little bit underwhelmed since I didn’t feel like the tournament ever got going. But there will be more excitement to come.

Despite winning all four matches he played throughout the week, the Norwegian only managed to score four wins in individual games. His unflagging consistency was what allowed him to get overall victory, as he only lost once (against Arjun Erigaisi) in the tour’s first event.

Commentator David Howell highlighted this very feature when he noted:

It’s just that consistency: even if he has one bad game, if he plays one bad move, he pulls himself together. It’s just that recovery fact, that bounce-back-ability.

It should be noted that Nakamura is also known for his incredible consistency and, in fact, this tournament was no exception. The famous streamer, like Carlsen, only lost once throughout the event, and played three more games than the world champion (20 to 17). Nakamura, however, only scored two wins, the back-to-back victories he obtained at the start of the knockout against Dommaraju Gukesh.

In addition to the inherent difficulty of facing the likes of Gukesh and Wesley So, Nakamura had to deal with personal issues while playing this tournament. Carlsen acknowledged this fact, as he praised his opponent’s performance:

I know Hikaru’s been fighting through some difficult stuff with is family. [...] But the fact that he gets through the qualifier and all the way to the final is a real testament to his strength of character.

The organizers put together a video montage to summarize the Grand Final:

Carlsen and Nakamura played nine games this week, and only one of them finished decisively. Playing white, the world champion targeted Nakamura’s weak pawn on c4 to gain a lasting advantage in the first game of the Grand Final.

White has pushed his h-pawn up to the sixth rank à la Alpha Zero, leaving his king uncastled to keep the possibility of lifting his rook along the h-file. And now came the perfect opportunity to make the most of the configuration — 23.Rh4 targets the loose black pawn on the c-file.

There followed 23...0-0 24.Bxc4 Rfc8 25.Bxb3 Qb5+ 26.Qe2 Qxb3 27.Rb4

Carlsen is a pawn up, and his rook has been transferred to an active square on the opposite flank of the board. 

The game continued until move 50, but Carlsen never lost the thread while converting his advantage. Two draws followed, including one that saw the players battling it out in a fascinating rook endgame (in which Nakamura had the upper hand), which meant Carlsen only needed a draw with black in game 4 to win the whole thing.

Carlsen played the tournament from Toronto, Canada, where he was a guest of the ChessBrahs. Eric Hansen, the leader of the streaming group, gave the world champion great advice before game 4. Carlsen told the commentators:

Eric told me, now you have to play an Armageddon with 15 minutes!

Indeed, a draw with black was all that Carlsen needed, and he was happy to take it from a winning position once he got the chance. 

Carlsen 2½ - 1½ Nakamura

All games - Division I

Division II

Fabiano Caruana was the deserving winner of Division II. After failing to join the main group in a very competitive Play-In stage, the Italo-American star had an impressive run in Division II. Caruana won four matches in a row by 2½-½ scores (two wins and a draw per match) before facing Yu Yangyi in the Grand Final.

Caruana had already beaten Yu in the final of the winners’ bracket, and suffered his first loss of the knockout when the Chinese grandmaster bounced back from his loss in game 1 to even the score in the Grand Final. Caruana won the very next game, though, and secured overall victory by drawing with black in the fourth encounter of the match.

The former World Championship challenger grabbed 50 Tour points and a first prize of $10,000 for his efforts.

Fabiano Caruana

All games - Division II


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.