Champions Chess Tour Final: Radjabov and Aronian reach the podium

by André Schulz
10/5/2021 – Magnus Carlsen, who won the Champions Chess Tour with plenty of time to spare, ended his short losing streak with a win over Wesley So. The Filipino-bornd grandmaster dropped to fourth place as Teimour Radjabov and Levon Aronian won their matches.

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Carlsen beats So

The match between Magnus Carlsen and Wesley So was supposed to be the tour’s showdown, but So ran out of steam in the final tournament of the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour, which allowed Carlsen to secure first place earlier than anyone might have expected.

In the penultimate round, So was also overtaken by Teimour Radjabov and pushed out of second place. Thus, the match between Carlsen and So had more to do with the latter trying to regain the second place in the standings. To get it, So had to beat Carlsen outright, i.e. without a playoff. And he also needed for Radjabov not to win outright against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. Neither of those things happened.

After two match losses in a row, Carlsen had enough of losing, and he ended the last match of the tour early, with two wins and a draw. 

The world champion had won game 1, and after a draw in game 2, So started game 3 very aggressively, but left some weaknesses in his position.

Carlsen, Magnus - So, Wesley
Meltwater Tour Final 2021 Chess24 INT (9.3), 04.10.2021

1.b3 Carlsen had already opened the first game with this move. 1... b6 2.e4 Bb7 3.Nc3 e6 4.Bb2 Nf6 5.e5 Nd5 6.Nxd5 Bxd5 7.Qg4 h5 8.Qf4 g5?! So is in a must-win situation, so he adds spice to the game. [8...g6!?]

9.Qe3 a5?! Weakening the b5-square.

10.a3 Bb7 11.Nf3 g4 12.Nd4 Now h2-h3 is always hanging in the air, after which either the g4-pawn, the h5-pawn or the h-file becomes weak, depending on how Black reacts.

12...Nc6 13.Nb5


The knight’s ability to jump to d6 or c7 will prove to be very annoying.

13...Bh6 14.Qc3 Bg7 [14...Bf4!? 15.d4 h4]

15.d4 d6 16.exd6 cxd6 17.h3 After a few in-between moves, the time has come.

17...f5 18.hxg4 hxg4 Black has avoided creating a pawn weakness, but he loses the battle for the h-file.

19.Rxh8+ Bxh8 20.Qg3 With a double attack, on d6 and the conquest of the h-file.

20...e5 21.Qh2 With a winning position. The white queen does the job almost single-handedly.

21...Kd7 [21...Bf6 22.Qh5+ Kf8 23.0–0–0 and after the moves Bc4-Rh1, the black position collapses.]

22.Qh7+ Ne7 23.dxe5 Qg8 24.Qh6 Qg6


25.Qd2 Followed by Nd6. Black gave up. 1–0

In the match against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Teimour Radjabov had taken the lead with a win in the second game. In the third game, MVL played to win, but he dropped a rook...


Black now gains a rook.

26...Bxe4 27.Nxe4 Be7 28.Rf7 Bh4+ 29.Kf3 Bxe1 Due to the passive position of the black pieces, White could get a draw here, but he doesn’t take it. 30.Nd6+ Kd8 [30...Kb8 31.Rb7#]

31.Nb7+ Ke8 32.Nd6+ Kd8 33.g5? [33.Nb7+ Ke8 34.Nd6+ is a draw.]

33...e4+ [Also possible was 33...Rb8 34.g6 Rg8 35.g7 Bh4 36.Rf8+ Kd7]

34.Kxe4 Bg3 35.Nf5 Re8+ 36.Kd3 Be5 37.g6 Rc8 38.Rxa7 Bc7 39.b4 Kd7 40.bxc5 bxc5 0–1

Teimour Radjabov thus finished the Champions Chess Tour in second place behind Carlsen.

The game of the day, however, was played by Hikaru Nakamura and Jan-Krzysztof Duda. The tense, long skirmish had some ups and downs for both sides and was far too complicated for a rapid game.

Black had a strong attack, then missed the best continuation and had to give up the queen. With a queen for a rook and a knight, White was on the winning side, but could not make the most of it. In the endgame, it got really complicated with some study-like turns.


White reacted against the King’s Indian Defence with a setup with e2-e3. Black nevertheless went on the attack on the kingside.

17...Qh4 18.Nxf5+ gxf5 19.Bxg4 hxg4 20.Nd4 Kf6 [20...Re5 21.f4 gxf3 22.gxf3 Ng5 (22...exf3 23.Nxf3 Qg4+ 24.Kf2=) 23.f4 Nh3+ 24.Kf1 Rg8 25.Ke2 (25.fxe5 Kh7–+) 25...Kf8 26.Kd2=]

21.Qb2 Re5 The threats on the b2-f6 diagonal are averted. There is now a strong threat of Ng5 and Nf3 or Rh8.

22.Kf1 Qxh2 23.Ke2


23... f4?!

[23...Qh6? 24.Rh1 Qg7 25.Rh4 White occupies the h-file and takes command.;

Correct was 23...g3 24.Rh1 (24.fxg3?? Qxg2+) 24...Qxg2 25.Raf1 Ng5 and Black remains on the attack.]

24.Rh1 f3+ [24...Qxg2 25.Rag1 f3+ 26.Kd1 (26.Ke1? makes a big difference: 26...Ng5 27.Rxg2 fxg2 28.Rg1 Nf3+ 29.Nxf3 gxf3 with a surreal position.) 26...Ng5 27.Rxg2 fxg2 28.Rg1 Nf3 29.Rxg2+–]

25.gxf3 gxf3+ 26.Nxf3 exf3+ 27.Kd3 [27.Kxf3? Ng5+–+]

27...Qg2 28.Rag1


28...Ng5 29.Rxg2 fxg2 30.Rg1 Nf3 31.Rxg2 Ne1+ 32.Kd2 Nxg2 For a brief moment, Black has recovered the material — but only for one move.

33.f4 Unfortunately, the rook cannot move.

33...Rae8 34.fxe5+ Rxe5 35.e4 Kg6 36.Qa3 Nh4 [36...Rxe4 37.Qg3++–]

37.Qg3+ Kh5 38.Kd3 [Stronger was the immediate 38.Qg8 Re7 (38...Rxe4 39.Qh7+) 39.c5+–]

38...b5 Black now gets some counterplay, and converting White’s advantage turns out to be difficult. [38...f5!?]

39.Qg8 bxc4+ 40.Kc3 f5 41.exf5 Nxf5


42.Qh7+ [42.Kxc4 Ne3+ 43.Kb3 Nxd5]

42...Kg4 43.Qxc7 Ne3 44.Qa7 Kf4 45.a4 Rxd5 46.Qf7+ Ke4 In the meantime, the outcome of the match is completely open again.

47.Qe8+ Kf3 48.b5 axb5 49.axb5 Rd3+ 50.Kb4 Rb3+ 51.Ka4 d5 [Black plays for a win.]

52.Qc6 Ke2 53.Qh6 d4 54.Qh2+ Kd3


55.Qg1? [55.Qd6 Nc2 56.b6 Kc3 (56...Ra3+? 57.Qxa3+ Nxa3 58.b7 and White wins. (58.Kxa3? c3 59.b7 c2 Black arrives first, but the extra pawn is probably not enough for victory.) ) 57.Qf6 Kb2 58.Qe6 and White holds on with study-like manoeuvres.]

55...Rb2? [Stronger was 55...Nc2 threatening mate. 56.Ka5 (56.Qg3+ Kd2–+) 56...Kc3 57.Qg7 Ra3+ 58.Kb6 Kb2 59.Kb7 c3–+]

56.Qg6+ Kd2 57.Qg7? [57.b6 still holds a draw. 57...c3 (Or 57...d3 58.Qh6 Rb3 59.Qf4=; 57...Kc3 58.Qf6 Ra2+ 59.Kb5=) 58.Qd6 d3 59.Qf4 c2 60.Qf2+ Kd1 61.Qf3+ Kd2=]

57...Kc3! Threatens mate again.

58.Ka5 Ra2+ 59.Kb6


59...Rf2?! [The correct procedure according to the engine was 59...Rg2 60.Qh8 Kd3 61.Qh7+ Kd2 62.Qh8 d3 63.Qb2+ Ke1 64.Qc1+ Ke2 65.Qb2+ d2–+]

60.Kc6 Kd3 61.Qh7+ Rf5 62.b6 c3 63.b7 c2 64.b8Q c1Q+ 65.Kd7 Qa3 A very rare constellation of pieces.

66.Qb5+? One check too many. The black king is freed. [66.Qc7 is instead unclear. 66...Qa4+ 67.Qc6 and the f5-rook cannot move.]

66...Kd2 67.Qb6 Qa4+ 68.Ke6 [68.Qc6 Rd5+ 69.Kc7 Qa5+ 70.Qb6 Rc5+ 71.Kb7 Rb5–+]

68...Qe8+ 69.Qe7 Qxe7+ [69...Qxe7+ 70.Kxe7 Nd5+] 0–1

It was Duda’s only win, though. Nakamura won the remaining three games and the match.

So’s loss to Carlsen saw him dropping to fourth place, as Levon Aronian scored a win after only three games against Shakriyar Mamedyarov to also pass his future national team colleague. As is well known, Aronian has moved to the USA and will join the American Federation. In the latest FIDE list, however, he is still listed under the Armenian flag.

Wesley So commented on his result in his usual modest way: “Considering everything that happened, fourth place was a good result for me. I don’t think I could have done better than fourth if you look at everything that went wrong”.

Vladislav Artemiev defeated Anish Giri by winning the fourth game after three draws had been agreed earlier in the match.

All games


André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.
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