Vladislav Artemiev beat previous leader Levon Aronian on the way to scoring 4/5 on Day 2 of the Aimchess US Rapid to take the sole lead, half a point ahead of Levon and Magnus Carlsen. The only player to match his score was World Cup winner Jan-Krzysztof Duda, who climbed from last to 7th place. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is the biggest star name outside the knockout qualifying spots with one day to go, while Daniel Naroditsky continues to impress after beating Wesley So and Liem Quang Le.
You can replay all the games from the Prelims of the Aimchess US Rapid, the 9th and penultimate event on the $1.6 million Meltwater Champions Chess Tour, using the selector below.
And here’s the day’s live commentary from Kaja Snare, Jovanka Houska and David Howell.
And from Tania Sachdev and Danny King.
Artemiev gives masterclass
23-year-old Russian Grandmaster Vladislav Artemiev is currently 9th in the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour with the Top 8 qualifying for next month’s Final, and it’s clear he’s going to do everything in his power to make the cut. He scored an unbeaten +2 on Day 1 and took over the lead with an unbeaten +3 on Day 2.
Vladislav pounced the moment Awonder Liang gave him a chance with 18.f4?
18…Nf3+! was a knockout blow. After 19.gxf3 Qg3+ Vladislav soon picked up two pawns for the piece, with his rooks and bishop joining the assault to clinch victory in 25 moves.
You might say his opponent was “only” 18-year-old tour debutant Awonder Liang, but a round later Vladislav won at least as convincingly against leader Levon Aronian, who was in deep trouble by move 15. By move 20 Vladislav could land a killer blow.
20.Bxh7+! Levon understandably didn’t want to allow 20…Kxh7 21.Qh5+ Kg8 22.Qxf7+, but after 20…Kf8 21.Qh5 he was just a pawn down and still facing a terrifying attack. The rest of the game felt like Vladislav playing with his food before Levon had seen enough and resigned.
There was no great harm done for Levon’s tournament chances, since he won the first and last games of the day and sandwiched the loss to Vladislav with 14 and 9-move draws against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Anish Giri. The Armenian, who says he has a flight booked for his switch to the USA right after the Aimchess US Rapid ends, talked about his approach:
I was taking too many risks but I was getting lucky yesterday, and today I was trying not to take any risks, but I was still getting lucky, so so far the luck is on my side and I guess I will just try to stay as solid as I can tomorrow to qualify to the next stage.
Vladislav’s 3rd win in a row came when he pounced on Jorden van Foreest’s careless 18.Nd4? with 18…Nxd4! 19.Bxd4 d5!
The e4-pawn can’t move or the bishop on c2 will be lost, so Vladislav was able to grab the pawn a move later and win in 27 moves. That set up a last round of the day showdown with Magnus Carlsen, who was just a half a point behind, where Vladislav retained his lead with a rock solid display. Magnus commented:
I was trying to win, that was my objective from the get-go, but he played well and I wasn’t even close. I just had to defend.
Overall Magnus had a good day, with his exotic opening choice against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave working to perfection.
It hadn’t all been easy, however, as he explained:
I think there’s a lot to improve on, but I think at least I’m doing well practically speaking, even though my play, especially with the black pieces, has been a bit iffy at times.
Magnus was in trouble with Black in the first game of the day against Eric Hansen, before pouncing on a blunder to win, and then played the Scandinavian (1.e4 d5!?) against Leinier Dominguez and almost suffered a repeat of his loss to Alireza Firouzja on Day 1 of the event.
Once again Magnus’ king has started wandering in the middle of the board, and though there was no checkmate here it seems 22.Rxd6+! would have given White a winning advantage after 22…Qxd6 (22…Kxd6 23.Rd1+! Ke7 24.Bb4+! and Black is losing a rook) 23.Qxb7+. Instead, after 22.Qa5 Ke6, Magnus managed to survive.
The World Champion was most disappointed at not converting an advantage against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, who also scored 3/5 for the day.
Here instead of e.g. 29.Rd3! Magnus exchanged queens with 29.Qd2 Nc7 30.Bxa7 Qxd2 and ultimately could only draw.
He later commented:
I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t manage to beat Shakhriyar, because it was a very lazy decision I made there at some point to exchange queens rather than to keep the queens on. Basically my thought process is that I’m winning regardless, so I’m choosing the most technical solution, but then it wasn’t so easy after all, so that was a bit disappointing, but considering the positions I had in the first and third games today, I can’t be disappointed, obviously.
Duda and Naroditsky shine
The only player to match Artemiev’s 4/5 was World Cup winner Jan-Krzysztof Duda, who stormed up the table from last place to 7th, making his two-loss start to the event a distant memory. His three wins on Day 2 all featured long, manoeuvring middle or endgames, where he always found a way to break through, for instance against Awonder Liang.
White’s position is ugly but seems to be just about holding… until Duda now switched with 36…Ra8!, preparing the a7-a5 break and opening a second front on the queenside. There was nothing Awonder could do to avoid getting overrun.
Duda was also highly impressive as he managed to grind out a win in the final round of the day against Daniel Naroditsky, from what looked to be a drawn endgame.
Once we got into that endgame, I knew that it was a draw, but I was also very, very concerned, because he almost beat Magnus from a very, very similar endgame. These positions are always tough to play for Black, and I obviously had draws at several points throughout, but again, if I’m to lose a game this is the kind of game I’m not too unhappy to lose.
Don’t miss the interview with Daniel, including an impression of Garry Kasparov at the end, and don’t miss some of his games either! His two wins were stunning, even if Daniel downplayed his victory against US Champion Wesley So.
Of course the game against Wesley was nice, the finish was nice, but realistically Wesley could have taken my bishop and I wouldn’t have been able to win.
21…Nxd5! does seem to curtail the fun, while Wesley’s decision to go for counterplay with a pawn sacrifice was very risky. 21…c6!? was playable, but after 22.Bxc6 his 22…Qc7? was already a losing move. The same idea with 22…Rbc8!, leaving the queen to bolster the defences, might have worked.
Instead after 23.Bxb5 Qxc2 24.h5! Qxb2 25.h6+! Kh8 it was time for the star move of the game.
26.Qg5! relies on the fact that 26…fxg5 is mate after White captures twice on f8. “Once I saw Qg5 obviously I got super-excited”, said Daniel, with the game now ending, 26…Qxb5 27.Rxf6 Rfe8 28.Rxg6! Nd7 29.Rg7! and Wesley So resigned.
White is threatening Rxh7+ and Qg7# and there’s nothing good Black can do to stop it.
Even the draws were spectacular, with Daniel getting a little too clever at the end in a won position against Vidit and bailing out in style against Alireza Firouzja.
37.Bh6! gxh6 38.Qg4+ Kh8 made 39.Nxd3 possible (the immediate 37.Nxd3?? loses the queen to 37…Bh2+) , with a draw.
Daniel also did what Adhiban appealed to Anish Giri to try after 9 draws in a row — he played 1.b3!
Daniel later commented:
I will neither confirm nor deny that I studied his course but b3’s a great move — I think it guarantees fighting chess. No better person than Adhiban to make that kind of course. I respect him a lot as a player, so it means a lot.
It gave Naroditsky an excellent position, at least until he played 14.Nc4?! and Liem Quang Le, thinking for the first time in the game, found 14…Ra6!
I completely missed his Ra6 move in the opening and at first I just thought I was immediately losing, but then I discovered this crazy resource with d4 and I was just adhering to my pre-tournament strategy — have fun every game, play for a win, so I was delighted to win that game!
Daniel came up with the brilliant 15.Ne2 b5 16.Qb1! Qc5? (already the losing move!) 17.d4!
The point, which we got to see in the game, was 17…Qxc4 18.Rc3! Qxe6 19.Qxb5+! and there were no good options for Black. Le went for 19…Ke7 20.Re3 Ne4 and, to his credit, almost saved the game, before Daniel went on to score a deserved win.
Such a day at the office perhaps deserves more, but Daniel is just outside the Top 8 spots that will qualify for the knockout after Monday’s action. He’s joined on 5/10 by Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who had a better day despite losing to Magnus but still has work to do to reach the knockout — it’s vital he makes it if he wants to keep qualification for the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour Final in his own hands.
As you can see, it’s going to be a fierce battle. While the bottom four players, who all lost four games on Sunday, seem out of contention, Dominguez and Vidit on 4.5 points could still strike, while there’s no way Duda and Giri or even So and Firouzja can feel comfortable.
Anish Giri did at least break his 9-game drawing streak, despite not playing 1.b3 in his win over Jorden van Foreest in the 10th round. He apologised to Adhiban:
The thing about b3 is I’ve studied a little bit his course. At some point I thought it’s too good to be true, so I turned on my engine somewhere and then ok, I saw that White is not better in 1.b3, unfortunately, but still it’s very interesting, I like the way he suggests stuff, so I thought ok, let me try it out, and I tried it in a chess24 Arena tournament, and I played in that Arena tournament like 25 games and I lost only one, and that was after 1.b3, so I thought, ok, it just didn’t stand the test of Arena, so I decided ok, it’s also not going to be used in the Champions Tour. I’m sorry!
You can try out an Arena tournament each day on chess24 in the hour before the Aimchess US Rapid begins. More details here.
Monday’s 5 rounds will decide who’s in and who’s out of the Aimchess US Rapid knockout. Don’t miss the action here on chess24 from 11:00 ET/17:00 CEST/20:30 IST.