Aimchess US Rapid 4: Carlsen, Firouzja & Aronian strike

“I don’t get revenge by beating people once,” said Magnus Carlsen after defeating his World Cup conqueror Jan-Krzysztof Duda 2.5:0.5 on Day 1 of their Aimchess US Rapid quarterfinal. 18-year-old Alireza Firouzja also wrapped things up in three games against Wesley So, while the day’s other win saw Levon Aronian defeat Shakhriyar Mamedyarov 3:1 in a swashbuckling match featuring only decisive games. Duda, So and Mamedyarov must now hit back on Wednesday, while Artemiev-Dominguez is tied after a comeback by Vladislav Artemiev.

You can replay all the games from the knockout stages of the Aimchess US Rapid, the 9th event on the $1.6 million Meltwater Champions Chess Tour, using the selector below.

And here’s the day’s live commentary from David Howell, Jovanka Houska and Kaja Snare.

And from Surya Ganguly and Simon Williams.

It was a thrilling day of action, with not a single uneventful draw and three players now in a must-win situation going into Day 2 of the quarterfinals. 

Carlsen 2.5:0.5 Duda

After Jan-Krzysztof Duda defeated Magnus Carlsen in the FIDE World Cup semi-finals, and then escaped in 124 moves in the Aimchess US Rapid Prelims, all eyes were on this quarterfinal match-up, and it didn’t disappoint. The first game of the day was a minor masterpiece by the World Champion, featuring a positional exchange sacrifice that would have warmed the heart of his great predecessor Tigran Petrosian.

The rook blocks the f8-bishop from defending a3, and after 29…Ra4 30.Bxa3 Duda bit the bullet and took the exchange with 30…Bxc5, perhaps reasoning that if he was going to suffer it might as well be for something. The connected passed b and c-pawns were just too strong, however, and five moves later it was time to resign.

Magnus would later sum up:

I thought the first game was very good, and then the second was a bit shaky, but I managed to save it quite nicely.

Magnus initially seemed to be taking over with the black pieces in that second game, but suddenly his attack stalled and his queenside pawns began to drop, until Duda began to get chances.

It looks as though the c4-break here would have been stronger than when Duda played it four moves later, but in any case the idea of freeing a path for the b-pawn was powerful and needed precise defence from Magnus.

The third game featured a dramatic 10th move!

Magnus later described the encounter:

Probably Ke2 in the opening was a bit too much! I had decided before the 3rd game that I wanted to play for a win, to decide the match right there and then. Usually, or many other times, I’ve gone for a draw instead in such situations, but not this time. Anyway, I think what I did was a bit too much, he could have got an advantage at some point, but still I managed to hold on, and somehow after he disconnected he collapsed within a few moves.

It seems that if 10.Ke2 wasn’t the best move it was still very playable, and it was only later that Magnus made some objectively imprecise moves. It worked out for the World Champion, however, with Duda collapsing around move 23.

Duda could here have played 23…f5! and queens would have been exchanged with a draw the likely outcome — he would then have had a chance to win on demand with the white pieces and tie the match. Instead the Polish no. 1 went for 23…Qh5+!? 24.f3 f5?, but in this version Black was simply giving up the e6-pawn with check. Magnus commented:

I understood that f5 was a desperate winning attempt, but it didn’t make any sense at all, so after that it was relatively easy to wrap up. 

That means Duda is in a must-win situation on Wednesday, but he’s far from alone. 

Firouzja 2.5:0.5 So

Wesley So mentioned in his post-match interview that he has to get up at 7:30 in the morning to play, and it’s an amazing fact that the usually rock-solid US Champion has now lost the first game of the day for four days in a row. At first it looked like things might be over fast.

Alireza clearly sensed the moment, since he thought for almost 9 of his 15 minutes here, but in the end he opted only for 23.Ne4. Instead after 23.Nxh6+! gxh6 the key was to sacrifice the second knight as well with 24.Qg3! and it turns out Black is busted. 24…hxg5 25.Qxg5+ is suicidal, with the f1-rook set to join the fun and deliver mate. Of course Black doesn’t have to take the second knight, and the direct win after e.g. 24…Kh8 25.Qh4! Kg7 is less obvious, even if it seems 26.f5! is crushing.

Early morning or not, Wesley now defended brilliantly with 23…f6! 24.Qg3 Kh8! 25.exf6 Rxf6! 26.Nxf6 Qc5+! and even briefly gained an advantage, but it was soon Alireza playing for a win again. There were more twists and turns — the youngster missed the chance to play 41.Rd1!…

…but the one big moment of regret for Wesley came after 42.Qxb2.

He could have traded down into a drawn rook endgame with 42…Qxb2!, but instead went for 42…Qxa5?. He commented: 

I was playing badly the whole tournament long, but actually I had some chances. I shouldn’t have lost the first game, it was very stupid, because I should have just taken his queen with my queen, so that was clearly unnecessary.

After 43.Qd4 Black was back on the ropes, and all hope went when Wesley unnecessarily gave up his queen for a rook. It never looked realistic to set up a fortress, since the white king was poised to invade. 

Wesley was full of praise for his opponent:

A big shout-out and congratulations for Firouzja for playing so well! He’s always been an impressive player and he’s very resourceful, very good in tactics and also very well-prepared in the openings, and he’s only 18, so I think he has a lot of potential. I’m excited to see his play in Norway.

Alireza himself, meanwhile, felt the first game was critical:

The first game of the match is always very important, so the game was ups and downs, but ok, the endgame in time trouble I somehow managed to get the win, and then I was up in the match, so it was pretty easy for me after. He played very strangely these Carlsbad structures.

That pawn structure, with white pawns on e3 and d4 and black pawns on c6 and d5 occurred in the crucial second game, where Firouzja was soon doing well with Black and took over completely around move 22.

22…Ne4! was a nice move, and after 23.fxe4 Qxh4 24.Nd5? Qxe4 Alireza didn’t look back. Although it seems Wesley had some chances to hold despite soon finding himself two pawns down, the outcome of the game was entirely logical. 

That left Wesley needing to win the next two games on demand just to tie the set, but in fact it was Alireza who had all the winning chances with the white pieces in the next game before he settled for the draw he needed to clinch Day 1 of the quarterfinals.

It’s now a big chance for Alireza, who despite having played in six previous events has only made the quarterfinals three times and has never reached the semi-finals. The prodigy confessed of his tour performances, “I’ve played terribly,” but he feels much happier with how he’s playing now. Nevertheless, holding on to defeat Tour no. 2 Wesley So is likely to be anything but easy!

Aronian 3:1 Mamedyarov

Levon Aronian described his clashes with Shakhriyar Mamedyarov:

I don’t think we ever have dominant matches with Shakhriyar, it’s always very sharp, I think both him and I enjoy playing aggressive chess, so I think it’s a perfect match if you want exciting games. 

Not for the first time in their Meltwater Champions Chess Tour matches all the games were decisive on Day 1 of their quarterfinal, with Levon managing to grind out an endgame win from a pawn down position despite having been completely busted tactically early on in Game 1. That seemed a hard blow for Shakhriyar to take, but he hit straight back with a dominant second game, where all Black’s pieces were completely paralysed in the final position.

The third game was quieter, but no less decisive, as Levon once again won an endgame battle, meaning he only needed a draw in the final game of the day to clinch the set. More mayhem followed, however, with Shakhriyar going for a plan suggested in advance by Simon Williams in our live commentary.

37.Kg3! was the first step, with Simon pointing out Qh2, Qh5 and potentially e.g. Rg6-g8 to follow. The computer suggests Black can hold if he responds in time, but Levon’s 37…Rxa4? meant 38.Qh2! was in fact winning for Mamedyarov. 

This is where Levon’s trickery came to fore, however, as he complicated matters with 38…f5 39.Rxd6 Ne8 40.Rd8 (40.Qh6 or 40.Re6 were still winning) 40…f4+ 41.Kg4

At first glance it looks as though the white king is untouchable on g4, in which case the white queen will join the action to overwhelm the black defences… but no! Levon here found the rook sacrifice 41…Rb8!, and after 42.Rxb8 Qd7+ it turns out there was nothing better than a draw for White. That was no good for Shakh, but the attempt to play for more just led to a mating attack.

Levon commented afterwards when asked how he stays calm during such games:

I’m actually very emotional, and I just get so excited that I want to see some tricks, and often I get my colleagues who help me from time to time, they say, “you should minimise the amount of fun you’re having from chess, because it damages your chances”, because sometimes I am very impractical, but I guess you can do it in a rapid format where there is less time to get the punishment delivered.

Long may it continue!

Artemiev 2:2 Dominguez

The match between Vladislav Artemiev and Leinier Dominguez was the only one to end level, but every game was jam-packed with incident. For instance, the first game was a draw, but it required huge resourcefulness and some help from his opponent for Vladislav to survive after a middlegame blunder. 

There was no salvation in Game 2 when Leinier found 31.Nf5!

To stop mate on g7 there was no alternative to 31…gxf5 32.Qxf5+ and the rook on d7 fell. Vladislav, for whom a win in the tie will equal qualification to the Tour Finals, had to hit back, and it looked as though he’d do it immediately in Game 3 when he won a piece in a tricky middlegame. It wasn’t to be, however, as Vladislav must have miscalculated something when he gave back the piece.

That meant only a win with the black pieces could save Artemiev, and on cue he played the risky Modern Defence. It didn’t seem to be working out, until Leinier went for an unfortunate pawn grab with his queen.

35…Re5! suddenly turned the tables, with the point that after 36.Qg4 the black queen could run amok with 36…Qe3! and, with the white queen AWOL, White’s position was falling apart. What followed was typical of the devastating tactical play that Vladislav has been showing all tournament: 37…c4! 38.Rb1 Nc5 39.Qf4 Qd3 40.Nc1 cxb3+ 41.Nxb3 Qc2+

In the final position 42.Rb2 would run into 42…Qxb2+! 43.Kxb2 Nd3+, winning the white queen on f4.

That means it’s all square in Artemiev-Dominguez, while Duda, So and Mamedyarov must all win on demand on Wednesday to force tiebreaks. 

Don’t miss all the action here on chess24 from 11:00 ET/17:00 CEST/20:30 IST!

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