Airthings Masters SF2: It’s an Aronian-Radjabov final

Levon Aronian and Teimour Radjabov made no mistake as they
clinched victory in their semi-final matches early to set up a $100,000 final
on Saturday and Sunday. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Daniil Dubov both had to win
on demand in the first four rapid games to force a playoff, but neither came
close. Dubov’s hyper-aggressive chess backfired as he lost both the games
played, while Levon was rarely troubled before he ground out a 113-move win in the
3rd game. Dubov and MVL will compete for $40,000 in the 3rd place match.

You can replay all the games from the Airthings Masters
knockout using the selector below.

Here’s the day’s live commentary from Tania Sachdev and
Peter Leko.

And Kaja Snare, Jovanka Houska
and David Howell.

For the best
possible experience, and to support the shows, why not Go Premium here on
– you can get a 40% discount with the code CCT40.

There were to be no comebacks on Day 2 of the Airthings
Masters semifinals, with both clashes ending early.

Let’s take a look at the matches:

Radjabov 2:0 Dubov

If there was any doubt about how Daniil Dubov would approach
his must-win match against Teimour Radjabov it was dispelled by move 5 of the
first game of the day, when the Russian went for 5.g4!? A couple of moves later and the game
was in uncharted waters.

Teimour welcomed that development.

I’m used to the guys like Magnus who will just play some
kind of calm chess and put a lot of pressure to the very end, for 100 moves and
stuff, and he just started with this g4…

I was trying to cool him down as much as I can, I was
playing all the boring positions, so that he would sacrifice something maybe in
the endgame or something… This was the kind of strategy I had for the match, to
play as boring as possible, but you can thank Dubov for creating a lot of
interesting games and making me kind of show my best there.

The first game was exciting, but it was always Black who
looked more likely to win until Dubov’s position had collapsed by the time he
played 26.Qg4.

26…Rxe3+! was the kind of blow Radjabov doesn’t miss, with
the point that 27.fxe3 Qf1+ 28.Kd2 Qd3+ 29.Ke1 Rf1# is simply checkmate. After
27.Kf1 Qxg4 28.Rxg4 Teimour was two pawns up in an endgame and also had the
better pieces, with the outcome of the game looking in no doubt whatsoever.

It’s credit to Dubov, however, that he still managed to make
it a fight, and came very close to drawing. By move 50 only the
beautiful 50…Ne5! was a clear win – the knight can’t be taken as the h-pawn
queens, while after some other move g5+ will force the queening of the pawn

Teimour missed that and played 50…g5+?! immediately, throwing Daniil a lifeline, but in the end Teimour’s game-long pressure paid off and, after a
final slip by Dubov, he went on to win the first game.

That meant that Dubov would now need to win at least one
game with the black pieces, and unsurprisingly he set about attempting that
immediately. Peter Svidler, who joined the other Peter and Tania for
commentary, felt Daniil’s approach was sub-optimal against Teimour.

Peter said of Radjabov:

He is a very, very strong player, in particular when you put
him in situations where he is forced to prove that, as I think we’re seeing for
two days running now – Daniil just constantly challenging him to play positions
which are probably fine for him, but are positions which he hasn’t seen before,
and he has to figure them out over-the-board. He is an exceptionally strong
chess player and he’s been managing very, very well. But I think maybe Daniil
could have slowed down a little bit and played a slightly more reserved style,
to give himself time to readjust to the fact that he is now in the semis and there’s
still four days of chess potentially coming. 

Again it was complex, but again
nothing was really working out for Daniil, and Teimour was finding powerful
solutions to his problems:

41.Rxc4! picked up a potentially
troublesome pawn, since 41…Qxc4 runs into 42.Nf6+ and 43.Qxc4, winning the
black queen. It also showed that Teimour had correctly assessed that the
infiltration of the black forces into his camp was nothing to be afraid of. The
white king was able to march confidently to h4 and it was soon just a question
of how White would clinch victory.

48.Rc8! was the final move, with the
computer announcing mate-in-8!

Even if Dubov now won the next two games he could only draw Day 2, so it was all over and 2019 World Cup winner Teimour
Radjabov had made it into the Airthings Masters final. But who would join him?

Aronian 2:1 MVL

Levon Aronian convincingly took
the lead on the first day of this clash, and he looked every bit as impressive
on Day 2. His future opponent Radjabov was full of praise:

Levon is showing very high class
these days, he’s playing great chess, like in the good old times when he was
playing this kind of calm, slow chess and not making many mistakes, very simple
chess and so on.

We didn’t get the same kind of
explosive action as in the other match, with the first game seeing Maxime successfully
defend a somewhat uncomfortable position in the Grünfeld Defence.

In Game 2 it was Levon who was
called upon to defend, this time in the Berlin, and he also did so impressively
in 65 moves, despite dropping under 30 seconds on his clock from move 33
onwards. An e-pawn break secured the draw.

54…e4! 55.f4 e3! 56.Bxe3 Ra5!
56.Bc1 Rc5!
and it turned out the pressure on the white pawns was enough for
Black to hold.

Maxime needed to win one of the
next two games to level the scores in the clash and force a playoff, but a
repeat of his Grünfeld Defence only left him in an unpleasant endgame that would deteriorate at breakneck speed.

A Grünfeld player’s work is never
done, as Peter explained!

By around move 20 Black was lost,
but, as Hikaru Nakamura noted during the Speed Chess Championship, it seems as
though Maxime’s tenacity in defence has reached a new level. He ensured there were
no easy wins for Levon and time and again came close to securing a draw, only
to make one last stumble with 79…Ba7 (79…Bc7! seems to hold).

80.Nd6! e5 81.d5! e4 82.Nxe4!
ultimately saw Maxime forced to give up both of his bishops for pawns, leaving
Levon to demonstrate that he can mate with a knight + bishop against a bare
king. There have been famous cases of top players failing to do that, but
Aronian made no mistake and Maxime threw in the towel on move 113.

So it’s two in-form players,
Levon Aronian and Teimour Radjabov, who have made it to the final of the Airthings

Levon commented of Radjabov:

Of course he’s a tough competitor
and he’s very good at this format, so I look forward to the match. I’ve played
him before many times, I think the score is in my favour, but it’s a final, so
everybody’s ready.

Levon does lead 5 wins to 3 in
classical chess, but in rapid and blitz it seems Teimour may have the edge, and
he won the last decisive game between the two players, a
crushing win in the Skilling Open Prelims
. Team Levon is ready, however!

At stake is the $60,000 top prize
($40,000 for 2nd place), 80 Tour Points (50 for 2nd place) and an automatic
spot in the Grand Finals in September 2021. There’s also a 3rd place playoff in
this event, between Daniil Dubov and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, where the
difference between 3rd and 4th is $10,000 and 10 Tour Points.

So we can expect some tense
battles, with staying calm something that’s much more easily said than done!

Tune in from 15:00 CET (9am ET)
on Saturday and Sunday live here on chess24!

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