Goldmoney Asian Rapid 1: Carlsen hits back after Firouzja stumble

Magnus Carlsen began the Goldmoney Asian Rapid with a loss to 18-year-old Alireza Firouzja, but from there on their fortunes diverged dramatically. Magnus hit back to win three of the next four games and join a 5-way tie for the lead, while Alireza is half a point off last place after losing three games. The co-leaders are Vladislav Artemiev and Daniil Dubov, who like Magnus won three games but suffered one heavy loss, and Ding Liren and Levon Aronian, who are the only players still unbeaten.

You can replay all the games from the Prelims of the Goldmoney Asian Rapid, the 7th 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 Tania Sachdev and Daniel King.

Firouzja beats Carlsen in dramatic first round

Going into Day 1 of the Goldmoney Asian Rapid one of the big questions was what kind of Alireza Firouzja we’d see. The Iranian prodigy had shown tremendous fighting spirit in Paris but had failed to win a single rapid game there, while with 10 wins in blitz he’d eclipsed everyone, including runaway winner Wesley So (8 wins). It seemed we got an answer in the very first game, when Alireza managed to take down World Champion Magnus Carlsen.

An incident-packed game was already interesting on move 2, when Alireza went for the Vienna Game with 1.e4 e5 2.Nc3.

Alireza had done that before — in fact in the last couple of years he’d scored 6.5/7, including wins over Aronian, Grischuk, Jobava and Vidit, according to our database — but Magnus spent 2 minutes and 5 seconds before replying 2…Nf6.

The long think wasn’t punished, at least initially, with Magnus emerging with what seemed a perfectly safe ending where he was clearly better. It would become much more double-edged, however, until every move became critical.

34…h4! here and the fast-running h-pawn should win the game for Magnus, but the World Champion took time out to save his g-pawn first with 34…g6?! Firouzja took advantage of that delay to play on the other side of the board with 35.a4! h4?! 36.b4 (White is already better!) 36…b6 37.b5 a5.

With the pawns fixed Alireza was now able to sacrifice to break through: 38.Nxe5! Magnus correctly ignored that with 38…h3 (38…dxe5 39.d6 is hopeless), but after 39.Rh1 Nxd5 40.Nxg6?! he missed his last chance to bail out with 40…Rf7!, intending to force a draw with his two rooks on the 2nd rank. 

After 40…Ne3 41.Rc3! there was no stopping the white knight coming to d5 and winning the game. When Magnus resigned the computer was counting down to mate being given to the stranded black king.

Carlsen and Firouzja’s fortunes diverge

It turned out that sensational start told us nothing about how the day would go for the two players. Magnus explained afterwards:

I’m never really too hard on myself on these first days, because I don’t really expect to be in top gear immediately — there are always some difficult moments, so this is fine. That’s also why I was not that upset with losing the first game since these things can happen, and he’s very tricky, and then I’ll just focus on getting back into shape later.

Magnus hit straight back with an endgame grind against women’s no. 1 Hou Yifan in a game where he felt he could have been more accurate, but it didn’t matter.

It was a difficult game for her in the sense that she never had any real counterchances. She was also struggling to stay afloat, and then it’s easy to make mistakes eventually. 

Game 3 was a breather, since Magnus had Black against Wesley So and was able to make what for the day was a very rare 14-move draw.

It gave Magnus some time to tweet about the assistance his seconds had given him for the game!

He elaborated later:

I thought it was funny that that was the only position in my file in the Wesley game. “You can play the Berlin and he’s going to make a draw!” At least after the first couple of games when he was already on +1 then I knew for sure what he was going to do, and it was fine by me — obviously it was meant as a joke. 

The next round, where Magnus faced Peter Svidler, was another example of how almost any move seems to be possible for White against the Najdorf!

The World Champion’s head coach took his chance to reference their preparation!

The move worked well, although Peter was close to equal before he allowed Magnus a nice break with 31.h5!, when after 31…gxh5 the World Champion followed through with his positional plan when he could have won the game on the spot!

32.Bxc5! simply wins a piece. 32…dxc5 drops the knight on d7, so there’s no choice but to allow 32…Nxc5 33.Rb8+ Kg7 34.Nf5+ and the bishop on e7 is lost. A completely forced 3-move tactic shouldn’t be too hard for Magnus to spot, but as Danny pointed out, 32.Nf5 was a fine positional move as well as the point of the h-pawn break.

White’s positional dominance eventually paid off when Magnus found a trickier win after the final mistake 37…Ne4? (37…Ra1! had to be tried).

38.Bg4! ignored the attack on the g-pawn, since the threat of Bd1 is winning a piece — Rb8+ will give mate if the b3-knight moves. There was no escape, and the game ended: 38…Bxg5 39.Bxg5 Nxg5 40.Bd1!

The beautifully placed knight on f5 is crucial, even if it was strictly speaking a blunder to put it there!

Magnus wrapped up a good day at the office by beating tour debutant Salem Saleh, who had also scored a fine win against Peter Svidler. Magnus was doing well with the black pieces, but ultimately the game was decided by the tricky move 30…Ng5!? Salem replied by hitting both the queen and knight with 31.Bf4?

Black loses after 31…Nxf3+? 32.Kg2, but 31…Nh3+!? is enough to leave Black with an advantage. Magnus had something much, much better in mind, however, and finished with a flourish with the temporary queen sacrifice 31…Qe1+! Salem resigned, since after 32.Qxe1 Nxf3+ Carlsen would emerge up an exchange and two pawns, with three connected passed pawns on the queenside.

The World Champion summed up:

It was the usual story, I think. Play wasn’t brilliant, but the result was good, so it gives me a good chance to have a more relaxing and at least a better way to the knockouts than I did the last time, so that’s what I’m definitely aiming for!

He currently tops the standings on tiebreaks (“most wins” pushes down the unbeaten Ding Liren and Levon Aronian).

As you can see, Alireza Firouzja, meanwhile, is in serious danger of getting knocked out for failing to finish in the Top 8 after the three days of preliminaries. What went wrong?

Well, a “mad position” (Danny King) in Giri-Firouzja could have gone either way, until Anish was ultimately able to find a simple tactical win at the end.

Black can’t both defend the d4-bishop and stop the d-pawn promoting and winning a rook.

In the next game Alireza was absolutely winning in 15 moves against Jan-Krzysztof Duda, but failed to find the best kill until Duda managed to claw his way back into the game. By move 29 it was clear the tide had turned.

29…Nd3+! 30.Rxd3 Rxd4 31.Rf3 Ra7! and Black was no worse. Later Alireza took too many risks to break through in a balanced endgame and it ended in tears…

…though not for Duda. 

A draw for Firouzja against Daniil Dubov was a brief respite, since in the final round of the day Vladislav Artemiev was able to crash through with the black pieces. By the time Alireza played 22.cxd4 it was clear he’d seen what was coming, but there was no longer a good way to avoid it.

22…Nxd4! won a crucial central pawn based on the familiar tactic 23.Qxd4 Ne2+, but the pawn was almost the least of White’s worries. A crushing game continued 23.h4?! (king moves were better, but unlikely to save the game) 23…Qh5 24.Kh2 Nfe2 25.f3 Nxg3 26.Kxg3 Qe5+ 27.Kf2.

Artemiev joined the leaders with a flourish: 27…Rxf3+! 28.gxf3 Nxf3! and Alireza had nothing better than 29.Ke2 Nxd2, when Black emerged with the powerful queen and knight combination and an army of extra pawns. There was no way back.

So Alireza’s dream start had turned into a nightmare.

Anish was poking some fun at Alireza’s chess24 username, FantasticStar!

Dramatic blows

It wasn’t an easy first day for anyone, however. For instance, Paris Rapid and Blitz winner Wesley So was on +1 when he faced Magnus after taking full advantage of Salem Saleh’s excess aggression in the previous round, but Wesley had already had an uncomfortable first game of the day.

The computer suggests Peter Svidler could have played Bf8 and Wesley would have no way to exploit that pin, while Peter could pick up pawns and advance his passed a-pawn.

Wesley survived that scare, but in Round 4 he was the victim of perhaps the most dramatic game of the day. He played the Berlin, inviting a quick draw, but Anish Giri played on.

And then, just when 22…Re8? seemed set to lead to simplifications and a draw, it turned out that 23.Qxe8+! Nxe8 24.Rxe8+ Kg7 25.Bb8! was winning!

A brilliant spot by the Dutchman! Wesley had no better than the desperate 25…Bxd4, when it’s amusing that even 26.Na4 Bxf2+ 27.Kh1 doesn’t save the black queen, as it still doesn’t have a single square available. Anish was more ruthless with 26.cxd4 g5 27.Be5+ and it turns out that apart from the queen issue, Black is also caught in something close to a mating net. The agony only lasted a couple more moves.

Once again, however, winning or losing brilliant games was no guarantee for the future. Wesley went on to beat Jan-Krzysztof Duda with a spectacular if not flawless attack in the next game, while Giri sank like a stone after stumbling into a hopeless position early on against Peter Svidler in the final round of the day.

Giri had already had an eventful day. We saw his victory over Firouzja, but he’d also come within a whisker of losing to Vidit in the first round, when a rook endgame got out of hand.

Here Vidit needed to play 63.Kf6!, not fearing 63…f1=Q+, since after 64.Kxg6 the white king will eventually hide from checks and the b-pawn will win the day. In fact it’s mate-in-26 with best defence, but that’s easy for a 7-piece tablebase to say!

Instead after 63.Kd4 Rd1+ 64.Ke3 it was drawing for Giri to take the queen on d8 immediately, but  throwing in 64…f1=N+ first did no harm either, with Vidit summing up his day after beating Adhiban in the final game:

It was not very smooth — especially I regretted not winning against Anish in the first game. I had a golden chance and that game was haunting me throughout the day, so I’m very happy to win at least one game, and gain some confidence.

Mixed fortunes for the Indian players

The Vidit-Giri game eventually ended in bare kings, as did Vidit’s draws against Duda and Artemiev. His only loss came at the hands of a vicious attack by Daniil Dubov, so the win over Adhiban saw him end the day on 50%.

There was also a 50% score for 17-year-old Arjun Erigaisi, who, as Giri also noted, has the chess24 username Future_world_champ! Arjun, who won the Indian Qualifier on chess24, certainly impressed on his debut. He scored an easy draw with White against Duda in Round 1 before suddenly whipping up an attack against Dubov in Round 2.

Here he correctly spotted that he could trade with 30…Rxf2! 31.Rxf2 Bxf2+ 32.Kxf2 Qe3+ 33.Kg2 and now not 33…Qxc1?, which is only a draw, but 33…Qd2+! since it was vital to get the king to h3 before taking the piece. We saw why a few moves later.

This position would only be a draw if not for 37…Qf1+! 38.Kg4 (38.Kh4 Qf6+ and White has nothing better than going to a light square anyway) 38…Qf5+! and, after the exchange of queens, it turned out that Black was just in time to capture the white kingside pawns and support a pawn of his own while the white king completed its quest to capture the a-pawn and return.

It was an impressive show of strength, with Erigaisi losing just one game, to Artemiev. Dubov, meanwhile, still ended the day as a leader on 3.5/5, after beating not just Vidit but Hou Yifan and Gukesh. That was a tough start for 15-year-old Gukesh, who had real winning chances in their first round clash before getting bamboozled in the ending.

Gukesh also lost to co-leaders Artemiev and Aronian, but he managed to stop another co-leader, world no. 3 Ding Liren, from retaining the sole lead he’d held after Rounds 2 and 3.

49.Nxh6? was the right idea from Ding Liren, but here it didn’t quite work, as Gukesh showed: 49…gxh6 50.g5 hxg5 51.hxg5 Kd6! 52.Kf6 Ne5! 53.g6 Nd7+! and there was nothing better than a draw by repetition. 

Instead 49.h5! brings the h-pawn a crucial step closer to queening, while 49…Nxf2 just sees the knight distracted from the action — 50.Nxh6! would then have been winning.

Ding Liren would have been a worthy sole leader on a day when the early start (in Europe/the US) meant he got the chance to play chess online without having to stay up into the early hours of the morning. The Chinese no. 1 began the day with a brilliant win over Artemiev.

24.Nxe6! was most certainly not a blunder, since after 24…Rxc7 Ding uncorked 25.Ng5+!, picking up the queen.

The rest was easy. In Round 2, Ding Liren was then the second player in a row to punish Adhiban for not playing 1.b3 but instead contriving to get his b-pawn to b5 by move 5.

Adhiban then picked up draws against Indian colleagues Erigaisi and Gukesh before losing to Vidit. It was a tough day, but he was simply happy to be playing:

It’s a very nice feeling to play in such an elite event. It’s been a dream for me for a long time. so finally I’m here and I’m very happy.

He blamed time management for his losses and also vowed to employ 1.b3: “I was saving it up for the last two days, so now it’s time!” His remaining Whites? Firouzja, So, Saleh, Giri and Dubov — no-one said it was going to be easy!

The standings look as follows going into Day 2 of the Goldmoney Asian Rapid, with the Top 8 looking roughly as we might expect it to end after three days.

The likes of Peter Svidler and especially Alireza Firouzja may have something to say about that, however! Firouzja takes on all four Indian players as well as Ding Liren on Day 2.

Tune into all the action live from 13:00 CEST here on chess24 with all the moves, computer analysis and commentary.

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