Levon Aronian beat Magnus Carlsen in the first round of Day 2 of the Goldmoney Asian Rapid as he joined Ding Liren in scoring an unbeaten 3.5/5 for a second day in a row to move ahead of the pack. Of the five co-leaders at the start of the day, Artemiev scored a solid 3/5, Magnus scored 50% and Dubov crashed to three defeats and just two draws to leave him outside the qualifying spots. His place was taken by 17-year-old Indian star Arjun Erigaisi, who defeated Vidit and Hou Yifan.
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And here’s the day’s live commentary from Danny King and Tania Sachdev.
And from David Howell, Jovanka Houska and Kaja Snare.
Aronian gives Carlsen another tough start
Levon Aronian, playing from a Paris hotel room, was modest about scoring a second unbeaten 3.5/5 in a row.
So far I think I’m just playing normal, without shining and showing some good moves, but just staying solid.
He did admit, however, that he’d played “very well” in his victory over Magnus Carlsen at the start of the second day. Levon put the win down to the World Champion’s “overly ambitious” 16…Bd7 instead of exchanging the bishop for a likely draw. What followed was a deeply unpleasant endgame for Magnus.
There were tactical chances to try and escape — for instance, here 35…Rxa5! 36.bxa5 Bxh3+! 37.Kxh3 Rxd8 might have saved the day — but Magnus got down to just over 30 seconds before playing 35…Bg7?!, when 36.g4! shut the door on that tactic. He was ultimately ground down in 66 moves.
Levon built on that win in the next game despite finding himself in a very tough endgame against one of the stars of the day, 17-year-old Arjun Erigaisi.
Two minor pieces are normally more than a match for a rook, and this was no exception. After 34.Bb7! the elimination of the queenside pawns should have left a position that only White could win. Erigaisi’s 34.Kc3!? still kept an advantage, but Levon went on to play 34…f6!, invade with his rook on the f-file and eliminate White’s a-pawn while keeping his own pawns alive.
Still Arun could have survived, but in the end Levon’s pawns were too much for the white king and knight to handle. This is the final position:
Levon safely drew his remaining games, including a 9-move Najdorf draw against Giri in Round 8.
Ding Liren catches Levon, as So and Artemiev look safe
Those draws allowed Ding Liren to join Levon in the lead, with the world no. 3 and Chinese no. 1 putting on a very solid display. He scored three easy draws as well as convincing wins over Alireza Firouzja and Peter Svidler. The way he caught Firouzja was reminiscent of what the youngster often does to others. 33.Rd2? was an unfortunate move (33.Nxb7 had to be played, and White can keep fighting).
After 33…Ba6!, hitting the f1-bishop, Firouza was relying on 34.b5, but 34…Qa7+! 35.Rf2 Qb6 left the white position in tatters. After 36.Qa3 Rc2! Alireza resigned, with mate-in-4 on the board.
The one player to match the 3.5/5 of Ding and Aronian was Wesley So, who started the day half a point behind. He beat Adhiban and Artemiev, with the win over Artemiev particularly impressive given Vladislav was in top form himself. The 23-year-old scored powerful wins over Hou Yifan and Salem Saleh, and although he’s making his debut on the tour, it will have surprised no-one to see the talented Russian high up in the standings. His own ambitions were clear from his disappointment at losing to Wesley.
Carlsen and Giri play a barnstormer
The last two players who find themselves in a relatively comfortable spot for qualification are Magnus Carlsen and Anish Giri, who played the day’s wildest game. Magnus looked to have a strong grip in a Giuoco Piano until he played 20.Ng3?! (20.Ng5!) after just 9 seconds’ thought.
Magnus spotted his mistake too late:
I realised immediately after I’d made my move there, Ng3, that he could just sac the queen. For some reason I thought I was just much better and I missed that he had that possibility.
Anish wasn’t going to miss the chance.
After 20…exf3! 21.Rxe8 Raxe8 22.Qd1 Nh4 23.h3 fxg2 Magnus found himself under a ferocious assault from the black knights.
Here he should have bailed out into a tricky ending with 24.hxg4! Re1+! 25.Qxe1 Nf3+ 26.Kxg2 Nxe1+, but commented:
I didn’t want to play an ending and so I just played 24.Re2? and obviously he should have won.
Anish wondered how to describe what followed.
The blind against the deaf, I don’t know how best to describe this. You never expect someone like Magnus to play so, I wouldn’t say badly, but just a little bit irresponsible in a way — it’s all over the place! You think that he should be the guy, solid World Champion, doing his thing, but then suddenly he had everything under control and then it completely went out of control, and at some point he could have entered an endgame which he should probably hold, but instead he allowed a bunch of tactics.
The position after 24…Rxe2 (24…Nxf2! is another win) 25.Qxe2 Nxf2 26.Be3 was the last big chance for Black to win on the spot.
The idea of all the tactical wins is to fork the white king and queen, and here 26…Nd3!! was the most powerful move. If 27.Qxd3 then Black wins by force with 27…Nf3+! 28.Kxg2 Ne1+ and the queen falls. If White doesn’t take the knight then threats like Ne1-f3+ and Rf1+ will win the game.
Giri’s other win with 26…Bxd4! is a variation — the point of the move is to lure the white bishop to d4 so that the f4-square is unprotected and Nf4+ will be another king and queen fork later on.
Instead in the game Giri went for 26…Nxh3+ 27.Kh2 g1=Q+ 28.Bxg1 and now instead of the promising position after 28…Nxg1! he played 28…Nf3+, when after 29.Kh1 Nhxg1 30.Qe7 Rg8 we might just have been at the start of another chapter in an epic struggle.
After 31.Qxc7!? White is on top, but with such an unusual material balance anything could happen. Instead Magnus forced a draw by perpetual check with 31.Nf5 Nxd4 32.Nh6! (threatening Nf7+) 32…gxh6 33.Qf6+ and the black king couldn’t escape from checks.
The players commented afterwards:
Magnus: I’m a bit unhappy that I didn’t realise that I could actually play for a win at the end — I was just so relieved not to lose the game on the spot that I saw a perpetual and I just went for it. But maybe I needed to complete the turnaround there.
Anish: At the end actually I was happy to make a draw because I think he could have played on. I was already worried at this point.
Giri’s other assessment was more succinct and just as accurate!
It felt both players needed a round to recover from that game, but no harm was done, as they both went on to beat Daniil Dubov. Magnus did so smoothly, eventually converting an endgame with two extra pawns…
…although he revealed afterwards that his opening hadn’t exactly gone to plan!
When I have ideas I should execute them properly, so today just before the round against Dubov I had this idea that I’m going to go 1.Nf3, and if he goes c5 I’m going to go e4 and play the Sicilian, and then I get to the board and I play 1.e4 without thinking and he goes e5 and my plans are just squashed… It’s generally not a good sign!
Anish also complained about opening preparation…
…but it’s unlikely he was going to be prepared for Dubov to start 1.f4 in their game! When Dubov followed up with 18.f5?! it was going too far, objectively speaking…
…but 18…Ne5?! (18…Rae8!) justified the move and made life uncomfortable for Giri, until the blunder (or mouse-slip) 31.Qe2?? allowed the sudden knockout blow 31…Ng3+!
That left Magnus and Anish both on a +2 score of 6/10. They could get dragged into a dog-fight, but as they both play all three lower-rated Indian players on the final day (Magnus also plays Vidit), their chances look good, on paper.
The fight for qualification
Only two players are out of the battle for qualification, Hou Yifan and Adhiban, though at least both could celebrate their first wins of the event. The women’s no. 1 jumped on a tactical chance to beat Adhiban after 29…Qb8?.
30.Ra8! Qc7 31.Rxf8+ Kxf8 32.Nxe5! won a pawn and soon the game. Adhiban, meanwhile, ended a sequence of five losses in a row by playing his 1st 1.b3 of the event and taking down the otherwise high-flying Salem Saleh.
Of the players in the Top 8 after the first day to struggle, Jan-Krzysztof Duda scored four draws and a loss to find himself on 50% in 8th place, while Daniil Dubov fell out of the Top 8 with three losses. We’ve seen two of those losses, to Magnus and Anish, while Daniil was also put to the sword by the UAE’s Salem Saleh.
It was perhaps even more impressive that Salem had also inflicted that one defeat on Duda, with the Polish no. 1 essentially making one mistake in the early opening (13…Bd6?!) and then getting smoothly ground down in an ending.
That left Salem level with Dubov on 4.5/10, where they’re joined just below the qualification spots by giants Alireza Firouzja and Peter Svidler.
The stand-out name in the standings is that of 17-year-old Indian rising star Arjun Erigaisi, who would qualify in 7th place if the tournament ended now. After that unfortunate loss to Aronian, he went on to beat Hou Yifan and Vidit, with 41…Qb1? not Vidit’s finest hour (if Vidit just shuffled his king the position is equal).
42.Rxb1 Rxb1 would be ok for Vidit, if not for 43.Qxa2! and after 43…Rxa2 44.Rxa2 Arjun simply had a winning rook ending with two extra pawns.
It would be a wonderful story if the Indian Qualifier winner makes the knockout stages, but there’s a very tough final day ahead for the youngster.
The youngest player in the tour, 15-year-old Gukesh, will also be in the hunt after picking up his first two wins of the event, against the same two players. He caught Hou Yifan in what he afterwards described as a Sveshnikov trap.
He also beat Vidit in “a good fighting game” that was ultimately decided by Vidit blundering a piece, before showing some fine opening prep to gain an easy draw against Wesley So. Gukesh called his day “overall decent” and was asked about his plans for facing Magnus Carlsen on the final day:
Not sure — try to be as sharp as possible… It’s easy to be not confident against him, so try to be confident.
As we’ve seen, Vidit suffered some heavy blows on Day 2, but on 4/10 he could also fight his way into the qualification battle if he strings together some wins. What’s certain is that we can expect an intense struggle for the final places in the quarterfinals, that start on Tuesday!
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