Goldmoney Asian Rapid 3: Aronian triumphs & faces 17-year-old Erigaisi

Levon Aronian scored brilliant wins over Alireza Firouzja and Daniil Dubov as he cruised to 1st place in the Goldmoney Asian Rapid Prelims. The real drama came in the final round, when Jan-Krzysztof Duda won what had seemed a hopeless position to reach the knockouts and make Alireza Firouzja’s third win in four games irrelevant. 17-year-old Arjun Erigaisi was the main sensation after he secured qualification like an old pro. Magnus Carlsen and Anish Giri got through after struggles, with Adhiban giving Anish the birthday gift of beating him with 1.b3!

You can replay all the games from 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 Danny King and Tania Sachdev.

And from David Howell, Jovanka Houska and Kaja Snare. 

A thrilling final day of the Goldmoney Asian Rapid Prelims saw newcomers Vladislav Artemiev and Arjun Erigaisi qualify for the knockout stages, with Alireza Firouzja (whose head-to-head score was hit by losses to Giri and Duda), Vidit, Peter Svidler and Daniil Dubov among the players to miss out.

The 4th and 5th place finishes for Magnus Carlsen and Wesley So mean we’ll see that match-up that’s featured in three Meltwater Champions Chess Tour finals and one 3rd place match take place in the quarterfinals. The other pairings are Aronian-Erigaisi, Ding Liren-Duda and Giri-Artemiev.

Let’s take a look at how the qualifiers made it into the quarterfinals, that start Tuesday June 29th at 13:00 CEST.

1. Levon Aronian, 10.5/15, 6 wins, 9 draws

“I’m just playing normal, without shining and showing some good moves,” said Levon Aronian a day earlier, but at the start of the final day he got to play some chess for which the board might get showered with gold coins. Alireza Firouzja put his rook on g1, focusing all his forces on the g7-square, but Levon immediately blitzed out the crushing reply 30…Qxg1+!

The combination works like clockwork, with the completely forced 31.Kxg1 Re1+ 32.Kg2 Bf1+ 33.Kg3 (after other king moves 33…Bh3# ends the game instantly) 33…Nh5+ leaving the white king and queen forked.

For the record, Alireza’s hyper-aggression might have paid off earlier if he’d found the equally spectacular 23.Rxg7+!, but Levon survived that scare to finish as the only unbeaten player in the preliminaries.

In the second game of the day he went on to end any lingering hopes of Daniil Dubov with a dominant game that he again finished off with a killer blow, this time taking a pawn with 43.Rxh7+!

It’s mate-in-4 however Black recaptures — for instance, 43…Qxh7 44.Qxf8+ Qg8 45.Qh6+ Qh7 46.Qf6+ Kg8 47.Qd8# Daniil had no interest in seeing such mockery on the board and simply resigned.

Levon could have built on his lead, as he had winning chances against Hou Yifan and Vladislav Artemiev, but there was no need for heroics, and a final 14-move draw with Wesley So was enough to take sole 1st place.

Levon, who will take on Arjun Erigaisi in the quarterfinals, commented on the chance to play new players:

I think it’s a lot of fun! Obviously I prefer it rather than seeing my mates, because with the players that are debutants they want an impact, they want to play well, and so it feels good to play against them. You get a chance to beat them!

2. Vladislav Artemiev, 10/15, 7 wins, 2 losses, 6 draws

23-year-old Vladislav Artemiev was making his debut on this season’s tour, but few would have been surprised to see the former European Champion, and an acknowledged rapid and blitz specialist, do well. The surprise, perhaps, is just how well!

Vladislav’s seven wins were two more than any other player, and he only lost to Ding Liren and Wesley So. On the final day he was only in any danger in a tricky knight endgame against Aronian, while he managed to beat Jan-Krzysztof Duda and a player who was terrorising the other participants on the final day — Adhiban. That was a trademark smooth win with a minimum of drama.

3. Ding Liren, 9.5/15, 5 wins, 1 loss, 9 draws

Ding Liren essentially wrapped up qualification with a win in the first round of the day over Salem Saleh, who faded on the final day. 16.Bg6+? Kd8 17.Qe2 looked good for White, with the black king deprived of the right to castle and everything seemingly defended.

In fact, Ding could boldly play 17…Nxc4!, since 18.Qxc4? loses to 18…Bxg2. After 18.Nf3 Bd5! Ding was a pawn up and brilliantly ground out a win.

Ding had one stumble, against Jan-Krzysztof Duda, which in fact meant he’ll now face Duda in the quarterfinals. The Polish star commented:

Now it’s a bit more difficult to play against Ding because he’s not playing at midnight his time, so that’s bad for me, but I’m very happy to play Ding… actually to play anybody apart from Wesley So, who’s always winning against me, all the time!

4. Magnus Carlsen, 9/15, 5 wins, 2 losses, 8 draws

When you look at where Magnus finished it seems he qualified comfortably, if without hitting the heights we’re used to, but when you followed the final day in real time his assessment doesn’t seem too wide of the mark:

In general I’m extremely unhappy with the way that I played today. The first two days weren’t great, but at least there were some good moments. Today was awful, so I just need to improve a lot to have any chance tomorrow.

Magnus probably went into the day planning to make a solid draw against Ding Liren while racking up points against the Indian players, all of whom he outrated by 2-300 points. In the end, only the draw against Ding went entirely to plan.

Magnus started the day against Adhiban in a game where he built up a winning position only to squander it and slip into a lost one.

The computer claims Black has nothing to worry about on the kingside and is winning after 42…a4!, when that passed pawn will be crucial in any endgame.

Adhiban, to his credit, avoided a draw by repetition of moves, but his 42…Qe5 was a mistake, allowing 43.Re1!, and suddenly a relieved Magnus was successfully holding a draw.

Things got even tougher against the Indian teenagers. Magnus uncharacteristically accepted a bad ending against 15-year-old Gukesh as the price for forcing queens off the board, and the teenager confidently set about applying maximum pressure.

Magnus had to summon all of his tenacity and experience to hold on, before he was able to do some torturing of his own with an extra pawn before the game ended in bare kings on move 87.

Arjun Erigaisi was up next, and although Magnus never got into trouble (and Arjun admitted to being very nervous afterwards), he also never came close to inflicting any damage to the youngster’s qualification hopes.

That meant Magnus went into the last round against by far the highest rated Indian player, Vidit, knowing that a loss would likely mean failure to qualify for the knockouts. A quick draw was also no option, since Vidit needed to win himself to have a chance of qualifying.

It’s rare for Magnus to collapse in clutch games, however, and he managed this one well, keeping control from the start on the board and especially the clock, before going on to win. The conversion felt laborious, however, with slips along the way, and the obvious emotion at the end was relief.

When Kaja asked Magnus why he wasn’t happy, he replied, “have you seen the pairings?” It’s Wesley up next!

5. Wesley So, 9/15, 4 wins, 1 loss, 10 draws

There’s not a lot to say about Wesley’s final day, since his 11-move draw with White against Arjun Erigaisi announced that he’d done enough with his +3 score and just wanted to coast into the knockout. That’s what he did, making seven draws in a row, while none of his opponents felt it was in their interests to wake a sleeping dragon.

Wesley had gained the option of taking an unofficial rest day with his four wins on the first two days, while his loss to Anish Giri was one of the most memorable games of the event so far. Kaja asked Magnus if the reason he was unhappy to face Wesley was that they’d faced each other so often before. That wasn’t it, however: “It’s because he’s very good!”

6. Jan-Krzysztof Duda, 8/15, 5 wins, 4 losses, 6 draws

With Jan-Krzysztof Duda we come to one of the main heroes of the final day of the prelims. The Polish no. 1, who began the day in 8th place on 50%, got off to a perfect start by beating Daniil Dubov in one of those games where every one of his moves seemed infused with purpose and threat.

After that, however, the wheels came off. Against Vladislav Artemiev it turned on one move.

If Duda had played 33…Bc3!, restricting the white knight, the game should have been a draw, while after 33…Kf7?! 34.Kd3 Duda said he was “totally busted”.

Then came a clash against Adhiban where it seemed Duda lost the game about three times. He described it as:

A very, very stupid game. I just got confused, I think, low on time, and after that I thought it’s gone forever.

60.f5? was the last mistake, allowing the black king to invade and set up a mating net. This was the final position:

The white king can’t move, and there’s way of stopping Kg3 or Ke3 followed by Rf2 mate.

Duda understandably thought his chances had gone, since he now faced Ding Liren with the black pieces, but 20.Qf4?! was a welcome gift.

Duda asked the bishop where it was planning to go with 20…f6!, and after 21.Bc7 Qd7 22.c6 Qc8 23.Ra1 he was able to play 23…e5! and cut off the lifeline of the bishop on c7. Ding sacrificed the piece for the e-pawn, but it was never enough, and Duda went on to win.

That meant he was right back in the qualification hunt, knowing that a win over 15-year-old Gukesh would be enough. It helped that Gukesh had had a good day himself, with a win over Salem and four draws, and also needed to win to have a chance of qualifying. When it was over, Duda commented:

I’m really surprised that I actually managed to pull it off. I was kind of happy that I’m playing a young opponent, ambitious, and it was obvious that at least he wouldn’t take a perpetual, so once you have a knight you always have some hope when it’s a time scramble, but in general it was very lucky, also that I managed to beat Ding earlier. I didn’t expect it at all, to be honest. Obviously a very nervous day, but I’m happy to be there.

The game got off to a perfect start for Duda after 8…Nc6.

9.Bxc4! dxc4 10.d5! Bxd5? (10…Qa5! was essential) 11.Bxf6 Qxf6 12.Nxd5 Bb4+ saw Duda sink into a 9-minute think.

He was pondering whether to go for the endgame after 13.Qxb4!? Nxb4 14.Nxf6+ gxf6.

I could have just got a much better endgame, I think, without calculating anything. That would have made sense, and I wanted to play it as soon as possible, but obviously I decided to go for something sharper and obviously it was working for me, but I blundered this Rd5 move and after that I was worse, probably even close to losing, and was just trying to create some threats, but once he didn’t checkmate me when the rook got traded then I thought that I may have some chances, actually.

Duda’s 13.Nxb4! was objectively much stronger, but as he explained, after 13…Qxb2 14.Nc2 Qc3+ 15.Kf1 0-0-0 his 16.g3? (rook moves like 16.Rc1 are winning) ran into 16…Rd5!

Black is threatening to play Ra5 and the fragile structure with the queen defending the c2-knight, that defends the a1-rook, is falling apart. There was nothing better than to jettison the rook with 17.Ncd4 Nxd4 18.Nxd4 Qxa1+ 19.Kg2 and play for tricks.

In the meantime Alireza Firouzja had won a turbulent game against Salem Saleh, to complete a 3.5/4 comeback after the loss to Aronian (he also beat Hou Yifan and Peter Svidler), and would qualify for the knockout ahead of Duda and Gukesh unless Duda could win. By that stage, however, Polish fans could dream!

The mating threat had gone, and White’s three connected passed pawns were ready to march up the board. What followed wasn’t entirely smooth — Gukesh could still at one point have forced a draw — but Duda managed to pull it off in a thrilling finale.

It was a tough end for 15-year-old Gukesh, but his 6.5/15 and share of 11th place with Svidler was a highly impressive debut, while a win wouldn’t quite have been enough to qualify anyway — the place would then have gone to Firouzja instead, who would have had half a point more.

As it was, Duda finished as high as 6th, since like Giri he’d beaten Firouzja (the first tiebreaker was the head-to-head score in the mini-league of four players on 8/15) and he’d won more games (the second tiebreaker — he won five to Giri’s three).

7. Anish Giri, 8/15, 3 wins, 2 losses, 10 draws

Anish Giri was able to make solid draws against Gukesh and Arjun Erigaisi in the last two rounds to qualify for the knockout but, as he explained, that hadn’t exactly been the plan for how his 27th birthday would go!

I didn’t want to land in a position where I will be begging for my life against the Indian kids, but I landed there, and ok, I think I had to score two draws in the last two games, and that was manageable.

There was no difficulty in identifying where things had all gone wrong for Anish on the final day of the preliminaries, as his 12th round clash with Adhiban had been hyped over a month in advance when Adhiban qualified via the Indian Qualifier and vowed to play 1.b3 and beat Giri.

Actually more than Magnus, I want to play 1.b3 against Anish, because just imagine, if I played b3 and beat him that’s it, his career is over! He cannot show his face in social media ever again, after all the trolling. I even told him, ok, Anish, I’m going to play b3, so he knows it’s coming. It’s like this. It’s like Thanos says, dread it, run from it and 1.b3 still arrives!

Adhiban had lost seven of his first nine games in the tournament, but won his 10th against Salem the day before and had just come from having Magnus on the ropes. He wasn’t going to miss the chance to play 1.b3, with Anish commenting:

I start thinking about how I feel so sad for AD, it’s such a difficult event for him, and now he plays 1.b3, and he’s again lost, and I’m thinking, I can do this, I can do that, my poor friend, and then suddenly two moves happen and, wait a second, am I even better? And once I realised maybe I’m not, suddenly things started going really astray. But it’s ok, I managed to qualify and I helped a friend in need, so it’s all good!

18…Qe7?! was already inaccurate by Anish, while 22…f5? was a howler.

As Anish reflected on playing on his birthday:

It’s mostly about chess, it doesn’t matter what day it is. If you make a mistake, whether it’s your birthday, King’s Day, I don’t know, International Lovers’ Day, whatever it is, if the position on the board is bad, it’s bad!

The position was very bad, and 23.Rxd7! Rxd7 24.Nc5! is already completely winning. Adhiban’s 23.Nf6+!? Qxf6 24.Rxd7 wasn’t quite as strong, but after 24…Qxc3? (24…Kh8!) 25.Bxb7! White was also crashing through. All that was required at the end from Adhiban was some care:

35.Qxf5?? would be a horrible blunder, but 35.g4! (35.Qh4! also works) meant it was time to resign, with no good way to parry Rxh7+ checkmate. What a moment!

There were birthday messages to soften the blow, however…

…and there was no harm done in the end!

Three draws at the end wrapped up qualification, with Anish only having to worry about birthday celebrations and any possible side-effects of the vaccination he was about to get.

How did he feel about turning 27?

When I was a kid I always wanted to be 2700 as a player, but now I am both a 2700-player and 27 years of age, so maybe next year as I turn 28 I will also hit the 2800 barrier again — onwards and upwards! I feel like this age is pretty good for a professional player, because I feel I’m experienced enough to enjoy myself, yet I’m not old enough to lose the energy, so I think these years in terms of physiology and chess career they should be good, but of course I have to work hard and play well, so that’s what we’re focusing on. But in terms of age now is the moment, Magnus is getting old, he’s 30, he’s already World Champion for the 100th time, maybe he gets a bit bored, maybe we’ll stick in a little challenge there!

8. Arjun Erigaisi, 8/15, 3 wins, 2 losses, 10 draws

Last to qualify, but by no means least, was 17-year-old tour debutant Arjun Erigaisi, who handled the final day of the prelims like a consummate professional. He’d done the hard work on earlier days with wins over Dubov, Vidit and Hou Yifan, and now he made five extremely solid draws, against Wesley So, Peter Svidler, Salem Saleh (not an easy man to keep things solid against!), Magnus Carlsen and finally Anish Giri.

Arjun had lost only two games all tournament, to the top two players, Artemiev and Aronian, and in that game against Levon he’d had an endgame where only he should have had winning chances. Arjun commented:

It has panned out quite well! Probably I could have done better against Levon, and my technique against Vidit could have been smoother, but nevertheless it’s been very good so far… It’s a great feeling — I’m glad that I got this opportunity.

Aronian is Erigaisi’s quarterfinal opponent and will be a formidable challenge, but whatever happens now the Indian teenager has announced himself on the world stage!

There’s no rest now for the players, who start the quarterfinals at 13:00 CEST on Tuesday June 29th! 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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