magnus carlsen wins the match

For two games Magnus Carlsen dared to dream of an easy win over Wesley So, only for the US Champion to hit back with two brilliant wins on demand to force a playoff. Magnus finally took over in blitz, and will now play Levon Aronian, who only overcame 17-year-old Arjun Erigaisi by the narrowest of margins. In the other half of the draw it’s an Artemiev-Ding semi-final after Vladislav Artemiev cruised home against Anish Giri, while Ding Liren hit back from losing the first game to Jan-Krzysztof Duda to win the final three.

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

And from David Howell, Jovanka Houska and Kaja Snare.

The second day of the semi-finals saw just one match finish early, while two clashes went to blitz playoffs.

Carlsen overcomes “massive blow” to reach semis

Magnus Carlsen had won the first day of his quarterfinal against Wesley So and got off to a perfect start on the second. Playing with the black pieces, he gradually took over, getting control of the a-file when he exchanged off queens. On move 45 Wesley went astray in a bad position.

45.Nxa5! Rxb5 (45…bxa5 46.Rxc5 should be an easy draw) 46.Nc4, hitting both the b6 and e5-pawns, and White has good drawing chances, but after 45.Nxb6? Rxb5 46.Nc4 a4! 47.Nxe5 Nxe4! Magnus was completely on top.

Wesley could simply have resigned shortly afterwards, but a hint that this might still be a tricky day for the World Champion was given by how Wesley kept smiling as he made Magnus play on and on to prove the win. He used all kind of tricks, including giving up his knight.

If you were very short on time you might easily fall for 80…Rh2+ 81.Kg1 Rxa2?? and suddenly it’s a draw by stalemate, but Magnus had time to think and safely avoided any issues with 80…Nf5 as he went on to pick up the win. 

85…Ne3+ finally ended the game. 

Magnus then moved to the edge of qualification when Wesley showed a willingness to take a fast Berlin draw with the black pieces. Since Wesley had to win the mini-match to make up for his loss the day before, he’d now have to win both remaining games on demand.

Magnus commented afterwards on his latest clash with So:

It was more of the same, to be honest. I thought after the first two games today this might be the one time that I actually have a fairly clean performance, but it wasn’t to be!

At first the third game seemed to be just what Magnus needed, as Wesley exchanged queens on move 15 and the players had soon reached a quiet endgame. The first sign of trouble, however, was that Magnus stopped for a 4-minute think on move 20. He later said:

I guess I wasn’t well-prepared enough in the first one… I guess you have to know a few more things than I did, so I guess in retrospect I might have done well to play another line.

Initially Magnus had an extra pawn.

But the simple back-rank tactic 23.Rxf7! removed that pawn (23…Rxf7?? 24.Rd8+ and it’s mate-in-2), and soon Wesley doubled rooks on the 7th rank to pick up the c7-pawn. It became a race where Wesley’s queenside pawns were faster, and although Magnus queened first Wesley did so with check, and with mate on the horizon, it was time for the World Champion to resign!

That was a heavy blow, but Magnus was still in the driving seat, needing only a draw with the white pieces to clinch a place in the semi-finals. What followed, however, was almost a carbon copy of the previous game. Magnus played too passively with White, allowed Wesley to take over, lost a pawn, and then was once again outplayed in a rook endgame, where there were chances to hold but it needed extreme precision.

Magnus conceded afterwards that Wesley had played well in the two clutch games.

I also think he played really, really well in the last two games, so even though there are a lot of things that I could have done better, that was a huge factor in his comeback.

Magnus admitted it had been a “massive blow” to be taken to a playoff, but said he “had some confidence knowing that I’d beaten him in the last tiebreak we played”. Magnus, who had finished one place higher in the Prelims, was able to choose colour and picked White, and eventually it paid off, though not until after an incredibly tense opening and early middlegame.

Magnus was again reluctant to go for any plans with e4, and instead allowed Wesley to push his own e-pawn all the way to e3. It was a crazy position where Black had given up two pawns, but could pick up an exchange on g2 at will.

Here it looks as though Black should be on top after a move such as 30…Rh6, but instead Wesley had a rush of blood to the head and decided to give up an exchange himself with 30…Rxe5?! 31.Qxe5 Qxe5 32.fxe5 Bxg2 33.Kxg2 Rf2+ 34.Kg1 Rxe2 35.e6!

The position had simplified, but not in Black’s favour, with White’s passed e and a-pawns clearly superior to Black’s e3-pawn — in fact 35…Bb4! here was the only way to avoid immediate disaster. 

The play that followed was tricky, and for brief moments Wesley might have escaped, but Magnus played powerfully to take the game to its logical conclusion.

The main threat in the final position is Bg5+, winning the bishop on d8, and there’s nothing Black can do about it.

That meant Wesley again had to win on demand, but this time Magnus was soon on top with the black pieces. Although there was a wobble, when exchanging queens turned a completely winning position into an only slightly better one, he never lost an edge, safely navigated the tricks, and in the end forced the draw he needed to reach the semi-finals.

Magnus, who is celebrating the incredible feat of going 10 years unbroken as the world no. 1, wasn’t too upset with how things had gone.

Overall I’m happy to go through, and I’m not that upset with my losses. Obviously it wasn’t good, but I’m still very happy that I managed to pull myself together and pull through.

Magnus will now face Levon Aronian in the semi-finals. 

Levon Aronian is pushed all the way by Arjun Erigaisi

It was clear from Day 1 of this match that it wasn’t going to be easy for world no. 5 Levon Aronian against 17-year-old Indian prodigy Arjun Erigaisi. Arjun survived a lost position in the first game before scoring a brilliant win in the second, that our commentator Danny King also analysed in detail.

Levon hit back after that so that the scores were level going into the second day of the semi-final. 

You might think that Levon would have had time to reflect and come up with a way to overcome the youngster, but in fact it was the Indian player who dictated play in almost all of the games on Day 2. Levon was busted out of the opening in the 1st game.

19.h5! forces 19…g5, since there are too many pieces targeting h6 to allow the opening of the h-file. Arjun could then have sacrificed with 20.Nxg5+! hxg5 21.Rxg5! and Black is in deep trouble. Instead in the game we saw 19.Rhg1?!, and after 19…b5! complete chaos followed. It was impressive that Arjun managed to handle it and even get an edge in the endgame. Levon would later comment:

The difficulty when you’re playing very young guys is you don’t really know how to beat them, or where there weaknesses are, but one thing many young players have in common is they’re not so confident in endgames, so I think I took advantage of that.

It was possible to say in hindsight — and Levon had beaten Arjun from a worse endgame position in the Preliminaries — but in the first game of the day the Armenian no. 1 only survived the endgame by the skin of his teeth.

Arjun found himself a pawn up in the next two games, though in Game 3 he made his one glaring mistake of the day to blunder it back with 35.Bd1?

If the strategic plan was to prepare Bg4, hitting e6, it was rudely interrupted by 35…Bxd4!, when 36.exd4 is of course met by 36…Rxf4. At least the blunder had left the c2-square available to defend with 36.Rc2 and, with some help from Levon, Arjun was able to hold with little difficulty.

For the second day in a row the players decided enough was enough and played a quiet draw in the fourth game, meaning they were headed to a blitz playoff. The contest was then decided in the first blitz game, when Levon pressed from the start and ground out a win in the endgame, though it has to be said Arjun was incredibly close to surviving. His last chance came on the penultimate move.

After 62…g5! Black seems to hold — if the king tries to help queen the pawns Black’s bishop can capture the g4-pawn and still be in time to guard the a8-square. Instead after 62…Kf7? 63.g5! it was game over. The white king will march into the position and win at will.

Arjun now had to win on demand to force Armageddon, but on this occasion all Levon’s experience helped as he never gave any real chance to his young opponent.

Levon was full of praise when asked how the match had been:

Very tough, because I didn’t know him well and he turned out to be a very difficult opponent, and very motivated and talented young guy, so I’m happy that I went through… He was doing great. I was much weaker than him at that age, so it was a great match. I think he has a bright future ahead.

The other half of the draw was decided in the four rapid games.

Artemiev gives Giri no chance

Anish Giri’s hopes of making a comeback against Vladislav Artemiev crumbled when he blundered on move 11 against his opponent’s Caro-Kann. 11.Qd3? b5! 12.Bb3 ran into 12…Nc5!

There were no good options, but 13.Qd1?! Nxb3 14.axb3 b4! 15.Bxh6 lost fast, with resignation coming on move 21.

Artemiev had won four games in a row and now Giri needed to win two of the next three, but he never came close. Anish had some edge in the second game but never a serious advantage in the whole 63 moves.

Playing the London System in the 3rd game smacked of desperation — the only other time Anish seems to have played 1.d4 d5 2.Bf4 was against Jorden van Foreest in the Tata Steel Masters playoff — and it didn’t help. Artemiev was better in 16 moves and remained better until the players ended the match with a draw by repetition on move 36.

Ding Liren hits back to beat Duda

After all four games were fighting draws on Day 1, all four games were decisive on Day 2 of this bruising match. The first game was too much of a rollercoaster to summarise, but Ding blundered last to allow Duda to take the lead.

There was a chance for the Polish no. 1 to take a huge step towards the semi-finals in Game 2.

19.Bxc5! Bxc5 20.Nxa4! Bxb4 21.axb4 and the computer gives a winning edge to White, though there’s no immediate killer blow. Instead after the more natural 19.exf6?! gxf6 20.Nxa4 Ding had an edge and then took over across the whole board in powerful style.

Game 3 was almost an attacking gem.

23.Nxf7! was a fine blow, with 23…Kxf7 running into 24.Qh7! and the threat is mate-in-2 with 25.Rf5+ Ke6 26.Qg6#. Ding did everything right for the next few moves, but missed how to finish things off, and only emerged with two pawns for a piece. Nevertheless, he managed to compose himself and win the game all over again.

That meant Duda needed to win the final rapid game to force a playoff, but it was decided by his unfortunate 23.Re1?

23…Qd5! was suddenly a killer, with the threat of Nxf2+ or Nxg3+ and mate on g2 next. The lack of the rook on f1 makes it impossible to mount a defence based on supporting a piece or pawn on the f3-square.

So Ding Liren is through to the semi-finals of a tournament where the early start means he gets the chance to play without staying up into the early hours of the morning!

The remaining players will be here for the duration, whether playing the final or the 3rd place match. It’s Aronian vs. Carlsen and Artemiev vs. Ding, with the second semi-final ensuring that we’ll have one finalist who’s never reached a final of either the Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour or the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour.

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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