Magnus Carlsen wins the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour

World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen has won the $1.6 million Meltwater Champions Chess Tour with two rounds of the Finals to spare, following up on his victory in the Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour a year earlier. His lead in the overall standings became unassailable when 2nd place Wesley So crashed to a 2.5:0.5 defeat to Levon Aronian. That meant it didn’t matter that Magnus himself went down in flames after a queen sacrifice against Teimour Radjabov that he admitted was “partly a joke”. Teimour is now just half a point behind Wesley with two rounds to go.  

You can replay all the games from the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour Finals using the selector below.

And here’s the day’s live commentary from David Howell, Jovanka Houska and Kaja Snare.  

And from Peter Leko and Simon Williams.  

Round 7 saw just one match, MVL-Nakamura, go to a blitz playoff, and in fact all the way to Armageddon.

Aronian 2.5:0.5 So

The controversial system that gave players starting points based on their performance over the whole course of the Tour meant most would struggle to compete for 1st place, but Wesley So began just four points behind the leader. If he could score one point more than Magnus he’d go into the final round against the World Champion knowing that a win in rapid chess would make him the champion since Finals points are the first tiebreaker.

It wasn’t to be, however, with Wesley unable to capitalise on Magnus losing to Vladislav Artemiev and now to Teimour Radjabov, since the US Champion has lost four matches of his own. The defeat at the hands of Levon Aronian meant the 7-point gap at the top can’t be bridged in the remaining two rounds.

Wesley didn’t put his struggles down to the pressure of fighting for the top spot.

Congrats to [Magnus]. I didn’t feel under any pressure, really, I was just trying to play. It’s just not my tournament, but I think things haven’t been going well from the beginning. I played some good matches early on, but somehow I never felt that stability that I need, and it’s just one of those days.  

For Levon the match against Wesley was a chance at redemption after blundering mate-in-1 against Jan-Krzysztof Duda the day before. Levon knew what to work on!

Levon had clearly decided to play fast, a tactic that had featured in his earlier successes on the tour, and found himself with almost double the time on the clock and a pleasant position by move 24.

Still, with 8 minutes on the clock, So’s 25.Kd1?? could only be put down to a moment’s carelessness. Levon wasted little time before playing 25…Rxg2! and now Wesley spent a minute in shock, realising there was nothing he could do to avoid the loss of two pawns and a hopeless position. After 26.Rxg2 Bxf3+ he resigned.

That left Wesley needing to hit back, but he still had three games, and there was no harm done when the second game seemed to be fizzling out into a draw. Black could simply have exchanged off queens when no drama would be possible, but instead Levon’s king walk to h4 provoked Wesley into trying to win a piece.

The f2-rook is caught… but Wesley had made a huge oversight, since Levon here had 38.Qf7!, threatening mate-in-1. There was no option but to go ahead with 38…Qxf2+ 39.Rxf2 Rxf2 and, although two rooks should normally be enough for a queen, the sting in the tail was 40.Qc7!

There was nothing better than 40…Rxb7, giving up a rook to stop the pawn queening, but there was no fortress and, for the second time in two days, Wesley had gone 0:2 down and needed to win the next two games on demand.  

Against Radjabov he had pulled off a win in Game 3, and he had excellent chances of repeating that achievement, until instead of simply safeguarding his bishop with 29.Bd4!, he went for 29.Bc4?

After 29…bxc5 30.bxc5 Kf8 31.Bxd5 Rxd5 Wesley was simply down a piece and completely lost, though Levon settled for the draw he needed to clinch the match.

Carlsen 1:3 Radjabov

Magnus came into this match knowing that a win in rapid chess would give him the $100,000 Meltwater Champions Chess Tour top prize whatever happened to Wesley, and for most of the first game he looked right on course to win the Tour with a flourish. When he gave up his a-pawn to invade on the 7th rank the computer already gave a +3 advantage in his favour.

After 25…Qe8 his 26.h4!? (26.Rxb7!) wasn’t the recommended continuation, but nevertheless he reached a queen vs. two rooks position which seems to be winning.

Magnus had almost 9 minutes on his clock while Teimour was down to under 30 seconds, but here the World Champion made the classic mistake of playing too fast in his opponent’s time trouble. 53.Qb4!, forcing 53…Ree8 or 53…Rfe8, and only then pushing the b-pawn, looks to be the key idea.  

Instead after 53.b6? Teimour had 53…Kg7!, when it’s too late to return to 54.Qb4, since Black can play 54…Kf6, or even 54…Rxe6, seeing as the f8-rook is defended. In the game after 54.Qd5 Magnus tried to confuse his opponent and pick up a loose rook, but Teimour didn’t put a foot wrong.

The second game was notable for Magnus playing a King’s Indian Defence setup against Teimour, who in his youth was famous for playing that opening himself. On this occasion there was little drama, as Magnus scored a comfortable draw, though, given what followed, it’s noteworthy that he ended the game with a queen sac that was cute, but not strictly necessary.

26…Rxe4! 27.Qxh4 Rxe1+ 28.Kf2 R8e2+ and Magnus kept giving checks to force a draw.

Events in So’s match meant Magnus knew he was almost certain to win the title whatever he did in the 3rd game, and that may have contributed to his approach after Teimour played 36…Re7.

After 37.Rxe7 Nxe7 Black is a pawn up, but the powerful bishop, pressure on g7, and the weak pawns on f4, a6 and b6, should make it a straightforward draw for White. Instead Magnus went for the queen sacrifice 37.Qxf5+!? Qxf5 38.Rxe7, later explaining:

I sac’ed the queen because I thought I couldn’t lose, but I’d missed this idea that he could play 39…b5! and then that sort of turned it around, because I thought… also it was partly a joke, since I sac’ed the queen yesterday as well, and it worked out very well, but after I allowed b5 it was probably lost. Probably I should have gone Rb7 there instead and then I guess it’s a draw still. Anyway that was really unnecessary and then the last game I didn’t get any chances.  

The moment Magnus pointed to was when he played 39.Ra7? instead of 39.Rb7.

Here 39…b5! kept the game alive, since 40.Rxa6? b4! wins, after e.g. 41.Bd2 Qd5 — in fact there are countless ways Black can exploit the weak back rank and the loose white pieces.

In the game after 40.axb5 axb5 41.Ra5 c4 Teimour showed brilliant technique to slowly advance his pawns on both sides of the board until he was able to clinch victory.

After the white king moves, Black will capture twice on f3 and promote the f-pawn.

That left Magnus needing to win on demand with the black pieces, but although he got a playable Hedgehog structure out of the opening he never came close to seizing the initiative, and the writing was on the wall when he blundered a pawn on b5.

25…Bxb5 runs into 26.Rb1, pinning and winning the bishop. Magnus played 25…d5, but a few moves later the bishop in any case found itself pinned and Magnus resigned.

That means the bragging rights for top scoring in the Finals, with 15 points, currently belong to Teimour, but more significantly he’s moved to within just half a point of an out-of-form Wesley So.

There’s plenty at stake, since 2nd place earns $60,000, $10,000 more than the top prize in the US Chess Championship that Wesley will be playing in a few days’ time.

Magnus, meanwhile, has won the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour and takes the $100,000 top prize, repeating his success in the Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour a year earlier (when the Barack Obama meme was even more applicable!).

It wasn’t always easy, with the Tour starting in November but Magnus only finally winning the first of his three titles in the 5th event that ended in May. Ultimately he scored 330 points to So’s 261, with Aronian on 170 and Radjabov on 133. It’s true that players competed in differing numbers of events, but in fact Wesley and Levon both played all events, while Magnus skipped the Chessable Masters while playing in the World Cup.

Magnus wasn’t too bothered about the loss to Radjabov taking some of the sheen off his performance.

I’ll try to have fun the last two days, and today was really poor, but right now I don’t really care! I’m just happy to have won overall.

Elsewhere two more matches were decided in rapid chess.

Mamedyarov 2.5:0.5 Giri

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov won both games with the white pieces to beat Anish Giri with a round to spare, with the Dutchman not thrilled with his performance. He gave an entertaining account of Shakh’s style.

Yeah, very bad games today. I’ll take this as another rest day, early finish, so I’ll take some rest. Today I missed so many chances. Shakhriyar played like he doesn’t have a goalkeeper! He plays football, everything good, but there is no goalkeeper, and I just don’t take the shots. I had so many chances in all the games, it was just really bad.

Giri was asked about how he can get over the pain:

It’s not necessarily pain, but I’m just a bit upset about the games. Of course I’ll get over it at some point. There is this nice clip from The Office, I think, when the guy says, will I get over it? No, but life goes on… not for me.

The assessment of the games had some truth to it, but it should be said that Shakh showed very impressive technique to exploit some endgame inaccuracies in the 1st game. Then in the third it’s true that 32…Qd8! was strong, but Shakh had also missed chances, and finished things off nicely.

41…b4?! didn’t work, but by this stage White was already winning.

42.Qf3 turns out to be good enough, but Mamedyarov’s response was more stylish: 42.Rd7+! Kg8 43.Nxe6! Rxe6 (43…bxa3 44.Rg7+ Kh8 45.Rxg6#) 44.Rg7+ Kf8 45.Qxb4+! (the last failure of the b4-push) 45…Ke8 46.Rg8+ Kf7 47.Qb7+

47…Re7 48.Rg7+ and Qxe7# next was the quickest kill if the game continued.

Duda 2.5:1.5 Artemiev

For a second day in a row Jan-Krzysztof Duda managed to win a match with a single win in rapid chess. Against Levon Aronian, that game featured a blunder of mate-in-1, but this time the decisive game was a creative achievement.

I’m obviously very happy to win against Vlad Artemiev, he’s always a difficult opponent for everyone. Even though I have a plus score against him in my entire lifetime, nevertheless he’s very difficult. Actually I was pressing with White, kind of making draws with Black. In the first game I didn’t use my chances, I think, but I was capable of pulling it off in the 3rd game, even though at some point I started just to play for fun, I think, with this king march. I knew it probably wasn’t the best option for me, but I just couldn’t resist going to b6.

Here’s where the king began its journey.

15 moves later it had reached b6.

It seems 42…Re7 was best here (43.Be2! is then an only move to stop mate-in-1), while after 42…Rxc3 43.bxc3 Rxa3 44.Kxb7 Be8? 45.Re2! the king got to take the c6-pawn and support the advance of its own c-pawn from d8.  

Nakamura 4:3 MVL

For a 2nd day in a row Hikaru Nakamura won a match in Armageddon, and in fact it followed almost exactly the same pattern as his match against Mamedyarov. The players won one game apiece with the white pieces in rapid chess, while both won with White in blitz before Nakamura chose White again and won in Armageddon.  

There were some very memorable moments. For instance, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave should have won with Black and given himself an almost unassailable 2:0 lead.

43…Re1+! is a surprising tactic based on the threat of mate on g2 (44.Rxe1 Qxd2, or 44.Kh2 Rxd1!), but the kind Maxime would spot in a heartbeat if you told him something existed. Instead he followed his plan with 43…Re2? and though he applied some pressure it wasn’t enough.

In Game 3 Maxime seemed to mouse-slip 1.e3, but no lasting damage was done, while the 4th rapid game was the craziest of the day. Hikaru was winning, then Maxime, then a 3rd queen appeared on the board.  

By this stage Hikaru was on top, but it was far from as simple as you might imagine given the material imbalance.

The blitz saw both players win surprisingly easily with the white pieces, before 27…Nc8? (27…Nd7!) was the final blunder in the Armageddon game.

28.Bxe4! Bxe4 29.Qxc8 saw Hikaru simply pick up a piece, and he went on to claim victory.

That win means that mathematically Hikaru could still finish half a point above Wesley So and take 2nd place — he faces Artemiev and Duda in the final two rounds.

The penultimate round sees So-Duda and Radjabov-Mamedyarov as the key match-ups in the fight for 2nd place, with Azerbaijan teammates Teimour and Shakhriyar known for drawing against each other. In this case, however, there has to be a winner at the end of the day, and winning in rapid chess and picking up a full 3 points would do no harm at all. Magnus, meanwhile, can relax a little as he faces one of his great historical rivals, Levon Aronian.

Don’t miss the action each day from 11:00 ET/17:00 CEST/20:30 IST!

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