MCCT Finals 4: Artemiev takes down Carlsen

Vladislav Artemiev said he “wanted to play more aggressively than usual because it’s very hard to beat Magnus in technical positions” and it worked to perfection as he inflicted the first defeat of the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour Finals on Magnus Carlsen. Wesley So had the chance to get within striking range of 1st place, but his all-US battle against Hikaru Nakamura skipped the rapid games completely before Hikaru won in blitz. Elsewhere Teimour Radjabov, Levon Aronian and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov all won in rapid chess, with some fantastic games. 

You can replay all the games from Round 4 of 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 Danny King. 

Round 4 saw just four draws combined in four of the matches, all of which finished in rapid chess, with the points split three to the winner and zero to the loser. The exception was Nakamura-So, with four draws in rapid chess before it was decided in a blitz playoff. 

Artemiev 3:1 Carlsen

Vladislav Artemiev has been a revelation since he joined the Tour in June, reaching two finals and one semi-final in his three events to qualify for the Finals at the last moment. In the last regular event, the Aimchess US Rapid, Magnus defeated him in the final with some ease, with Vladislav’s one win the result of a mouse-slip, but the 23-year-old Russian had taken some lessons away from that encounter. 

I think that I wanted to play more aggressively than usual because it’s very hard to beat Magnus in technical positions, so my choice was an alternative way. I played more interesting, for example in both White games I chose e4 for the first move, it’s a very rare move for me, and I think that it was a very good way, finally I can say it. I think that my plan was good, but I didn’t want only to win, I just wanted to play interesting chess and give a real fight, and maybe win one game as a minimum. 

The first game featured an offbeat Caro-Kann where Magnus gave up a pawn. 

The answer proved to be yes, but no more than that, so that the game ended in a 27-move draw by repetition that both players could be relatively happy with.

The real drama started in Game 2, when Magnus continued his recent fashion of playing b3 and fianchettoing his bishop on b2 early on against the Sicilian. 

This time it didn’t prove a great success and Magnus was probably relieved when mass exchanges saw most of the danger eliminated from the position. It felt as though the game would have fizzled out into a draw, if it wasn’t for Vladislav’s clock situation. While Magnus had four minutes, Artemiev played 28…Be6 with one second left on his clock.

Peter Leko had just been telling us how in such situations he would get nervous because of his opponent’s clock, but that Magnus was stronger than that. Now, however, Magnus made the classic mistake of playing too fast in his opponent’s time trouble with the losing 29.Nc7? (29.Bxe6 should just end in a draw). After 29…Bxb3! 30.Nxa6 bxa6 Black’s two minor pieces completely dominate the rook.

After 31.Rc8+ Kh7 32.a5?! Bc4 Magnus spent a minute perhaps less thinking about the position than lamenting what he’d just done. 

There was no way back, which meant Magnus had two games in which to mount a comeback.

For Game 3, Magnus switched to the Sicilian, but his aggressive d5-break looked mistimed and soon ran into an exchange sac that left the black position in ruins.

It required computer-like precision to defend, but Magnus once again showed that he was human, until right at the end Vladislav looked to be on the verge of clinching victory both in the game and the match.

Here Vladislav has repeated the position for a draw with 30.Bh6?, but 30.Rf3! and then e.g. 30…Qe7 31.Bh6! Rf7 32.Qg6 would have kept immense pressure on the black position. The computer says it’s simply winning, but the fact that there’s no clear knockout blow made Vladislav’s decision understandable given he was, as always, heavily down on the clock.

If Vladislav hadn’t won the match he would have deeply regretted that moment, and early on in Game 4 it seemed as though Magnus was right on course to hit back on demand.

The computer gives almost a full-piece advantage to White after 17.h5!, with White able to meet 17…g5 by sacrificing a piece for that pawn, but here Magnus suddenly began retreating pieces, starting with 17.Re1, in a positional regrouping that handed the initiative to Artemiev.

The belated and blitzed out attacking move 32.f4? was the final straw, running into 32…Nxc4!, which took advantage of the undefended bishop on g3.

Magnus tried to press on as if nothing had happened with 33.fxg5!?, but objectively the position was hopeless, and although Vladislav let the win slip he only needed a draw to clinch the match. There was nothing Magnus could do… except try one little online chess trick at the end.

Countless bullet games have been won by a move such as 51.Qxc5+, when if Black automatically moves his king he suddenly finds he’s lost the queen on c1 and can resign. Vladislav is an online chess monster, however, and simply played 51…Qxc5. Both players saw the funny side. 

Vladislav had earned his day in the sun.

Of course I would like to say that I’m very happy, because not every day you can beat such a strong player like Magnus Carlsen. I think that he’s one of the best players in chess history, maybe, and of course I’m glad that I make it, and it’s a really great tournament, I’m enjoying every day, and it’s very good for training.

For Magnus it was his first real setback of the event, and a big opportunity for 2nd placed Wesley So.

Nakamura 4:2 So

Wesley So could have moved to within just two points of Magnus if he’d defeated Hikaru Nakamura in rapid chess, which, with a head-to-head clash with Magnus to follow in the final round, would have meant his tournament fate was entirely in his own hands. He’d said the day before that although Hikaru and him don’t tend to play real games against each other in qualifying events, things would be different in a match. For one game, we could almost believe it. 

Hikaru had White in the first rapid game, and although queens were exchanged on move 9 and Wesley went on to hold very comfortably, the game lasted 39 moves and there was some pause for thought. In the second game, however, the tone for the day was set as So met Nakamura’s Berlin with the infamous 14-move draw. That was that, and the remaining two rapid games were blitzed out in 14 moves as well.

Taking a blitz specialist like Hikaru to a blitz playoff didn’t look like a wise decision by Wesley, with Hikaru guessing that his opponent was focused on second place in the tournament.

I think you could see in Game 2, where Wesley made the draw, that kind of put the idea in my head. I actually was expecting Wesley to try and beat me in the rapid portion, because I thought that he had a chance to maybe catch Magnus. Obviously with Magnus losing he definitely should have, in retrospect, but I think Wesley was trying to consolidate his grip on second place and then maybe in the later rounds go after Magnus. Of course it didn’t work out for Wesley, but that was definitely his idea, and yeah, after the second game was a draw, ok, clearly Wesley is ready to play tiebreaks, so I might as well just play more chess as I’m not getting my fix of it in this match. 

The last comment was referring to Hikaru using the time when he wasn’t playing any rapid chess to play an online blitz tournament. That was a questionable life choice, to put it mildly, but taking a match to blitz as fast as his opponent lets him could certainly be seen as a reasonable tournament strategy for Hikaru. Just as after the four non-game draws he played against Teimour Radjabov in Round 2, he went on to win the blitz playoff, and he’s now the top scorer for the Finals after four rounds. 

The blitz games were full of twists, with Wesley, having piled the pressure on himself with his strategy, losing his way in a tricky first game. 

He fought back again and again to almost equalise after this point, but by the end too much subtlety was required for a blitz game.

65…Re2 was the losing move, but it was still possible to hold on by playing 65…Ra1+! 66.Kb2 and only then 66…Re1. The difference? After the same moves in the game, 67.g5 Be4 White can’t play the otherwise winning 68.Ng4…

…due to 68…Rb1+, winning the b6-rook.

As it was, however, Hikaru’s pawns were unstoppable and Wesley now found himself in a situation where he had to win to force Armageddon. 

Wesley’s choice was the Scotch, and Peter Leko explained that the sharp line that followed was one he has in his own repertoire. This was one of those cases when the commentator seemed to know the position better than the players, since he pointed out the mistakes that followed as fast as Stockfish, but with explanations! 16.Ng5?! (16.Bg5!) was a misstep by Wesley.

Peter’s line of 16…d5! 17.Nxf7 Be7! and e.g. 18.Nxd8 Rxd8 19.Rh3 dxc4+ does give Black a powerful attack, while after 16…Qe7? 17.Rh3 d5? Wesley was back on top and had a great chance to reach Armageddon.

Again, as Peter noted instantly, 22.Be3?! was too slow, however, allowing 22…c5!, and then again Peter was right to point out that 25…Bc8? gave White a last chance. 

26.f4! would have shored up the white position and Wesley could face the future with hope, but after 26.Qh1? Hikaru was able to play the devastating 26…f4!, when after 27.gxf4 Bxf4 Wesley resigned the game and match.

White can’t take on f4 or the e2-bishop falls with check, so the white position is in ruins. 

That meant that Wesley So had missed a great chance to move within striking distance of Magnus, though he did gain one point to restore the 4-point gap we had at the start of the event.

The other matches all finished in rapid chess, and featured some spectacular games that we can only really skim through. 

Mamedyarov 2.5:1.5 MVL

If you were choosing a position of the day, it would perhaps be this one, from Game 2 of this match.

It’s rare to see a zugzwang with so many pieces on the board, but that’s what we have here. White could play e.g. 44.g5+, but after 44…Ke6 that changes nothing. Then there’s no move for White that doesn’t lose material, since if the bishop moves Rd2+ will follow, if the king moves the d3-bishop is lost, and of course the rook has no squares.

That could have been the springboard to match victory for MVL, who escaped a lost position in the next game to reach a position where 35.d7! was winning (though not without requiring him to find another amazing move or two!). Instead he played 35.Qe7, which allowed the stunning resource 35…Qh5!! — another candidate for the position of the day!

36.Bxh5 Rf1# is an instant checkmate, while after 36.h4 Qxe2 checkmate was only a matter of time.

Mamedyarov had stared a 4th defeat in a row in the face, but now brought home victory with an utterly convincing 4th game. You can’t get much more winning than he was in the final position. 

So it was a tough day for Maxime after a brilliant start, but some well-earned reward after some of the fantastic chess we’ve seen from Shakhriyar during the tournament. 

Aronian 3:1 Giri

This match started perfectly for Anish Giri, who noted that 18…Nxc3!? was an opening mistake by Levon, though it seems only 20…c5? was fatal. That ran into 21.Rd7!, hitting everything on the 7th rank, and Levon’s defence of 21…c4 just didn’t work.

The idea was to “only” give back a pawn with 22.Bxc4 Bc5, defending the e7-knight, but after 23.Ba2, with e6 to follow, Black was busted.

Levon hit straight back, however, with Anish spending almost 7 minutes on move 14 of Game 2 trying to figure out what to do in a line of the 6.f3 Najdorf. As so often, the fruit of that long thought was a mistake, and soon Levon had achieved a huge positional advantage that he went on to convert comfortably. Anish commented:

The first two games were of very high quality, I think. I got an advantage from the opening in the first one, he got one in the second one, but the third game, I don’t know. It was a very, very drawish position and I was hesitating between trying to force it and also just keeping it going, and I hesitated too much. 

This is the moment Giri was referring to.

33.b5!, completely consistent with the preceding b4 and Rb1, would likely have led to an almost immediate draw. Instead 33.Bd2?! was met by 33…g5!, and it was shocking how fast Black was able to take over. The finishing touch from Levon was sweet, if not strictly necessary.

You can stop mate with 51.Rg1, but it’s another zugzwang. After 51…cxb5 52.a6 bxa6 White no longer has any choice but to move the rook, and 53…Rg2# ends the game.

That meant Anish had to win with the black pieces, but instead Levon got a dream position.

Giri was right to point out that later in the game he did at least get some chance to invade with his queen and trouble the white king, but in the end a win for Levon was the more logical outcome of the game.

Radjabov 2.5:1.5 Duda

Teimour Radjabov repeated the start he had against Anish Giri the day before by grinding out a technical win in the first game of the day. 

He may have feared the worst, however, since the match threatened to go the same way as against Giri, who came back to win. Jan-Krzysztof won a pawn and was much better in the 2nd game, but was unable to squeeze out a win in 69 moves. Then Teimour, perhaps trying to wrap up the match with a game to spare, over-pushed in Game 3, again lost a pawn, and this time did get ground down in the end in a very tricky queens and bishops positions.

Duda had the white pieces in the final rapid game and now looked favourite to win the match, but he spoilt a big early advantage and needed to play precisely to hold.

34.Rxb5! should give White enough material, with the point that 34…Ba6 can be met by 35.Rb2!, and because 35…Rxb2 36.Qxb2+ is check, White doesn’t lose the exchange. Instead after 34.Qc1? Rd7 the b5-pawn could no longer be grabbed and Duda soon had a choice of entering the same kind of lost rook vs. two minor pieces ending where Artemiev had beaten Carlsen. 

Instead he chose to keep queens on the board, but only ended up in a mating net. 

It had been a good day for Azerbaijan, as both Mamedyarov and Radjabov picked up a full three points after losing their first three matches. The overall standings look as follows.

As you can see, Hikaru Nakamura’s eight points mean he’s taken over from Magnus Carlsen as the top scorer in the Finals alone. That sets things up perfectly for Round 5, the last before the rest day, since Hikaru and Magnus play each other.

Aronian-Radjabov is another match to look out for, since with a win in rapid chess Teimour could catch Levon in 3rd place — as, potentially, could Hikaru, with a win over Magnus. 

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