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Reports Aug 31, 2021 | 11:11 AMby Colin McGourty

Aimchess US Rapid 3: Artemiev pips Carlsen, MVL & Giri out

Magnus Carlsen stumbled into a draw by 3-fold repetition on move 124 of a winning position against Jan-Krzysztof Duda to make Vladislav Artemiev the winner of the Aimchess US Rapid Prelims. Magnus will now play his World Cup conqueror Duda again in the quarterfinals. The other quarterfinals are Artemiev-Dominguez — a win will put Vladislav in the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour Finals in place of Maxime Vachier-Lagrave — Aronian-Mamedyarov and So-Firouzja, after Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Anish Giri both missed out.

Giri would have qualified if he'd beaten Firouzja in the final round, but he fell just short

You can replay all the games from the preliminary stage of the Aimchess US Rapid, the 9th event on the $1.6 million Meltwater Champions Chess Tour, using the selector below.

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

And Danny King and Tania Sachdev. 

A dramatic final day of the Aimchess US Rapid Prelims once against saw half the field knocked out, with Anish Giri, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Vidit the players who just missed out. 

Let’s take a look at how the event, and in particular the last day, went for each of the players, starting with the qualifiers.

1. Vladislav Artemiev: 10.5/15, 6 wins, 9 draws, 0 losses   

23-year-old Russian Vladislav Artemiev has only played in the last three Meltwater Champions Chess Tour events, but he seems to be getting better and better at the format. He barely put a foot wrong in the Aimchess US Rapid Prelims and only slowed down on the final day after he started with a win over Wesley So, whose 31.fxg6? was a losing move in an otherwise equal position.

Vladislav pounced with 31…Rd1+! 32.Kh2 Rh1+ 33.Kg3 Rg1+ 34.Kh4 Rxg6 and both the white rook and its defender on h6 are attacked. 

35.Kh5 was met by 35…Rxh6+! 36.Kxh6 Kxf8 and Vladislav was just a piece up. After that win he cruised home with four draws and now has everything in his own hands when it comes to qualification for next month’s Tour Finals.

The overall Tour standings before the Aimchess US Rapid

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is out, and with 10 points for finishing 1st in the Prelims, Vladislav is just two points behind. If he wins his quarterfinal against Leinier Dominguez he’ll gain at least another 10 points, climbing above Maxime and also getting out of reach of Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. The Top 8 (or technically the Top 5, excluding the Major winners Carlsen, Radjabov and Giri) are automatically invited to the Finals, with two wildcards also set to play.

2. Magnus Carlsen: 10/15, 6 wins, 8 draws, 1 loss

Although Magnus eased to qualification he only scored one win in his last eight games — a somewhat shaky win against Awonder Liang — so that a 2nd place finish felt fair, even if he was within a whisker of clinching 1st place. 

His first game of the final day was a tense clash with Anish Giri, where he missed a chance to play the positionally appealing 23.Ne7+!, which is possible due to a little tactic.

Magnus still had a promising position, but then blundered with 33.Ra5?

Anish snatched the chance to play 33…Rxb4! 34.Bxb4 Rxb4, when 35.Rxd5 exd5 was absolutely forced. Magnus had to give up a pawn to free his pieces, but then confidently went on to hold a draw. 

After beating Liang and drawing with Aronian, Carlsen’s 1…d6, 2…g6 against Jorden van Foreest signalled aggressive intentions, but despite applying some pressure he only drew in 57 moves.

He admitted he was tired and unambitious going into the final game against his World Cup conqueror Jan-Krzysztof Duda, though as it turned out a win would have given him 1st place on the tiebreaker of most wins.

The last game I was somehow really tired so I was just trying to make a draw, but then he blundered and I should obviously win.

40…Rc1? was too tricky by Duda, and ran into the refutation 41.Bh7+!

The point is to move the white queen out of the firing line of the black queen with check, so that the rook on c1 can be captured, and that’s what happened with 41…Kxh7 42.Qd3+ Kg7 43.Rxc1.

The next critical moment was when Magnus was surprised by Duda’s 61…Qc5.

I just missed this Qc5 move that he had, which ensured that the game… well, I had Qb2 to a1, but I didn’t see that… so that ensured that I had to win the game all over again, and I couldn’t, but I was more than ready to accept 2nd seed before the last round, so in that sense it’s fine, but still when a really, really, really poor performance is the last thing that happened on the day it’s still frustrating.

As Magnus mentioned, it turned out that 62.Qb2+! Kg6 63.Qa1! is still winning, while after 62.Kxg2 Qxa7 63.Qe5+ Kg8 64.Qxf5 Magnus was aware that this particular queen endgame with two connected passed pawns is a theoretical draw — one of the amazing things tablebases have shown us. 

He was also aware, however, that “usually in practice it’s won”, and indeed the game kept oscillating between theoretically drawn and won, with the position after 93…Qd6 just one example. 

The completely forcing 94.Qe8+! Kh7 95.Qf7+ Kh8 96.Qf6+ Qxf6 97.gxf6 is a winning pawn endgame, but assessing such things on move 94 of a long day is never going to be easy. 

Instead the dance went on until it was suddenly over on move 124!

The computer spotted a draw by 3-fold repetition, and indeed this position had appeared after move 101, when Magnus played 102.Kg3 and move 114, when Magnus played 115.Qd4+. This time he had a new plan, but as he realised during the interview, it didn’t work either!

At the end I actually thought that I’d found a winning idea, so it was very frustrating, because I was going to go Kg4 next, and I don’t think he has a way to escape there… Well, apparently Qc6 is the only way to win, so what do I really know?

Just for the record, 124.Qc6! (or 102.Qc6 or 115.Qc6) was mate-in-19.

So that means that although Magnus didn’t achieve one-game revenge for his FIDE World Cup semi-final defeat at Duda’s hands, he’s going to get a chance for a revenge in a two-day match, starting Tuesday. The World Champion has no illusions. 

He’s a strong player, he beat me in the World Cup, so obviously it’s not going to be easy.

3. Levon Aronian: 9.5/15, 6 wins, 7 draws, 2 losses

An avoidable last-round loss to Vidit — when Levon ruined a good position with a single loosening move — took a little of the sheen of Levon’s preliminary display, but the job had long since been done and the risks could also have been rewarded. All other things being equal, if the Armenian star had won the last game he would have taken 1st place on the tiebreaker of most wins. 

4. Alireza Firouzja: 9.5/15, 5 wins, 9 draws, 1 loss

18-year-old Alireza Firouzja has struggled in the past when it’s come to qualifying for the knockout stages of the tour events, but this time he did things very smoothly, on a day when he had the chance to make or break other players’ tournaments. He faced the key competitors for 8th place, starting with wins over MVL and Leinier Dominguez, and then ended Anish Giri’s hopes with a draw in the final round. A frustrated Giri would later comment:

It would be nice if I punished it, because I don’t know why he played this way that he played. He played really fast for a draw the whole game, and I don’t know why, because he’s already qualified, there’s no need, just play normal, but he wanted to ruin my day, and in the end he managed!

5. Wesley So: 9/15, 6 wins, 6 draws, 3 losses

It was a very unusual Prelims for Wesley So, who tends to take an early lead and then cruise through to the knockout stages. This time he managed to lose the first game on all three days, to Magnus Carlsen, Daniel Naroditsky and then, as we’ve seen above, to Vladislav Artemiev. 

Wesley is a master of doing what it takes, however, and on each of the three days he hit back to win two games and ultimately make the knockout with room to spare. He also showcased his attacking flair!

6. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov: 9/15, 4 wins, 10 draws, 1 loss

Shakhriyar had one stumble on the final day — finding himself lost against Liem Quang Le right out of the opening — but otherwise it was a very smooth display as he qualified for the knockouts. If Artemiev doesn’t beat Dominguez in that quarterfinal then all eyes will turn to Shakh — if he could win the tournament he would then climb above Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in the overall Meltwater Champions Chess Tour standings and qualify for next month’s Tour Finals.

7. Jan-Krzysztof Duda: 9/15, 5 wins, 8 draws, 2 losses

The Polish no. 1 got off to the worst possible start to the Aimchess US Rapid with two losses in the first two rounds — and he was facing mate-in-6 against Mamedyarov in Round 3 — before three draws saw him end Day 1 in last place. There was then an impressive turnaround, however, since Duda was the top scorer after the first two rounds, with the World Cup winner qualifying comfortably and getting to play the move of the final day.

His last-round game against Magnus isn’t one either player will want to think too much about before their upcoming showdown, but there was little at stake there other than bragging rights.

8. Leinier Dominguez: 8/15, 6 wins, 4 draws, 5 losses

The big winner of the last day was Leinier Dominguez, who on his third appearance on the tour reached the quarterfinals for the first time. “I’m very happy I finally managed to qualify!” he commented.

Leinier matched the best final day score of 3.5/5 (with Firouzja and Duda), starting by grinding out a tough win against Liem Quang Le and then shrugging off a loss to Firouzja to defeat Daniel Naroditsky and Eric Hansen. Precise defence against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in the final round was enough to clinch a quarterfinal against Vladislav Artemiev.

9. Anish Giri: 8/15, 1 win, 14 draws, 0 losses

Anish Giri was the unlucky player to miss out despite matching the score of the other qualifier on 8/15, and going unbeaten, but the tiebreaker wasn’t close. Since his head-to-head encounter with Dominguez was a draw, the qualification was decided by number of wins, with Leinier scoring six to Giri’s one!

It was the kind of result we haven’t seen from Anish on the tour, with things just not quite clicking. We already mentioned the first game of the final day against Magnus, which ended with Magnus holding a draw since the queening square of Giri’s extra pawn wasn’t the same colour as his bishop. Remarkably, that scenario played out again in the next round’s So-Giri as well!

The third draw was slightly fortunate, as for one move only Vidit had a win, but Anish had some chances against Liem Quang Le. That left the Dutch star needing to win on demand with the black pieces against an in-form Alireza Firouzja to clinch qualification. It was a very tough ask, but in the end he came close.

Giri is threatening mate-in-1 with Rf2#, while after 36.Ne2! Ra1 the new threat is Rf1+, Rf2+, winning the e2-knight. Black has excellent winning chances after 37.Ng3?!, but it turned out 37.Nf4! was much stronger. The white knight kept jumping between e2 and f4 as the game fizzled out into a draw. Anish commented:

I just thought at some point that I’m winning, and I missed that he goes back with the knight where he came from, and I spent all my time calculating the other knight move and I just figured out a win, and I was so focused, and then when he went with the knight back... I think I still have chances there, but what I did was not good enough, but it was not easy.

10. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave: 7.5/15, 5 wins, 5 draws, 5 losses

The overall standings meant that Maxime was the player with the most reason to play solidly in the Aimchess US Rapid to try and clinch his spot in the Tour Finals, but the way he approached the last day was enough to make you wonder if he hadn’t already booked a vacation for the same dates! (September 25 - October 3) It started with an exchange sac against Alireza Firouzja.

The speed with which Maxime was playing suggested home preparation, but the computer evaluation and the way Alireza cruised to victory after 16.Qxb2 Bxh6 17.Ne5! suggested differently.

Maxime did get back on track with wins over Naroditsky and Hansen, but once again, it wasn’t entirely convincing.

Here Daniel could have won in real style with 20…f5! 21.Nxd6 Rxe3! and it turns out White is busted e.g. after 22.fxe3 Rxe3 23.Qc2 Bd4! the white king has no good squares. Instead, after Daniel defended the d-pawn with 20...Qb6, Maxime went on to win.  

Maxime had been granted a second chance to qualify, but then his two-step f-pawn march with 13…f6?! 14.Nd3 f5? against Duda ran into the simple 15.Nxd5!, when 15...exd5 16.Bxd5+ would win the rook on a8.

Even here after 15…Ra7! the position is still complicated and Black might have hopes, but instead Maxime took just four seconds to play 15…Nc6?, when after the straightforward 16.Ne3! Duda had an overwhelming advantage.

Then in the final round against Dominguez, Maxime raced to an endgame position where he had some pressure but it could be neutralised with accurate play. Leinier did just that, and Maxime finished outside the qualification spots and needing to rely on Dominguez to beat Artemiev in the quarterfinals to keep his Tour Final hopes alive. 

A puzzling display, though as Laurent Fressinet always points out, Maxime’s great successes in speed chess have also come as a result of playing fast and impulsively. It's a double-edged sword. 

11. Vidit: 7.5/15, 3 wins, 9 draws, 3 losses

Vidit looked to have very much an outside chance of qualifying going into the final day, but his last-round win over Aronian left him just half a point behind the cut-off point. As it happens, even 8/15 wouldn’t have been enough — he lost his individual game to Dominguez — which perhaps makes the penultimate round game against Awonder Liang easier to take! 

An epic struggle seemed to be coming to an end when Vidit played 108…Kf5?, seemingly forcing a winning pawn endgame, only for Awonder to uncork the brilliant 109.Kh1!!

109…Qxg3 is a draw by stalemate, and it turns out there was no longer anything Black could do to win the game (instead after 108…Kh5! 109.Kh1 Black wins with 109…Qh4+!)

The game was drawn in 159 moves, with qualification out of reach, but it was a good tournament for Vidit considering he came into the first day feeling very unwell.

12. Daniel Naroditsky: 6/15, 3 wins, 6 draws, 6 losses

A big missed chance against Eric Hansen in the first game of the last day was a blow to Daniel’s qualification chances, and after the fleeting chance against MVL was also missed he suffered three losses in a row. Nevertheless, Daniel was for two days one of the stars of the show, playing some brilliant chess and giving some equally good interviews. 

13. Liem Quang Le: 6/15, 4 wins, 4 draws, 7 losses

In the last four rounds of the Aimchess US Rapid, Liem Quang Le got back to the kind of level we’d seen him produce in previous tour events, but it was too late. A very slow start had left the Vietnamese no. 1 out of contention before the final day. 

14. Jorden van Foreest: 4.5/15, 3 wins, 3 draws, 9 losses

Jorden drew against Magnus Carlsen and beat Awonder Liang on the final day, but it wasn’t a tournament the Dutch no. 2 will want to recall in a hurry. The Dutch no. 1, who won his only game against Jorden, had a question after his compatriot’s final loss against Wesley So.

15. Eric Hansen: 3.5/15, 1 win, 5 draws, 9 losses

Eric was relishing the opportunity to play the Aimchess US Rapid...

...but in the end that rustiness was all too evident, for instance in the speed of play and time trouble blunders. The final day game against Eric was one time that Maxime Vachier-Lagrave's fast play proved effective, in what otherwise should have been a drawn position. Many games were decided on fine margins, but the final outcome can't have been what Eric was hoping for before the event.     

16. Awonder Liang: 2.5/15, 1 win, 3 draws, 11 losses

It seems odd to say when Awonder Liang scored just one win (against Daniel Naroditsky) and twice lost five games in a row, but the 18-year-old still managed to impress. He could have added to his tally if he’d found a win in what Anish Giri called “an insane game” on the previous day, while he had Magnus concerned before he slipped to defeat. His 159-move draw with Vidit was epic, while he had a fleeting chance to pull off the same trick in the final round against Le.

It wasn’t to be, but if the youngster can add some more solidity to his game, he could become a fearsome opponent.

So the preliminary stage is over, and we move straight to the two-day quarterfinal knockouts. Carlsen-Duda, So-Firouzja and Aronian-Mamedyarov are mouth-watering clashes, and if on paper Artemiev-Dominguez might seem a little less of a blockbuster, it’s arguably the match with the most at stake, since Vladislav knows a win will qualify him for the Tour Final. 

Don't miss all the action here on chess24 from 11:00 ET/17:00 CEST/20:30 IST.

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