18-year-old Alireza Firouzja is in his first Meltwater Champions Chess Tour semi-final after surviving a thrilling comeback to beat Wesley So in blitz tiebreaks. Alireza will now play Vladislav Artemiev, whose victory over Leinier Dominguez also qualified him for the Finals of the Tour in place of Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. Magnus Carlsen and Levon Aronian play the other semi-final after both won with a game to spare, though Magnus got an a shock when he realised he’d blundered a pawn to Jan-Krzysztof Duda in a game he still went on to win.
You can replay all the knockout games 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 from Danny King and Simon Williams, who were joined by Peter Svidler and Jorden van Foreest.
It was another dramatic day of chess, with So-Firouzja going all the way to tiebreaks.
Let’s start with that match.
Wesley So had lost the first game of the day for four days in a row, so despite having the white pieces he can’t have been too disappointed to have begun Day 5 with a 21-move draw. It wasn’t to be a good start to the day, however, since he got into trouble in the next game and, just when mutual time trouble seemed to have led to a drawish endgame, he lost almost on the spot with 45…b4?
Our commentators also thought at first that this was just a draw, but in fact after 46.Rf4 Rb2 47.Rxb4 Rxf2 48.Rb7+! White is winning one of Black’s kingside pawns, and with it the game.
As Wesley had lost on Day 1 of the quarterfinal that meant only wins in the next two games would be enough for him to keep his semi-final hopes alive, but So isn’t a player to write off in a hurry! He’d come back from the same almost hopeless situation against none other than Magnus Carlsen in the quarterfinals of the Goldmoney Asian Rapid.
We got more evidence of how difficult it can be to play when you only need a draw, since Alireza tried two approaches in the next two games, and both failed. In Game 3 he didn’t shy away from early g5 and h5-pushes with the black pieces, but the aggression had soon backfired.
Wesley is threatening b5 and Bxe5, winning the queen, if the c6-knight moves. The best chance was to give up on the e5-pawn and save the queen with 16…Qe7, but Alireza was instead tempted by winning three minor pieces for his queen with 16…g4?! 17.b5 gxf3 18.Nxf3 Na5 19.Bxe5 Nxc4 20.Bxf6+. It was a bold try, but Firouzja was also two pawns down and uncoordinated, and Wesley was able to ease to victory.
Alireza still had the advantage of only needing to draw with White to clinch the match, but now when he did try to play super-solidly, with the Exchange Variation of the French, it also backfired, as Wesley was soon on top, with Alireza reduced to a grim, passive defence.
Ultimately Alireza came very close to holding, but he cracked on move 58.
58.Kf3, 58.Kf2 and 58.Ke2 all draw, while 58.Kd2 and the move that Wesley made, 58.Kd3, lose. Chess is tough!
That meant tiebreaks, with all the momentum on Wesley’s side. Alireza admitted, “at that point I was very sad and I couldn’t imagine I’d win this blitz match”.
It also looked to be all Wesley when he gained a big edge with the white pieces in the first blitz game, but he began to lose control and then erred when putting his king on e4 and not g4. 48…Ne6! suddenly posed real issues.
White's pieces get in each other’s way and there’s no way to defend the g5-pawn. Wesley still had some advantage, but by the end of the game it was Alireza pushing, and you could see his disappointment when Wesley's 67.Kxh7! brought an immediate end to the game — after any other move Alireza could have kept trying to grind out a win with his extra pawn.
In the second game Wesley seemed to have decided to take the match to Armageddon by playing the Petroff, but instead he just gave Alireza what the youngster described as “a very comfortable position”. It got more than comfortable when So failed to release the tension with mass exchanges on e4 and instead got hit by 20.Qb4!
That double attack on the f8-square and the b7-pawn is lethal, and although Wesley didn’t play perfectly after 20…Nd7 21.Qxb7 he got there in the end to reach a Meltwater Champions Chess Tour semi-final for the first time, on his 7th attempt!
Alireza has the new problem that since he’ll now play either the final or the 3rd place match he will, like Magnus Carlsen, have just one rest day before Norway Chess begins, but he wasn’t complaining after reaching the semi-finals.
It means a very good feeling, because it’s the first time I’ve played in this. Also it’s going to be very close to Norway Chess, but ok, I will make it work somehow!
Alireza’s opponent in the semi-finals will be 23-year-old Russian Vladislav Artemiev, who has had almost exactly the opposite experience on the tour. Despite playing just three events, starting in June, he’s now overhauled Maxime Vachier-Lagrave to earn one of the eight qualification spots in the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour Final. He did it by finishing runner-up, 3rd and now at least 4th in the Aimchess US Rapid.
It wasn’t easy, however, with Vladislav commenting:
It was absolutely a difficult match, for both I think, and I can say that Leinier is a really good player with a universal style and good opening preparation.
Peter Svidler, joining the live commentary, noted that Anish Giri had described Artemiev as “allergic to opening theory”, and summed up Artemiev’s, largely successful, approach.
As in almost all the games from this match, things got wild already in Game 1, and in fact Leinier could have taken the lead.
It turns out 22.Bxg7! just works in all lines. It was understandable Leinier chose to play with an extra pawn with 22.Bxc1 Qc7 23.Bxc6 Qxc6, but the game soon fizzled out into a draw.
Game 2 was a quieter draw, with Leinier playing a pawn down but with more than enough compensation, before Game 3 was the moment that Artemiev struck, with the fine move 41…d4! a key moment.
We got to see the point on the board, since Dominguez played 42.exd4?! (e.g. 42.Kf2 seems better), allowing 42…Ra1! 43.Rxa1 Bxd4+ and it turned out the ending with an extra pawn and a powerful bishop was an easy win for Vladislav.
The Russian now only needed a draw to clinch the match, but Leinier wasn’t going to go down without a fight.
The computer was giving 0.00, but it was anything but straightforward.
Here 27.Rxg7+! Kf8 28.Rxf7+! Ke8 29.Qb5+! is announced as a draw by perpetual check by the computer, while after Vladislav’s 27.Qxe4 (exploiting Black's weak back rank) 27...Qh1+ 28.Kf2 Qh4+! he had to give up his queen with 29.Ng3.
It turned out, however, that after 29…dxe4 30.Rh1! White had very strong play against the black king, and, even if it shouldn’t objectively have been enough, Vlad was already out of the woods before Leinier stumbled with 38…Qe6?, allowing 39.Rh8+!
Suddenly it’s all over, with 39…Kb7 running into 40.Nxc5+, forking the king and queen. It wasn’t clear who was more excited, Vladislav or Danny King!
Leinier saved his queen at the cost of a piece with 39…Bd8 40.Rxd8+ but, as soon as Vladislav coordinated his pieces, it was clear White was completely winning a game he only needed to draw. The next 40 moves weren’t strictly necessary!
So that meant that in just three Meltwater Champions Chess Tour events Artemiev had managed to overcome Maxime Vachier-Lagrave’s score in six events — he’ll now score at least 20 points to reach 72, with Carlsen, So, Aronian, Radjabov, Giri, Nepomniachtchi and Nakamura the other players qualified to the $300,000 Finals later this month.
There are still two wildcards to be announced at a later date.
Magnus Carlsen said the day before that beating opponents once isn’t what he considers revenge, but he’s now beaten Jan-Krzysztof Duda 2.5:0.5 twice in a row to get some measure of payback for losing to the Polish no. 1 in the FIDE World Cup semi-finals. Magnus was pleased with his performance:
I think I had a fairly decent day today. I would say I’m happy with the way that I’ve played in general. I think I’ve generally been outplaying him but then I’ve made a few blunders, but generally I think my level of play has been very, very decent.
It wasn’t all plain-sailing, however, since he won the critical first game of the day in an unusual manner.
You might call this an Anti-Berlin gone wrong for White, in this case Duda, but it turns out Carlsen’s 21…g5? was a blunder. Duda pounced with 22.d4! exd4 23.Nxd4 Qe5, and the amazing thing here was that it was only after 24.Nxc6 appeared on the board that Magnus realised that pawn had been hanging. Just watch his shock!
When the shock wore off, however, it turned out Duda probably had nothing better than to force an immediate draw with 24…Qe6 25.Nd4 Qe5 26.Nc6 and so on. Instead his position collapsed with incredible speed.
Magnus commented on that incident:
It almost came back to haunt me today as well, because I relaxed a bit prematurely. I thought I had a wonderful position there in the middlegame after the opening, and then I just tried to be a little more accurate than I needed to, and then the shocking thing is that my position was so good that even after I just blundered that pawn on c6 he probably still should have repeated the position and made a draw, which is quite remarkable. And fortunately it didn’t take me long to realise there that my position was probably still very good, so that was I guess in one way a little bit lucky, but on the other hand his position was so dubious from a positional point of view before that, so it’s maybe not that surprising that I can blunder and still be ok.
That left Duda with a mountain to climb, needing to win at least two of the next three games against the World Champion. Instead it was Magnus who did most of the pressing in the drawn 2nd game, before he perfectly demonstrated how to play your normal game in Game 3 despite only needing a draw. 23…e3! was a nice touch.
After 24.Bxe3 Ne4! Duda’s big problem was that 25.Bxe4 Qxe4! just wins on the spot, since the white rooks on b1 and h1 are both attacked and undefended. After 25.Qd3 f4! Magnus had an overwhelming position and made no mistake as he went on to win.
Magnus will have a chance to continue the revenge tour, since his semi-final opponent is Levon Aronian, who beat him in the semi-finals of the Goldmoney Asian Rapid.
Levon Aronian had won a rollercoaster game to clinch victory on Day 1 of this match, and revealed he struggled to sleep afterwards.
It was a lot of emotions! I can tell you in secret that I didn’t really have a good sleep yesterday because this last game gave me too many emotions.
There was less drama on Day Two, with Levon also taking a huge step in the first game by winning with the black pieces. Things turned in a seemingly innocuous endgame position, where 20.Kc2? turned out to be a mistake.
20…c5! opened hunting season on the white king, which could find no safe haven as Levon’s rooks and bishops took complete control of the position.
Levon felt he got into some trouble after playing passively in the drawn second game, so he wasn’t going to make the same mistake again, and had in fact reached a completely winning position before he forced the draw he needed in the 3rd.
That means it’s Carlsen-Aronian and Artemiev-Firouzja in the semi-finals.
When Levon was asked if winning the previous semi-final against Magnus gave him good memories he hit back:
Mostly Magnus brings bad memories! But I can tell you that I think I have improved in blitz and rapid while playing this tour. I think maybe a year or two years ago I was really struggling to qualify. Now I like the way it goes. I play some incorrect lines, but then in the end I win, so more or less what all the other good competitors like Wesley and Magnus do!
There’s once again no break, so the semi-finals will begin Thursday at the usual time. Don't miss all the action here on chess24 from 11:00 ET/17:00 CEST/20:30 IST!
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