“Probably the least dramatic day we’ve had ever”, said Magnus Carlsen after all four games were drawn on Day 1 of his Aimchess US Rapid semi-final against Levon Aronian, with the Armenian missing one big chance to take the lead in the second game. The other semi-final was more dramatic, with Vladislav Artemiev brilliantly converting an extra pawn to take the lead in the first game of the day before Alireza Firouzja hit back in the last after Vladislav couldn’t find a winning move in time trouble.
You can replay all the moves from the knockout stages 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 Danny King and Simon Williams, who were joined by Anish Giri, Matthew Sadler and Natasha Regan.
And from David Howell, Jovanka Houska and Kaja Snare in Oslo.
Things couldn’t be more evenly matched going into Day 2 of the Aimchess US Rapid semi-finals.
Game 1 of this match was described as “pretty much a theoretical draw” by Magnus Carlsen, and as it raced to its drawn conclusion more interest was perhaps generated by Levon Aronian wearing the Argentina shirt of one of his heroes, Lionel Messi. If he did it to strike fear into the heart of Magnus it didn’t exactly work, however, with the World Champion claiming he didn’t see it. He’s become less focused on his opponent’s Zoom call than he used to be:
I wouldn’t say there’s a definite rule, but I would say more often than not I don’t see my opponent. Actually I got tricked once by Nakamura when he was shaking his head, and I thought he’d made a blunder, but he actually tricked me instead, so after that I’ve been really careful about not trying to read something from my opponents.
When the players were asked for “parting words”, we got:
Magnus: After a day like today I don’t think there’s too much to say.
Levon: I just want to say earlier I mentioned that I don’t like seeing Magnus — that’s not true! I alway like seeing him and I’m always inspired, as much as I’m inspired by Leonel Messi, that much.
Magnus: Thank you, I’m off to Paris!
For those who don’t follow football, Lionel Messi, arguably the world's best player, transferred this summer to Paris Saint-German after 17 years spent playing for Barcelona.
Back on the checkered squares, Levon noted the “4th game mirrored the 1st”, with another more or less theoretical draw, while Magnus summed up Game 3:
In the 3rd I should have been able to put some small pressure on him, but he had this trick with Nf6 and then I actually was a little bit worse, so I actually had to just try and make a draw.
This was that moment:
26…Nf6! 27.Rxe5 at a glance just seems to lose a pawn, but Levon had 27…Nxe4! when e.g. 28.dxe4? Rxc4 would simply be losing due to the threat of Rc1+. Magnus found the only good reply 28.Rxe6! and after 28…Rxe6 29.Rxb6 Rxb6 30.Nxb6 Nxf2! we got a queen ending where Magnus had to be slightly more careful than Levon.
By far the highlight of the match, however, was Game 2, where Carlsen’s offer to enter a Berlin Endgame, which had e.g. been rejected by Jan-Krzysztof Duda earlier in the tournament, was accepted by Levon. The endgame famously championed by Vladimir Kramnik as he beat Garry Kasparov in the 2000 World Championship match has a reputation for dull manoeuvring struggles, but this game caught fire when Levon went for the double-edged 24.e6! and Magnus responded 24…Bd6+.
Levon struck with the exchange sacrifice 25.Rxd6!, and after 25…cxd6 26.Nh4! Be4? it turns out Levon was very close to winning.
27.Bxg7! immediately, and if e.g. 27…Rh7 then simply 28.Bf6!, leaves White in control and able to return to the slower plans of dominating the bishop and advancing his king.
Instead Levon went for 27.f3?! g5! 28.Nf5 Bxf5 29.gxf5, later commenting:
I was thinking that I’m dominating with my king, but it turns out you have this amazing resource with Ke7, just ignoring the g7-pawn.
The computer does indeed claim Black is even slightly better after 29…Ke7! 30.Bxg7 Rhg8 and e.g. 31.Bxh6 Kf6!, though Magnus commented, “Yeah, I didn’t see that at all!”
Instead in the game after 29…Rg8 30.f4!? Black was walking a tightrope, with the last critical moment coming after 35…Kc6?! 36.f7 Rgd8.
Levon went for the immediate 37.Bg7?! here, but it turns out 37.Ke4! first was much stronger, precisely to stop the move we saw in the game: 37…d5! That pawn break gives Black a crucial square for the king on d6 and no less crucial counterplay, and after 38.Re6+ Kb7 39.Re7+ Levon decided it was time to repeat moves and take a draw.
More blood is guaranteed to be spilt on Day 2 of the match, which must produce a winner. Levon vowed to play the Ruy Lopez again.
I’ve been playing it since I was nine, now I’m 38 — I guess 30 more years of exciting Ruy Lopez and I’ll finally know all the lines!
This match featured four long and tense games, with it looking until the very end as though the outcome of the day’s play would be determined by the ability to win or defend technical positions with an extra pawn for one of the players. Vladislav Artemiev managed to convert an extra pawn in the first game.
In Game 2, meanwhile, Alireza Firouzja was unable to win this position a pawn up.
23-year-old Vladislav Artemiev was getting more praise, with Anish Giri recalling how he’d lost four games in a row to Artemiev in the Goldmoney Asian Rapid quarterfinals. He noted that Vladislav avoids opening battles and, “it’s hard to win a battle that your opponent doesn’t really want to fight”.
“I should never lose that endgame,” said Firouzja of the first game, with Artemiev going for the critical 52.e5! when Alireza was down to around 30 seconds on the clock.
With more time the Iranian grandmaster, who now represents France, would no doubt have found either the immediate 52…fxe5+ or 52…Rf3+ first, when Black still has excellent chances of holding, but 52…Rc4+? 53.Ke3 left Black busted. The problem? 53…fxe5 is no longer check, and after 54.f6! the f-pawn is just too powerful.
Firouzja tried 53…Rc6, but it’s notable that even just ignoring that attack on the bishop with 54.e6! is winning, while 54.Ra8+ Kh7 (54…Kg7 at least stops the next move) 55.exf6! was crushing. The game didn’t last long after that.
Artemiev defended much more tenaciously in the 2nd game, while Game 3 was a tense strategic standoff until Vladislav found a way to “fall into a trap” and exchange off most of the pieces.
29.Bxe5! Ng5! 30.h4! Rxe5 31.hxg5 Qxg5 32.Nd4 and Vladislav had also solved the issue of his knight, that had been stuck out of the game.
It all came down to a must-win 4th game for Firouzja, which the 18-year-old admitting it hadn’t been going his way.
That was really a gift from him! I never expected to win the position after he got his position stabilised, after for instance he put the bishop on e6.
Alireza said he “tried to make things tactical”, but what turned the game was a move that was in fact a blunder, 28.Nb6?!
Artemiev sensed it immediately and correctly went for 28…Nxc5!, but after 29.Rd8 he couldn’t figure things out with around a minute on his clock.
Vladislav would comment:
I lost my last game, so it’s not good of course, but still it happens, what I can do now? I have a comfortable position, I think, but not easy to play, and after his move Rd8 probably I have good ways, but I couldn’t find it and of course I’m disappointed, but it’s normal.
It’s not clear which Rd8 Alireza was talking about, but after the first it was in fact simply winning to play 29…Kf7! — Black keeps control of the d-file and the b6-knight is doomed.
Instead after 29…Rxd8? 30.Rxd8 there’s no longer anything Black can do due to the huge threat of 30…Qxb6 31.Rxf8+! Kxf8 32.Bxc5+!. It doesn’t help to take the knight with the rook instead of the queen, as the same fork wins: 30…Rxb6 31.Rxf8+! Kxf8 32.Qxc5+ Qxc5 33.Bxc5+
Vladislav tried 30…Nb7, but after 31.Ra8 Qxb6 32.Bxb6 Rxb6 he had just two bishops and a pawn for his departed queen. Firouzja was now on top of his game as he met 33.Nd2 Kg7 34.Nc4 Rb4 35.Ne3 Rb6 with 36.Nd5!
36…cxd5 would run into 37.Qc7+, winning the rook on b6, while after 36…Bxd5 37.exd5 c5 Alireza was able to break through onto the 7th rank with 38.Qa4!, heading for d7, and the game only lasted a couple more moves.
Alireza said afterwards that he “tried to make things tactical”, with Vladislav, who it has to be said has been a tactical beast for most of the Aimchess US Rapid, commenting:
I think I have some problems with my tactical skills now, and Alireza is a very good tactical player and it’s not easy for me, but I think the second match will be very interesting and very fighting!
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