Reports Sep 4, 2021 | 12:05 PMby Colin McGourty

Aimchess US Rapid 7: It’s a Carlsen-Artemiev final!

Magnus Carlsen has reached his 5th final out of eight events played on the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour after overcoming Levon Aronian 3:1 on Day 2 of their Aimchess US Rapid semi-final. He faces a new opponent in the final, Vladislav Artemiev, who hit back after losing the second rapid game before defeating Alireza Firouzja in Armageddon. Magnus described Vladislav as having “just a sublime positional feeling”. 

You can replay all the games 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 Simon Williams, Danny King and Harikrishna.

And from Kaja Snare, Jovanka Houska and David Howell. 

After both games ended all-square on the first day of the semi-finals, Magnus Carlsen clinched victory in rapid chess, while Vladislav Artemiev needed Armageddon at the end of a long second day. 

Carlsen 3:1 Aronian

All four games were drawn on Day 1 of this semi-final, but Magnus Carlsen got off to a dream start on Day 2 by winning with the black pieces with incredible ease. He commented afterwards:

The first game was really the only one that I played well, and I’m happy about the fact that it was enough. The first game is one of those rare games where you just have a plan and everything kind of works, because everything just fell quite beautifully for me, with all of my moves coming naturally, and his position falling apart quite quickly. 

It was a slow-manoeuvring Anti-Marshall, where Levon Aronian spent three tempi moving his knight from f3 to e3.

Black’s bishop had come to h6 earlier, hinting that the knight would be chopped off the moment it came to e3, but instead Magnus realised that it posed no danger whatsoever to let the knight continue to d5. The game continued 23…Ra7 24.Nd5 Kg7 25.Rf1 f5! 26.exf5 Rxf5 27.Qe2 Bc6 28.Rae1 Qa8!

A star manoeuvre, and it turns out the only try to stay in the game is the ugly 29.Qe4, though in that case one possibility is the tricky 29…Bf4!?, based on the fact that after 30.gxf4 exf4 the f5-rook is also attacking the pinned knight on d5.

Instead Levon played the natural retreat 29.Ne3?, but after 29…Bf3! 30.Qd2 d5! he was busted.

The threat is d4, winning the pinned knight on e3, with the point that 31.Nxf5+ loses, because although White has captured a piece with check it turns out that after 31…gxf5 the white queen doesn’t have a single square.

Levon played 31.Ba2, when Magnus could even afford the luxury of not winning material immediately and playing 31…Rf8, but after 32.c3 he did play 32…d4 and, with Magnus not only winning a piece but having all the compensation, the rest of the game was child’s play for the World Champion.

“The other three games were anything but easy”, said Magnus, but they were certainly a lot of fun to watch.

At first it looked as though Magnus might essentially wrap things up early with a win in the very next game, but the biggest chance was missed after 30…Na4.

Levon’s move was getting out of the winning fork c5, since Rxc5 would be impossible with the d8 rook hanging. The problem is that after the knight went to a4 Magnus could still have played 31.c5!! when it turns out e.g. 31…Nxc5 32.Rxc5 Qxc5 33.hxg6! hxg6 34.d6! is crushing.

With the black queen locked out of the position there’s no defence against the threats of Qe7+ and Bh5, since if the black rook comes to e6, Nxf5+ will be possible, while the white rooks are also ready to come to the h-file. Seeing such nuances in advance in a rapid game was anything but easy, however, and Magnus’ 31.g4!? was a good try.

With the white knight aggressively but also perilously placed on h6 it was a double-edged position, but both players were on the top of their game as a complicated struggle eventually ended in a draw. 

It seemed Magnus might regret that miss when Levon built up a big advantage in the 3rd game, but he’d already missed some chances for more when he let all his edge slip in a single move. 

27.f4!, or the less obvious 27.Qd3!, were good ways to consolidate, but after 27.Qf5? Magnus could pounce with 27…Bxg3! 28.Qxd7 Nxd7 29.fxg3 Nxe5, with the knight suddenly threatening to jump to f3, d3 and c4. 

30.Ra3 held the balance, but no more, with Levon having to defend a rook ending a pawn down.

That meant it was an all or nothing 4th game for Levon, and it was a game Magnus didn’t consider his finest hour.

The last game was so unbelievably shaky. I just had one really, really bad moment when I played Na3 early on, where I just missed that he could go Nc7. If I go Na5 instead I just have a very, very good position, but after that I missed so many things.

21.Na5! would have been strong, while after 21.Na3?! Nc7! the fact that White attacks b5 three times and Black defends it twice wasn’t enough to give Magnus an advantage. He went for it anyway with 22.Naxb5 Nxb5 23.Nxb5 (23.Bxb5 also runs into 23…Nxe4!) 23…Nxe4! 24.Qd3 Bf5! and Levon was doing very well. 

Nevertheless, the game only turned on move 35.

Magnus here went for 35.Qxa8? and Levon believed him by blitzing out the exchange sacrifice 35…Bxc4, allowing Magnus to bring his queen back to safety on f3. In fact 35…Rxa8! 36.Rxa8+ Kh7 37.Ra7 was winning for Black. 

Levon can simply play 37...Qd4!, a move Magnus had overlooked. 

I think the biggest thing is when I captured his rook with my queen I didn’t see his point, because I thought that his queen would run out of squares after he would take my queen, but it’s not true at all, he had a square on d4, that’s what I was missing! I thought I’m forcing his queen away and I’m just winning, but he has Qd4, so I’m probably, I don’t know if lost, but certainly struggling a whole lot, so that was really bad, and afterwards as well, I missed a number of things, he made it very difficult for me, but fortunately I prevailed.

What followed wasn’t flawless, but Magnus was never worse, and won in some style. 

Just moving the rook away here also works, but 47.Nxe4! was a nice flourish, since after 47…dxc1=Q+ 48.Rxc1 the knight can’t be captured or the c-pawn queens, while White is threatening capturing on f6 as well as both black bishops. The game and match lasted only a few more moves.

Magnus summed up:

I think I played very well in the quarters, and yesterday I played ok, but today was not the level I need to be at to win a final, regardless of whom I play, so that’s my main worry, but it’s very nice to be in a final! As I said before, I don’t take it for granted and I just have to step it up tomorrow and the day after and then I will have great chances.

It’s going to be Vladislav Artemiev.

Artemiev 2:2 Firouzja (Artemiev wins 2:1 after Armageddon)

Magnus had this to say about his potential opponents:

I think both of them are really exciting, seeing as they’re both people who I would never have faced in a final before, so I guess playing Alireza is slightly the more exciting option in some ways, but Artemiev is by no means a worse rapid player. 

[Firouzja] is not easy to play against since he’s unbelievably resourceful and good tactically, so I think you just have to be alert, that’s the main thing, and I feel like the last couple of times that I’ve played him I’ve kind of outplayed him at points, or definitely outplayed him at points, but then ended up losing anyway, so if it’s him it’s certainly an interesting challenge, and very different with Artemiev, who’s somebody who has just a sublime positional feeling.

The clash of styles between Vladislav Artemiev and Alireza Firouzja made for a great match, with Vladislav himself commenting:

About the match, it was a very interesting and difficult match, because Alireza is a really good player, so it was not easy for me. Usually I played good when we have endgames, but he was better in the middlegame, probably. So it was an unclear match, and I’m happy!

The first game of the day saw Artemiev play the Berlin Defence only to be hit by a relatively rare sideline.

It perhaps shouldn’t have caught Artemiev off-guard, since even his rare 7…b5!? that he played after a couple of minutes had been played by Hikaru Nakamura against Ian Nepomniachtchi in the FTX Crypto Cup. An intense strategic struggle developed, until when the dust settled Alireza had a big advantage.

After 38…h6?! 39.Bb3+! White’s advantage seemed to have grown, but just a few moves later the rash 42.f4?! gave away most of the winning chances.

Vladislav gratefully accepted the chance to swap off pawns with 42…g5! and went on to make a draw with no trouble at all.

It as Firouzja who struck the first blow of the day, however, whipping up sudden complications just when it seemed Vladislav had survived the whirlwind and might again be able to use his technical skill to defend a difficult position. 31.Qxb7? was a losing blunder.

Firouzja spotted the win almost instantly, and in fact there were two ways to play it. 31…Rxf2! 32.Rxf2 f3!, threatening mate on g2 or c1, is crushing. Just as convincing was what Alireza played — the immediate 31…f3! 32.Qxf3 and only then 32…Rxf2!

Again, 33.Rxf2 runs into Qc1+ and mate next move, since the f2-rook is pinned. Artemiev played on with 33.Qxf2 Bxf2+ 34.Kxf2, but his rook and bishop were no match for Firouzja’s queen.

That meant advantage Firouzja in the match, and you could only applaud his bold play in the next game, when he went for 18.d5!?

Artemiev wasn’t overawed, however, and found the most accurate reply 18…Ne7!, when it was soon Black who had a slight advantage, which in the space of a few moves had become crushing. 

It should have been an easy conversion, but in fact Alireza put up huge resistance, so that it felt as though Vladislav eventually had to win the game two or three times.

Eventually in the last position Artemiev was not just attacking the rook but threatening mate-in-2 with Bxg5+ and Rh3#

There was no lessening of the tension in the final rapid game, when Vladislav suddenly took over with the white pieces. 

Firouzja was as always setting up threats, but it seems 34.h4! was the way to neutralise them and consolidate before going after the black king. Instead 34.g4?! Qh4! allowed Firouzja to draw the game and take the match to tiebreaks.

It’s a curiosity that although the two 5+3 blitz games were full of tension, they were the only games of the day in either match when neither side had a clearly winning advantage at any moment. It meant we headed to Armageddon, where Vladislav Artemiev, who had won the Prelims, got to decide the colour. Conventional wisdom is that it’s slightly better to be Black and only need a draw, but given the most of the critical moments of the match had taken place in mutual time trouble it’s very understandable that Vladislav liked the combination of the white pieces and an extra minute on his clock. 

Indeed, Alireza made the losing mistake when he was a minute and a half down on the clock, although it was still hard to explain. Black was already in some difficulty, but 23…Bxf3+ 24.Bxf3 and then 24…g5! or 24…e5 seems to give a playable position. Instead Firouzja went for the immediate 23…e5?

24.Nxe5 Bxe2 might have given Black some chances to survive, but Vladislav’s 24.fxe5! was more brutal and led to instant collapse when 24…Qe6 was met by the fork 25.g4!

It was easy to miss in advance that the queen on b4 is suddenly supporting such a crude winning move, but it was, and this time Firouzja didn’t get a glimmer of counterplay before Artemiev clinched victory in the match.

It was all over, apart from the guitar solo.

Carlsen-Artemiev promises to be a fascinating final, with Vladislav commenting:

I think that it will be two big days for me, because every game with Magnus Carlsen is important and it’s a good memory and chance to play with one of the best players in history.

There won’t be any distraction from that match, since Alireza Firouzja is feeling unwell and has decided to forfeit the 3rd place match in a bid to get better before playing Norway Chess from Tuesday onwards. We hope he gets well soon! 

That means that Levon Aronian takes 3rd place.

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

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