World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen was the only player to score a positive score on Day 2 of the Airthings Masters as he beat Daniil Dubov in the first game to join Hikaru Nakamura, Levon Aronian, Teimour Radjabov, Wesley So and later Dubov in the lead. That was one of just three decisive games – the other two were Giri 1-0 Harikrishna and Dubov 1-0 Giri – as the players ensured the final day of the preliminaries will be tense. No-one is safe, with any of the leading pack immediately in danger if they lose in Monday’s last three rounds.
An amazing 21 out of 24 games were drawn on Day 2 of the Airthings Masters, with all 12 of the games in Rounds 7 and 8 ending peacefully. You can replay the games below.
Here’s the day’s live commentary from Kaja Snare, Jovanka Houska and David Howell.
And from Tania Sachdev and Peter Leko.
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Let’s take a look at the day’s action from the point of view of where the players started the day.
These five players all went into Day 2 of the Airthings Masters after drawing three games and winning one on the first day of the tournament. They understandably reasoned that maintaining +1 would ensure them a place in the Top 8 and therefore a qualifying place for the knockout stages, but it was still remarkable that all but one of the players made draws in all four games.
The approach was summed up by the all-US clash Nakamura-So ending in a 14-move draw that was over almost before it began.
Given Hikaru was starting at 6am in the morning you could see the appeal of a quick draw, but he also followed up with 19 and 22-move draws in his remaining games, with four draws proving sufficient to remain in the leading pack.
The one exception among the leaders was, no prizes for guessing, Daniil Dubov, who also scored 50%, but only after one loss, one win and a near-miss (against Grischuk). It was a case of “careful what you wish for” as his clash with his sometime boss Magnus Carlsen proved every bit as interesting as he’d hoped the day before.
It came down to an ending where Magnus had a small edge, however, and the World Champion described what happened next:
I was trying to keep the position alive, obviously, and it felt like there was nothing, nothing and just suddenly I managed to trick him and get a win. It felt a bit accidental, to be fair, but it’s ok, as long as you can keep it from being a forced draw you can often get something in those games.
It certainly escalated fast, with 46…Rb1 a loose, if not losing, move.
After Carlsen's 47.f4! Black was suddenly on the edge, and 47…Rg1+ 48.Kf2 Rg2+ 49.Kf1 Rd2 50.Ne6+ Kf7? was already lost. 50…Kh8! might have held, with the difference being that in the game after 51.fxg5 Nf3 White has a winning move due to the unfortunate position of the black king.
52.g6+! was the knockout blow. 52…Kxg6 loses the black knight to 53.Nd4+, but after 52…Ke7 53.Ra3! it was also hopeless for Black, with the game soon over.
Dubov hit back, however, to beat Anish Giri in the very next game after playing a novelty on move 9 of the Berlin. Multiple top-level games had reached the same position, but no-one had ever tried 9.c3.
It wasn’t the kind of move that blows you away, but 10 moves later Black was lost, with Anish admitting he “lost straight out of the opening”, though he played on to the bitter end.
The players on 50% were in a dangerous spot. If the preliminary stage had ended after Day 1 the first three would have qualified for the knockout, but Harikrishna would have missed out. Therefore they all had a clear incentive to try and find a win, but Alexander Grischuk and Ian Nepomniachtchi, despite some close shaves, both drew all four of their games.
The other two players ended the day as the only ones to have moved either up or down in the standings. Harikrishna dropped to -1 after missing a tactical detail and losing to Anish Giri in the first game of the day.
The other player to make a move was Magnus Carlsen, who as we saw grabbed that win against Daniil Dubov. The World Champion drew his remaining three games and wasn’t thrilled by how things had gone.
I think I played quite poorly today. Especially in the last game I was really, really bad. In general, of course, I would have loved to get another win today from one of the last two white games. I just didn’t play so well, but still I’m undefeated, so that’s a good thing, but I obviously have to play a lot better.
He struggled to explain what was wrong.
I don’t know, it’s just been sluggish. I think I’ve had some decent positions from the opening as well, especially with the white pieces, I just haven’t played so well after. I don’t know what’s missing really, and it’s been a bit frustrating so far, but as long as I don’t fall apart tomorrow it’s going to be fine.
The French no. 1 found himself alone on -1 after Day 1, having drawn three games and lost a game he should have won to Nepo. That meant he needed at least one win to get back on track for qualification, but instead he had to settle for four draws, featuring a missed chance with White against Aronian but also two tricky games with the black pieces against David Anton and Magnus Carlsen.
Both these players really needed to make things happen, but as Anish put it:
I feel I’m in decent shape, so it’s very unfortunate to be in this situation because of course now, for everybody who is on a good score, they’re just there chilling and playing safe against each other, just waiting for the qualification phase to be over. And people like me, who are in the gutter, we have to fight our way back, so it’s going to be hard, but I feel my play has been ok, my shape is ok, so if I get a bit luckier maybe I’ll manage to win and not lose. With two wins I’ll make it, but it’s going to be very hard.
Spanish Champion David Anton had good positions against both Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Magnus Carlsen, but couldn’t avoid drawing all four of his games. Anish, as we’ve seen, looked right back in contention after winning the first game of the day only for Dubov to act as the destroyer in the very next game.
The most anticipated game of the day was perhaps Giri’s last-round clash with Magnus Carlsen, and the Dutch no. 1 got the early initiative by springing a surprise with the Grünfeld Defence. Magnus took his time, only to rush at the wrong moment.
16.axb3! was the correct move, since 16.Qxb3?! ran into 16…e6! As Magnus admitted:
That was really a very, very bad moment, because when I took back the knight with the queen I just missed that he could play e6 and kick my knight away, after which my position is just awful. I was always thinking that e6 can be met by Nf6, but obviously with the queen away it can’t anymore.
Anish had some real chances later on, but it was never easy and the game fizzled out into a draw, which left Magnus at the top and Giri at the bottom of the standings presented by Julius Bär.
It had been a remarkably quiet day, but that may just be the calm before the storm. There are only three rounds to go on Monday, but no-one is safe. It’s enough to recall how Daniil Dubov led the Chessable Masters A qualifier with two rounds to go but lost the last two games and finished 5th out of 6, when only the first 4 went through. More recently, and even more dramatically, there was the case of Alireza Firouzja in the Skilling Open. The 17-year-old played brilliantly to take the sole lead with two rounds to go, but again lost those games and finished 9th when only the first 8 went through.
Such unpredictability also gives Giri hope:
You probably do remember the previous tournament from the Tour where I was first before the last day, and then on the last day I did a complete meltdown and I barely qualified. I’ll now try to do the reverse. I’m now the last, but maybe on the last day I will turn things around!
The main thing at stake on the final day of the prelims is qualification for the knockout, but that’s not all. There are tour points based on where you finish, and as the points are doubled for a Major like the Airthings Masters those points are significant. Overall tour points will decide the eight players automatically invited to the next event as well as who qualifies for the Grand Final.
More immediately, however, the standings also determine the pairings for the knockout, since it’s 1st vs. 8th, 2nd vs. 7th and so on – admittedly at this stage it’s completely unclear which seeding number will give the easiest path to the final!
Don't miss the final day of the preliminary stage, with all the Airthings Masters action starting at 15:00 CET (09:00 CET)!
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