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Reports Jan 2, 2021 | 11:10 AMby Colin McGourty

Airthings Masters SF2: It’s an Aronian-Radjabov final

Levon Aronian and Teimour Radjabov made no mistake as they clinched victory in their semi-final matches early to set up a $100,000 final on Saturday and Sunday. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Daniil Dubov both had to win on demand in the first four rapid games to force a playoff, but neither came close. Dubov’s hyper-aggressive chess backfired as he lost both the games played, while Levon was rarely troubled before he ground out a 113-move win in the 3rd game. Dubov and MVL will compete for $40,000 in the 3rd place match.

Few would have predicted a Levon Aronian vs. Teimour Radjabov final at the start of the event, but both players have been in top form in the knockout stages

You can replay all the games from the Airthings Masters knockout using the selector below.

Here’s the day’s live commentary from Tania Sachdev and Peter Leko.

And Kaja Snare, Jovanka Houska and David Howell.

For the best possible experience, and to support the shows, why not Go Premium here on chess24 – you can get a 40% discount with the code CCT40.

There were to be no comebacks on Day 2 of the Airthings Masters semifinals, with both clashes ending early.

Let’s take a look at the matches:

Radjabov 2:0 Dubov

If there was any doubt about how Daniil Dubov would approach his must-win match against Teimour Radjabov it was dispelled by move 5 of the first game of the day, when the Russian went for 5.g4!? A couple of moves later and the game was in uncharted waters.

Teimour welcomed that development.

I’m used to the guys like Magnus who will just play some kind of calm chess and put a lot of pressure to the very end, for 100 moves and stuff, and he just started with this g4…

I was trying to cool him down as much as I can, I was playing all the boring positions, so that he would sacrifice something maybe in the endgame or something… This was the kind of strategy I had for the match, to play as boring as possible, but you can thank Dubov for creating a lot of interesting games and making me kind of show my best there.

The first game was exciting, but it was always Black who looked more likely to win until Dubov’s position had collapsed by the time he played 26.Qg4.

26…Rxe3+! was the kind of blow Radjabov doesn’t miss, with the point that 27.fxe3 Qf1+ 28.Kd2 Qd3+ 29.Ke1 Rf1# is simply checkmate. After 27.Kf1 Qxg4 28.Rxg4 Teimour was two pawns up in an endgame and also had the better pieces, with the outcome of the game looking in no doubt whatsoever.

It’s credit to Dubov, however, that he still managed to make it a fight, and came very close to drawing. By move 50 only the beautiful 50…Ne5! was a clear win – the knight can’t be taken as the h-pawn queens, while after some other move g5+ will force the queening of the pawn anyway.

Teimour missed that and played 50…g5+?! immediately, throwing Daniil a lifeline, but in the end Teimour’s game-long pressure paid off and, after a final slip by Dubov, he went on to win the first game.

That meant that Dubov would now need to win at least one game with the black pieces, and unsurprisingly he set about attempting that immediately. Peter Svidler, who joined the other Peter and Tania for commentary, felt Daniil’s approach was sub-optimal against Teimour.

Peter said of Radjabov:

He is a very, very strong player, in particular when you put him in situations where he is forced to prove that, as I think we're seeing for two days running now - Daniil just constantly challenging him to play positions which are probably fine for him, but are positions which he hasn't seen before, and he has to figure them out over-the-board. He is an exceptionally strong chess player and he's been managing very, very well. But I think maybe Daniil could have slowed down a little bit and played a slightly more reserved style, to give himself time to readjust to the fact that he is now in the semis and there's still four days of chess potentially coming. 

Again it was complex, but again nothing was really working out for Daniil, and Teimour was finding powerful solutions to his problems:

41.Rxc4! picked up a potentially troublesome pawn, since 41…Qxc4 runs into 42.Nf6+ and 43.Qxc4, winning the black queen. It also showed that Teimour had correctly assessed that the infiltration of the black forces into his camp was nothing to be afraid of. The white king was able to march confidently to h4 and it was soon just a question of how White would clinch victory.

48.Rc8! was the final move, with the computer announcing mate-in-8!

Even if Dubov now won the next two games he could only draw Day 2, so it was all over and 2019 World Cup winner Teimour Radjabov had made it into the Airthings Masters final. But who would join him?

Aronian 2:1 MVL

Levon Aronian convincingly took the lead on the first day of this clash, and he looked every bit as impressive on Day 2. His future opponent Radjabov was full of praise:

Levon is showing very high class these days, he’s playing great chess, like in the good old times when he was playing this kind of calm, slow chess and not making many mistakes, very simple chess and so on.

We didn’t get the same kind of explosive action as in the other match, with the first game seeing Maxime successfully defend a somewhat uncomfortable position in the Grünfeld Defence.

In Game 2 it was Levon who was called upon to defend, this time in the Berlin, and he also did so impressively in 65 moves, despite dropping under 30 seconds on his clock from move 33 onwards. An e-pawn break secured the draw.

54…e4! 55.f4 e3! 56.Bxe3 Ra5! 56.Bc1 Rc5! and it turned out the pressure on the white pawns was enough for Black to hold.

Maxime needed to win one of the next two games to level the scores in the clash and force a playoff, but a repeat of his Grünfeld Defence only left him in an unpleasant endgame that would deteriorate at breakneck speed.

A Grünfeld player’s work is never done, as Peter explained!

By around move 20 Black was lost, but, as Hikaru Nakamura noted during the Speed Chess Championship, it seems as though Maxime’s tenacity in defence has reached a new level. He ensured there were no easy wins for Levon and time and again came close to securing a draw, only to make one last stumble with 79…Ba7 (79…Bc7! seems to hold).

80.Nd6! e5 81.d5! e4 82.Nxe4! ultimately saw Maxime forced to give up both of his bishops for pawns, leaving Levon to demonstrate that he can mate with a knight + bishop against a bare king. There have been famous cases of top players failing to do that, but Aronian made no mistake and Maxime threw in the towel on move 113.

So it’s two in-form players, Levon Aronian and Teimour Radjabov, who have made it to the final of the Airthings Masters.

Levon commented of Radjabov:

Of course he’s a tough competitor and he’s very good at this format, so I look forward to the match. I’ve played him before many times, I think the score is in my favour, but it’s a final, so everybody’s ready.

Levon does lead 5 wins to 3 in classical chess, but in rapid and blitz it seems Teimour may have the edge, and he won the last decisive game between the two players, a crushing win in the Skilling Open Prelims. Team Levon is ready, however!

At stake is the $60,000 top prize ($40,000 for 2nd place), 80 Tour Points (50 for 2nd place) and an automatic spot in the Grand Finals in September 2021. There’s also a 3rd place playoff in this event, between Daniil Dubov and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, where the difference between 3rd and 4th is $10,000 and 10 Tour Points.

So we can expect some tense battles, with staying calm something that’s much more easily said than done!

Tune in from 15:00 CET (9am ET) on Saturday and Sunday live here on chess24!

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