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General Sep 23, 2021 | 2:00 PMby Jabe Esguerra

Meltwater Champions Chess Tour Finals: A look at the players

After 10 months, 9 tournaments and over 1,000 games between the world's best players, the time for the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour Finals has come. The ultimate showdown kicks off on September 25th at 17:00 CET, and up for grabs is the $100,000 top prize along with the overall tour trophy. The line-up of participants is stacked, with an average rating of 2782. But these legends bring more than just impressive ratings. So why don't we take...

A closer look at the players

Who's playing? How did they qualify? And what do they bring to the board? Here are the facts you need to know about the finalists, starting with the tour leader.

Magnus Carlsen

  • 3 wins in 8 tournaments

  • Earned $215,370 in prize money
  • 102 W / 50 L / 150 D
  • Most frequent opponent: Wesley So, 54 games
  • Toughest opponent: Ding Liren, 13 games, -2

Carlsen took the express lane to the tour finals when he won the FTX Crypto Cup — one of the three majors.

But securing his spot in the finals didn't dampen the champion's appetite for winning, as shown by his dominance in the AimChess US Rapid. Carlsen also made a sensational comeback to win Norway Chess 2021, when critics and himself thought it was near-impossible.

As impressive as Carlsen's run was, though, this isn't the time to rest on one's laurels. If he is to win the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour Finals, he better bring the same killer instincts and resilience he brought to previous events... because the following players aren't just going to bow to the king.

Wesley So

  • 3 wins in 9 tournaments
  • Earned $184,580 in prize money
  • 76 W / 48 L / 151 D
  • Most frequent opponent: Magnus Carlsen, 54 games
  • Toughest opponent: Anish Giri, 15 games, -3

Hot on the heels of Carlsen in the tour standings is the two-time US Champion, Wesley So.

So made news by winning the Skilling Open, Opera Euro Rapid and Chessable Masters — thanks, in no small part, to the analysis he did for his two-volume 1.e4 repertoire on Chessable. Not even the World Champion was spared from So's precise and high-pressure playing style... and you can count on him to play fighting chess when showtime starts.

Hikaru Na‌kam‌ura

  • 7 tournaments
  • Earned $63,645 in prize money

  • 43 W / 30 L / 105 D
  • Most frequent opponent: Magnus Carlsen, 24 games
  • Toughest opponent: Magnus Carlsen, 24 games, -6

Nakamura is a speed chess specialist, and was the blitz no. 1 until losing some points despite cruising to victory in the St. Louis Rapid and Blitz. His nickname "H-Bomb" succinctly captures his explosive style of play. 

He lost to Carlsen in the New In Chess Classic final, but with an army of online fans rallying behind him, Nakamura's motivation to exact revenge on his greatest rival is red hot.

Levon Aronian

  • 1 win in 9 tournaments
  • Earned $118,323 in prize money
  • 81 W / 53 L / 128 D
  • Most frequent opponent: Magnus Carlsen, 40 games
  • Toughest opponent: Teimour Radjabov, 13 games, -3

The Goldmoney Asian Rapid found a worthy winner in Levon Aronian, who capped an amazing run with a 75% win rate in the final.

Aronian is an excellent tactician and a creative strategist. He's known for solving positional and technical problems with little bursts of tactics, making his games a pleasure to watch.

Teimour Radjabov

  • 1 win in 6 tournaments
  • Earned $103,968 in prize money
  • 36 W / 24 L / 115 D
  • Most frequent opponent: Ian Nepomniachtchi, 24 games
  • Toughest opponent: Magnus Carlsen, 22 games, -5

Azerbaijan's highest rated player marked his return to form by winning the Airthings Masters after an exhausting, emotional showdown with Aronian.

Radjabov has been somewhat of a controversial figure as his pragmatic play led to a string of draws in recent events. But people who followed the 2019 Chess World Cup can still remember how sparks flew as Radjabov went for the jugular with both colors... and won "impossible to win" games to bring home the trophy.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

  • 6 tournaments

  • Earned $62,545 in prize money
  • 37 W / 40 L / 84 D
  • Most frequent opponent: Wesley So, 24 games
  • Toughest opponent: Anish Giri, 14 games, -4

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is yet to participate in a Champions Chess Tour final... but counting him out would be foolish. After all, Vachier-Lagrave took second place in the 2020-2021 Candidates Tournament, finishing just half a point behind the eventual challenger Ian Nepomniachtchi.

Vachier-Lagrave was given one of the wildcard slots, and the tour finals can only get better with his inclusion. Notorious for his unusual attacking ideas and devilish tricks, his games are a treat for fans of uncompromising chess.

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov 

  • 5 tournaments

  • Earned $30,323 in prize money
  • 37 W / 29 L / 46 D
  • Most frequent opponent: Levon Aronian, 25 games
  • Toughest opponent: Liem Quang Le, 3 games, -3

Mamedyarov was the 2013 World Rapid Champion, so playing fast and striking hard is right up his alley.

Like Vachier-Lagrave, Mamedyarov will enter the chess24 Playzone on the 25th as a wildcard. His brand of chess is aggressive — always marching his forces to the center, so he's ready to hammer the competition with sacrifices that "Shak and awe."

Jan-Krzysztof Duda

  • 5 tournaments

  • Earned $20,000 in prize money
  • 23 W / 34 L / 38 D
  • Most frequent opponent: Ding Liren, 11 games
  • Toughest opponents: Carlsen and So, 11 games, -6

The Polish number one has been a thorn in Carlsen's side on more than one occasion. Not only did Duda bring a grinding halt to the champ's 125-game unbeaten streak, he also eliminated Carlsen in the semifinals of the 2021 Chess World Cup.

Duda received the third and last wildcard slot for the tour finals. He brings to the board a "fight till the end" attitude and a penchant for artistic finishes.

Vladislav Artemiev

  • 3 tournaments

  • Earned $38,500 in prize money
  • 40 W / 22 L / 56 D
  • Most frequent opponent: Levon Aronian, 16 games
  • Toughest opponent: Magnus Carlsen, 9 games, -3

Artemiev might be soft-spoken, but his game is anything but! He is capable of handling any type of position like most top grandmasters. However, he shines the brightest when he has the initiative. 

Artemiev reached the finals of the Goldmoney Asian Rapid and the AimChess US Rapid by playing "cut and thrust" chess. And while he had to settle for second place on both occasions, his tour performance was enough to secure his spot.

Anish Giri

  • 1 win in 7 tournaments
  • Earned $96,145 in prize money

  • 35 W / 23 L / 101 D
  • Most frequent opponent: Teimour Radjabov, 23 games
  • Toughest opponent: Vladislav Artemiev, 8 games, -4

Giri won the 2nd Magnus Carlsen Invitational and, with it, a spot in the tour finals.

Fans often joke about Giri's rock-solid approach and "propensity" for draws. But if his recent performances are any indication, the Dutch number one is out for blood.

Just a little over a week ago, Giri ran away with the Tolstoy Cup in Yasnaya Polyana — where he finished with an undefeated score of 8 points after 9 rounds (2.5 points ahead of second place) and a performance rating of 3041!

A special offer from our friends at Chessable

The Meltwater Champions Chess Tour Finals is shaping up to be an action-packed finale.

To celebrate its start, there's up to 50% off Chessable courses by players in the Champions Chess Tour, including So's Lifetime Repertoires on 1.e4... Carlsen's The Magnus Touch series... and Giri's courses on the French and Sicilian Defenses.

Sam Shankland's three-part repertoire on 1.d4 and the Semi-Slav are on sale, too. So is Baskaran Adhiban's 1.b3 repertoire, as well as Ian Nepomniachtchi's Long Live The King's Gambit.

That's just a sneak peek of what's on offer.

If you've always wanted to learn the key to winning in the opening, middlegame and endgame like a super grandmaster — and save serious bucks along the way — now's your chance.

Head over to the Champions Chess Tour Sale now... 

...and then don't miss all the action starting at 11:00 ET/17:00 CEST/20:30 IST right here on chess24

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