Reports Sep 6, 2021 | 8:15 AMby Colin McGourty

Magnus Carlsen wins “smooth” Aimchess US Rapid

Magnus Carlsen called it “a fairly smooth ride” as he beat Vladislav Artemiev 2.5:0.5 to win the Aimchess US Rapid. His victory matched Wesley So’s three titles on the $1.6 million Meltwater Champions Chess Tour and means Magnus will now have a significant head start over the US Champion going into the Tour Finals later this month. Artemiev also plays the Finals after brilliantly reaching one semi-final and two finals in the only three tour events he played. 

You can replay all the knockout games from the Aimchess US Rapid using the selector below.

And here’s the day’s live commentary from David Howell, Jovanka Houska and Kaja Snare. 

And from Danny King and Simon Williams. 

The final day of the Aimchess US Rapid saw Magnus Carlsen clinch victory with a game to spare.

He commented on his victory:

It feels great. It’s the first time in like ever that I’ve won one of these tournaments and it’s been a fairly smooth ride, so that feels really good… There were some shaky moments here and there, but overall I think this is clearly my best.

Magnus lost just one game on the way to finishing 2nd in the Prelims, beat Jan-Krzysztof Duda 2.5:0.5 twice in the quarterfinals, overcame Levon Aronian 3:1 on Day 2 of their semi-final after all draws on the first, and then finished with two relatively comfortable days against Vladislav Artemiev — if not for a mouse-slip the score would likely have been 2.5:0.5 both times. 

Once again the first game was crucial, and it was a tense strategic battle with both players castling queenside. 

AlphaZero has taught us that a pawn pushed to h6 against a kingside castled king is surprisingly powerful, while here Magnus had pushed his pawn to a6 against a king on the queenside. It proved to be equally effective, but at first it was also a potential weakness that could be exposed if Black managed to consolidate completely.

Vladislav Artemiev on a number of occasions seemed close to doing that, but his time handling was again a factor, as Magnus began to hunt for chances when his opponent was down to under two minutes to his six. 36.h5! was a classic pawn push to weaken your opponent’s defences.

36…Ne7 was a solid response, but after 37.hxg6 hxg6 38.Qh4! Magnus had a way into the black position along the h-file. There followed 38…Kc7 39.Qh8 Qb4?! (39…d4! and if 40.Qa8 then 40…Nc8 seems to hold) 40.Qe8 and this was already the position in which Artemiev made the losing mistake. 

40…Qd6! would keep Black in the game, with 41.Qa8 again met by 41…Nc8, while after 40…Kd6? 41.Qd7! Ke5 it was all over. 

Magnus could have taken on a7 immediately, but instead played 42.Bd3!, a nice resource combining getting the bishop out of danger with threatening mate-in-1. 42…f5 43.Qxa7 followed and was a complete triumph for the early advance of the a-pawn, which now cost Vladislav a full piece. The position was hopeless and he resigned on move 50.

That meant it was almost a mission impossible of having to win two of the next three games for Artemiev, but he came close in Game 2 after going for an unusual opening.

Magnus regretted his 13…Rad8!?

He commented:

I was pretty sure I was going to lose the second game, to be honest! I would say pretty early on, since I’d completely missed his idea of just going 14.a5! and giving up a pawn.

Magnus was only expecting 14.Kg2 Qxd3 15.Qb3? and was planning to bring his queen back to d7 with a good position, though as he noted afterwards, there was in fact 15…Nd4!, winning on the spot, in that position. It illustrated how unlikely the line was, with Magnus lamenting, “that was really dumb, because it was one concrete plan that wasn’t forced at all, and in all the other lines the rook is just so much better on a8”. 

After 14.a5 Magnus went for 14…Qxd3 anyway.

After he found this idea with a5 I realised that my position’s pretty bad and I decided just to bite the bullet and take the pawn. Realistically I don’t think I should have held there in practice, but you know, he spends a lot of time, and if you encounter surprises when you’re low on time things can go astray, so I was just trying to hold, not give him anything too forced, and pounce when I had a chance, and it succeeded, fortunately.

In the space of a few moves, White’s trumps became clear.

The c4-knight has a wonderful outpost on c4, the light-squared bishop on f3 is targeting three black pieces, and the a1-rook is exerting pressure down the a-file. The white king is in the centre, just where you want it to be in an endgame.

That all came at the cost of a pawn, but Artemiev regained the pawn on move 30.

Some of his trumps had gone, but he still had a better-placed king, a powerful bishop and pawns that could win him the game if he managed to advance them. Magnus never wavered, however, and it was the kind of position where even absolute precision might not have been enough against tenacious defence. In time trouble, Vladislav never came close.

That meant it really was a desperate situation for Artemiev, who now had to win with the black pieces. He went for a “Dragondorf” Sicilian, but was objectively losing when he took with his bishop on d5 (15…Nxd5 and White is better but the game goes on). He had a simple plan.

Here he blitzed out 16…a5 17.b5 a4 and only stopped for thought after 18.Bd4!

He later commented:

I played very risky, probably, but I missed his idea with Bd4, and that after a3 he can play b3 and stop my pawn, without real counterplay for Black. Of course I missed it, and after this probably White is completely winning.

After 18…0-0 19.Kb1 a3 20.b3 Qc8 21.c4 a2+ 22.Ka1 the white king does appear to have been completely safe. 

Vladislav's chances of the win he needed had gone, but as late as move 33 he thought he might at least get the consolation of a draw.

But no! 34.Qxg7? is only a draw, but Magnus unleashed the final flourish 34.Bxf7+!, when after 34…Kxf7 35.Re7+! Kxe7 36.Qxg7+ White is winning. Artemiev went for 34…Kf8 but was hit by 35.Re8+! Rxe8 36.Qxg7+ Kxg7 37.Bxe8 f3.

If Magnus had seen everything in advance it was beautifully calculated, since as Vladislav pointed out e.g. 38.Bc6 here is still only a draw. White has one winning move, but it was enough: 38.b6! The bishop is ready to come to b5 to stop Black’s pawn, and all the tactics work out for Magnus. 

The game and tournament ended when the World Champion reminded his opponent he had another passed pawn with 49.g6!

So it had been an almost perfect tournament for Magnus Carlsen.

He would have scored the full 50 points if not for finishing second to Artemiev in the Prelims.

That also meant that after a tournament in which Wesley So could have caught him in the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour standings, Magnus had in fact increased his advantage over Wesley to 78 points in the final standings.

That matters, since the players will now start the Tour Final on September 25th with bonus points based on their standings, with Magnus set to have 3-4 points more than Wesley at the start. That won’t be insurmountable, however, since there will be 3 points on offer each round of the 9-round tournament. Magnus commented:

I know that it means that I’m further ahead than I was, but I think either way at the moment Wesley’s the only one who’s fairly close. That would have been the same regardless of whether I’d won this tournament or not, but it’s obviously very nice to have that little cushion and to equalise the number of tournament wins that he has in this Tour.

The event won’t take place in San Francisco, as originally planned, since the logistics proved impossible given pandemic travel restrictions, but some of the players — and one would assume Magnus! — will play from a venue in Oslo, while the others play from home. Magnus is happy with his form:

I’m feeling good, obviously. Generally I’m not sure that I’m playing so much better, but I’m at least playing quicker and more confidently, so that’s helped me a bit.

He doesn’t have long to rest on his laurels, since already on Tuesday he plays in Norway Chess, where he’ll face his World Championship Challenger Ian Nepomniachtchi as well as Richard Rapport, Sergey Karjakin, Alireza Firouzja and Aryan Tari over 10 rounds of classical, and if needed Armageddon, chess. How does he feel about going straight into that?

It feels good. I’m hoping to be able to continue the positive trend of the last couple of tournaments, and yes, as you say, it’s busy, but it’s been one and a half not so busy years, so I don’t mind that!

For Vladislav Artemiev, meanwhile, second place was still a triumph.

The 23-year-old Russian has only played the last three Meltwater Champions Chess Tour events but has managed to force his way into the eight qualifying spots (to be joined by two wildcards) after reaching two finals and one semi-final. He’s looking forward to it:

Of course I am very happy, because it will be a very great tournament, only strong players, chess masters, and it will be very good lessons for me, and I plan to beat some guys, of course, if possible!

Vladislav is one player whose potential is greater than anything we’ve seen from him so far. Magnus commented:

I think, as I talked about earlier, his natural talent is undeniable, and that’s why he does so well, and I think for him to make further steps he has to have even better openings, and I think he knows that, but I think once he can fix that he can go very far.

Vladislav agreed:

I think that I must improve my opening preparation with Black, and White also, because I feel that my opening level is not enough for the best players.

He’s planning to work on it, however, and first up has three weeks to prepare for the Tour Final. 

For Magnus, meanwhile, it’s just one day until the start of Norway Chess. It all kicks off at the same time as the Aimchess US Rapid days — 11:00 EST, 17:00 CEST, 20:30 IST — on Tuesday September 7th. chess24 is the official broadcast partner, so don’t miss live commentary from Judit Polgar and Jovanka Houska, plus video of the players and post-game interviews, exclusively here on chess24!    

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