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Reports Sep 28, 2021 | 11:10 AMby Colin McGourty

MCCT Finals 3: Wesley So gets back on track

Wesley So cut Magnus Carlsen’s lead to five points in Round 3 of the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour by defeating Vladislav Artemiev in rapid chess while Magnus only overcame Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in a blitz playoff. The other player to win in rapid chess was Hikaru Nakamura, who beat Levon Aronian 3:1, while all the players based in Oslo won blitz playoffs. Jan-Krzysztof Duda overcame Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in some crazy games, while Anish Giri’s victory over Teimour Radjabov featured the most nail-biting chess of the day. 

Anish Giri was hugely relieved when he managed to win on demand to take his match against Teimour Radjabov to tiebreaks

You can replay all the games from the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour Finals using the selector below. 

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

And from Peter Leko and Danny King. 

Round 3 of the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour saw three matches go to blitz playoffs, but none went all the way to Armageddon.

Nakamura 3:1 Aronian

Hikaru Nakamura came in for heavy criticism for the four instant draws he made in rapid chess against Teimour Radjabov in Round 2, but he gained two points for winning that match in blitz, and now with three points for winning in rapid chess in Round 3 he’s moved to within just two points of 3rd placed Levon Aronian in the overall standings. 

Hikaru scored the easiest victory of the day on the back of winning with the black pieces in Game 1, with 14.Nd2? almost begging to be hit by 14…Bxf2+!

After 15.Kxf2 Rxe5 the point was that 16.Rxe5 would be met by 16…Qf6+, a double attack on the rook and king. 17.Nf3 runs into 17…Bxf3, though in fact this line would have been better than what Levon played. After 16.Kg1?!, the fruit of an 8-minute think, Hikaru played 16…Qe7 and was completely on top, and although his conversion wasn’t perfect he got the job done.

The next two games were drawn, though a curiosity is that Levon was winning the pawn endgame in the third. 

Levon played the entirely natural 47.Kg6, to make way for the f-pawn, but after both sides queened a pawn he was unable to hold onto the f2-pawn and Hikaru drew. Instead 47.Kg4! or 47.Ke4! win because the king can defend the pawn from f3, though to actually win the position would still have required a Herculean effort. 

The draws meant Levon went into the final rapid game having to win with the black pieces and, as so often, playing to unbalance the position only gave his opponent a huge advantage. 

Hikaru went on to win.

So 2.5:1.5 Artemiev

Wesley So bounced straight back from his loss to MVL to defeat Vladislav Artemiev, and with two match wins in rapid chess is yet to play any blitz in the Finals. He commented:

Artemiev is a very difficult opponent and he’s very resourceful and you can never underestimate him, even with seconds on the clock, so I figured today anything can happen, but I’m very glad to win the three points. 

It was the clock situation that Wesley felt made the difference from the day before, commenting, “Vladislav was down on the clock pretty much the entire match”. 

After two tight games, Wesley struck in the third, though it was a very uneven battle that could also have swung in Artemiev’s favour. 

Artemiev here went for the bold 20…g4!? 21.Rf2 g3 22.hxg3 Nxg3, but in fact it was White who was able to take control of the g-file and counterattack, with the queen coming to h5. Much more powerful was 20…Qb6+! with Ne3, g4 and Ng4 all in the air, depending how White responds. Wesley would have found himself in trouble. 

Instead Wesley took over, but Vladislav hung on and you could put his ultimate loss down to one missed opportunity. 

Here we saw 41…Qxg7?! 42.Qxc8+ Ka7 43.Qc5+ and Wesley later took the h4-pawn, but Vladislav could have picked up a pawn for the life of the c8-rook with 41…Rxc3+ 42.bxc3 and only then played 42…Qxg7. 

Nevertheless, there was still a huge amount of work to be done to win the queen ending, with Wesley accomplishing it with a fantastic display of technique. Only at the very end, when queens were exchanged, did it become trivial.    

Vladislav had to win the final game but, like Levon, he never came close.

Carlsen 3.5:2.5 MVL

“I think if he wins today he pretty much has the tournament in the bag,” said Wesley So of Magnus Carlsen before knowing the outcome of this match, and although that’s going a little too far, it’s certainly true that facing Maxime Vachier-Lagrave was one of the World Champion’s toughest tests. Both players went into the encounter having won their previous two matches and looking in good form, although Magnus was certainly hoping not to repeat the madness of the day before. 

He did continue one streak, however, with a 5th win for White in a row, and an 8th in a row in his matches.

Magnus went for an offbeat line of the 3.Bb5 Sicilian where he fianchettoed his bishop on b2, and it worked to perfection. As he put it:

I feel good. I thought the game was also decent. I think I was always keeping a slight initiative there with an open file and the slightly more secure king, but the only thing was that I think the move before I went Rd7, I went h4, and I think Rd7 there was already winning, and I only spotted the trick the move after, but otherwise I think it was a good game.   

23.Rd7! was indeed working, but after 23.h4 h5 (23…Bd8! could have stopped it) Magnus got to play 24.Rd7! Re8 25.Bxe5+!

The point is that 25…fxe5 26.Qxe5+ allows White to pick up the bishop on e7, with two extra pawns and a completely won position. Maxime tried 25…Ka8 but resigned after 26.Rc7! 

If the queen moves then 27.Rc8+, combined with the bishop coming to b8, will soon deliver checkmate.

There were some chances for Magnus in the second game, but any hopes of an easy day at the Oslo office were dashed early on in the 3rd game. Magnus repeated his b3 fianchetto idea against a different setup by Maxime, but after 8…d5! 9.e5?! Qc7! was suddenly in trouble. 

Maxime was attacking both the pawn on e5 and the undefended knight on c3, with 10.exf6 Qxc3+ not an option. After a long think Magnus opted for 10.Nce2!? Qxe5 and the Frenchman was on top. 

He continued to play energetically…

…and it turned out the awkward position of the black queen couldn’t be exploited, with 13.g4 here well met by 13…Qh3.

Magnus was under heavy pressure, which perhaps explains why later instead of trying to defend a difficult rook ending he traded down into a pawn endgame, which turned out to be dead lost, as Maxime demonstrated. 

Maxime’s final move 39…a6 completed the zugzwang — the white king now has to move and the e5-pawn falls.

Maxime had Black in the final rapid game, and Magnus admitted he was just happy to hold on and take the match to blitz.

That meant a blitz playoff between the current nos. 1 and 3 on the blitz rating list, and this time Carlsen didn’t go for his b3-system but challenged Maxime head-on in the Najdorf. At one point it looked as though Magnus might accept a draw by repetition, since he was down on time in a position that was no better, but he was richly rewarded for playing on when Maxime’s position suddenly collapsed.

25…c4! was an only move, while after 25…cxd4? everything was losing for Black.

Peter Leko had spotted the crushing 28.Bxc2! here, with the point that 28…Qxe6 29.Bb3 loses the queen. He thought Magnus might have been worried by 28…Rc8, which can be side-stepped e.g. by 29.Rb1, but the World Champion had perhaps just seen that 28.Qxc2 Qxe6 29.a4 was crushing for him in any case, and one win is enough! He went on to convert very smoothly.

There was no way back for Maxime, as Magnus made a draw from a position of strength in the final blitz game. Magnus commented:

I feel very good. Maxime is someone who had done very well so far, he’d beaten two very strong players, so I’m happy with the result and my play in the blitz games was decent enough, so it’s all good.

Duda 3.5:2.5 Mamedyarov

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov has been producing fantastic entertainment for the last couple of days, for little reward, and in Jan-Krzysztof Duda he found a willing partner in crime in Round 3. What they created on the chessboard defies any coherent analysis, with too many wild swings to mention. It’s perhaps enough simply to give a screenshot from the first game.

“I’m very happy with the win, even though I have completely no idea what was going on!”, as Duda put it after he managed to win.

We would get a 9th win in a row for the white pieces in Mamedyarov’s games, as the Azerbaijan star hit straight back.

In this position Duda thought for over 8 minutes, “and realised I’m probably totally busted”, though the game went on and on afterwards — “I should have lost in a miniature, but I lost in 60 moves!”

Duda could have continued the sequence with a win in Game 3, but somehow the remaining two rapid games were drawn. Duda then took the lead in blitz, but although he enjoyed the game greatly it was more mayhem.

Here Shakh played 25…Bh8?, but it turns out 25…b3! was totally winning for Black, with the computer spitting out tactics such as 26.Qe2 Na3+!!. 

Instead the game became about that sad bishop on h8, though it’s notable that even when Duda got to play the hugely desirable 34.f6 it was technically a mistake. 

“I very much like the idea of trapping the bishop with pawns,” said Duda, and seldom has a bishop been more trapped, but here 34…Nc3+! 35.Qxc3 Rxd1 may be winning for Black, even if you wonder if the computer sufficiently factors in the incarcerated prelate.

Mamedyarov didn’t come close to winning on demand in the final blitz game, with Duda instead getting to play a little combination that ensured a draw. A fantastic match, that could provide hours of fun for those given to analysis. 

Giri 3.5:2.5 Radjabov

Anish Giri found himself in one of the toughest positions in chess when Teimour Radjabov suddenly won a race in a knight endgame to take the lead in the first rapid game. Teimour is one of the most solid players around and comfortably held draws in the next two games, so that Anish had little to be glad about… except the tea! 

The final rapid game was incredibly tense, with Anish first getting a comfortable advantage on the white side of an Anti-Berlin. Teimour hit back, however, and after a few swings it seemed as though he had everything under control, until 60…g6 (60…Kc6! may have been holding).

Here Anish found a knight transfer that transformed the position: 61.Nc3+! Kc6 62.Ne2 Nc5+!? (after other moves the king advances to e4) 63.Bxc5! Kxc5 64.Ke4! (winning a crucial tempo by attacking the bishop at the same time) 64…Bb8 65.b7 Kc6 66.Nf4 Kxb7 67.h4!

That final 67.h4! touch was important. It stops the g6-pawn going anywhere and White has time to defend g3 with Kf3 before finally capturing on g6. That game was by far the most intense of the match, and Anish had a fitting reaction.

That was a heavy blow for Teimour, who responded by meeting 1.e4 with 1…b6!? in the first blitz game, a move that even Adhiban has not been known to play. Teimour tried it, with no more success, against Magnus Carlsen in the must-win final game of their FTX Crypto Cup semi-final, but it was an odd move to play at this moment, when the scores were level.

In any case, Giri was soon better and then took over completely after 29…Qd6? blundered into 30.Ne4!

That meant Radjabov now had to hit back to force Armageddon, but for most of the game Giri was better to completely winning with the black pieces. Some clean wins were missed, but it seemed no harm was done until 50…Rc2? ran into 51.Ng6+!

51…Kxd5 is met by 52.Rd1+, so there was nothing better than 51…Rxg6 and it seemed we were headed to Armageddon, but Teimour blundered last, allowing Giri to advance with his king and e-pawn so that by the end it was the Azerbaijan player who had to force a draw.

A very relieved Anish Giri gave credit to his tea person afterwards…

I feel really good, because to be honest I was feeling ok, until after three games I realised that there is a tea person, especially for me, and I play like such an idiot! I thought this is ridiculous, there is so much effort done for me, and instead I’m just showing such miserable play. 

So I’m really happy that I managed to win the match after that. It seemed really hard. I played Teimour many times and he’s just a difficult opponent for me, because he’s confident against me, and he needs confidence, and if he’s confident he’s very good, and it’s very hard to come back against him and win the match.  


That win took Giri above Radjabov, while Nakamura is closing on Aronian, and So cut the gap from 6 points to 5 points (3 points for a rapid win compared to Carlsen’s 2 points for a playoff win). Magnus is still out in front, however, and is not showing any signs of weakness — as you can see, apart from his head start based on his performance over the tour, he’s top scoring with 7 points in the Finals, as the only player to win all three matches so far.

In Round 4 he faces Vladislav Artemiev, a repeat of the Aimchess US Rapid final, while Wesley So takes on his US rival Hikaru Nakamura. 

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