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Carlsen Prevails vs. So, Winning Streak Grows With Aimchess Rapid

Carlsen Prevails vs. So, Winning Streak Grows With Aimchess Rapid

NM_Vanessa
| 37 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Magnus Carlsen defeated GM Wesley So in the Division I Grand Final to clinch the Champions Chess Tour Aimchess Rapid 2023. After a 2-0 start by Carlsen, So made a stunning comeback by winning on demand with Black. In game four, Carlsen combined strategic, attacking, and tactical ideas to prevail in a thrilling finale.

In Division II, GM Denis Lazavik finally broke a deadlock with GM Sam Sevian. After Sevian won the first match of the day, Lazavik displayed a tenacious defensive ability to triumph in the Grand Final reset.

In Division III, GM Yu Yangyi defeated GM Tuan Minh Le in a chaotic armageddon playoff. 

How to watch?
You can review the Champions Chess Tour Aimchess Rapid 2023 on Chess.com/TV. You can also enjoy the show on our Twitch channel and review all our live broadcasts on YouTube.com/ChesscomLive. Games from the event can be viewed on our events page.

The live broadcast was hosted by GMs David Howell, Simon Williams, IMs Danny Rensch, Tania Sachdev, and WGM Keti Tsatsalashvili.


Division I

Carlsen-So

After climbing into the Grand Final on his second life through the Losers Bracket, So faced an even more daunting challenge on Friday. To win the Grand Final, he needed to defeat Carlsen in two back-to-back matches―since Carlsen, having won all his matches through the Winners Bracket, still had his extra chance, if needed. 

Carlsen has a lead in their overall rapid score, but So has taken down the 16th world champion an impressive 19 times.

These competitors have quite a history in CCT finals alone with an evenly split score, making this match all the more significant. Who would tip the balance in his favor?

To kick-start the match, Carlsen unleashed a heavily prepared Catalan, which unsettled So, who was already down to six minutes by move 18 while Carlsen still had all the time he had started with. This time edge affected play in critical moments. After activating all his pieces and winning a pawn, Carlsen looked for the decisive idea. Though So set up a resourceful defense, there was a winning opportunity. Can you find it?

White to move.

Carlsen overlooked this idea initially, but he eventually won the game with it. As the players reached time trouble, the Norwegian grandmaster still had a 30-second advantage. As his seconds ticked down, So blundered, allowing the winning endgame conversion. 

Next, it was So's turn to try to strike back with the white pieces. He played very ambitiously, aiming for a reverse dragon structure and sacrificing the exchange to gain powerful control of the center with his pawns and minor pieces. Always alert to the dynamic nuances of the position, Carlsen found a tactical hole in So's setup and broke through with his rooks. 

Soon, Carlsen's forces dove into So's camp, chasing down the wayward enemy king and then kicking away the defensive help of the white queen―leaving So with no moves. 

Position after Carlsen's 33...Rb1

In game three, hoping to bounce back after two tough losses, So also faced a must-win position with the black pieces. In fact, the match situation was so stacked against him that So would need to win two games in a row to trigger a playoff, win the armageddon game, and then win an entire additional match to come out on top. 

With so much on the line, So expanded in the center and put Carlsen in exactly the type of position where he's less comfortable: one lacking in flexibility with his back against the wall to prove his kingside play. Unconvinced by his own setup, Carlsen retreated, allowing So to build up pressure against his own king. So's queen snuck into White's camp, and he won a couple of Carlsen's loose pawns. This time the time scramble went in his favor. 

Of course, winning one game simply put So in another must-win position in game four. In the early middlegame, Carlsen created a grip on So's kingside that lasted the entire game. When So tried kicking Carlsen's forces away, the 16th world champion rerouted them to attack from the queenside. Forcing a queen trade in a critical moment, Carlsen arrived in the endgame with indomitable connected passers.

Position after Carlsen's 38.Qa7!

He soon won material and then checkmated due to the earlier kingside light-square control he had established. Carlsen's dominating performance in the final round is our Game of the Day, annotated by GM Rafael Leitao below.

GM Rafael Leitao GotD

True to his character, despite his commanding victory over one of the strongest players in the world, Carlsen wasn't completely happy with his performance: "I think the results were probably a bit better than my play, overall!"

Additionally, Carlsen answered a question of great interest to all chess audiences.

Between his success at the Grand Chess Tour Croatia, his 11-0 Titled Tuesday, and this victory, Carlsen is racking up an unstoppable winning streak. Additionally, he now leads the overall Champions Chess Tour with 375 points.

For this event, Carlsen won $30,000 while So won $20,000 as the runner-up. 

Division I Standings

Champions Chess Tour Standings


Division II

Lazavik vs. Sevian was the closest matchup of any of the divisions. These two grandmasters monopolized the top of Division II so much that they faced each other in three matches: the Winners Final, Grand Final, and Grand Final reset. All were decided by tiebreak.

In their first Grand Final match, after four draws in a row, Sevian edged ahead by bidding just seconds lower than Lazavik to gain black in armageddon and drawing in a better ending. Since this was Lazavik's first match loss of the event, it triggered a Grand Final reset between them.

The deadlock continued as the competitors drew twice more. This time in armageddon, it was Lazavik's turn again to bid low enough to gain the black pieces: nine minutes. It was a bad sign for Sevian when Lazavik had already neutralized this vast time edge by move 21 in an equal position. Sevian made a run for the full point in the ending, gaining two extra pawns, but Lazavik defended resourcefully, ultimately leaving his opponent with just a knight as he captured his last pawn.

In addition to the $10,000 first prize, the 17-year-old grandmaster has qualified to join the top players in Division I at the next event. Sevian wins $7,500 for finishing second. 

Division II Standings

Division III

After tying up the match with one victory for each and two draws, Yu and Le also reached an armageddon playoff. Though Le needed only a draw with black, he played aggressively in the middlegame, snipping at the weak points in White's rather passive position. Le fought back, activating a few pieces to set their sights on the black king. In a critical position, Yu sacrificed a rook, going all in on his king attack. 

Position after Yu's 40.Rxc7

Defending a little too actively, Le overlooked his chance to shut down all of White's threats. Giving up material to prevent checkmate, he missed one last opportunity to equalize in the ending. Can you find it?

Black to move and draw.

Yu takes home $5,000 while Le earns $3,600 for second.

Division III Standings


The Champions Chess Tour 2023 (CCT) is a massive chess circuit combining the best features of previous Champions Chess Tour editions with the Chess.com Global Championship. The tour comprises six events spanning the entire year and culminating in live in-person Finals. With the very best players in the world and a $2,000,000 prize fund, the CCT is Chess.com's most important event to date.

Only grandmasters are eligible for automatic entry into the Play-In Phase. Other titled players (IM and below) can play in the Qualifiers that take place every Monday starting February 13, except on weeks with a Play-In or Knockout (21 in total). The top three players from each Qualifier will be eligible to participate in the upcoming Play-In. 


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NM_Vanessa
NM Vanessa West

Vanessa West is a National Master, a chess teacher, and a writer for Chess.com. In 2017, they won the Chess Journalist of the Year award.

You can follow them on X: Vanessa__West

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