Airthings Masters Day 1: Ding Leads, Carlsen Falters
Ding Liren playing strong chess after missing out on the FIDE Grand Prix. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Airthings Masters Day 1: Ding Leads, Carlsen Falters

| 30 | Chess Event Coverage

The Airthings Masters, the first leg of the 2022 Meltwater Champions Chess Tour, began on February 19. GM Ding Liren leads after the first day with a score of 10/12, a point ahead of GM Ian Nepomniachtchi, on 9/12, and two points ahead of third-place GM Andrey Esipenko, on 8/12. GM Magnus Carlsen, who started the day with two losses, is in 11th place on 4/12.

The event will continue on Sunday, February 20, at 9 a.m. PT/ 18:00 CET. 

How to watch?

The games of the Airthings Masters preliminaries can be found here as part of our live events platform.

The Champions Chess Tour consists of six regular events with 16 players (the first being the Airthings Masters) and three majors with eight players. Regular events adopt a 3-1-0 score, where players who win get three points, players who draw get 1, and losers get 0. Major events, on the other hand, adopt a 3-2-1-0 score system, similar to the 3-2-1 system described above but with one difference: players who win on tiebreaks get 2 points while tiebreak losers get 1.

Airthings Masters | Day 1 Standings

# Fed Name Rtg Perf Pts
1 Ding, Liren 2799 2799 10
2 Nepomniachtchi, Ian 2773 2773 9
3 Esipenko, Andrey 2714 2714 8
4 Niemann, Hans Moke 2642 2642 7
5 Hansen, Eric 2606 2606 7
6 Aronian, Levon 2772 2772 7
7 Keymer, Vincent 2664 2664 7
8 Duda, Jan-Krzysztof 2760 2760 6
9 Artemiev, Vladislav 2700 2700 5
10 Giri, Anish 2772 2772 5
11 Carlsen, Magnus 2865 2865 4
12 Abdusattorov, Nodirbek 2651 2651 4
13 Le, Quang Liem 2709 2709 4
14 Mamedyarov, Shakhriyar 2767 2767 3
15 Praggnanandhaa, R. 2612 2612 1
16 Kosteniuk, Alexandra 2516 2516 0

As we enter the third year of the pandemic that changed the world around us, I can sense online chess grow by leaps and bounds. Carlsen's Champions Chess Tour is the flagship and it sailed today with the first day of the Airthings Masters. It's pretty much the same formula as last year except that I seem to recall they used to have five games per day during the preliminary stage, and now they have four to spread it over four days of competition. At any rate, there are 16 participants that will determine eight qualifiers for the knockout stage.

The field is an interesting mix of veterans (that would be anyone over 30) and youngsters, who already distinguished themselves in high-level competitions. Among the former group, we particularly welcome world number-three Ding, who, unfortunately, has not been able to participate in over-the-board tournaments in Europe and will miss the next Candidates Tournament. In case you wondered if this would dampen Ding's spirit, I got an update for you from round one.

Ding was unable to build upon this, as his opponent in round two, the American GM Hans Niemann, played well to draw down the exchange and possibly even had better chances somewhere along the way.

The same goes for Carlsen, who, after downing GM Vladislav Artemiev in his typical technical fashion, met with stiffer resistance in round two at the hands of the new World Rapid Chess Champion GM Nodirbek Abdusattorov. Carlsen's queen and knight could make no more than a draw out of a promising attack on Abdusattorov's king. Carlsen's and Ding's paths diverged beginning with round three, but more about it later.

There were two leaders after two rounds, both with six points (oh, did I tell you there are three points for a win and one point for a draw?): GM Levon Aronian, who seems to be upholding the long-standing tradition of winning everything in his first year in the United States, and (surprisingly?) GM Eric Hansen, who is upholding a new tradition of streamers and winning everything (GM Hikaru Nakamura at the FIDE Grand Prix, if you catch my drift). Here's Eric's blitzkrieg from round two.

Among many questions this event could answer was the one about Nepomniachtchi's form after the end of his world championship challenge. Can Ian still play chess? His depressing loss with White to Aronian in round one was not an encouraging sign, but in the next round, Ian turned his luck for the better, as all good players tend to do. His win over GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov proved to be the turning point. In round three, Nepo convincingly defeated GM Anish Giri while the man who decisively beat him in Dubai took an unexpected tumble.

Magnus Carlsen
Not a great first day for Carlsen. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

It's hard to tell what was wrong with Carlsen on day one of the Airthings. Most likely, it's just a blip on the radar and he'll come back strong tomorrow. Even if he doesn't, it is unwise to bet against him making the top eight, and then that'll be a fresh tournament. However, the fact is that losing his second game in a row, this time with White to Ian Nepomniachtchi, left Carlsen with a negative score, which under the current scoring system translates into 4/12.

The big game in round four featured one moment where Carlsen could have gotten his way in one of Dubov's lines of the Catalan—I believe Magnus already used it to defeat Rapport in Wijk aan Zee.

The last two rounds were rough on pre-tournament favorites. One of them barely managed to escape in what I deem the Game of the Day.

Aside from the opening-round loss to Ding, which as we saw earlier, wasn't completely necessary, GM Vincent Keymer made a strong impression. Wins over GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda and Mamedyarov, sandwiched around an unfortunate draw shown above, gave Vincent a positive score of 7/12, equal with Hansen, Aronian, and (a pleasant surprise for U.S. fans) Niemann. The latter won easily with Black against Aronian in round four, but his win over Duda one round earlier was really something.

In the meantime, Ding scored his two wins in rounds three and four, grabbing a sole lead with the impressive score of 10/12, followed by Nepo at nine points and Esipenko at eight.

I'll hazard the guess that we will see many twists and turns in that story as Airthings Masters rolls along.

All Games Day 1

The 2022 Champions Chess Tour's Airthings Masters runs February 19-27 on chess24. The preliminary phase is a 16-player rapid (15+10) round-robin. The top eight players advance to a knockout that consists of one four-game rapid match during the quarterfinals and semifinals and two four-game rapid matches during the final.  Play advance to blitz (5+3) and armageddon (White has five minutes, Black has four with no increment) tiebreaks only if a knockout match ends in a tie. The total prize fund of the event is $150,000, with $750 for each win and $250 for each draw in the preliminaries.

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