Airthings Masters: Carlsen, Nakamura, Nepomniachtchi, So Eliminated
An early exit for Magnus Carlsen at the Airthings Masters. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Airthings Masters: Carlsen, Nakamura, Nepomniachtchi, So Eliminated

PeterDoggers
PeterDoggers
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109 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Magnus Carlsen suffered a shockingly early elimination at the Airthings Masters. The world champion was knocked out by GM Daniil Dubov, who won both his white games on Wednesday.

GMs Hikaru NakamuraIan Nepomniachtchi, and Wesley So, also the favorites in their matches, were eliminated as well after losing to GM Levon AronianTeimour Radjabov, and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave respectively.

How to watch?
The games of the Champions Chess Tour Airthings Masters can be found here as part of our live events platform. IM Levy Rozman and IM Anna Rudolf are providing daily commentary on GM Hikaru Nakamura's Twitch channel starting from 6:00 a.m. Pacific / 15:00 Central Europe.

Airthings Masters chess bracket

Carlen vs. Dubov 0.5-2.5

Although Dubov had the better chances in his first, tied match with Carlsen, the 24-year-old Muscovite was still the underdog on day two. Against Carlsen, everyone is always the underdog.

Dubov seemed to agree with that, taking into account his remarks the other day that the world champion is his "favorite opponent" and that it was a "Christmas present" to be paired against him.

Nothing of this is visible in Dubov's play. He plays uncompromising chess, regardless of who is in front of him. After his blistering games at the Russian Championship Superfinal and his victory at the Lindores Abbey tournament, he continues to impress immensely.

Dubov actually had a plus score against Carlsen in the six online games they had played during the pandemic: three wins vs. two with one draw. That has now become plus three.

The first game was a tough street fight where both players played for the initiative and both kings didn't feel very safe. The game culminated in a razor-sharp position where Carlsen's queen needed to join her king right away for an adequate defense. The natural check that he threw in first turned out to be losing—beautifully.

After a draw in game two, in which Carlsen came close to a win in a rook endgame, the third game was another wild affair that was marred by two big blunders. First, it was Dubov who dropped a full piece, and then Carlsen let his king unnecessarily get caught in a mating net.

Carlsen immediately and vigorously closed his laptop and walked away from the camera while Dubov briefly held both his arms up in celebration.

"Well, it just happens you know," said Dubov. "People like to use strong words when it happens but, in fact, he was just unlucky to blunder in this way at the most important moment. We all—even Magnus despite being the best player in the world—blunder sometimes being under some random attack and being down to like 10 seconds. I was obviously very lucky in the end, but I think it is luck. It is not some kind of miracle."

Daniil Dubov Airthings Masters
Dubov, and not Carlsen, is in the semis. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Dubov also admitted: "I was much more interested in winning this match than in winning the whole thing!"

Carlsen expressed himself on social media:

Aronian vs. Nakamura 2-0

Aronian went into his match with the knowledge that 2-2 would be enough, after having won on the first day of the quarterfinals. That explains how this second match could last only two games: Aronian won both.

We give the second here because of Nakamura's opening. The American GM used this setup with an early exchange of the fianchetto bishops in hundreds (thousands?) of bullet games. In this rapid game, it didn't give him much, but he didn't lose because of the opening either:

Levon Aronian
Levon Aronian, also in the semifinals. Photo: Peter Doggers/Chess.com.

So vs. Vachier-Lagrave 3-4

If this wasn't enough drama yet, fasten your seatbelts. The other two matches went all the way to armageddon.

After So lost on Tuesday, he leveled the score by winning the second match 2.5-1.5 with three draws after starting with a win. He managed to outplay the Frenchman in an Anti-Grunfeld and, except for one moment, was always in control: 

Wesley So chess
The winner of the Skilling Open started well. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

With both players winning one match, next on the program was a two-game blitz tiebreak with 5|3 games. Both won their white game: MVL managed to squeeze out a win in a Berlin endgame while So won in another Anti-Grunfeld. 

Vachier-Lagrave then held the armageddon to a draw as Black, steering away from that Anti-Grunfeld at the right moment.

"I decided to change my opening setup quite a bit," MVL said. "I chose something very solid, and Wesley pushed it quite a bit, maybe at some point he was even winning, but in the end, I managed to find a way to draw."

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

"I think I raised my level of play quite a lot since the preliminary stage," said Vachier-Lagrave. I'm very happy to qualify but credits to Wesley for a huge fight. I had to give it my best."

The Frenchman commented about his next opponent, Aronian: "We've played a lot of very important matches together, and that will be one more episode in our story. Of course, I appreciate Levon very much as a person, but that won't mean.... Of course, we're used to these brotherly fights, and this is gonna be one of them."

Nepomniachtchi vs. Radjabov 3-4

Nepomniachtchi and Radjabov had drawn all four games in the first match. Radjabov broke the spell in Wednesday's first game after his opponent blundered early:

After two draws, Nepomniachtchi managed to win game four on demand. And an incredible game it is!

For starters, it is interesting to see Radjabov choosing his old favorite, the King's Indian, in a game where he needed a draw. But then, just look at the position after Black's 28th move, with pieces worth a total of 50 points (if we include the white queen) clutched together in the fourth quadrant. The Zugzwang at the end is nice as well.

Like in So-MVL, a blitz tiebreak followed, and both players won one game. After Nepomniachtchi started with a win, Radjabov won an incredible must-win game before drawing the armageddon:

Teimour Radjabov Airthings
Incredible resilience from Radjabov. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

The semifinals, Dubov-Radjabov and Aronian vs. Vachier-Lagrave, start on Thursday at 6:00 a.m. Pacific / 15:00 Central Europe. There's no rest (or holiday) for the wicked, with the second match scheduled for New Year's Day and the final for January 2-3.

All Games Day 5

The Champions Chess Tour Airthings Masters runs December 26-January 3. The preliminary phase is a 12-player rapid (15|10) round-robin. The top eight players advance to a six-day knockout that consists of two days of four-game rapid matches, which advance to blitz (5|3) and armageddon (White has five minutes, Black four with no increment) tiebreaks only if the knockout match is tied after the second day. The prize fund is $200,000 with $60,000 for first place.


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