Champions Chess Tour's Airthings Masters Begins
Hikaru Nakamura is one of the leaders after day one. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Champions Chess Tour's Airthings Masters Begins

| 34 | Chess Event Coverage

The Airthings Masters, the second leg of the Champions Chess Tour, began on Boxing Day. After the first four rounds of the preliminary phase, there's a five-way tie for first place. GM Magnus Carlsen started with four draws.

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.

Sponsored by a company selling indoor air quality and radon monitors, the Airthings Masters is not a breath of fresh air in terms of how the tournament is set up. The Champions Chess Tour's first nine events all have the same format: first, a three-day round-robin and then a six-day knockout. The Airthings Masters has a $200,000 prize fund with a $60,000 first prize.

While most of us have our minds on spending (online) time with family and enjoying nice food and Christmas presents, chess players are always ready to play chess. Although the 26th of December is normally the start of the World Rapid Championship (with hundreds of players), now it's another online event for 12 blessed top GMs.

On Saturday, they played four of the 11 rounds of the single round-robin that forms the preliminary phase. It was a day with lots of draws: 17 of 24 games ended peacefully.

Airthings Masters | Standings

# Fed Name Rtg Perf 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 Pts SB
1 Nakamura, Hikaru 2829 2888 ½ 1 ½ ½ 2.5/4 5
2 Aronian, Levon 2778 2894 ½ ½ ½ 1 2.5/4 4.25
3 Dubov, Daniil 2770 2836 ½ ½ ½ 1 2.5/4 4
4 Radjabov, Teimour 2758 2850 ½ ½ ½ 1 2.5/4 3.75
5 So, Wesley 2741 2854 ½ ½ 1 ½ 2.5/4 3.5
6 Carlsen, Magnus 2881 2746 ½ ½ ½ ½ 2.0/4 4.75
7 Grischuk, Alexander 2784 2782 0 ½ ½ 1 2.0/4 4.5
8 Harikrishna, Pentala 2705 2794 ½ ½ ½ ½ 2.0/4 3.5
9 Nepomniachtchi, Ian 2778 2801 ½ 0 1 ½ 2.0/4 3.25
10 Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime 2860 2682 ½ ½ ½ 0 1.5/4
11 Giri, Anish 2731 2573 0 ½ 0 ½ 1.0/4 2.25
12 Anton Guijarro, David 2667 2553 0 0 ½ ½ 1.0/4 2.25

World Champion Carlsen was involved in four of those draws despite his declared intentions to get off to a "killer start." In the first round, he missed a few chances before overlooking a one-move tactic in a rook endgame that could have given him the full point in his encounter with GM Levon Aronian.

The Armenian GM had 29 seconds left on his clock (with a 10-second increment) when he blundered and shook his head after making his move. "I saw 43.f4+ immediately after I played it," he said afterward.

Carlsen, with 24 seconds, took six seconds for his move and missed it.

Aronian: "You know, it's Christmas. I have to have a Christmas cheer and love for each other!"

The only player to start with a win was GM Hikaru Nakamura, apparently not affected by having to relocate shortly before the start of the tournament as the office in California where he normally plays from was closed by a COVID-19 outbreak.

The American GM strongly countered against GM Alexander Grischuk's attacking play. Nakamura initially let his opponent escape but then won in the endgame:

The escape vs. Carlsen gave Aronian "enough confidence" to finish the first day on plus one. In round two he defeated GM Anish Giri, somewhat ironically in a Najdorf, just days after the Dutch GM had published a course about the opening.

"When you play against a great theoretician, you just surprise them early on," said Aronian, who chose the Sozin but turned it into a mix of an English Attack and a Velimirovic Attack. "I think I managed to surprise him with this rare line."

Skilling Open: Knockouts Day 2.

Interviewed on the official broadcast, Aronian happily agreed to show his dog Ponchik on camera (while repeating: "You're a star!").

"He loves watching; he's always there," said Aronian. "When I play bad, he cheers me up. This was a Ponchik-like attack. Just to get a trick, that kind of attack."

Levon Aronian with Ponchik dog
Aronian with Ponchik. Screenshot from the official broadcast courtesy Play Magnus Group. 

Another player on 2.5/4 is GM Daniil Dubov. The Russian GM continued his enterprising play from the Russian championship as he nicely defeated GM David Anton. "I don't know if I played well, but in general it was great fun," said Dubov.

Commenting on the series of spectacular games that he played recently, Dubov quoted his good friend GM Boris Gelfand: "He likes to repeat that basically if you sacrifice more pieces, then you blunder less."

And Dubov's secret behind his attacking style? "I just try to play some decent opening with White, and then I try not to retreat at any moment, so basically if they attack your pieces, you just have to attack back. You don't move your pieces; you do something else."

I try not to retreat at any moment, so basically if they attack your pieces, you just have to attack back. You don't move your pieces; you do something else.
—Daniil Dubov

In this particular game, that "something else" was the beautiful 18.d5, described as "very stylish" by Dubov:

Daniil Dubov chess
Daniil Dubov. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

All Games Day 1

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.

Peter Doggers

Peter Doggers joined a chess club a month before turning 15 and still plays for it. He used to be an active tournament player and holds two IM norms.

Peter has a Master of Arts degree in Dutch Language & Literature. He briefly worked at New in Chess, then as a Dutch teacher and then in a project for improving safety and security in Amsterdam schools.

Between 2007 and 2013 Peter was running ChessVibes, a major source for chess news and videos acquired by in October 2013.

As our Director News & Events, Peter writes many of our news reports. In the summer of 2022, The Guardian’s Leonard Barden described him as “widely regarded as the world’s best chess journalist.”

In October, Peter's first book The Chess Revolution will be published!

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