Airthings Masters Day 2: Nepomniachtchi Takes The Lead


After two days and eight rounds of play at the Airthings Masters, former World Championship Challenger GM Ian Nepomniachtchi of Russia is leading the field by four points, while World Champion Magnus Carlsen is trailing him and another three players after suffering yet another defeat, this time at the hands of GM Praggnanandhaa R of India.

How to watch?

Chesscom Airthings Masters

The event will continue on Monday, February 21 at 9 a.m. PT/ 18:00 CET. 

Airthings Masters | Day 2 Standings

# Name Rtg Pts
1 Nepomniachtchi, Ian 2773 19
2 Ding, Liren 2799 15
3 Hansen, Eric 2606 15
4 Esipenko, Andrey 2714 14
5 Carlsen, Magnus 2865 13
6 Keymer, Vincent 2664 13
7 Aronian, Levon 2772 12
8 Giri, Anish 2772 12
9 Le, Quang Liem 2709 11
10 Artemiev, Vladislav 2700 10
11 Abdusattorov, Nodirbek 2651 10
12 Niemann, Hans Moke 2642 8
13 Duda, Jan-Krzysztof 2760 8
14 Praggnanandhaa, R. 2612 8
15 Mamedyarov, Shakhriyar 2767 7
16 Kosteniuk, Alexandra 2516 0

The participation of Women’s World Rapid Champion GM Alexandra Kosteniuk is one of many nice things about this year’s Champions Tour. Alexandra is a classy lady, and we can only regret we don’t get to see her playing at her best on this stage. She had a rough start on the first day, losing all four games, and things didn’t get any easier as Alexandra faced Carlsen in the opening round of the second day. 

The quiet line of Alapin Sicilian led to a symmetrical position, where White hesitated just a bit with pushing her a-pawn forward. Carlsen took full advantage of that, quickly developing a deadly attack on the white king. Keep your chin up, Alexandra, we believe in you!

Meanwhile, the early round of applause belongs to the young GM Vincent Keymer, who made mincemeat out of GM Anish Giri’s solid Ragozin.

A true masterpiece, but it was rivaled by another youngster, Pragghanandhaa, who inflicted a positional punishment on another top guy, GM Levon Aronian, in the same Ragozin Defense. 

In the meantime, Nepomniachtchi took the lead by winning his 4th game in a row, this time over GM Nodirbek Abdusattorov, who is having a bit of a problem translating his over-the-board skills to online chess.

GM Ding Liren was lucky to save a draw against the inspired GM Eric Hansen, who turned a bad middlegame into a won endgame, using his considerable blitz skills. Go streamers!

Eric Hansen Airthings
Hansen is off to a great start. Photo: Lennart Ootes.

So, what’s going on at the Airthings? Are we witnessing a successful revolt by the young generation of players? Keymer and Praggnanandhaa won their games, and GM Hans Moke Niemann was much better against GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. The leaderboard spoke that way, but the following the sixth round it was all about the restoration of power.

See for yourself: there were six wins by the older players. Carlsen, Nepo, Giri, and Mamedyarov all won, which still shouldn’t come as surprise, but what about this one?

Yes, some kind of order was restored, and, importantly, Carlsen got back to his winning ways. His win over Keymer in round six was never in doubt, but Niemann just lost his way in an equal ending. One thing is to win good games now and then, and another story is to stay consistent and avoid unnecessary losses.

A good example is the performance of GM Le Quang Liem, who has in his quiet, unassuming way managed to get to 11 points after seven rounds of play. The following game shows that the Vietnamese-American star is not easily confused by offbeat openings.

In the end, Le couldn’t maintain his tournament position, as he was defeated in Round 8 by Giri. Yet another win by Nepomniachtchi, this time over Kosteniuk, put Ian in a commanding lead with 19 points. Even by the old scoring system, it’s a not-too-shabby haul of 6.5/8. I didn’t give enough attention to Ian’s games yet, but the way he’s been playing it seems likely he’s going the distance. I hope I will have more chances to showcase his efforts later in the tournament.

His main contender, Ding, also played well but hit a stumbling block in a very complicated game against Aronian.

The second-place position is shared by Ding and Eric Hansen (!), who took another big scalp by defeating the scuffling Mamedyarov. Who would have predicted such a run from a 2600 player?

What about Carlsen, you might ask. Didn’t he just win three games in a row? Yes, he did, but in Round 8 he ran into that P.R guy. Upsets happen as they often do at the Airthings, and this one is taking my Game of the Day honors.

Yermo GotD

Day Two ended on an appropriate note when GM Andrey Esipenko finally broke Keymer’s resistance in the notorious R+B vs. R ending. Vincent made a mistake toward the end, which allowed Andrey to overtake him in the standings.

With two more days to go and seven games left for each player, the issue of qualification is far from being decided. The football scoring system always leaves a chance for a comeback. We will be watching.

All Games Day 2

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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