Champions Chess Tour Finals Day 2: Carlsen, MVL Perfect

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A critical blunder that ended a game in one move, a symmetrical fianchetto Grunfeld played twice in one match, and two players repeating their same moves from a previous game were some of the highlights in the second round of the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour Finals on Sunday.

In this round, the 10 super-grandmasters were paired in the following ways: Anish Giri versus Jan-Krzysztof Duda, Hikaru Nakamura against Teimour Radjabov, Vladislav Artemiev played Levon Aronian, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave faced Wesley So, and finally, World Champion Magnus Carlsen played Shakhriyar Mamedyarov.

Let us now take a look at how each match went as well as at some exciting and instructive games.

Match 1: Duda-Giri

On Saturday, Giri won his match versus Nakamura, while Duda lost to Carlsen. Of course, Giri was looking to keep going strong, while the Polish superstar needed a success on Sunday to make up for the previous difficult match.

And in the first game, where Duda had the black pieces, he did just that, brilliantly outplaying Giri in a complex Najdorf and taking the lead.

However, the Dutch grandmaster managed to come back in round 2. The game saw the ultra-solid symmetrical fianchetto Grunfeld. Duda, who had the white pieces, got a significant advantage but made a couple of errors, allowing Giri to equalize and then seize the initiative. After Giri had the advantage, he never let go, showing very impressive endgame techniques to equalize the score: now, it was 1-1.

The third game was rather peaceful and ended in a draw.

In game four, Duda again had the white pieces and again the symmetrical fianchetto Grunfeld appeared on the board. White was much better. Then Giri equalized, but on move 34, he needed to be very precise. Unfortunately for the Dutch player’s fans, he made a decisive mistake. Next Duda converted his advantage very convincingly and won the match 2.5-1.5 without needing a blitz playoff, scoring a full three match points. A great comeback after a tough match on day one!

Match 2: Nakamura-Radjabov

Both Nakamura and Radjabov lost their matches on Saturday, so it was interesting to see how the players would approach the day-two match.

Unfortunately, both of them seem much more interested in faster time controls and have been responsible for the quickest draws in the entire Champions Tour series.

This trend continued on Sunday as well: the first game saw the infamous 14-move Berlin draw, while in the second one, the players chose the variation of the Queen’s Gambit Declined that has also long been known to be a draw. In the third round, they again chose the QGD, this time with Bf4, and by move 19 had already repeated moves and took another quick draw. Finally, in game four, players repeated the exact same moves of game three with only the colors reversed. They definitely do not seem particularly excited to play rapid.

In the first blitz game, the two players no longer wanted to draw by move 15. They still chose the same very dry variation of QGD, but this time, Nakamura slowly outplayed as White in an equal endgame, got ahead, and won the game. In the next game, Radjabov needed to win as Black, so he chose a complex KID, but the American star exchanged a lot of pieces, and the two players ended up splitting the point, resulting in Nakamura’s win.

Match 3: Artemiev-Aronian

On day one, Artemiev won his match, while Aronian was hit hard, as he was leading but then allowed MVL to get to tiebreaks and next lost in armageddon. 

However, the Armenian superstar managed to immediately show a strong comeback on day two, as he won the first round with the black pieces. Initially, Aronian had somewhat overoptimistically handled a position with hanging pawns, but as Artemiev did not see a way to consolidate, the Armenian player got an endgame with an extra pawn and went on to win after a long, 83-move fight, taking the lead in the match.

In the second game, Aronian, who had the white pieces, chose the Exchange Caro-Kann. He tried to develop a typical kingside attack, but Artemiev was defending very well. At one point, White should have admitted the attack was stopped and tried to get an equal endgame. But the aggressive Armenian player kept the queens on the board and sacrificed a piece. His opponent defended rather easily and equalized the score, making it 1-1 after this game.

In the third game, Artemiev played extremely well with the white pieces and got an overwhelming position, but Aronian defended brilliantly and saved half a point.

The final round saw Artemiev play a somewhat offbeat 3…d6 Italian and equalize quickly. However, then he erred in a critical position, and White immediately got a winning advantage, which Aronian then easily converted to win the match 2.5-1.5. A nice comeback after yesterday’s loss to MVL.

Match 4: MVL-So

This match was very interesting, as it was the only one which saw two co-leaders play each other.

In round one, Vachier-Lagrave obtained a nice pressure out of the Reti Opening, and for a long time, the evaluation was fluctuating between equality and a slight advantage for White. MVL kept adding pressure, and eventually So made a decisive mistake and saw his position collapse: 1-0 for the French player.

In the next game, So, who this time had the white pieces, got some nice pressure out of the English Opening and was pushing throughout the entire game. However, MVL defended very carefully and saved a draw.

Round three saw the symmetrical Re1 Berlin. The French grandmaster had an advantage but then Black equalized and started pressing. At one point, So could have taken a draw by giving a perpetual check, but he played differently and immediately got into an absolutely lost position, which enabled Vachier-Lagrave to score another point and win the match after just three games with a score of 2.5-0.5. A great day for French chess fans.

Match 5: Mamedyarov-Carlsen

Fans who follow top events closely know that Carlsen’s famous non-losing streak started after he lost a game to Mamedyarov back in Biel in the summer of 2018. I refer to it because games between these two super-grandmasters are always very thrilling and complex, so this match was a real treat.

And, predictions did not disappoint: the Azeri star won the first game. 

Analysis by GM Dejan Bojkov

Full analysis coming soon.

Magnus managed to equalize the score in the second round. However, Mamedyarov took the lead back right away by winning again in round three. Beating Carlsen in two games out of three is something that does not happen very often.

But it wasn’t over. In the last round, the Norwegian grandmaster again won as White to tie the match 2-2 and take it to tiebreaks.

The first blitz game did not start well for the world champion. Mamedyarov played brilliant attacking chess, completely outplayed White, and had a winning position. Unfortunately, he chose to trade queens, which resulted in equality. He then blundered in one move and let Carlsen score a full point. Let’s see how that happened.

But Mamedyarov definitely didn’t mean to let the Norwegian get away with that result, so he won the second blitz game as Black and took the match to armageddon.

However, the armageddon game did not so well for the Azeri player. Carlsen had the white pieces, and this time he treated the same variation of QGD much better and quickly obtained a decisive advantage. Converting it was not a problem this time, and Carlsen ended up winning this dramatic match. Still, Mamedyarov played terrific chess.

After day two, Carlsen and MVL are the only players to have won both of their matches. We are about to see a lot more exciting chess on Monday.

Champion Chess Tour Finals

The $300,000 Champions Chess Tour Finals take place September 25-October 4, 2021 on chess24. The format is a 10-player round-robin, with each round having the players play a four-game rapid match. The time control is 15 minutes for the whole game plus a 10-second increment.


Earlier report:

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