Carlsen Defeats Nakamura, Wins Airthings Masters, Caruana, Sevian Win Divisions 2-3

Carlsen Defeats Nakamura, Wins Airthings Masters, Caruana, Sevian Win Divisions 2-3


GM Magnus Carlsen won the Champions Chess Tour Airthings Masters 2023 Division I after defeating GM Hikaru Nakamura in the Grand Final. He won the first game, and despite a major scare in game three, managed to draw the rest to consolidate his victory. 

GM Fabiano Caruana won Division II on Friday as well. After trading one win each with the white pieces against GM Yu Yangyi, he won the third game. A draw in game four skirted an armageddon tiebreaker and secured the day for the U.S. champion. Meanwhile, GM Sam Sevian won Division III on Thursday after dispatching GM R Praggnanandhaa in the Grand Final.

All three divisions featured a rematch between the same two players in the Winners Finals, and the original victors prevailed—each winning two matches against their rivals.

Division I

While Nakamura overcame GM Wesley So in the Losers Final on Thursday, Carlsen had a rest day after a victorious result in the Winners Final the day before.

Staying in Toronto with the Canada Chessbrahs (his team in this year’s Pro Chess League), Carlsen shared some of his “preparation” on Instagram.

A lively night in Toronto on Wednesday. Image: Instagram.

Commentator Howell also announced his participation in the Pro Chess League, for the Norway Gnomes, on the broadcast.

Although their lifetime record leans in Carlsen’s favor, Nakamura has been more successful in their encounters in the last year. As chess players like to say: “All three results were possible.” Well, just two in this case.

Before the influx of online speed chess events, this titanic matchup was relatively infrequent—but this is now the third match they’ve played since December. The commentators likened this rivalry to that of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

“Today and in the future, when we will talk about speed chess these are the two names that will come to mind.”

… when we will talk about speed chess these are the two names that will come to mind.

—Tania Sachdev 

Hess later chimed in, during game one, that their middlegame position was a “messy one.” 

Indeed, game one was one of two key moments in the overall match. The world champion won in crushing style.

In an opening that transposed to the Queen’s Gambit Accepted, instead of castling he threw his h-pawn up the board. A nice rook lift (which some commentators would call a “rover”), 23.Rh4, won a pawn, and Carlsen converted the advantage without a single mistake.

A fantastic game, to which Game Review awarded Carlsen an impressive 95% accuracy score against Nakamura’s 87%. 

In his interview, Nakamura later criticized his move 11…Na5 and thought that the knight belonged on e7 instead. The engine, and a prior game, confirm his assessment.

In game two, Nakamura played an ambiguous opening, fianchettoing his kingside bishop and not committing his central pawns right away. They quickly traded queens and Carlsen was never in trouble.

In the endgame, he instructively traded pieces by tactical means starting with 28…f4!. From there, he didn’t have losing chances, and even tried to push a little. Nakamura found a repetition and drew the game.

Game three was the second major point in the match, more important than game four. It was Nakamura’s real chance at victory—an opportunity he just barely missed by a hair’s length.

He did everything right: he played an aggressive opening with Black, he took a risk with 7…g5!?, he put his own king in danger to continue the endgame (avoiding safer options, with a draw), he was up on time and suddenly outplayed the world champion and won a pawn in the rook endgame.  

What followed was simply nerves. A 132-move game riddled with errors, if you ask the computer—missed wins, missed draws. As a testament to their willpower and mental strength, however, IM Levy Rozman put it best.

This 132-move game is our Game of the Day and has been analyzed by GM Rafael Leitao.

GM Rafael Leitao GotD

After the game, Nakamura reflected on the importance of game three: “In game three Magnus gave me some chances pretty unnecessarily and I mean it was a little bit unfortunate I wasn’t able to win that game. … I was probably winning somehow … but Magnus defended very well.”

As he put it, the fourth game “wasn’t meant to be.” He repeated a similar opening to game two, except with 6.e4 instead of 6.c4. By move 29, after the American GM sacrificed a pawn in desperation, it was clear that Carlsen wouldn’t lose and could only win.

In the final position, the engine gives Black an evaluation of more than -5.00, and they agreed to a draw. A victory for the Norwegian Chessbrah.

After the match, Carlsen commented: “It’s a little bit weird … out of my last nine games I won one of them.  … It didn’t feel like I managed to play close to my best level.”

Asked later about what his time bid would have been in an armageddon game, he answered: “Truth be told, I hadn’t thought about it.”

Carlsen earns $30,000, 150 CCT tour points, and automatic entry into Division I of the next event. Nakamura takes away $20,000, 100 tour points, and also entry into Division I next time.

Division I Bracket

Division II

In game one, Caruana squeezed out a rook endgame with an extra pawn. In game two, he lost what the engine will say is a holdable endgame, but his mistake is understandable. With under 20 seconds, he chose to win his opponent’s bishop, but the far-advanced three pawns were decisive against the knight. He had one chance on move 78, but it was missed.

Taking a look at this endgame shows some nice defensive themes. On move 66, it’s about latching onto your opponent’s pawns (trading pawns when worse), and on move 78 it’s about blockading passed pawns (in this case, on the light squares).

Game three was a shocker. Caruana won the next game in 31 moves. The players followed a Caruana-Carlsen 2019 game until move 13, and from there Yu held his own competently. It was when he went for a pawn-grab on the queenside that his position collapsed.

It’s not so often you see a queen run out of squares on the long diagonal. But that’s what happened. Stunningly, there was simply no way for the black queen to defend the g7-square. 

He drew game four with Black to win the match.

Caruana wins $10,000, 50 tour points, and a spot in Division I of the next Champions Chess Tour event (another $7,500 guaranteed). Yu makes $7,500 and 30 tour points.

In his interview, “It’s a good start. Of course, it was a bit of a heartbreaker to get eliminated from Division I by losing to Sarana. … I didn’t even know until yesterday that [winning Division II] qualifies for Division I. That’s sort of icing on the cake. 

Division II Bracket

Division III

Division III concluded on Thursday. Sevian won $5,000, as well as 20 CCT tour points, while Praggnanandhaa made $3,600 and 15 tour points.

Division III Bracket 

Prizes and CCT Tour Points

The Champions Chess Tour 2023 (CCT) is a massive chess circuit combining the best features of previous Champions Chess Tour editions with the Global Championship. The tour comprises six events spanning the entire year and culminating in live in-person Finals. With the very best players in the world and a $2,000,000 prize fund, the CCT is’s most important event to date.

Only grandmasters are eligible for automatic entry into the Play-In Phase. Other titled players (IM and below) can play in the Qualifiers that take place every Monday starting February 13, except on weeks with a Play-In or Knockout (21 in total). The top three players from each Qualifier will be eligible to participate in the upcoming Play-In. 

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