Nakamura beats So, Carlsen survives | Chessable Masters 2

Nakamura beats So, Carlsen survives | Chessable Masters 2


Magnus Carlsen survived his first brush with elimination on the 2023 Champions Chess Tour to beat Liem Le in Armageddon and set up a battle on Wednesday against Wesley So which will leave the loser having to qualify for the next event. Wesley lost another intense match against Hikaru Nakamura, who will play Fabiano Caruana in the Winners bracket final, after Fabi made a comeback to beat Vladislav Artemiev.

The Champions Chess Tour format is fast and, two days in, we already know the identity of the finalists in the Chessable Masters Winners bracket: Hikaru Nakamura and Fabiano Caruana.

The first order of business on Tuesday, however, was the Losers bracket, where Magnus Carlsen, who had won all his matches in the Airthings Masters, was staring elimination in the face for the first time on the 2023 Champions Chess Tour.

Carlsen 1.5:1.5 Le (Magnus wins in Armageddon)

Magnus, on holiday with his family in Chamonix, France, shared an unconventional approach to pre-game preparation on his Instagram channel.

Then, during the early stages of the first game against Liem Le, he explained he’d been eating, “some bread with some local cheese and avocado, as well as a few tomatoes on the side”.

At first it didn’t seem to be working out, as an early g4 against Le’s Sicilian only led to a shambolic position. It was a defensible one, however, and Magnus would later sum up that, “apart from the first ten moves or so of the first game, I played more or less ok”, although he also admitted, “I didn’t do anything special”.

All three games would follow the same pattern of dry, accurate draws ending with all the material exhausted by move 46-49. Key was the bidding for Armageddon, where Magnus was back on form.

Liem Le, needing to win with the white pieces, played the Catalan but got absolutely nothing. Magnus commented:

I think his choice of opening in the Armageddon was pretty unfortunate. The way it happened I just got a very comfortable position where I could just trade at every opportunity, and then it was really easy.

The only way Magnus could spoil things would be a moment of monumental carelessness.

33…Rxd2?? would lose the game, since instead of 34.Kxd2?? Nc4+, winning the rook, Liem would give a check with 34.Rb8+! and White wins.

Magnus held a comfortable draw, but he’s not expecting anything comfortable about Wednesday.

I’m happy to survive another day. Tomorrow’s match will be insanely tough, regardless of whom I play, but I’ll try.

His opponent will be none other than one of his great rivals, Wesley So, but we’ll get to that.

Aronian 1.5:0.5 Fedoseev

The other Losers bracket battle was an unfortunate place for Vladimir Fedoseev to find himself, since he’d been as close as you can get to defeating Hikaru Nakamura the day before. This time, however, it was Levon who would dominate the match, even if he let a win slip away in the first game.

Levon here had 20 seconds to spare and used up 18 of them before opting for 49…d3? and seeing his win fizzle out after 50.c6!

Instead he should have played 49…Rh1+! 50.Kc2 d3+! and White has a miserable choice. 51.Kxd3 allows the b-pawn to queen, but after 51.Kxb2 d2 there’s no stopping the d-pawn.

That setback didn’t harm Levon, however, since he got a good position out of the opening in the second game and converted it without difficulty. In fact, his biggest obstacle may have been a gardener.

He explained:

I’m in a hotel in Egypt and I asked the general manager of the hotel if he could provide me with some space to play the matches, and he kindly provided his room, his office. And there was some guy who was responsible for watering the plants, and I was trying to tell him, please don’t come in, but I guess the general manager forgot to notify him than nobody should enter here.

In the Winners bracket, meanwhile, we had another clash between Hikaru Nakamura and Wesley So, after Hikaru edged two of their three recent matches in Saint Louis.

Nakamura 2.5:1.5 So

It would be the same story again in the Chessable Masters, not just in terms of the scenario but the character of the games, with the first an intense 105 moves of subtle blow and counterblow that ended in a draw.

The second was where Hikaru drew blood, correctly spotting that 29.Ng3? was a serious mistake.

The knight on f5 had been guarding d4, so that the knight capturing the pawn on a4 could be met by Nxd4, since if Black captures with his own knight on d4 there’s another knight to evict that stead.

In the game, however, there was now nothing to prevent 29…Nxa4! (played after 3 minutes spent checking) 30.Ra1 Nc3 31.Rbxa5 Rxa5 32.Rxa5 Ra6 33.Rxa6 bxa6 and White’s big issue was the fast-moving passed a-pawn.

By the end of the game, it had made it all the way to a1 and become a queen.

Just as the day before, it looked as though Wesley, when stung, was going to strike back immediately and win on demand with the black pieces, but when he was closing on victory he blundered a full piece.

Perhaps after 37.Qxe4 Qxe4 38.Rxe4 Rc1+ he’d missed that Hikaru had the backwards knight move 39.Ng1! That left Hikaru on top, but he was unable to wrap up the match as Wesley managed to draw.

The final game was another intense battle of mutual chances, with Wesley’s last opportunity coming on move 35.

It’s easy to imagine White has a win with all the pieces and pawns around the black king, but much, much harder to find it. In fact 35.g6! turns out to have been the key trick, while after 35.Rd7 White would be winning if not for an exchange sacrifice, with Hikaru correctly playing 35…Rbxc4!, after which there were no more wins for Wesley.

That means Wesley So now faces Magnus Carlsen in a 2-game elimination match, with the loser of that match out of the tournament and knowing they’ll have to qualify through the tough Play-In to reach the next Champions Chess Tour event.

Hikaru confessed that avoiding that fate had been his main goal:

As long as you finish in the Top 3, I don’t care if I finish 3rd, 2nd, 1st, it’s all pretty irrelevant, just the fact that I’m guaranteed to play the next event. I don’t have to go through the whole slog of playing the qualifier.

He almost literally doesn’t care… but he’ll face a tough opponent in the final when he takes on another US rival, Fabiano Caruana. Fabi noted they have a history, including the original online chess event, the Magnus Carlsen Invitational. Fabi commented:

We’ve played over-the-board matches stretching back from 2015, and I also remember a crazy match we played in the first chess24 tour event, the first organised in 2020 after COVID hit and chess moved online for a while. I lost with White and I had to win with Black on demand, and I won that, but I lost the tiebreak.

But let’s get back to 2023.

Caruana 2.5:2.5 Artemiev (Fabiano wins in Armageddon)

The first game of this match was so dull Fabiano Caruana at first forgot about it in his description of the day’s action, but it was followed by an intense battle. Fabi summed up:

I was much, much better, probably winning, then I was dead, completely dead, and I was almost ready mentally to resign, but somehow I drew.

The escape happened on move 70.

70…b3! and Artemiev’s kingside pawns would only be stopped dangerously close to queening, while his king could pick up the f-pawn and then join the action.

Instead after 70…Bc6? 71.Nc4! the pawns were stopped and almost immediately gobbled up. Fabi knew he’d got very lucky.

The luck didn’t last long, however, since he said he “lost like a complete idiot” in Game 3 after pushing for most of the game.

Caruana was facing his first match loss of the 2023 Champions Chess Tour main stages, but he hit straight back to win Game 4 in style and force Armageddon.

It turned out Artemiev was very much ok with the white pieces.

He had real chances of a happy ending, but 33.g3?! was already a misstep, and led to an inspired find by Caruana.

Fabi explained he considered 33…Nf3+, then 33…Bc8?! with a possible future Qf8, and only then hit on the idea of playing 33…Qf8! first. That was a brilliant trap that was sprung when 34.Qc7? ran into 34…Bc8!

The threat of mate-in-2 with Qxf2+ means that the rook on c8 is lost. There was no way back for Artemiev, and in the end he took a draw by repetition which, in Armageddon, was the equivalent of a loss.

That means we’ll have the Caruana-Nakamura final on Thursday as well as So-Carlsen and Artemiev-Aronian in the Losers bracket, while the action is also heating up in Division II.

Vladimir Kramnik showed he meant business with some hyper-sharp opening play against Grigoriy Oparin

…and he went on to win 3:1 to set up a mouth-watering Winners semi-final against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. Remarkably MVL scored the day’s only 3:0 win, over Praggnanandhaa, a day after Pragg had himself scored the only 3:0 win. Maxime was helped by a mouse-slip in the final game.

The other semi-final is Nodirbek Abdusattorov vs. Denis Lazavik, while the Losers bracket features more big match-ups: Oparin-GiriPraggnanandhaa-DubovKeymer-Dreev and Erigaisi-Yu Yangyi. All the players remaining in Division II still have a chance to win it and book the single place in the next event’s Division I.

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