World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen was the only player to
score a positive score on Day 2 of the Airthings Masters as he beat Daniil
Dubov in the first game to join Hikaru Nakamura, Levon Aronian, Teimour
Radjabov, Wesley So and later Dubov in the lead. That was one of just three
decisive games – the other two were Giri 1-0 Harikrishna and Dubov 1-0 Giri –
as the players ensured the final day of the preliminaries will be tense. No-one
is safe, with any of the leading pack immediately in danger if they lose in
Monday’s last three rounds.
An amazing 21 out of 24 games were drawn on Day 2 of the
Airthings Masters, with all 12 of the games in Rounds 7 and 8 ending
peacefully. You can replay the games below.
Here’s the day’s live commentary from Kaja Snare, Jovanka
Houska and David Howell.
And from Tania Sachdev and Peter Leko.
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Let’s take a look at the day’s action from the point of view
of where the players started the day.
The leading pack (+1): Nakamura, Aronian, Dubov, Radjabov
These five players all went into Day 2 of the Airthings
Masters after drawing three games and winning one on the first day of the
tournament. They understandably reasoned that maintaining +1 would ensure
them a place in the Top 8 and therefore a qualifying place for the knockout
stages, but it was still remarkable that all but one of the players made draws
in all four games.
The approach was summed up by the all-US clash Nakamura-So ending
in a 14-move draw that was over almost before it began.
Given Hikaru was starting at 6am in the morning you could
see the appeal of a quick draw, but he also followed up with 19 and 22-move
draws in his remaining games, with four draws proving sufficient to remain in
the leading pack.
The one exception among the leaders was, no prizes for guessing, Daniil Dubov,
who also scored 50%, but only after one loss, one win and a near-miss (against
Grischuk). It was a case of “careful what you wish for” as his clash with his
sometime boss Magnus Carlsen proved every bit as interesting as he’d hoped the
It came down to an ending where Magnus had a small edge,
however, and the World Champion described what happened next:
I was trying to keep the position alive, obviously, and it
felt like there was nothing, nothing and just suddenly I managed to trick him
and get a win. It felt a bit accidental, to be fair, but it’s ok, as long as
you can keep it from being a forced draw you can often get something in those
It certainly escalated fast, with 46…Rb1 a loose, if not losing, move.
After Carlsen’s 47.f4!
Black was suddenly on the edge, and 47…Rg1+
48.Kf2 Rg2+ 49.Kf1 Rd2 50.Ne6+ Kf7? was already lost. 50…Kh8! might have held,
with the difference being that in the game after 51.fxg5 Nf3 White has a winning move due to the unfortunate
position of the black king.
52.g6+! was the knockout
blow. 52…Kxg6 loses the black knight to 53.Nd4+, but after 52…Ke7 53.Ra3! it was also hopeless for Black, with the game soon
Dubov hit back, however, to beat Anish Giri in the very next
game after playing a novelty on move 9 of the Berlin. Multiple top-level games
had reached the same position, but no-one had ever tried 9.c3.
It wasn’t the kind of move that blows you away, but 10 moves
later Black was lost, with Anish admitting he “lost straight out of the
opening”, though he played on to the bitter end.
50%: Grischuk, Nepomniachtchi, Carlsen and Harikrishna
The players on 50% were in a dangerous spot. If the
preliminary stage had ended after Day 1 the first three would have qualified
for the knockout, but Harikrishna would have missed out. Therefore they all had
a clear incentive to try and find a win, but Alexander Grischuk and Ian
Nepomniachtchi, despite some close shaves, both drew all four of their games.
The other two players ended the day as the only ones to have moved either up or down in the standings. Harikrishna dropped to -1 after
missing a tactical detail and losing to Anish Giri in the first game of the
The other player to make a move was Magnus Carlsen, who as
we saw grabbed that win against Daniil Dubov. The World Champion drew his
remaining three games and wasn’t thrilled by how things had gone.
I think I played quite poorly today. Especially in the last
game I was really, really bad. In general, of course, I would have loved to get
another win today from one of the last two white games. I just didn’t play so
well, but still I’m undefeated, so that’s a good thing, but I obviously have to
play a lot better.
He struggled to explain what was wrong.
I don’t know, it’s just been sluggish. I think I’ve had some
decent positions from the opening as well, especially with the white pieces, I
just haven’t played so well after. I don’t know what’s missing really, and it’s
been a bit frustrating so far, but as long as I don’t fall apart tomorrow it’s
going to be fine.
-1: Maxime Vachier-Lagrave
The French no. 1 found himself alone on -1 after Day 1, having
drawn three games and lost a game he should have won to Nepo. That meant he needed
at least one win to get back on track for qualification, but instead he had to
settle for four draws, featuring a missed chance with White against Aronian but
also two tricky games with the black pieces against David Anton and Magnus
-2: David Anton and Anish Giri
Both these players really needed to make things happen, but
as Anish put it:
I feel I’m in decent shape, so it’s very unfortunate to be
in this situation because of course now, for everybody who is on a good score,
they’re just there chilling and playing safe against each other, just waiting
for the qualification phase to be over. And people like me, who are in the
gutter, we have to fight our way back, so it’s going to be hard, but I feel my
play has been ok, my shape is ok, so if I get a bit luckier maybe I’ll manage
to win and not lose. With two wins I’ll make it, but it’s going to be very
Spanish Champion David Anton had good positions against both
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Magnus Carlsen, but couldn’t avoid drawing all four
of his games. Anish, as we’ve seen, looked right back in contention after
winning the first game of the day only for Dubov to act as the destroyer in the
very next game.
The most anticipated game of the day was perhaps Giri’s last-round clash with Magnus Carlsen, and the Dutch no. 1 got the early initiative
by springing a surprise with the Grünfeld Defence. Magnus took his time, only
to rush at the wrong moment.
16.axb3! was the correct move, since 16.Qxb3?! ran into 16…e6! As
That was really a very, very bad moment, because when I took
back the knight with the queen I just missed that he could play e6 and kick my
knight away, after which my position is just awful. I was always thinking that
e6 can be met by Nf6, but obviously with the queen away it can’t anymore.
Anish had some real chances later on, but it was never easy
and the game fizzled out into a draw, which left Magnus at the top and Giri at
the bottom of the standings presented by Julius Bär.
It had been a remarkably quiet day, but that may just be the calm before the storm. There are only three rounds to go
on Monday, but no-one is safe. It’s enough to recall how Daniil Dubov led the
Chessable Masters A qualifier with two rounds to go but lost
the last two games and finished 5th out of 6, when only the first 4 went
through. More recently, and even more dramatically, there was the case of
Alireza Firouzja in the Skilling Open. The 17-year-old played brilliantly to
take the sole lead with two rounds to go, but again lost those games and
finished 9th when only the first 8 went through.
Such unpredictability also gives Giri hope:
You probably do remember the previous tournament from the
Tour where I was first before the last day, and then on the last day I did a complete
meltdown and I barely qualified. I’ll now try to do the reverse. I’m now the
last, but maybe on the last day I will turn things around!
The main thing at stake on the final day of the prelims is qualification
for the knockout, but that’s not all. There are tour points based on where you
finish, and as the points are doubled for a Major like the
Airthings Masters those points are significant. Overall tour points will decide
the eight players automatically invited to the next event as well as who qualifies
for the Grand Final.
More immediately, however, the standings also determine the
pairings for the knockout, since it’s 1st vs. 8th, 2nd vs. 7th and so on –
admittedly at this stage it’s completely unclear which seeding number will give
the easiest path to the final!
Don’t miss the final day of the preliminary stage, with all the Airthings Masters action starting at 15:00 CET (09:00 CET)!