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MCCT Finals 8: Radjabov overtakes So

Teimour Radjabov said “this is the only day I don’t enjoy my win” after he defeated countryman Shakhriyar Mamedyarov to overtake Wesley So in the race for the $60,000 2nd place in the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour. That remarkable 5th win in a row in rapid chess meant that even though Wesley beat Jan-Krzysztof Duda in blitz chess he fell behind his rival. Wesley also needs to look over his shoulder to Levon Aronian, who said he “didn’t have much trouble” beating Magnus Carlsen 3:1!

You can replay all the games from Round 8 of the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour using the selector below. 

And here’s the day’s live commentary from David Howell, Jovanka Houska and Kaja Snare. 

And from Peter Leko and Simon Williams. 

Levon Aronian, Teimour Radjabov and Anish Giri picked up a full 3 points for winning their matches in rapid chess, while Wesley So and Hikaru Nakamura earned 2 points for victory in blitz playoffs. 

Radjabov 2.5:1.5 Mamedyarov

Teimour Radjabov began the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour Finals with three rounds in which he drew in rapid chess and then lost the blitz playoffs, picking up a single point each day. One of those rounds, against Hikaru Nakamura, saw Teimour make four quick draws in a row, so that the Azerbaijan star was on no-one’s radar as a potential player of the tournament.


It all changed in Round 4, when Teimour won in rapid chess against Jan-Krzysztof Duda in a match he could easily have lost. Suddenly there was no looking back, as Levon Aronian, Wesley So, Magnus Carlsen and now Shakhriyar Mamedyarov were all put to the sword without the need for a playoff, giving Teimour 18 match points, a score that no-one in the Finals can now match.

In a way the toughest contest was the last, since Teimour and his Azerbaijan colleague Mamedyarov have long had a non-aggression pact, and when it was put to Teimour that it’s sport and it’s natural for there to be a winner, he responded:

Losing also is a natural thing, so it’s like from time to time this happens, but we’re from the same country, we’re very close friends in general and playing against him, and for him playing against me, always was hard, so we do not celebrate any victories against each other, and that’s why I was saying this. In general we played in the World Cup and many other tournaments, certainly the knockout stuff where there should be a winner, but still it’s probably one of the few opponents in general in the world that I do not enjoy winning against. 

For two games it looked as though we were headed straight for playoffs, with quick draws in which nothing at all happened. Teimour decided he didn’t want to play blitz, however, and said he “tried a bit harder in the third game”. What followed was a wild line that led to Anish Giri beating Magnus Carlsen in the 2020 Magnus Carlsen Invitational, the first truly significant online chess tournament. When Anish went on to win that match he gave us a famous celebration.

Here Magnus played 13.Rg1, while Teimour spent almost 5 minutes on the novelty 13.f4!? He admitted his play was “far from successful” and he ultimately found himself in an endgame three pawns down. His bishop pair gave compensation, however, and he managed to fight back.

Here the minor pieces soon left the board and Teimour was able to hold a theoretically drawn rook endgame.

It was now no surprise that the final rapid game was a real battle, and once again it seemed Shakhriyar was comfortably on top. 

He could have kept his advantage with solid moves such as 29.Nc4, 29.Rfd1 or 29.Qd2, but instead went for the knight sacrifice 29.Nf5!? It was a bold move entirely in Shakh’s style, and even more or less sound — the computer gives 0.00 — but suddenly White also had to show extreme precision, especially after Teimour picked the right moment to sacrifice back a piece. 

In the end one slip (38.Rh5?) saw Shakh sink into a lost position, and Teimour was ruthless. 

White has more or less managed to defend and is only one pawn down, but here Teimour emphasised how helpless White is with the little move 45…c5!, safeguarding the pawn and preparing its further advance. Shakh now cracked with 46.Qc3? and after 46…Ne4! it was time to resign. 

That stunning run leaves it in Teimour’s hands to pick up the $60,000 2nd prize — if he beats MVL in rapid chess even a rapid victory for Wesley So over Magnus Carlsen will change nothing — but that wasn’t what pleased him most about the event so far.

Being on the 2nd place just feels ok, being on the 1st place would be nice, but otherwise the thing that I’ve managed to beat Magnus makes me happy, before the Candidates and everything. You just feel that you can win against the World Champion, and that’s a pretty awesome thing, especially that he’s generally in good shape, also preparing for the match.

Teimour felt Magnus suffering some blows in the Finals might help the World Champion before the match against Ian Nepomniachtchi. 

I think it will also be a good thing for him to lose some matches here, because for the World Championship match he should be in shape, and he should not be feeling invincible. He should fight for the crown again and try to defend it.

Let’s take a look at how Magnus fared in Round 8.

Aronian 3:1 Carlsen

Levon Aronian commented after defeating Magnus Carlsen: 

I cannot really say I played particularly well, but I could tell that Magnus is very relaxed, he doesn’t really care about the results — that’s how I can explain that I didn’t have much trouble winning today!

That’s a shocking thing to be able to say, but Levon was closer to winning even more emphatically on a day when Magnus, who had won the $100,000 top prize the day before, was the only player who no longer had places or prizes to play for. 

Magnus had vowed to have some fun in the last two matches, and met 1.e4 with the 1…Nc6!? Nimzowitsch Defence, but it was unlikely he had too much fun, even if it seems Black was still in business until around move 30. It required accuracy, however, and when Levon’s f-pawn got moving things were critical.

Magnus thought for almost three minutes here, and although 33…Rxf6 34.Nf7! isn’t appealing, he could have saved the exchange with 34…Rxf1 35.Rxf1 Qe7!. Levon could still pick up pawns with excellent winning chances, but the game would go on.

Instead after 33…Qxc3? 34.f7! Nc4 35.Ne6 it was hopeless, with Magnus resigning when the f-pawn queened. It was his third straight loss in a row in rapid chess. 

Magnus is famous for hitting back immediately after losses, but this time he got nothing in Game 2, before Levon could have sealed the deal in Game 3.

18.Na7! is a killer. If Black exchanges queens it turns out you can’t defend the d7-knight, with Nc6 to follow. 18…Nc5 is an attempt to avoid heavy material losses, but it runs into 19.Qf3!, when the undefended bishop on f6 as well as the rook on c8 are attacked. 

In the game, however, Magnus’ desperate pawn sacrifice worked, as Levon grabbed it with 18.Qxc7 Rxc7 19.Nxa5 and Magnus was ultimately able to hold that tricky ending.

That led to an entertaining final game where Magnus threw the kitchen sink at Levon before his opponent had managed to castle.

After 15..Rd8 16.exf6 gxf6 Magnus pressed on with 17.d5?!. Neither the computer, nor Levon, nor, one assumes, Magnus, believed it, and in the end Levon confidently brought the game to a successful conclusion.

Levon has come a long way since as a kid he was hustling playing blitz at night to support his family!

Magnus didn’t have too many words afterwards:

I didn’t feel like I should have lost the first one, it felt like I was doing ok, and then I kind of lost control after that, and then the rest of the day was pretty poor… Obviously I should play better than I have the last few days, but it’s the way it is.

The result means that if Levon can beat Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in rapid chess in the final round, and Wesley So loses in rapid to Magnus, then he’d take the $40,000 3rd prize above Wesley. 2nd place is off limits, since although Levon could match Radjabov’s current 24 points, Teimour would still finish higher on the tiebreaker of his score in the Finals. 

So 3.5:2.5 Duda

It was a day when a win in rapid chess for Wesley So would have made a big difference — he would have remained in 2nd place and now be uncatchable by Levon — but the US Champion was perhaps more focused on stabilising after losing the last two matches. All four rapid games against Jan-Krzysztof Duda were drawn, with the Polish star having some chances, most notably at the very end.

Jan-Krzysztof completed a draw by 3-fold repetition with 34.Ne2, but 34.Rcb1! would pose immediate tactical problems for Wesley. The only good defence is 34…Qe8! 35.Qg4! e5! 36.Ne6 and Black has to give up the exchange with 36…Rxg3+!, when the fight goes on. 

Jan-Krzysztof was happy to have drawn that section, however, summing up:

First of all I’m happy not to lose in the rapid time control against Wesley. It’s probably the first time in my career, because Wesley is one of the difficult opponents for me, probably the most difficult, so I’m definitely happy with my rapid games. I could have played on I guess the 4th game, but somehow I just wanted to tie and thought I will have even better chances in blitz, which didn’t turn out to be the case. He played quite quickly and I think the time management was better on his side, so that’s basically why he won the match, because I think I had promising positions in both blitz games. 

That assessment seems fair, with Duda blundering a pawn and losing what had been a very good position in the first blitz game. Winning the second on demand was always going to be tough, and in the end Wesley made a draw in a completely winning endgame to pick up two match points. 

Giri 2.5:1.5 MVL

This was a memorable day for Anish Giri. 

I’m happy that I won today, especially because my tournament’s not been going very well, and more than that it was a bit annoying that I hadn’t won a single match in the rapid, which felt a little bit stupid, I wasn’t playing that badly, and I wanted to win at least one match in the rapid portion. I’m glad it happened today.

In the end it was enough to win the first rapid game, where an ending reached by move 12 proved to be surprisingly dangerous for Black, given that material was identical and the only real issue was an inferior pawn structure. Anish won a pawn on h7, and 25…f5 didn’t trap the bishop. 

26.g4! saved the bishop, and 26…fxg4 broke up Black’s pawns some more, with 27.Kb4 the start of a triumphal king march to queen a pawn on the queenside. Maxime had one chance later in the game, but despite abundant time on his clock he didn’t take it, and Anish took the lead.

The Dutchman defended well in the 2nd game, was happy to make a quick draw in the 3rd game, and then dominated the 4th after springing an opening surprise on move 5. Black was soon winning, but Anish was a little worried:

At some point I was trying to find a win and I couldn’t see a forced win, in rapid it’s a problem, because your time is ticking, but I think it was always in control and finally I forced an endgame.

31…d3! was the winning move, but Giri’s 31…Rxf3!? 32.gxf3 d3 33.Nxd3 Qxf3+ 34.Qe2 Qxd3+ 35.Qxd3 Nxd3 was perhaps an even better practical choice. Maxime ended the game with almost as much time as he started, but he couldn’t get the win he needed. 

Nakamura 3.5:2.5 Artemiev

This was perhaps the day’s hardest fought match, with a tense draw in the first game followed by Hikaru Nakamura taking the lead in Game 2. 

32…g5! 33.hxg5 Rg6! was a perfectly timed assault on the kingside and Hikaru went on to win in style. 

Artemiev came very close to a comeback with Black in the next game before he finally did break through in the 4th game. It was a thoroughly deserved result given the flow of the game, but there was one huge chance for Hikaru near the end, after 28.f3? (instead of 28.f4!)

28…f4!, giving the queen a square on g3, forces White to take an immediate draw by repetition, since things can easily go completely wrong e.g. 29.exf4? e3! is mate-in-3 for Black. Similarly if you give Black time to play fxe3 there’s also a mating net. 

Instead after 28…Qg3? 29.Nxf7 Vladislav wrapped up victory to take the match to tiebreaks. You could see what it meant to him.

Hikaru must have thought, “not again”, after winning his last two matches only in Armageddon, but this time his task was made easier when Artemiev, after pushing for most of the game, lost on time.

That meant the young Russian had to win with Black in the final blitz game, but though it stretched to 90 moves he never really came close and Hikaru had won three matches in a row since his loss to Magnus.

That leaves the standings as follows going into the final round. 

As mentioned, it’s now advantage Radjabov, and if he scores 3 points for beating MVL in rapid chess he’ll take 2nd place whatever happens in Carlsen-So. If Wesley loses in rapid chess that also guarantees Teimour 2nd place, whatever happens in his own match. 

Meanwhile to have a chance of 3rd place Aronian must beat Mamedyarov in rapid chess, but if he loses that match in rapid then Nakamura can overtake him and clinch 4th place by beating Duda. In short, there’s a lot still to be decided!

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