Magnus Carlsen defeated Vladislav Artemiev 2.5:1.5 on Day 1 of the Aimchess US Rapid final after opening with a powerful double pawn sacrifice with the black pieces in the first game of the day. Magnus made it 2:0 when Vladislav blundered in Game 2 under the pressure of both his clock and disconnection issues, but was handed a lifeline when Magnus made an accidental move in the 3rd game. That meant the World Champion still needed a draw to clinch the match, but this time he achieved that with no drama.

You can replay all the games from the knockout section of the Aimchess US Rapid, the 9th event on the $1.6 million Meltwater Champions Chess Tour, using the selector below.

And here’s the day’s live commentary from Danny King and Simon Williams, who were joined by Peter Svidler.

And from David Howell, Jovanka Houska and Kaja Snare.

For the first time since the 1st event of the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour there was no 3rd place match, since Alireza Firouzja was feeling too unwell to play and will instead focus on getting better before Norway Chess starts this Tuesday, September 7th.

That meant that Levon Aronian took 3rd place without needing to play a match, and when he was asked if he regretted not getting to play Firouzja the world no. 5 replied:

Yes and no. I like playing against him, he’s very creative, but at the same time I’m packing my things to move to Saint Louis, so I would say in any other circumstances I would be unhappy but in these circumstances I accept it with gratitude!

Levon flies to Saint Louis on Sunday night, and not just to play the upcoming Chess960 tournament but to move there permanently. He commented:

I’m very excited to start a new life in Saint Louis, in a city that I like a lot, and a city where I have many strong chess players living, so a lot of sparring opportunities. I know Yerevan is like Moscow, I guess another city where you have plenty of opportunities to work with very good players, but I think at the moment Saint Louis is probably even better than Moscow.

Levon already has some blitz lined up with another Saint Louis resident, Fabiano Caruana!

Levon was asked to give his views on the final and also the upcoming World Championship match, and had an interesting view on the player who beat him in the Aimchess US Rapid semi-finals:

I’m not sure if it’s Magnus or just the general level, but I think the gap has narrowed a lot. I do feel that Magnus is not unbeatable and he does make mistakes. Even playing with me yesterday I think that last game, of course I cannot really say that I played well myself throughout the match, but at some point he gave me a chance to win the game, which is not how Magnus normally plays.

On the other hand, Levon had some ominous words for Artemiev:

Magnus definitely is the kind of guy who if he gets to the finals, if he gets to the clutch time, as they say in sports, becomes extremely motivated and extremely strong. He’s going to be a tough challenge for Vladislav, despite him being a very good and talented player. I think it will be very tough, and I thought about it before today’s match I thought it’s tough when Magnus feels that it’s the final match, then he becomes very strong, so the best thing it to beat him before he gets to the final!

Let’s get to the match:

Carlsen 2.5:1.5 Artemiev

After 1.c4 Nf6 2.Nf3 in the first game, Vladislav Artemiev managed to get Magnus Carlsen thinking for 1 minute and 44 seconds before playing 2…c5, but in a way it was all downhill from there. Magnus was completely in control with the black pieces in under a dozen moves, and was only disappointed that his 23…Qg5!? let some of the advantage slip.

He commented:

I think I played well up to a certain point, but then I made a huge mistake when I played Qg5 at some point, giving him time to push his pawn and gain a few tempi there. I thought my position was so good that I could do anything and I kind of wanted to provoke f4, but if I just play some different move he just has no ideas at all, it’s just unbelievably passive. Whenever he pushes his pawn to kick away my knight, his position is weakened and his rooks are really, really passive as well, so I can just do anything, while in the game I gave him serious counter-chances.

After 24.f4! Qe7 25.Bb4 Qc7 26.f5!? it was Artemiev’s turn to have regrets.

I think that the first game was normal, Magnus played it well, but still I can improve my game, because for example instead of f5 maybe g5 is better, and probably it’s an unclear position.

The computer backs up that assessment, while after 26…Ree8 27.Qe1 Magnus was able to play the powerful and computer-approved pawn sacrifice 27…Qd8!, then after 28.Rxc6 he went for a less obvious and more double-edged second pawn sacrifice, 28…h3!?

Magnus himself explained:

I sort of decided to gamble there and sacrifice another pawn. I assumed with the strength of my pieces I should never be worse, but still it was quite unnecessary.

It worked out perfectly, however, since it deprived Vladislav of any easy consolidating play in time trouble, and after 29.Bxh3 Qg5 30.Qe2 Rac8 the game was lost by the single move 31.Rac1?, in a position where after 31.Rxc8 White may even be better.

Here Magnus found 31…Bc4!, hitting the queen on e2 and the rook on c6. 32.R1xc4 just gives up material while Black remains on the attack, so Vladislav attempted to maintain rough material equality with 32.Rxc8 Bxe2 33.Rxe8+ Kh7, but the weakness of the e3-pawn is critical. He found the clever defence 34.Bd2.

34…Nxd2? 35.Rcc8! and White should survive, but Magnus was brutal and after 34…Bxg4! 35.Bg2 Bf3! Vladislav resigned, with mate-in-6 on the board.

Game 2 was the critical turning point of the match, with both players having something to shout about in the opening. Magnus’ 5.dxc5!? (instead of 5.Nf3 Nc6 first) was either a case of forgetting preparation or a deliberate provocation, which Vladislav accepted when he seized the chance to play 6…b5! a move later. Soon we had the following position.

At the cost of a pawn Black is going to be able to develop his pieces much faster, with the white king in danger. On the other hand, the opening play had cost Artemiev valuable time, which would be a factor later on.

Magnus would sum up:

Already the second game was kind of poor. I completely miscalculated early on and I was frankly just hoping to survive before he blundered, but I guess he had some troubles with his connection and everything, and he usually gets down on time anyway, but I don’t know, I think we both have some things to improve for tomorrow.

Up until 24.h4 Artemiev was on top, but while Magnus played that move with six minutes on the clock, Vladislav was down to under a minute.

With more time he might have seen that 24…Ra1! effectively stops White’s idea of 25.Rh3, since 25…Qe8! paralyses White’s pieces. In fact the computer suggests the sad 25.g3 is the only good move there for White.

Instead 24…Qd5!? was an understandable desire to simplify the position, but after 25.Rh3! Qxc4+ 26.bxc4 White was comfortable, and the losing blunder came after 26…Ra4 27.Nxd4 Rxc4 28.Nf5!.

If Artemiev had realised the danger in this particular constellation of pieces he would have moved one of the knights. Instead he saved his g7-pawn, but at the cost of a full piece! 28…g6? ran into 29.Nd6! and Vladislav resigned.

The arrows show the problem. If the attacked rook goes to c5 then the Nb7+ fork will win it, but if it leaves the c-file the c3-knight will be taken by the rook — again we see how perfectly the h4, Rh3 idea from Magnus ended up working out.

Artemiev had faced not only chess issues in that game — he was not in fact lifting a trophy, but it was just a still image since his bandwidth was too low to risk streaming video as well as playing. He commented:

I had problems with my connection in the second game and of course it was not easy, the position was very complicated and difficult for minds, and I have big problems also with the connection…

He added, “I have problems with my internet connection, it’s not good for me, and I will try to improve it also, not only my chess!”

Losing a second game in a row left Vladislav with a mountain to climb, needing to win the next two games to tie the day’s match. He was given a lifeline, however, in the following position.

All of a sudden Magnus played 25…Qe5?, and after 26.Qxa6 Artemiev showed his technical mastery to convert the extra pawn into a win. What had happened? Magnus explained:

My first idea was to play the queen from e4 to e6, so I almost played it, but then I became a bit unsure and I thought I put the queen back, and I kept thinking, and I think I sat there for like a minute before I realised that I’d actually put the queen on the wrong square, because I thought the queen was just back and I was thinking, and then I noticed all of sudden that it was his move. I was shocked by that, obviously, because the thing is Qe6 isn’t even a very good move, and I sort of realised eventually that I should probably play something else, but yeah, that was unfortunate, since without that move I don’t think the 4th game happens.

The moment Magnus realised his mistake was one of those classic online reactions!

So we had a fourth game, but Magnus only needed a draw with the white pieces, and this time he made absolutely no mistake. Vladislav got barely a glimmer of a chance before the game ended in bare kings, with Magnus having more time on his clock than he’d started with. He’d seemed very relaxed all day, and commented:

I guess it backfired, in the sense that I was too calm and I mouse-slipped, but I guess it helped in the 4th game. I just tried to play quickly and not over-think too much.

Speed of play is an area where Levon Aronian and Vladislav Artemiev himself felt the Russian star will have to improve on the second day, while Magnus identified another target:

I think this kind of reaffirmed that Artemiev can be quite vulnerable in dynamic and tactical play, so I think that’s the main area where I can strike.

That should make for some dramatic chess on the 2nd and final day of the Aimchess US Rapid final, which is also the final day of Meltwater Champions Chess Tour action before the grand final. 

Don’t miss the games with live commentary here on chess24 from 11:00 ET/17:00 CEST/20:30 IST!

See also: