Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura entered every online chess tournament of the COVID-19 era as the clear favorites to make the final. But neither will reach that stage at the Airthings Masters, as both grandmasters fell in shocking fashion in the quarterfinals on Wednesday.
Skilling Open champion Wesley So also lost in a bloody beginning to the knockout stages of the first major on the Champions Chess Tour.
Carlsen Blunders His Way to Early Exit
Carlsen drew his first quarterfinal match against Daniil Dubov on Tuesday, but the result didn’t leave him with much confidence. After the World Champion won Game 1, Dubov struck back with Black in Game 3 to go into the second day of the quarterfinals on even terms.
Dubov took control early on Wednesday, winning the first game with White. After a draw, Carlsen took advantage of a Dubov blunder to reach a winning position with Black in Game 3, but the Norwegian faltered, putting his king in a mating net. Dubov scored a checkmate after 39 moves to finish the match off by a 2.5-0.5 score, going through to the semifinals in the process.
“It just happens you know,” Dubov said afterward. “I was obviously very lucky in the end, but I think it is luck, it is not some kind of miracle.”
Carlsen said he was disappointed in his current form. He won four of the five events on the Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour, but hasn’t earned a title in either of the first two Champions Chess Tour tournaments.
People may play have good days or bad days against me, and I against them, but after another collapse the bottom line is that I'm in a deep funk right now, and it's really frustrating
— Magnus Carlsen (@MagnusCarlsen) December 30, 2020
“People may have good days or bad days against me, and I against them,” Carlsen wrote on Twitter. “But after another collapse, the bottom line is that I’m in a deep funk right now, and it’s really frustrating.”
Nakamura, So Out of Airthings Masters
Levon Aronian came into Day 2 of the quarterfinals in a great position, needing only to draw his match after beating Nakamura 2.5-1.5 on Tuesday. He wasted no time in finishing the job on Wednesday, winning the first two games to go straight through to the quarterfinals.
“I think it was difficult for Hikaru, mentally,” Aronian said. “I think he collapsed.”
MVL draws to make it through against So and we've got a semi-final line-up no-one could have predicted! https://t.co/OTo6pcgPXx
— chess24.com (@chess24com) December 30, 2020
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave also held an edge after beating So 3-1 on Tuesday. The American fought back on Day 2, winning the first game before securing three draws to force tiebreakers. The two split their blitz tiebreakers before Vachier-Lagrave drew the Armageddon game with Black to go through.
Those results mean that the top three favorites are all out of action at the Airthings Masters. It also opens the door for any of the remaining players to grab a title and an automatic bid into the season-ending Tour Final at the end of the season.
|Airthings Masters Semifinal Odds (via Unibet)|
|Levon Aronian: +165||Maxime Vachier-Lagrave: -225|
|Teimour Radjabov: +108||Daniil Dubov: -143|
|Maxime Vachier-Lagrave: +150|
|Daniil Dubov: +200|
|Teimour Radjabov: +225|
|Levon Aronian: +400|
Unibet now lists Vachier-Lagrave as the +150 favorite to win the Airthings Masters, but all four players are tightly bunched. Dubov (+200) is the second choice, ahead of Teimour Radjabov (+225), who qualified after slipping by Ian Nepomniachtchi in an Armageddon tiebreaker. Aronian brings up the rear, but at +400, he has every chance of winning the title.
The Airthings Masters semifinals begin on Thursday. Vachier-Lagrave (-225) faces Aronian (+165), while Dubov (-143) takes on Radjabov for a spot in the final.