by Carlos Alberto Colodro
31.12.2020 – Levon Aronian and Teimour Radjabov started the Airthings Masters semifinals with victories in the mini-match against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Daniil Dubov, respectively. They both reached game 4 in front on the scoreboard and saw their opponents overtaking in mandatory situations. | Photo: FIDE
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Levon Aronian has only lost one game so far at the Airthings Masters – he was defeated by David Anton in the last round of the preliminary round, when he had already secured a place in the playoffs. He got a convincing victory over online flash specialist Hikaru Nakamura in the quarterfinals and is now ahead on the scoreboard in the semifinals against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, another fast-paced expert.
If the Armenian continues his good form on Friday, he will face either Teimour Radjabov or Daniil Dubov in the final of the second Champions Chess Tour competition. After eliminating Magnus Carlsen in a memorable match, Dubov must win on demand in the second mini-match against Radjabov, as the Azeri kept a steady hand to get a 3: 1 victory in the first “set” of the semifinals .
Happy New Year, boys! All chess fans and friends in Azerbaijan and around the world! ❤️🎉😎
– Teimour Radjabov (@rajachess) December 31, 2020
With the end of an unusual year, we join Radjabov in wishing all our readers a happy new year. Fortunately for us chess fans, right from the first day of 2021 we will see four of the best players in the world who show what they are capable of in an event whose existence we could not have predicted exactly a year ago!
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Aronian 3: 1 Vachier-Lagrave
On several occasions, Aronian said that the Berlin Defense offers a lot of fighting opportunities if players are willing to enter unexplored territories and showed that this is the case in both games with black on Thursday.
In the first meeting of the day, the Armenian came out on top after the opening and saw his opponent voluntarily placing his knight on the rim in movement 27:
The engines take into account those of Vachier-Lagrave 27. Nxa7 to be the best move in position, but it is never easy for a man to play with a piece that is far from action and with almost no mobility – Black played 27 … c6 at once, removing all the escape squares of the knight.
Aronian was in the driver’s seat and slowly increased the pressure – as is done in these queenless positions – by transferring his king to the queen to capture the unfortunate knight:
33 … Kb7 and White soon gave up his knight for the c6 pawn. Vachier-Lagrave defended stubbornly until the 67th move, but to no avail – Aronian did not falter in the technical final phase.
A draw in game 2 was followed by another Berlin. This time, Aronian was the one who had a knight stuck on the edge of the board:
Black’s knight stood motionless on h4 since move 22, and White eventually came to attack him in the position diagrammed with 37.Kg3. Unlike MVL’s knight from the first game, however, blacks can save their piece here with 37 … g5. Aronian had defended a difficult position and continued to do so until the 46th move, when a triple repeat meant that the Armenian would enter the last fast game of the day, needing only a draw to win the set.
In the last game of the day, Vachier-Lagrave tried, but failed with the black pieces. The Frenchman now needs a victory to force a tiebreaker blitz on day 2 of the semifinals.
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Radjabov 3: 1 Dubov
As Peter Leko mentioned during the webcast of the comments, Radjabov is a player who has both the ability to play solid chess and to demonstrate great tactical strength when needed. Leko explained that the Azerbaijani found this as a young miracle when he played sharp openings against Kasparov or Kramnik and was properly punished with a “fair”, strategic game, once he made the slightest mistake. .
This ability served him well against the always dangerous Dubov in the first set of their confrontation in the semifinals. In game 3, Radjabov gained a strategic advantage from the opening, to which his opponent reacted appropriately, defending his weaknesses until entering what seemed to be a salvageable end. The Azeri continued to push until an inaccuracy by Dubov allowed him to grab a pawn:
The material is equal, but White’s knight is ready to attack Black’s weak pawns on the king with King Dubov out of action. A move like 70 … Rb2 would have kept the tension on while committing 70 … f6 led to 71. RD2 Be5 (71 … Rb4 was better) 72. Nxf6:
Radjabov needed ten more moves to turn this position into his first victory in the semifinals.
In a win-win situation, Dubov tried to complicate things from a Sicilian, but Radjabov was the one who took control in the middle of the game. The Azeri came to collect another victory after 53 moves.