Magnus Wins Airthings Masters

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Today Magnus Carlsen won the finals of the Airthings Masters tournament in convincing style. The Airthings Masters is the first leg of the 2022 Champions Chess Tour.

Each leg of the Tour features sixteen players engaging in a series of rapid (15m+10s) games, first in a round robin. The top eight players from the round robin stage enter the quarterfinals in a knockout that culminates in a two-day final matchup.

This event was notable for many reasons, first of which is the new scoring and prize format. In the vast majority of tournaments, scoring is very straightforward: one point is awarded for a win, and a half-point for a draw. The only drawback to this scoring system is that it rewards playing for a draw in many circumstances, and playing for a win only when winning chances are good.

Given that the Champions Chess Tour is one of the most viewed online chess events in history, organizers felt it would be good to encourage more decisive play. Therefore, in the round robin stage of these events, a win would score three points, and a draw only one, and prize money was awarded for every point scored in the round robin stage.

Of course, this incentivized playing for a win, and the result was a good deal of exciting chess.

Another thing important to readers of this site was the appearance of Canadian GM Eric Hansen in the Airthings Masters. This marked the first time a Canadian has participated in any leg of the tour. Hansen played very well, defeating Magnus Carlsen among others, and coming out of the round robin stage in fifth place. He was defeated in the quarterfinals by the young Russian hotshot Andrey Esipenko, but by finishing in the top eight, he will be automatically invited to participate in the next leg of the tour, which will start in late March.

The field for these events is usually exclusively male, but the Airthings Masters featured former Women’s World Champion GM Alexandra Kosteniuk. Now in her late thirties, semi-retired from competitive play, and facing some of the strongest players in the world, Kosteniuk struggled throughout the tournament, losing every game but one. Her victory over Eric Hansen was a great attacking game with a final incisive queen sacrifice reminiscent of Paul Morphy.

It was great to see Ding Liren and Vietnam’s Lê Quang Liêm take part in this event, not to mention the young Indian sensation Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa, who also won against Magnus.

Magnus struggled in the round robin stage, losing four games and drawing quite a few, although, in classic Magnus style, he buckled down and won the last four games.

When the dust had settled, and we entered the semifinals, it was Magnus alone against the Russians: Andrey Esipenko, Vladimir Artemiev, and Ian Nepomniachtchi. Nepo dispatched Esipenko, and Magnus beat Artemiev quite handily, as we will see in this dramatic game, with Magnus finding the winning attack.

So the last thing that made this event quite memorable was that the final was a reprise of the recently concluded World Championship between old friends and rivals Magnus Carlsen and Ian Nepomniachtchi. On the first day Nepo tied Carlsen 2-2, but today he blundered badly in the third game, and Carlsen, significantly down on the clock, found a winning attack, threatening checkmate in several different ways. Nepo, looking dejected, resigned, and Magnus Carlsen won the Airthings Masters.

Here is the game that ended the tournament.

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