The Champions Chess Tour Chessable Masters 2023 Knockout kicked off on Monday, and Division I saw four players advance to the Winners Semifinals: GMs Vladislav Artemiev, Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura, and Wesley So. They respectively knocked GMs Magnus Carlsen, Liem Le, Vladimir Fedoseev, and Levon Aronian down to the Losers Bracket.
In a rare instance, White was unable to win a single game in the four regular rounds of Division I—all nine wins came from the black pieces before the armageddon portion. Three of the four matches went to armageddon tiebreaks, and So was the only player to win in the first four games.
In Division II, eight players advance to the Winners Quarterfinals. Most notably, GM Nodirbek Abdusattorov defeated GM and former Chess.com CEO Anish Giri in just three games. The biggest upset was by rising star and teenage GM Denis Lazavik over GM Daniil Dubov.
In Division III, eight players advance to the Winners Quarterfinals while eight remain in the Losers Bracket.
The Chessable Masters continues on Tuesday, April 4, 2023, at 8 a.m. PT/17:00 CET.
Four players qualified for this division in the last event, the Airthings Masters: Carlsen, Nakamura, So, and Caruana. The other four participants—Le, Aronian, Fedoseev, and Artemiev—waded their way through a grueling Play-in followed by match play to join the highest division.
Artemiev eeked out an upset victory over Carlsen, beating down a near-comeback in the very last game.
Artemiev won the first back-and-forth game in a far-from-clean-chess time scramble. With both players having around 10 seconds, Carlsen blundered a one-mover as he entered a deadly pin, resigning without allowing his knight to be captured.
Vladislav Artemiev capitalizes on a blunder and defeats the world champion in their first game!#ChessChamps #ChessableMasters pic.twitter.com/wE3ZBVl0V5
— ChesscomLive (@ChesscomLive) April 3, 2023
The next game was a relatively easy win for Carlsen after Artemiev voluntarily handed Carlsen the bishop pair in the endgame. As it turned out, the Russian grandmaster’s idea was positionally suicidal, and Carlsen won quickly from there.
The most instructive game of the match was game three, where Artemiev ultimately outplayed the world champion in a rook endgame. You read that right—it wasn’t the other way around.
This is our Game of the Day, annotated by GM Rafael Leitao below.
Needing just a draw in game four, Artemiev was coasting to at least a draw when he catastrophically blundered in what seemed to be an unlosable position.
Neither the commentators nor Carlsen himself seemed to believe it.
Artemiev was able, however, to recover and win the armageddon game with the white pieces after Carlsen made the lowest time bid of the season: seven minutes and 58 seconds.
In the post-game interview, Artemiev reflected: “I think that I played good, but sometimes I have troubles with time… but it’s not easy to have [much] time against Magnus.”
Carlsen was pretty down on himself: “I did everything I could to lose and then some.” He called his performance “unacceptable.” He still has another shot at winning the tournament via the Losers Bracket.
After facing a loss in round three, Nakamura was in a must-win situation to avoid the match loss in the final game. He put up a clutch performance to win that game and followed by winning the armageddon tiebreaker to turn the match around 180 degrees.
Nakamura needed to win with the black pieces in game four. At this level, a win on demand with Black is unlikely, but both he and Carlsen managed to do it in their fourth games.
Something misfired in Fedoseev’s preparation. Although he followed two So-Nakamura games from the recent American Cup, he quickly ran into trouble by move 16 as he tried to grab a pawn. Nakamura took over the initiative and won in just 27 moves.
Nakamura was like a cat with nine lives in the armageddon game. Fedoseev rushed in what was a winning position and suddenly found himself unable to avoid a stalemate. By holding the draw, Nakamura advances in the Winners Bracket.
No shortage of miracles today! After having a lost position, Nakamura now has great chances to draw this armageddon game and win the match. #ChessChamps #ChessableMasters pic.twitter.com/oxHawavHPL
— ChesscomLive (@ChesscomLive) April 3, 2023
You can also watch Nakamura’s recap here:
This was the only match where all four regular games ended in draws. However, it wasn’t for a lack of fighting, and Caruana had the upper hand from start to finish.
Caruana had winning positions in games one and three. In the first game, Le managed to draw an objectively lost knight endgame down two pawns; in the third, Caruana was unable to convert with a queen against knight and rook.
In the interview, Caruana summarized: “I felt like in the first four games I was like very clearly ahead… and I had two completely winning positions… and then I was up a queen, and even that wasn’t enough to win… but I was happy with the openings. That’s why I was quite optimistic about armageddon.”
Indeed, he won the armageddon tiebreaker with the white pieces. Once he got his chance in this one, he didn’t let the opportunity slip, and he won with a crushing attack with all the heavy pieces on the board.
This was the only match to end in the first four games, not needing an armageddon tiebreaker. There was just one draw in this match.
Counterattack was the name of the game in the first two encounters. Aronian took the first win with an exceptional opening masterclass in the Semi-Tarrasch Variation of the Queen’s Gambit Declined. However, So recuperated in the following game with a destructive counterattack despite his own kingside being ruptured, showcasing the deadly combination of queen and knight in an attack.
After a draw with zero chances for either side in game three, a victory in game four alone meant match victory. Aronian misjudged the trade of two pieces for a rook and two pawns, after which So’s connected passers cost him a piece and the game.
In the post-game interview, So responded: “It was a pretty tough match. Losing the first game with White was a really a big blow to me, but I managed to come back because Levon was making some unnecessary mistakes.”
Division I Standings
The most shocking result was the one in Abdusattorov vs. Giri. This is not because Abdusattorov is an underdog or rising star—no, he’s number 18 in the world now—but because it took just three games.
After the Uzbek GM won a long, 85-move endgame in round one and drew game two, the match ended in the very next round. It was a heartbreaker for Giri, actually, since he had a winning advantage—before a blunder.
Thanks to the double-elimination format, Giri will have a second chance at life in the Losers Bracket as Abdusattorov advances in the Winners.
As you can see below, there is not a single match tomorrow that isn’t absolutely mouthwatering. In fact, most players in the Winners Bracket at this point are under 20 years of age. And, yes, that’s a former world champion at the bottom there—GM Vladimir Kramnik.
Division II Standings
Unlike the other divisions, this one featured just two-game matches between the players. With 32 players to start the day and four rounds transpiring, there are more games than one could possibly cover.
A fascinating attacking game was GM Alexey Sarana‘s win with the black pieces over GM David Anton Guijarro. Although very different in many ways, this one might remind readers of Akiba Rubenstein‘s immortal victory over Georg Rotlewi. While the pieces are different, the danger of the h1-a8 diagonal for White brought this game to mind.
The level of competition even in Division III is astounding. Players like GMs Amin Tabatabaei, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Gata Kamsky, Wei Yi, and many others, still battle for a whopping prize pool of $51,000.
Division III Standings
The Champions Chess Tour 2023 (CCT) is a massive chess circuit combining the best features of previous Champions Chess Tour editions with the Chess.com Global Championship. The tour comprises six events spanning the entire year and culminating in live in-person Finals. With the very best players in the world and a $2,000,000 prize fund, the CCT is Chess.com’s most important event to date.
Only grandmasters are eligible for automatic entry into the Play-In Phase. Other titled players (IM and below) can play in the Qualifiers that take place every Monday starting February 13, except on weeks with a Play-In or Knockout (21 in total). The top three players from each Qualifier will be eligible to participate in the upcoming Play-In.