Four winners emerged in Division I of the Champions Chess Tour Airthings Masters 2023 on Tuesday. GMs Magnus Carlsen, Hikaru Nakamura, and Arjun Erigaisi clinched their matches in just three games against GMs Alexey Sarana, Gukesh D, and Alireza Firouzja, respectively. GM Wesley So defeated GM Rauf Mamedov in game three and held a draw in the fourth to advance.
Carlsen will play Erigaisi in the Division I Winners Bracket Semifinals tomorrow, while Nakamura will play So. Sarana will face Firouzja and Gukesh will play Mamedov in the Losers Bracket.
In Division II, eight players advance in the Winners Bracket (eight move to the Losers Bracket). In Division III, eight players survive to the Winners Quarterfinals while 16 remain in the Losers Bracket.
The Airthings Masters continues Tuesday, February 7, 2023, at 8 a.m. PT/17:00 CET.
This event marks a distinct unification between the Chess.com and chess24 broadcast teams. The commentators provided live coverage from the state-of-the-art studio located in Oslo, Norway.
Two photos of the full team are included below and you can find more photos at the bottom of the report.
Commentator Snare is expecting a baby boy in April and, asked if a name has been determined yet, she answered: “One name on the list is Bobby. … not to be named after Bobby Fischer, but would be cool to have a chess name. Max is also a contender.”
This will be Snare’s first child. Congratulations!
Asked how they feel about this year’s unified Champions Chess Tour, a running line among the top players was that the competition will be tougher but that the format also allows more opportunities for players.
As a last point of housekeeping before getting to the games, GM Baadur Jobava was was banned from all prize events on Chess.com for the rest of 2023 after making racial remarks about other competitors in the event and berating Chess.com staff on his stream.
— Chess.com (@chesscom) February 6, 2023
The time control was 15 minutes plus a three-second increment. The participants in Division I played four-game matches to decide a match winner while Division III featured two-game matches. There were 56 players in total: eight players in Division I, 16 in Division II, and 32 in Division III. The players qualified for their respective Divisions in the Play-In the previous Friday.
Division I had some clear favorites—Carlsen and Nakamura, for sure—but three matches ending in three games was still unexpected. World number-38 Erigaisi’s one-sided victory against world number-four Firouzja with a one-sided 3-0 score was especially shocking.
Round one was delayed by a few minutes for technical reasons, and in this interim Chessbrah GMs Eric Hansen and Aman Hambleton made cameos in Carlsen’s background. The world champion, who will be playing for the Canada Chessbrahs in this year’s Pro Chess League next week, was playing in Hansen’s office in Toronto, Canada.
In his first game, Carlsen employed the Catalan Opening with the white pieces (as commentator Hess predicted before the game), an opening he had deeply prepared for his world championship match with GM Ian Nepomniachtchi in 2021.
Carlsen played an early h4, sacrificed a pawn temporarily, and converted a crushing game with an attack.
Nakamura, playing Gukesh, converted a knight endgame with an extra pawn with the black pieces.
Erigaisi defeated Firouzja with the black pieces in the Italian Opening, including a stylish queen sacrifice to finish the game.
Game two replicated the results of game one: three wins for the same players and another draw between So and Mamedov.
Sarana sacrificed an exchange against Carlsen; but despite White being objectively fine at first, Carlsen went on to win with the extra material with Black.
In an endgame with equal material, Nakamura achieved “pigs on the seventh” (two rooks on his opponent’s second rank) and drummed up a winning initiative with an attack on the opponent’s king.
Erigaisi created an interesting imbalance by trading a bishop and knight for two pawns and a rook in the middlegame. Although the game was dynamically close to equal for a long time, when the players reached around 20 seconds each Firouzja started to falter. Erigaisi’s threats against the black king ultimately materialized.
We’ve selected this as our Game of the Day, annotated by GM Rafael Leitao.
Carlsen and Nakamura got the job done, holding draws in their third games to clinch match victories. Erigaisi won his third game after an evidently flustered Firouzja made a fatal mistake with 14.Nh4 and never had a chance to get back in the game after that.
Carlsen, who will play Erigaisi tomorrow, predicted in his interview: “Tomorrow’s match will not be easy either, but I’ll do my best.”
“Tomorrow’s match will not be easy either, but I’ll do my best,” says @MagnusCarlsen after defeating Alexey Sarana in his match today.
He will play @ArjunErigaisi, who defeated Alireza Firouzja 3-0, tomorrow. #AirthingsMasters #ChessChamps pic.twitter.com/dyrKLciGSU
— ChesscomLive (@ChesscomLive) February 6, 2023
After drawing their first two games, So defeated Mamedov in game three. Commentator Howell broke down two key moments from the game here:
In his post-match interview, So reflected: “I didn’t get anything in game one, but I almost managed to swindle him. And in game two he surprised me in the opening, but I replied pretty solidly. And game three was clearly the turning point because I prepared this line in the King’s Indian, but he didn’t know what to do, but I blundered a pawn on b2 and after that I guess Black had the initiative. But I was able to outplay him in the endgame.”
Mamedov had objective chances to win the fourth game and force armageddon, but they fizzled out. In the end, he attempted a piece sacrifice as a last-ditch effort to stir the pot, but the reigning global champion prevailed.
So will play Nakamura tomorrow, an anticipated matchup between two players with a history. So eliminated Nakamura from the Chess.com Global Championship last year and stated: “hopefully history repeats itself.”
Wesley So will play against @GMHikaru in the Winners Bracket tomorrow.
“Even the match in Toronto could have gone really either way. … Hopefully history repeats itself.”#AirthingsMasters #ChessChamps pic.twitter.com/k12bAFKNeE
— ChesscomLive (@ChesscomLive) February 6, 2023
Division I Bracket
In Division II, we saw some heavyweight favorites like Nepomniachtchi, GMs Fabiano Caruana, and Dmitry Andreikin progress in the Winners Bracket. In addition, Ukranian GM Martyn Kravtsiv upset GM Daniil Dubov while GM Saleh Salem sent GM Vladimir Kramnik to the Losers Bracket.
Kravstiv won game one with Black, but after a draw in game two, Dubov struck back for a win in game three. They drew their fourth game and the match was decided by an armageddon tiebreaker. Kravtsiv defeated his adversary with a swashbuckling attack in the Sicilian Defense in a must-win game.
Salem vs. Kramnik started off with a draw, but in game two Salem took the lead. Can you find the combination that finished the former world champion?
White to move and win.
Division II Bracket
32 players fought for survival in the Winners Bracket of Division III, 16 of whom were ultimately sent to the Losers Bracket. Unlike the other two divisions, the matches here are only two games (with four-game matches in the Grand Finals, when the winner of the Losers Bracket plays the Winners Bracket victor).
A cursory glance at some of the early matchups gives you a clear idea of how insanely stacked this tournament is. GM Peter Svidler defeated GM Alexander Grischuk with the black pieces—what a pairing, in the first round of Division III.
Division III Bracket
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.