GMTeimour Radjabov won the Airthings Masters on Sunday. The Azerbaijani grandmaster beat GMLevon Aronianin one more game and drew twice to clinch the $60,000 first prize. GMMaxime Vachier-Lagravecame in third after beating GMDaniil Dubovin their second match.
The match started with an incredible game where Aronian got to sacrifice a rook with check, similar to the famous 1960 Spassky-Bronstein game that was used in the 1963 James Bond film "From Russia With Love." In the opening scene of that movie, we see "Kronsteen" and "MacAdams" at the "Venice International Grandmasters Championship."
It's the end of the Spassky-Bronstein game that is shown (with White's pawns on d4 and c5 removed, by the way), but the star move of that game is 15.Nd6.
Aronian knew that game, of course, and mentioned it in his post-match interview: "I think I got very excited in game one when I got to sacrifice the rook with check. It reminded me of the game that Spassky won against Bronstein in the King's Gambit. It's basically kind of similaryou also give your rook with check, and then there is no defense."
"The first game was really bad, seriously bad," said Radjabov. "I dont know if I had lost it if I had been able to come back somehow, but I was really happy that I saved it."
Despite Radjabov's remarks and the fact that it ended in a draw, this is an early candidate for Game of the Year 2021:
As he needed to win this best-of-four to force a tiebreak, Aronian started to take risks as early as his first black game. This time playing the Grunfeld from the black side, he sacrificed a pawn on move 21 as a way to avoid a move repetition, but never gained it back. Radjabov's technique was excellent:
Holding a rook endgame to a draw, Radjabov secured the last half-point he needed to win the tournament and the $60,000 first prize. Aronian won $40,000 for second place.
Radjabov was quite emotional on camera, holding his head in his hands for a while.
"Today it was really tough," he said. "Trying to keep the focus and concentration till the very end takes a lot of emotions as well, to keep this way of calmness that I'm trying to produce, not to show if I'm happy or not happy about my position. It took me so much energy; I am completely exhausted."
Again we see Radjabov proving that, although he is not playing in many tournaments, he is still an absolutely top grandmaster. He made that clear as wellwhen he won the 2019 FIDE World Cup. The Azerbaijani denied that he ever retired from chess, saying:
"I played this 2013 Candidates Tournament, and I just started to lose all of the games against the top players, so I said: Should I just stop it, like, brutally? I just stopped playing. That was the only way to proceed because I was playing the super-tournaments, I was lacking confidence after the Candidates, so I just tried to take a kind of break and work on my chess. I completely changed my repertoire, started to play the Berlin and so on. Before, I was only playing the Kings Indian and Sicilians and stuff, and from time to time the Kings Gambit, so [coach GM Vladimir] Chuchelov said this is not the way, you have to be a trendy professional chess player, and I just changed my style and tried to play in some official events."
It's a pity that Radjabov didn't get to show his skills at the 2020-2021 Candidates. With the pandemic still raging all over the world, his decision not to play back in March is all the more understandable.
For now, he can celebrate. In fact, he said he planned to celebrate "until the morning," also catching up on the New Year's Eve celebrations with friends that he had skipped.
After spoiling his 2-0 lead the other day, Dubov wasn't without chances in the second match either. In fact, in the first game he once again managed to get a winning position out of the opening in the 3.Bb5+ line he keeps playing. The engine finds killer moves for White at several instances, all based on getting the rook to a1 as quickly as possible:
After a draw in game two, Dubov leveled the score in game three. In the fourth game, he took his own motto"If they attack your pieces, you just have to attack back"a bit too seriously on move 27, and that decided the match.
Fans saw a highly entertaining match with just one draw over eight games, but Vachier-Lagrave's perspective was a bit different:
"I think there were a lot of unnecessary blunders on my side which made the games at least entertaining. I'm not sure about interesting, but definitely entertaining. I don't know, I just got off to such a wrong start, and I managed to recollect myself at the end of the day, but I really didn't feel like it was a good day of chess."
The next super tournament will be a return to over-the-board chess. The Tata Steel Chess tournament starts Saturday, January 16, and will have live coverage again produced by Chess.com. Here's all the info.
All Games Day 9
The Champions Chess Tour Airthings Masters ran December 26-January 3. The preliminary phase was a 12-player rapid (15|10) round-robin. The top eight players advanced to a six-day knockout that consisted of two days of four-game rapid matches, which advanced to blitz (5|3) and armageddon (White had five minutes, Black four with no increment) tiebreaks only if the knockout match was tied after the second day. The prize fund was $200,000 with $60,000 for first place.
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