Levon Aronian’s super summer got even hotter today as he kicked off his Aimchess US Rapid campaign in style.
The Armenian star took the lead in the three-day prelim stage with an unbeaten 4/5.
Aronian has already all-but secured his place in next month’s Meltwater Champions Chess Tour Final, but the 38-year-old is still gunning for victory in the ninth and last leg.
Behind him are several players battling for points to make it into the eight who go forward to the $300,000 Final.
The Aimchess prelim stage had got off to a blockbuster start as the two tour leaders Magnus Carlsen, back after missing the Chessable Masters, and Wesley So faced off against each other.
It was the Norwegian who drew first blood after starting with an unorthodox opening and then ruthlessly turning the screw on So in the endgame.
Carlsen, who has just released a new chess-based puzzle game called Knight Runner, found himself outplayed and in a losing position in Game 2 against the Indian star Vidit Gujrathi.
But the champ somehow came back to save a draw. Vidit revealed afterward that he had been unwell and nearly pulled out of the event.
Round 3 saw Carlsen at his dominating best as he laid waste to the in-form Vietnamese star Liem Quang Le, the runner-up at the Chessable Masters.
The only blot on Carlsen’s copybook was a Round 4 loss to the 18-year-old Alireza Firouzja, who has been widely tipped as Carlsen’s World Championship successor.
Perhaps emboldened by his win in the previous round, Carlsen got involved in wild game and it didn’t turn out well.
Firouzja, who is chasing a place in the Finals event, appeared to be in trouble before swooping in to checkmate his opponent.
Carlsen’s day ended with a crushing checkmate win over the American streamer Daniel Naroditsky to finish on 3.5/5.
The pair have played more than 1,000 games of bullet chess against each other but the longer “rapid” form is Carlsen’s domain.
Naroditsky applauded Carlsen and tipped him to win the event afterwards saying the champ is “back in business”.