An historic first Meltwater Champions Chess Tour title is now Magnus Carlsen’s to lose after the challenge of his nearest-rival dramatically collapsed.
US Champ Wesley So has been hot on Carlsen’s heels throughout the $1.6 million Tour’s nine-round marquee Finals event.
It comes after the American racked up an impressive three regular-season tournament wins in the run up.
But So’s push to stop the World Champion being named the world’s top online chess player as well took a serious dent when the Filipino-born American was put to the sword by Teimour Radjabov.
So now needs a fellow competitor to beat Carlsen on Saturday or Sunday and to win all his matches. Carlsen and So are due to face each other in a final round match, but it could be all over by then.
It was a catastrophic day for So who just seemed to run out of steam against an opponent showing the form that won him one of the three Tour Majors, the Airthings Masters, back in January.
Radjabov, who is known for his super-solid style, was typically smooth as he raced to a 2-0 lead. So, meanwhile, was just not his normal sharp self and found his game punctuated by blunders.
Magnus stretches lead
It took So until the must-win third game to rise out of his slumber. A rare careless move from Azerbaijan’s number 2 saw So break through and force a resignation.
But with Radjabov just needing a draw it proved too little too late. So had to throw caution to the wind to win in the last game – and it didn’t work out well. So had dropped three precious points.
So said afterwards: “Obviously, I’m not playing at my best right now … Things haven’t really been going my way.”
“There’s three matches left, and it’s going to be a tough three matches,” he added.
“I’ve got to remain sharp, play better chess and someone’s got to beat Magnus in order to catch him.”
Meanwhile, Carlsen oozed confidence as his match against his close rival Anish Giri was decided in blitz tiebreakers.
Following four straight draws in the rapid portion, Carlsen won a brilliant first blitz game and then drew the second to close out a two-point win. It takes him 7 points clear at the top.
There was also the rare sight of a top Grandmaster blundering a one-move checkmate in game 1 of Levon Aronian’s match with Poland’s World Cup winner Jan-Krzysztof Duda.
Aronian, who stands third on the leaderboard, somehow didn’t spot the threat and walked into a painful loss. The Armenian couldn’t break through in the next three games as Duda held on to win 2.5-1.5.
Aronian still has a mathematical chance of catching So, if the American implodes.
A tight match between Hikaru Nakamura and Shakrhiyar Mamedyarov went to Armageddon and was settled in the American’s favour.
Vladislav Artemiev against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave ended in a win for the Russian in a blitz tiebreak. Artemiev leapfrogs MVL in the Tour Finals table to go sixth.
The Finals of the 2021 Meltwater Champions Chess Tour sees the world’s best chess players face off across nine rounds of rapid chess from September 25 to October 4.
Tune in on www.chess24.com, YouTube or Twitch starting at 17:00 CET each day.