Russia’s Daniil Dubov sent shockwaves through the chess world today as he dumped World Champion Magnus Carlsen out of the Airthings Masters.
In a day of huge upsets, Dubov pulled off an incredible win to beat Carlsen at the quarter-final stage with a game to spare. Afterward, Carlsen said he was stuck in a “deep funk”.
English Grandmaster David Howell, commentating on the action, described it as “a potential changing of the guards”.
Carlsen’s big rival, US speed chess specialist Hikaru Nakamura, was also eliminated going down to Levon Aronian, of Armenia.
And in another huge shock, Wesley So, the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour leader prior to this event, went out after losing a nervy tiebreaker to the Frenchman Maxime Vacher-Lagrave.
But it was Dubov’s win over Norway’s world number 1 that provided the most drama. The young gun – who has helped advise Carlsen in the past – now has an impressive equal score with the champ in Champions Chess Tour games.
Having won yesterday and again in game 1 today after an uncharacteristic Carlsen blunder, Dubov found himself in a position where he could have played safe to see out the win.
But did he? No, the fearless Russian went for death or glory.
And fortune favoured the brave as a wild game 3 ended with Carlsen blundering badly again and ending up in checkmate.
The Norwegian had seemed in full control beforehand and was odds on to level the match overall and – as he has done so often – overcome his opponent in a tiebreaker.
But it is the 24-year-old Dubov who now goes through to the semi-finals of the $200,000 Meltwater Champions Chess Tour event starting tomorrow.
Dubov plays it cool
Dubov played it cool afterward, saying: “Well, it just happens you know. People like to use strong words when it happens but, in fact, he was just unlucky to blunder in this way at the most important moment.
“But, in general, we all, even Magnus despite being the best player in the world, blunder sometimes being under some random attack and being down to like 10 seconds.”
He added: “I was obviously very lucky in the end but I think it is luck, it is not some kind of miracle.”
Dubov also admitted: “I was much more interested in winning this match than in winning the whole thing!”
Carlsen, however, said he was stuck in a “deep funk”.
In a follow-up, he added: “On a lighter note, Daniil just wrote to me to cheer me up after beating me, and apologize for his celebration on air.
“Told him I did not see it, and it would upset me more when people stop celebrating after beating me. Congrats to a most worthy opponent and great dude!”
That was only the second shock of the day. Earlier Aronian, the in-form Armenian, sprung a surprise to knock Nakamura out.
Nakamura is a noted speed chess specialist and was considered one of the pre-tournament favourites, alongside Carlsen and Skilling Open champ So.
But “Naka” came up against an inspired opponent who won against him yesterday and then started like a train today to nudge ahead again in game 1 with a quick win.
The American speedster needed a result to stay in the tie and, in typical fashion, threw caution to the wind. But Aronian was unruffled and held firm for the win.
Aronian said afterward: “I think it was difficult for Hikaru, mentally. I think he collapsed.”
MVL is So good
Having lost against Vachier-Lagrave yesterday, tour leader So needed a quick response and he got it in game 1 of today’s mini-match.
A draw between the two followed and then in game 3 a super-quick nine-move draw between So and MVL set up a crucial final game.
So, the tour leader after his victory in the Skilling Open, needed to avoid losing to take the match to a tiebreaker and a mistake by MVL handed him the draw.
In the resulting blitz tiebreaker, MVL took the first before So overpowered him in the second to leave the score 1-1. But then in the resulting Armageddon match, MVL survived So’s onslaught to knock out the current World Fischer Random Chess Champion.
It meant the big three, Carlsen, Nakamura and So, were all eliminated.
Nepo grabs chance
In the final last-eight match, Azerbaijan’s Teimour Radjabov won an almightly tussle with Russia’s number 1 Ian Nepomniachtchi.
After four drawn games yesterday, Radjabov won the first game today to edge ahead and following two more draws had a chance to put the match to bed in game 4.
But in a wild game, the enigmatic Azerbaijani threw everything at his Russian opponent and then simply imploded.
It was last chance saloon for Nepo and he grasped the opportunity to take the match to a tiebreaker.
The momentum appeared to be with Nepo as he won the first blitz game. But Radjabov hit back in the second to take the tie to an Armageddon play-off which he nervelessly secured.
Nepo, meanwhile, showed his anger by slamming his desk on camera. Radjabov will join Dubov, Aronian and MVL in the last four.
The semi-finals of the Airthings Masters start at 15:00 CET with the first of two mini-matches spread over two days. If the scores are locked at 1-1 on Friday, tiebreaks will be played to decide who goes through.