Chessable Masters 1: Wesley So top, Mishra’s baptism of fire

Wesley So ended day 1 of the Chessable Masters in clear first place on 4/5, with the chasing pack of Vladislav Artemiev, Hikaru Nakamura and Alireza Firouzja half a point back. One of Wesley’s wins was from a position where 12-year-old Abhimanyu Mishra looked in complete control, with the world’s youngest ever grandmaster impressing a watching Magnus Carlsen despite having only a draw against Humpy Koneru to show for his first day. Levon Aronian and Harikrishna are among the stars who would be knocked out if the prelims ended now.

You can replay all the games from the Prelims of the Chessable Masters, the 8th event on the $1.6 million Meltwater Champions Chess Tour, using the selector below.

And here’s the day’s live commentary from David Howell, Jovanka Houska and Kaja Snare.

And from Danny King and Tania Sachdev.

Wesley So lives up to his status

With Magnus Carlsen missing his first ever online tour event to play the FIDE World Cup, Wesley So has become the favourite — he’s won two events, is ranked second on the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour and is the only player who could still overtake Magnus before the Grand Final in September in San Francisco. He lived up to that status on Day 1 of the 2021 edition of the Chessable Masters.

In fact it could have been more, since Wesley had all the winning chances in a 95-move thriller against Alireza Firouzja in Round 1. Alireza was the first to unleash his knights — offering a brilliant sacrfice on move 30.

30.Nxg5! It’s much too dangerous to accept, with 30…fxg5? 31.Qxg5+ Kh8 32.Qf5! Nb6 33.Qf7! Ng7 34.Nf4! looking like a forced win for White. Nevertheless, after 30…Qd7! it was Wesley who ultimately emerged with two extra pawns in a four-knight ending which was every bit as crazy as you might expect from two players as tactically sharp as Wesley and Alireza.

The 95-move draw was perhaps half a point dropped for Wesley, but he made up for it by squeezing a win out of nowhere in the game against Abhimanyu Mishra which followed — we’ll return to that clash later.

The following win against Levon Aronian was impressive, and although Levon said he blundered, it certainly wasn’t a blunder of anything like the degree of the Armenian’s first game against Jorden van Foreest. In a completely won position the Goldmoney Asian Rapid winner got a little too creative when he played 48…f3??, losing a full rook to 49.g4+!

Wesley often switches to cruise mode when he’s achieved a good plus score in these preliminary tournaments, but in the final game of the day he wasn’t going to turn down the offer of a full point when Eduardo Iturrizaga decided he could grab a pawn on d4.

The pawn came at a very high price, with 17.Bf1! Qe5 18.Nd6! essentially game over. Wesley didn’t put a foot wrong in the play that followed.

Wesley is closely pursued by Vladislav Artemiev, Hikaru Nakamura and Alireza Firouzja, who were all unbeaten on +2 after putting in the kind of powerful displays we would expect of such speed chess specialists. Artemiev also pulled off the feat of beating Adhiban with an early b3…

The Indian firebrand, who was briefly sole leader after winning his first two games, admitted afterwards that it had been a game he would really have liked to win.

Mishra’s baptism of fire

It was always going to be a tough day at the office for 12-year-old Abhimanyu Mishra. He was making his debut as the lowest rated player in the tournament, is six years younger than any other participant, and was facing a murderers’ row of opponents.

The score doesn’t tell the whole story, however, with Abhimanyu himself commenting:

It’s definitely an amazing experience for me playing against such top players. The games were also very tight. I feel I can learn a lot from these games. It’s good to feel I can play up to the strength of top players…

His day started with a tense battle against David Anton that suddenly swung the way of the Spanish Champion when Mishra met 26.h4 with 26…h5?, only for that pawn to turn out to be undefendable.

In the second game, however, Mishra, playing White, had Wesley So, if not on the ropes, then at least completely tied down.

What followed, however, was a masterclass from Wesley, who opened the h-file to attack the white kingside pawns while also making White’s a-pawn look only like a weakness. He clinched victory in 71 moves with an under-promotion to a rook that avoided any potential stalemate tricks.

It didn’t get any easier in the next round, as Mishra had Black against Hikaru Nakamura, who blitzed out a sequence of moves that left the black king and dark-squared bishop boxed in at the corner of the board.

Abhimanyu would later comment, however:

Against Hikaru it was looking very difficult, with his pawns on h6 and e6, but somehow I found a way out. I think that’s where I played the best.

World Champion Magnus Carlsen, who joined the Oslo broadcast to commentate on the game, was also impressed, noting the solutions Mishra found were impressive.

In the end it came down to Mishra defending the theoretically drawn Rook vs. Rook + Bishop endgame, one that very often is won by the side with the extra piece. Magnus called having to defend it against Hikaru “a baptism of fire” and predicted a Hikaru win, which is what happened, though only after Abhimanyu blundered his rook by putting it on a1, where it could be captured by Hikaru’s bishop.

A curiosity here, is that Magnus was wrong in thinking the position was already winning for White without the blunder, but on the other hand, Mishra already needed to show extreme precision. Only 71…Rc1 or 71…Kf8 were still drawing moves, with all the rest losing.

Afterwards Magnus summed up:

I think overall the game was a success for him. He played very well, he fought well and he got a theoretically drawn position. So obviously he would have loved to get the result, but I think he still must view the last couple of games against very strong players as a positive experience.

Magnus also went on to talk about how things are going for him at the FIDE World Cup, before talking about how two other youngsters, 19-year-old Andrey Esipenko and 15-year-old Javokhir Sindarov, had impressed him.

Esipenko is very, very impressive. Looking at his games preparing I was almost stunned at his ability to just outplay people in an almost purely positional way, with pressure, so I think he has potential to be one of the very, very best players in the world. Apart from that I think, as for a lot of people, Sindarov was impressive and I expect him to make a huge jump in the rankings soon.

Meanwhile Mishra said he “miscalculated something” and lost in a sharp battle against Levon Aronian, before finally getting on the scoreboard with a draw against fellow struggler Humpy Koneru in the final round of the day.

A “semi-disaster” for Levon

The format of the preliminaries is once again that the Top 8 players after three days go forward to the knockout, while the remaining eight players are eliminated. If the standings stayed the same as they are now that would mean some star names dropping out.

A curiosity is that Liem Quang Le and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov are in fact tied for 8th place on all four tiebreakers: direct encounter, no. of wins, Sonneborn Berger and Koya. Mamedyarov scored a fine attacking win over David Anton after drawing the first four games, though his Round 1 draw with Iturrizaga was one of the day’s most spectacular games.

Shakh had a fleeting chance to score more by beating Women’s World Champion Ju Wenjun in a game where he’d earlier been in some trouble.

He played 25…Rf7, but after 26.e5 the game fizzled out into a draw. Instead 25…Bxg2! was winning, since after 26.Kxg2 Rf7! it’s now impossible to play e5, as the pawn is pinned.

Harikrishna and Aronian are the other players expected to qualify who find themselves in some danger, with Levon having started with a shocking 0.5/3 after the blunder against Jorden and loss to Wesley, but as he summed up afterwards, “It could have been a complete disaster it’s a semi-disaster!”

Levon got back to 50% by beating Mishra and then Aryan Tari, in a game he admitted could have gone either way. Aryan was winning, but Levon demonstrated a lot of trickery before finally finding a nice win. 61…Bf8? was a blunder.

62.Ra7! cut off the knight’s escape squares, and after 62…Bb4 Levon trapped it with 63.Rd7. Tari’s 63…Ba5 was the last try, but 64.Re7! then ended the game by threatening mate-in-1.

It wasn’t all bad for Tari, however, as he won a nice game against Jorden van Foreest. He spent almost five minutes on 17.Qc1! only to be able to pounce after 18.Rfc8?

18.Rxa7! was winning a pawn, and in fact much more after Jorden’s 18…Rxc1? 19.Rxa8+ Bf8, with 20.Bh6! very strong immediately, though 20.Bxc1 also got the job done. Aryan commented afterwards, “the thing that I didn’t remember worked out well for me!”, since he’d had the trick in his notes but spent time not to entrap his opponent, Kasparov-style, but because he was struggling to recall the details.

So it was a lively first day of the Chessable Masters, but the action should only intensify as the battle to qualify heats up. Don’t miss live commentary on the Chessable Masters Preliminaries from 17:00 CEST.

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