Carlsen wins Chessable Masters Division I, Keymer and Sarana Shine

Editor's note: This article has been updated on Friday, February 9, with 16 more games featuring key matches from Divisions II and III, including those of Nakamura, Aronian, Xiong, Bortnyk, Yoo, and Mishra.

The 2024 Champions Chess Tour kicked off earlier this week with the return of the Chessable Masters. The first of four major online invitationals — consisting of play-ins, qualifiers, and double-elimination matches across three divisions — featured over 200 players eventually sorted into groups of eight, 16, and 32 (for Divisions I, II, and III, respectively) over the course of eight days of action.

On Thursday,  the dust settled and GM Magnus Carlsen added his 14th Champions Chess Tour finals victory to his resume, coming from behind to beat French GM Alireza Firouzja 2–0 in the two-game play-off. Carlsen won $30,000 for the victory and takes an early lead in Tour points for the 2024 year, qualifying for the Tour finals, as well. Firouzja earned $20,000 and 80 Tour points for his runner-up finish.

Despite the familiar names at the top, the Chessable Masters actually featured an opportunity for Carlsen and Firouzja to face some unusual competition in Division I. With Carlsen, GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and GM Vladimir Fedoseev already qualifying for Division I due to their performance in the final event from 2023, the other five spots were determined by a series of play-in matches after a nine-round Swiss System event. Here, heavy favorite GM Hikaru Nakamura lost 2–0 to Russian GM Denis Lazavik, relegating the American to Division II after a nasty opening surprise in their first game:



After drawing all four games in their match, Lazavik then relegated Dutch GM Anish Giri to Division II as well by holding Giri to a draw with the black pieces in their Armageddon game, booking his own spot into Division I as a result.

Peruvian GM Jose Martinez was the other “surprise” name in Division I. Martinez actually tied for first in the Swiss play-in, finishing with 7½/9 in a tie with Spanish GM David Anton and ahead of the likes of Nakamura and Firouzja (7/9). He then defeated Armenian GM Samvel Ter-Shakyan 2½/1½ to book his spot to Division I.

From here, the double-elimination matches (played at a time-control of ten-minutes per side with two-second increment) kicked off. In what could easily end up as a Grand Final match, Carlsen’s first opponent was GM Wesley So. Three of their four games were draws, with Carlsen winning the fourth on time from an equal (but by no means trivially equal) position:



Carlsen would then face Fedoseev, who had defeated Firouzja 2½–1½ in their match. On the other side of the bracket, both Vachier-Lagrave and Russian GM Ian Nepomniachtchi were upset in their matches by Lazavik and Martinez, respectively. This meant that the “Losers Bracket,” where anybody who loses a single two-game match is eliminated from the event, featured MVL, Nepo, Firouzja, and So: a line-up that could easily be a “final four” in any event.

In the next round, Carlsen won his match in Armageddon against Fedoseev, while Lazavik qualified for the “Winners Final” thanks to a 2½–½ win over Martinez. Carlsen then qualified for the Grand Final after a topsy-turvy match with Lazavik.



In the Losers Bracket, it was all Firouzja every day. First, he outplayed So in an uncharacteristically sharp (for the American, that is) position to win their match 1½–½:



Then, he defeated Martinez by the same score before defeating Nepomniachtchi in Armageddon to reach the Losers Final, where he defeated Lazavik 1½–½ as well. Here is his final game against Nepomniachtchi:



Could the “comeback kid” go from losing his first match in Division I to a Grand Final victory? Indeed, it looked that way, with Firouzja jetting out to a 2–0 lead over Carlsen in their match.



Carlsen won the third game, but a draw clinched the four-game set for Firouzja 2½–1½. Since Firouzja had already lost a match, though, and Carlsen hadn’t, this meant they had to play a two-game playoff for “all the marbles,” with Carlsen kicking it into next gear and winning the set 2–0.




With a combined 48 players in Divisions II and III, a single recap cannot begin to do justice to all the matchups that took place there. Today’s report will only focus on the finals of each Division, with a future report highlighting some of the battles along the way.

In Division II, German GM Vincent Keymer defeated American GM Levon Aronian 2–0 in the second set of their Grand Final match. Keymer actually defeated Aronian 2½–½ in the Winners Final before Aronian earned a rematch against Keymer via an Armageddon win over Dutch GM Benjamin Bok. Then, Aronian defeated Keymer with a win in their Armageddon game after tying their first Grand Final set 2–2.




But the 19-year-old Keymer roared back, earning $15,000 (and 50 Tour points) thanks to forcing Aronian into an unplayable position in their final game:



A final without Nakamura? Indeed. Nakamura had a tough pairing in the first round against Chinese GM Yu Yangyi. Nakamura emerged victorious by a 3–1 margin, but all four games are worth enjoying:






After losing his next match in Armageddon to Artemiev, Nakamura was on his way to winning his Armageddon in the Losers Bracket against Azeri GM Rauf Mamedov until...



Instead, it was Aronian who had the best result of the numerous Americans in Division II. Things didn't look so rosy, though, when he lost the first game of his first-round match against Spanish GM David Anton:



But Aronian came back with three wins in a row:





From there, he beat fellow Armenian-American GM Sam Sevian 2½–½ and Artemiev 2½–1½ to reach the Winners Final against Keymer. 

Another American to go on his own run in Division II was GM Jeffery Xiong. While Xiong was eliminated by Yu 1½–½ in the third round of the Losers Bracket (after losing his second-round match 3–1 to Keymer), he was able to shake up the standings with an Armageddon victory against GM Anish Giri in their first-round match. Longtime chess fans will probably be familiar with the headline "Xiong beats Giri in tiebreaks," making this a fitting end to their match.

Of their draws, this one featured several study-like moments that could have tipped the match in Xiong's favor even sooner:



Xiong's win over Anton in the second round of the Losers Bracket was also a bit of a peculiarity. Xiong was no doubt winning for most of the game, and had several (increasingly difficult-to-spot) forcing wins in the endgame. But just when Anton dodged the last bullet, he flagged!


Sevian was another player who has proven to be dangerous in online events before. Unfortunately, his event was cut short thanks to a subtle tactical trick that Giri found in their second-round Losers Bracket match:



In Division III, the Grand Final also featured a “youth versus experience” pairing, albeit an intra-Russian one, with 24-year-old GM Alexey Sarana defeating veteran GM Alexander Grischuk 2–0 in the second set of their Grand Final. Grischuk won the first set 3–1 after an Armageddon victory over Ukrainian GM Oleksandr Bortnyk in the Losers Final.





Fans of the next generation of American chess had to be thrilled when GMs Christopher Yoo and Abhimanyu Mishra were paired in the second round of the Losers Bracket, and their match did not disappoint. Indeed, it looked headed to Armageddon, until...



After losing in Armageddon to Sarana in their (unlucky!) first-round pairing, Yoo defeated German GM Rasmus Svane 1½–½ in their first-round Losers Bracket match. The ending was impressive for Yoo, and the result of Svane missing an incredibly precise piece of defensive calculation: 



After dodging a bullet in the above game against Mishra, Yoo lost 2–0 to Russian GM Mikhail Antipov to end his tournament. 


Ukrainian Oleksandr Bortnyk, who resides in the US and is a regular at top open tournaments, had perhaps the unlikeliest path in Division III. After losing 3–0 in his first match Azeri GM Eltaj Safarli, Bortnyk won seven consecutive two-game matches in the Losers Bracket (including an Armageddon redemption against Safarli in the Losers Semifinals) and made it all the way to the Losers Finals against Grischuk. Grischuk eventually won the match by drawing their Armageddon game after Bortnyk leveled the score in one of the most exciting games of the entire tournament:



Unfortunately for Bortnyk, the above victory was only the match equalizer because of a very tough endgame he was unable to hold in their first game:



Such is the plight of rapid chess. But, for the viewers, many of this errors are highly instructive and educational!

In a victory for the Champions Chess Tour, all three divisions made use of the “second set” option of their respective Grand Finals, thanks to the winner of the Losers Bracket upsetting the victor of the Winners Final in the first set of each Grand Final. Actually, with six extra high-stakes match games between the three divisions, the viewers were arguably the real winners.

Information for the next Tour event has not yet been announced, but Keymer has pre-qualified for Division I thanks to his performance.

Full results available on