Caruana Wins Airthings Masters Division II

We left off coverage of the Champions Chess Tour’s first event of the 2023 season in Division III. Considering the quality of players relegated to the lowest division, it is no surprise that Division II featured even bigger names. But would anybody expect either a former world champion, or a current top-ten player, to be in the second division of anything?


bracket 2


And yet, that’s just how strong this event is, with GM Fabiano Caruana emerging victorious out of a field of 16 players that included GM Vladimir Kramnik.


Image Caption
Caruana at the 2022 US Champions (courtesy Saint Louis Chess Center)


Indeed, the winners’ final and grand final both featured showdowns between the American challenger for the 2018 World Championship and Chinese super-GM Yu Yangyi. While Yangyi might be slightly less of a household name than, say, countryman Ding Liren, his logical, universal style promised to be a perfect match for Caruana. The pair seemed destined for a draw until one endgame slip gave the edge to Caruana.



After gaining no edge in a fluid, closed game, Yu switched gears to meet Caruana on his “home court,” also trying out the Ruy Lopez. But Caruana managed to out-maneuver Yu, setting a tone for the rematch.



This victory cleared Caruana’s path to the Grand Final. Yu did not make him wait long, dispatching an underdog we’ll hear more about shortly. Caruana was eager to show off his familiarity in the king’s pawn game once again, grinding Yu to a halt and slowly squeezing him out.



With his back against the wall, Yu returned to his more fluid 1. Nf3 repertoire, and for once had Caruana on the ropes.



This time, it was Caruana who could not handle the pressure in a difficult endgame.



In yet another Ruy, Caruana again kept the initiative. His knights always ended up where they needed to be (unlike Yu’s, who managed to show themselves off the board when he tried his hand at the Ruy). At the end, he forced a resignation with a nice removing-the-defender tactic.



In the final game, Yu was unable to win on a demand in yet another subtle endgame, conceding the match to Caruana.



With the draw, Caruana officially earned his place back in Division I for the next Tour event. Caruana took home $10,000 for his efforts, and Yu netted a cool $7,500 for finishing second. As “icing on the cake,” Caruana was not even aware until the final day that he had a chance to earn a spot back in Division I with a win.



To reach the finals, Caruana first had to dispatch Uzbek GM Nodirbek Yakubboev. The 21-year-old made a statement in his match against Caruana, pushing the American into a corner in their first game.



After being relegated to the losers’ bracket, Yakubboev was far from done.



Here he is forcing the aforementioned Armageddon game earlier in the match.



To close, here’s one more illustration of how star-studded this event was. The top seed in Division II was not even Caruana, but rather the two-time challenger Russian GM Ian Nepomniachtchi. Yet “Nepo” found himself in the losers’ bracket after only two matches. To make things worse, his foe was none other than Kramnik!



While “Big Vlad” has been vocally critical of the younger generation’s love of faster time controls, it was very impressive seeing him lay these positional-tactical blows on one of his great successors in front of the whole world.



Coverage continues later this week with results of Division I.