Underdogs Eliminate World Championship Challengers From CGC In Day Of Upsets

Underdogs Eliminate World Championship Challengers From CGC In Day Of Upsets


In a day marked by underdog dominance, GMs Teimour Radjabov and Nihal Sarin defeated the two 2023 World Championship challengers Ian Nepomniachtchi and Ding Liren in the 2022 Chess.com Global Championship round of 16, presented by Brave. Nihal and Radjabov both clinched their matches in three games, not needing to play the fourth. The world number-two and number-three were not only the favorites in their matches but were predicted by many to be finalists and even winners of the entire CGC.

This was the last day of the CGC Knockout. The CGC Finals take place in Toronto, from November 2 to November 7

Game one could not have been more surprising as Radjabov and Nihal won, each with the black pieces. Under normal circumstances, that would be the most shocking news of the day, but then they won again in round two—taking a 2-0 lead each. No player has come back from a 2-0 deficit in the CGC this season, and although there was a glimmer of hope for Nepomniachtchi in the last game, this fact remained true today nevertheless.

“This is an astounding scoreline. I’m stunned,” Rozman said after the second game. At the end of the broadcast, he exclaimed about today’s unexpected results: “I mean, what more do you want?”

I mean, what more do you want?

—Levy Rozman

Commentator Naroditsky, who scored 24.5-30.5 in a six-hour blitz match vs. GM Magnus Carlsen the day prior, summed it up: “It will take me some time to process what we just saw here today.”

Nepomniachtchi was the clear favorite in his match against Radjabov. Having won the Candidates Tournament this year, though, he probably would have been the favorite against any player in this field. To further mount the odds against the Azerbaijani grandmaster, their head-to-head encounters in rapid chess favored the Russian number-one. 

But game one was a cold shower for Nepomniachtchi, who experimented with the Nimzo-Indian Defense, an opening he’s played just a handful of times. The 4.f3 variation he played in the game was only played by him twice—one of those against Radjabov himself in the 2020 Airthings Masters. Unlike that game, however, this one did not end in a draw. 

Instead, Radjabov’s impressive play earned him the Game of the Day distinction, analyzed by our GM in residence below.

After a convincing first-game win, Radjabov had the white pieces in the second game. The players entered a symmetrical Queen’s Gambit Accepted, but after mass trades, the Azerbaijani grandmaster won a pawn. With four vs. three pawns on the same side of the board (which later became three vs. two), the technical task of winning was far from trivial, but when Black erred with 47…Bh5, he was able to trap a piece and win. 

Can you find the win for White?

The final game was slippery and far from a clean affair. For much of the endgame, the engine gave Nepomniachtchi an overwhelming advantage despite material equality, but converting it in a rapid game proved too hard a task. Radjabov, who at one point played a move with less than one second on his clock, managed to hold things together barely, and ultimately survived a knight and rook vs. rook endgame in a rollercoaster encounter totaling 143 moves.

His expression in the clip below is one of relief and joy.

The match between Ding and Nihal was a clash between the present and future, with the world number-two against a burgeoning Indian prodigy. They hadn’t played a single recorded game in any time control before. 

The 18-year-old grandmaster came swinging in game one and took down the only 2800-rated player in the world besides Carlsen, having the worse pawn structure but making up for it with dynamic piece play. After accurate maneuvering by both sides for most of the game, Ding erred with 31.Nd4?, which seemed to have lost the game on the spot.

When it rained it poured for today’s favorites, as Ding also never regained his balance after the first game. Having the luxury of playing the white pieces in game two, Nihal played the reliably-solid London System, and even got a crushing attack after an uncharacteristic blunder by Ding on move 34.

The third and final game was, frankly speaking, the most underwhelming of all the games today. In a Queen’s Gambit Accepted, Ding got zero chances the entire game with White, and only Black was better for most of the game, stirring the commentators to wonder if Nihal might really win 3-0 against the world number-two. Pragmatically, the rising star agreed to a draw on move 29, needing only that to punch his ticket to Toronto.

Radjabov and Nihal each earned $25,000 for winning this stage, with the chance to win more in Toronto. Nepomniachtchi and Ding received $15,000 each.

As I wrote in a previous report, no player gets this far in the CGC by accident. Radjabov defeated former Women’s World Champion Hou Yifan and GM Arjun Erigaisi (another promising young Indian player) before today, while Nihal took down GM Rauf Mamedov and former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik, arguably one of the best players of the game. The CGC Finals are sure to be an unpredictable affair.

Round of 16 Scoreboard

Round of 16 Bracket

Chess.com Global Championship Knockout Bracket
The 2022 Chess.com Global Championship (CGC) is the first Chess.com global championship cycle open to all Chess.com verified players. Players compete in official Chess.com verified events for their share of the $1,100,000 prize fund and the Chess.com Global Champion title.

Chess legends, such as GMs Viswanathan Anand, Vasyl Ivanchuk, Vladimir Kramnik, and Veselin Topalov, compete against today’s best (online) players, including GMs Hikaru Nakamura, Ding Liren, Levon Aronian, and Jan-Krzysztof Duda, and more. 

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