Carlsen On The Brink Of First World Cup Final

Carlsen On The Brink Of First World Cup Final

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After surviving 12 games of classical games against some of the world’s best players without a single loss, GM Nijat Abasov finally fell at the hands of GM Magnus Carlsen on Saturday at the 2023 FIDE World Cup. Though the world number one secured a one-point lead in the semifinal, Abasov was able to cause Carlsen some trouble and had a window of opportunity to flip the game on its head.

In the other semifinal, GM Fabiano Caruana pressed against GM Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa on the white side of the Giuoco Piano. However, the American grandmaster was unable to crack the Indian prodigy in a rook endgame. 

The first round of the women’s final between GM Aleksandra Goryachkina and emerging superstar IM Nurgyul Salimova ended in a draw after both players showed a keenness to trade down to an innocuous endgame, while the third-place playoff saw GM Anna Muzychuk defeat GM Tan Zhongyi in an opposite-colored bishop ending.

The second day of the seventh round will commence on Sunday, August 20, at 7 a.m. ET / 13:00 CEST / 4:30 p.m. IST.

How to watch the 2023 FIDE World Cup

Open Section: Carlsen Defeats Abasov In Doubled-Edged Game

Drama, drama, and more drama have been the name of the game at the 2023 FIDE World Cup and the first day of the semifinals only added to the spectacle. With Carlsen paired against the classically unbeaten, homegrown hero Abasov, the rating mismatch proved deceptive as the two embarked on a rollercoaster.

Abasov has performed well above his pre-tournament rating of 2646. Image: 2700chess.com.

Not one to underestimate his opponents, Carlsen indicated before the match that while he was “happy to be in the semifinals not playing the very, very top guys,” his match against Abasov would not be simple: “He’s been very strong, playing very confidently, very quickly and also playing well, so it’s not easy.”

Carlsen pre-empted a tough match and said Abasov’s chess had been “astounding.” Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

The Sicilian Defense: Nyezhmetdinov-Rossolimo Attack was the battleground for Saturday’s first semifinal game and Carlsen’s move seven novelty gambit, 7.d3 “caught out” the Azerbaijani, who was probably not expecting to be up by a pawn with Black so early.

Following a g-pawn thrust on move 10, Carlsen threatened to create a third set of doubled pawns in Black’s position but his plans were foiled by Abasov’s 13…g5. Spooked by the prospect of castling into the former world champion’s pawn storm, Abasov opted to castle queenside and offered the pawn back as a tribute to quell Carlsen’s chicanery.



The practical decision-making of Abasov was befitting of his flashy new live rating of 2672 and he quickly found himself in a queen, rook, and bishop ending where the opposite-colored bishops foreshadowed a potential draw. Carlsen would later state: “He was finding a lot of resources and I started to get pretty nervous.”

Abasov and Carlsen discuss the wild game after its completion. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Chess as a sport can be unforgiving and despite maintaining a solid edge for the first 30 moves, Carlsen’s position almost came crashing down after he played 34.Qh2?. Having missed Black’s optimal reply, 34…Qf1!, which would have allowed Abasov to take the initiative, the Norwegian was momentarily in trouble however the tournament’s 69th seed missed the chance.

Though the objective evaluation hovered around equal after the miss, Black was required to play with the utmost precision to hold on, and as Abasov’s time dipped below one minute on move 40, he chose a queen check that cost him the game.

The David vs. Goliath clash was a worthy pick for Game of the Day and has been analyzed by GM Rafael Leitao.

Praggnanandhaa’s ability to overcome adversity has been next to none in the world cup so far and after a much-needed rest day following the high-octane quarterfinal against his compatriot GM Arjun Erigaisi, the Indian prodigy showed up to play his most formidable foe yet… an in-form Caruana.

Caruana’s live rating of 2791 makes him the world’s number two player. Photo: Stev Bonhage/FIDE.

One of the more interesting statistics regarding these two players is the fact that they are the only two that have defeated two 2700-rated players each in the event (Praggnanandhaa dispatched GM Hikaru Nakamura and Arjun while Caruana took down GMs Jan-Krzysztof Duda and Leinier Dominguez). 

With his Candidate’s spot likely confirmed after Carlsen’s admittance that he would not participate based on the current format, the expectation and pressure on Praggnanandhaa has not dulled in the slightest. For Indian chess fans, a player in the semifinals is unfamiliar territory, and for an 18-year-old to be two match wins away from a title that eluded the legendary GM Viswanathan Anand, the stars seem to be aligning.

Praggnanandhaa is India’s last hope of a maiden world cup title. Photo: Stev Bonhage/FIDE.

While pushing with the white pieces is generally the game plan for top-flight players, Caruana was likely wary of the fact that Praggnanandhaa has yet to be beaten with Black in the event thus far. Of his nine wins, five have come as the second-mover.

A healthy 15 rating point gain has seen Praggnanandhaa shoot to 23rd in the live rankings. Image: 2700chess.com.

Nonetheless, Caruana is a dangerous competitor and he chose to venture 18 moves deep into Giuoco Pianissimo theory which gave him a slight edge. Heading into a queen and rook endgame, the American looked to stifle the development of Praggnanandhaa’s rook but was met with an equally logical plan—a forced queen trade.

This is a pairing we can expect to see for many years to come. Photo: Stev Bonhage/FIDE.

Like in Carlsen-Abasov, move 40 was the crucial moment in the game and with little time to calculate, Caruana missed an opportunity to turn the endgame into a winning one with 40.Ke3!. Reaching the time control on the next move provided little solace for Caruana, who had just entered a classic four pawns versus three pawns “All rook endgames are drawn” situation.

The second game of round seven promises to be a great battle of preparation and wit. While Caruana is the rating-favorite in classical, rapid, and blitz, Praggnanandhaa is on the rise and will challenge his American opponent all the way.

Round 7.1 Results: Open

 All Games: Open Round 7.1

Women’s Section: Muzychuk’s “Majestic” Endgame Win In Third-Place Playoff

In the women’s final, Salimova continued to impress with a straightforward hold on the black side of the Queen’s Gambit Declined: Exchange, Positional Line. The Bulgarian IM dubbed Goryachkina’s opening as “suspicious” and felt that Black was better, courtesy of procuring the bishop pair and significant activity in exchange for a pawn.

Goryachkina and Salimova are locked in a battle for first. Photo: Stev Bonhage/FIDE.

A key chance for Goryachkina arose after the pawn was won, which would have allowed her to hang onto the pawn provided she survived a barrage of shots from Black. Salimova noted that she had looked at 13.Qxc5! though didn’t expect it, remarking: “No way a human plays like this.”

Following the miss, pieces flew off the board and left the pair in a knight versus bishop endgame. With both players assessing the position as drawn, Goryachkina’s threefold repetition was accepted.

Following the first round of the third-place match between Muzychuk and Tan, the former’s “outstanding technique” was lauded by Anand on Twitter after she claimed a win. In a rematch of their third-placed playoff in the 2021 edition, in which Tan was victorious, it was the Ukrainian Muzychuk who avenged herself and used a series of forcing moves to take the lead in the match.

While the middlegame which sprouted from the English Opening: Carls-Bremen, Keres Variation looked like a classic swap-off and draw kind of game, it became clear that the women’s world number 10 was playing for the win when she opted for 26.Rc7. Three forcing moves later and Muzychuk played what was probably the move of the day, 29.Rc5, goading Tan into capturing the hanging e-pawn.

When Tan complied, Muzychuk sprung into action, fixing her bishop on f6 and entombing Black’s king on the kingside. While the engine still indicated that the position was equal, the precision required to stop White’s b-pawn from charging up the board proved too much for Tan, who will have to fight for the third-placed trophy in game two.

As the world cup draws closer to its conclusion, a very clear battle between tournament favorites and underdogs have stolen headlines. Will Abasov and Praggnanandhaa manage to upset the world number one and two or will Carlsen and Caruana’s hunger for a world cup title prevail? Could Salimova defy all odds and beat Goryachkina in the women’s event? 

Tune in on Sunday to find out!

Round 7.1 Results: Women

All Games: Women’s Round 7.1

The 2023 FIDE World Cup and Women’s World Cup in Baku, Azerbaijan, are big knockout events that will determine six spots in the 2024 FIDE Candidates Tournaments. The action began July 30 and ends August 24, with a combined $2.5 million prize fund.


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