Carlsen Books Spot In Final; Salimova Misses Chance To Claim Women’s Crown

Carlsen Books Spot In Final; Salimova Misses Chance To Claim Women's Crown


GM Magnus Carlsen has booked his spot in the 2023 FIDE World Cup final after winning his match against GM Nijat Abasov by a margin of 1.5/2. Abasov fought valiantly to keep his world cup hopes alive and played a near-perfect game on Sunday however Carlsen stuck with him all the way, drawing the game and earning himself a rest day ahead of the $110,000 title match.

GM Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa‘s Catalan Opening was not enough to throw off GM Fabiano Caruana. Exemplary preparation from the American allowed him to put pressure on his opponent with the black pieces. Their match will be decided in tiebreaks.

In the women’s section, a 118-move draw transpired between IM Nurgyul Salimova and GM Aleksandra Goryachkina after the Bulgarian underdog missed a chance to stun Goryachkina and claim the world cup title. A solid hold by GM Anna Muzychuk against GM Tan Zhongyi was enough to confirm a third-place finish for the Ukrainian.

The tiebreaks for both events will commence on Monday, August 21, at 7 a.m. ET / 13:00 CEST / 4:30 p.m. IST.

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Open Section: Carlsen Progresses To The Final; Caruana Presses Again 

The second day of the semifinal started with a comical moment that quickly went viral on social media. Opting to arrive late to the round, Abasov was not present when the arbiter asked the players to shake hands and start their clocks. Jesting, Carlsen “shook hands” with his invisible opponent.

Abasov’s London System has been one of his greatest weapons at the 2023 FIDE World Cup, and in game two he decided that this would be the best way to fight against the five-time world champion. Carlsen once again elected to divert from the book as early as move seven in an attempt to stop the rapid-moving Abasov from playing in his usual, confident style. This early strategy paid off, and the hometown hero spent 21 minutes on the move 9.f3.

Winning on demand against one of the greatest players of all time is a stressful experience. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Now with a pawn structure more characteristic of the Jobava London System, Abasov expanded in the center and prompted Carlsen to castle queenside. Needing to win on demand, the Azerbaijani was likely happy with the position he had built and sowed the seeds of a queenside pawn storm.

Carlsen didn’t shy away from imbalance in his second game against Abasov. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Looking to neutralize his dangerous foe, Carlsen liquidated into a same-colored bishop ending which he regarded as “winning.” Rather than settle for a draw, the world number one predictably played on, perhaps with an air of complacency. What unfolded next very nearly allowed Abasov to equalize and take the match into overtime.

After the game, Carlsen stated: “I was playing on because I thought there was absolutely no risk, and I thought that I had finally triangulated and gotten a winning position. It was quite a rude awakening to see this move 56.d6 because I’d thought whenever he does that I just go pick up the pawn with the king, and when he played it, I immediately saw his idea. Fortunately, the position was an easy draw right after.”

The idea that Carlsen was referring to was the brilliant bishop sacrifice, 57.Bg4!!. Luckily for the Norweigian, he found a line that declined the shenanigans and guaranteed himself a draw.

The loss marked the end of an extraordinary run by the Baku-local Abasov who will still have a shot at third place on Tuesday and will at the very least walk away from the event with a potential Candidates spot, an enormous rating jump, and a legion of new fans.

Moving on to the world cup finals for the first time in his career, Carlsen will either face one of his long-time rivals in Caruana or up-and-comer Praggnanandhaa. Despite claiming he wouldn’t participate in the world championship cycle in its “current format”, it will be intriguing to see how the chess world responds should Carlsen be victorious in Baku. Echoes of his 2017 statement about the world championship title come to the fore: “I have long thought that moving to an annual knock-out event, similar to the World Cup, would be more equitable.”

Carlsen has candidly spoken about the tournament and his games after each round. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Praggnanandhaa and Caruana continued to play accurately in their second game. After the Indian prodigy was unable to make inroads with his Catalan novelty 9.Re1, Caruana assumed the role of aggressor once again.

Confidently pressing. Will the world number two join the world number one in the final? Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Caruana was critical of Praggnanandhaa’s decision to play 15.Na3?, labeling it dubious, and instead suggested that his opponent should have simply stuck to the theoretical motif of capturing Black’s knight on c6 and targeting the doubled pawns.

The decision to stray from theory did leave Praggnanandhaa with clumsy pieces and a lack of space, though the 18-year-old’s defense was world class. He was able to stabilize the position with relative ease.

With tiebreaks looming, there’s no telling which of the two in-form stars will progress to play Carlsen. Caruana and Praggnanandhaa have never faced in FIDE-rated rapid or blitz games. Thus, they will be navigating unfamiliar territory when they clash on Monday. As Caruana aptly put it when asked to preview the tiebreaks: “Anything can happen.”

Round 7.2 Results: Open

 All Games: Open Round 7.2

Women’s Section: Goryachkina’s Miracle Draw; Muzychuk Secures Bronze Medal

The second game of the women’s final was a tale of three acts and remained tumultuous throughout. Goryachkina started strongly with the black pieces against Salimova’s Queen’s Gambit and grabbed the initiative, courtesy of expansive queenside play, indicating her intent to play for a win.

Goryachkina hoped to put the match to bed without the need for tiebreaks. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Sensing danger in the position, Salimova offered a queen trade and began to contest the recently opened c-file while simultaneously targeting her opponent’s weakened pawn structure. Despite her spatial advantage, Goryachkina appeared to get lost in the middlegame and soon discovered that her supposed edge was superficial.

Salimova’s confidence picked up through the middlegame period and while she had burnt over two-thirds of her time by move 28, the Bulgarian underdog played impeccably in the middlegame and soon found herself up by two pawns.

Struggling to stay in the game, Goryachkina hedged her bets on her b-pawn, rook, and knight pair and used piece activity to counter against Salimova. With only one minute left on the clock in addition to her increment, Salimova began to slip, allowing Goryachkina to win her pawns back.

The momentum shift during this period was so extreme that commentators Sachdev and Williams went from touting a White win to a Black win within moves, barely considering the possibility of a draw. In the end, Salimova traded her knight for Black’s last pawn and defended a rook versus rook and knight ending for 50 moves.

Commentators Sachdev and Williams could feel the momentum shifting dramatically. Image: Chess24/Youtube.

Salimova was careful not to become flippant in the ending… The women’s world champion GM Ju Wenjun had already defeated IM Ulviyya Fataliyeva in the same ending, and for those with longer-term memories, GM Garry Kasparov famously defeated GM Judit Polgar in Spain in 1996. This was, of course, before the 20-year-old Salimova was born.

Kasparov has managed to win the objectively drawn ending before. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Champions Showdown: Chess9LX.

Our Game of the Day has been analyzed by GM Rafael Leitao.

The game was gut-wrenching for Salimova, who not only would have won the world cup but also would have been automatically granted the GM title for winning the tournament (this is one of the only ways to receive the title other than by traditional means). Should she emerge victorious in the tiebreaks, this will still be the case.

Salimova rues what could have been. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

The third-fourth-place bout between Muzychuk and Tan came to a close after a 54-move draw that saw the Ukrainian take the match 1.5/2. Like a puppetmaster, Muzychuk controlled the ebbs and flows of the performance and never let go of the advantage she secured early on.

Tan tried her best to spice up the middlegame by castling to the opposite side of her opponent, though Black’s pieces sprung to life expeditiously and forced the Chinese GM to trade down into an ending or risk losing the game. Draped with the Ukrainian flag in her post-match interview, Muzychuk suggested that after 8.g3? by Tan, she liked her position, and “it must be better.”

With this empathic victory, Muzychuk will be granted a spot at the FIDE Women’s Candidates tournament for the third consecutive time and is the fifth confirmed player after GM Lei Tingjie, GM Kateryna Lagno, Goryachkina, and Salimova.

Muzychuk confidently fended off Tan to claim bronze in Baku. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Round 7 Results: Women

All Games: Women’s Round 7.2

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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