AI Cup Play-In: Mamedyarov beats Caruana 2-0, Joins Nakamura, Giri, MVL

AI Cup Play-In: Mamedyarov beats Caruana 2-0, Joins Nakamura, Giri, MVL


GMs Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Hikaru Nakamura, and Anish Giri ascended to the top in the 2023 AI Cup Play-in on Monday, claiming the remaining four spots in the Division I knockout. They will join GMs Magnus Carlsen, Alireza FirouzjaDenis Lazavik, and Ian Nepomniachtchi who qualified in the Julius Baer Generation Cup.

The AI Cup is the last Champions Chess Tour event of the regular season, making it the last chance for players to qualify for the upcoming live Finals in Toronto, Canada. 

The knockout begins on Monday, September 25, starting at 11 a.m. ET / 17:00 CEST / 8:30 p.m. IST.

See what happened


Repeating his result in the Julius Baer Generation Cup Play-In, GM Fabiano Caruana rose to first among a field of 171 titled players. In the penultimate round, he defeated GM Georg Meier with creative play amidst a tense battle. 

Giri swept his last four games to finish second. In the penultimate round, he defeated GM Sam Sevian by spotting a tactical nuance. 

GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda went undefeated, finishing with the top tiebreaks of the pack of eight players with 6.5 points. He served Giri his only loss of the event in round three. Playing the appropriately-named “Freak Attack” of 6.Rg1 vs. Giri’s Sicilian Nadjorf, Duda created active play on all sides of the board, ultimately conjuring up an unstoppable attack on the king. 

GMs Dmitry Andreikin, Vladimir Fedoseev, Mamedyarov, Vachier-Lagrave, and Nakamura finished in fourth to eighth, moving onto the Match Play stage. 

One of the most stunning upsets of the tournament was FM Garg Aradhya‘s win over the 14th world champion, GM Vladimir Kramnik. The Indian FIDE master played with verve from the opening, sacrificing an exchange for intuitive and lasting compensation in the form of his bishop pair, activity, and control of the center. 

Results | Play-In Swiss (Top 20)

(See full results here.)

Match Play

In a two-game match, the top eight battled for the four Division I qualification spots. None of the favorites won the first game. Andreikin upset Nakamura in a positional duel featuring a stunning tactical insight. This is our Game of the Day, annotated by GM Rafael Leitao below.

Ever the fighter, Nakamura evened the score on demand in the next game, sending the match into overtime. 

In the armageddon playoff, Andreikin had Nakamura on the ropes as he advanced his passers in the rook ending, but Nakamura snuck away in the last seconds, winning the match with a draw with black.

The top finisher gets to choose their opponent for the Match Play, and Caruana may have ended up regretting his choice of Mamedyarov. In his signature aggressive style, the Azerbaijani grandmaster defeated Caruana in a tactical duel with Black in their first game, setting the tone for the match.

In game two, Mamedyarov gained the initative and an extra pawn in the early middlegame. Yet, Caruana later had chances to fight back. Can you find the American grandmaster’s missed opportunity in the puzzle below?

Black to move.

In the end, Mamedyarov paralyzed Caruana’s position and then crashed through with a mating combination when the world number-two tried to stir up unsupported counterplay, due to his must-win position.

After starting with a draw, Vachier-Lagrave achieved a commanding position out of the opening vs. Duda in game two, and the Polish grandmaster never quite got back into the game.

Giri and Fedoseev drew both their rapid games, sending matters into an armageddon playoff. Giri bid just over seven minutes for draw odds with Black and successfully held the balance in a double-edged game. 

Results | Match Play

AI Cup Knockout | Division I Qualifiers

The Champions Chess Tour 2023 (CCT) is the biggest online tournament of the year. It is composed of six events that span the entire year and culminate in live in-person finals. With the best players in the world and a prize fund of $2,000,000, the CCT is’s most important event yet.

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