2023 FIDE World Cup: Semifinals/Finals

Praggnanandhaa beats Caruana, will play Carlsen in the Final!

This World Cup tournament has been one of big upsets, but Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana were headed on a collision course as the two highest seeds from each bracket. That is until one of the Indian prodigies had other ideas. Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa had already ousted Hikaru Nakamura in the round of 16 before he had to take on his compatriot Arjun Erigaisi. That bruising battle went nine games with Pragg advancing to play Caruana.

Photo by Stev Bonhage

2023 World Cup

July 29th -August 25th, 2023
(Baku, Azerbaijan)

1 Carlsen, M
Abasov, N
2 Caruana, F
Praggnanandhaa, R

Women’s Results

1 Goryachkina, A
Salimova, N
2 Tan Zhongyi
Muzychuk, A

Fabiano Caruana had been in good form in this tournament, having to endure only one tiebreak against Mustafa Yilmaz. He came very close to losing that match but soldiered on into the semifinals after a big test against Leinier Dominguez. In this match, it would be a battle between the old vs. new generations. It seems strange to say that Caruana is old when he is only 31 years old. Nevertheless, Viswanathan Anand represents the oldest generation and he is passing his lessons down to the Indian prodigies.

The critical moment came in the first 25+10 game when Caruana had a decisive edge. Just as in the Yilmaz match, he miscalculated and threw away a win. After 55.f4?? a change in his demeanor took place in the ensuing moves.

The move that may have cost Caruana the match.

The move 55.f4?? turned out to be a huge mistake that may have cost Caruana the match. The subtlety pointed out by commentators is Pragg would have had to use tempos to attack the kingside pawns. This would give the white bishop and king a chance to regroup. On 55.a6! black can resign since the black rook will be lost and the black king has to march all the way up the board to try and liquidate the pawns. White will be in time to prevent this. Utter disappointment.

Many predicted that this miss would come back to haunt Caruana. This happened in the first 10+10 game. Let’s take a look at the decisive game with ChessBase India.

Video ChessBase India

This is a watershed moment for Indian chess and it has been repeated throughout the tournament. However, when their entire Olympiad team made a deep run into the tournament, it became clear this was evidence that passing of the torch has happened… not only from Viswanathan Anand, but from traditional chess powers to India. Certainly, he must be very proud to see the fruit of his labor while he is still relatively young. Here is Pragg after his victory.

Video by FIDE Chess

Abasov creates sensation

Nijat Abasov is indeed experiencing a whirlwind of popularity. Prior to the tournament, Azeri pride centered around Teimour Radjabov (who welcomed the players), Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Eltaj Safarli. Abasov appeared as an obscure player, but during World Cup, he won one match after another against top-level players, including Anish Giri and Peter Svidler. After beating Salem Saleh, he eliminated Vidit Gujrathi for a chance to play the world’s #1 Magnus Carlsen.

More than 1000 fans came to see Abasov play against Carlsen and of course, this provides some added incentive to play well. The first game created quite a stir in the Rossolimo Sicilian. Carlsen played the common 4.Bxc6 line, but follow by 5.b3!? then a positional pawn sacrifice with 6.e5!? If he was trying to catch Abasov off guard, then he probably succeeded, but then Carlsen played another strange move in 9.Rg1.

Carlsen’s 9.Rg1 raised a few eyebrows. He later added that the move was recommended by top engines.

At this point, Abasov is probably out of any preparation he did. Carlsen said if black doesn’t react properly there are a lot of lines where black is under pressure What are the ideas? Obviously, white can go for g4-g5 in combination with Bb2 and Nc4 or Ne5. The black king has trouble finding a home with the compromised pawn structure. Abasov tried to prevent the opening of the position with 13…g5, but Carlsen struck with 14.h4. After castling queenside, white held a slight advantage.

With the black pawn structure in shambles, Abasov worked hard to fortify his weaknesses and seemed to find a good formation. He would get his big chance after Carlsen played 34.Qh2??

This position created a frenzy. Can you find the killer blow? If you could not, Abasov couldn’t either and missed 34…Qf1!! After this comes the Rg6 and then an unstoppable invasion on the g-file. After being told about this maneuver, Carlsen mentioned that he had not seen it at all. After missing the win (34…Qf1!!), Carlsen missed a clear win (39.Bxa7!). Then Abasov missed a chance to draw the game after Carlsen played 40.Bxa7? Bear in mind, tension is high and these players have been playing for three weeks. Abasov missed a geometric draw, opting for 40…Qf6+?? when 40…Qd4+ would’ve held.

Video by FIDE Chess

In the second game, it appeared that the Azeri would equalize after 57.Bg4! but it was merely an illusion and Carlsen can sacrifice both passed pawns for white’s remaining pawn and get an easy draw.

What turned out to be a disaster for Azerbaijan, ended up being a rousing success and now Abasov will go on to compete for third place against Fabiano Caruana.

Video by FIDE Chess

Goryachkina wins the Women’s World Cup!

Aleksandra Goryachkina
Photo by Stev Bonhage

This was an interesting tournament with Russia’s Aleksandra Goryachkina winning, but a new star emerging in 20-year-old Nurgyul Salimova. She gave the champion every bit of her competitive energy and nearly went ahead in the match if not for an unfortunate blunder in the first rapid tiebreak.

In serious time pressure, Salimova, played 35.Kxh2?? forgetting about her rook. After 35…Qxf1, Goryachkina forced a draw by perpetual check.

FIDE Report

In today’s tiebreak match, Goryachkina was completely lost in the first game. Playing the London System, Salimova (as White) had a clear advantage early on but then misplayed in a completely winning position, allowing Goryachkina to save a draw with a perpetual check.

In game two, in the Catalan, Goryachkina managed to secure an extra pawn on the queenside as her opponent did not demonstrate the necessary knowledge and accuracy in the opening. In the endgame, she was close to clinching victory on two occasions but allowed Black to make a save. After 89 moves, in time trouble – in a 2:1 pawn endgame for Goryachkina where White had a knight, and Black had a bishop – Salimova eventually cracked in a drawish position and made the decisive mistake.

Photo by Maria Emelianova

White managed to penetrate with her king to the kingside to support her two passers that rushed towards promotion. Black resisted a bit more before resigning on move 105.

A great victory by Aleksandra Goryachkina who was the runner-up in the 2021 edition of the event. Additionally, she secured the first-place prize of $50,000.

Goryachkina has confidently played the entire event: out of six matches, in four she won in the regular part (against Odraz Valdes, Divya, Batsiashvili and Tan), and in two she won in the tiebreaks (against Dronavalli and Salimova).

Photo by Maria Emelianova

Despite losing in the finals, Bulagria’s Nurgyul Salimova had a spectacular performance in Baku and is a huge surprise for the chess world. She defeated some of the strongest world players, such as Polina Shuvalova and Anna Muzychuk (who finished third in the Women’s World Cup).

~Milan Dinic, FIDE

Interview with Anna Muzychuk, Bronze Medalist


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