Juni 22, 2024

Champions Chess Tour Finals Heat Up As Red Hot Wesley Beats Magnus

A dramatic day of action in Chess.com’s flagship Champions Chess Tour Finals 2023 saw GM Wesley So continue his unbeaten run by toppling GMs Magnus Carlsen and Nodirbek Abdusattorov while GM Hikaru Nakamura is left on the brink of elimination.

Nakamura’s woes continued as the heavily-backed American suffered back-to-back armageddon losses to Abdusattorov and GM Fabiano Caruana. Meanwhile, GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave secured his first match win in an all-French clash with GM Alireza Firouzja.

Review the action here

With one round-robin matchup remaining, So and Carlsen are through to the Semifinals, while Caruana and Abdusattorov are in the Survival stage.

Four players, Nakamura, Vachier-Lagrave, Firouzja, and GM Denis Lazavik—will fight to avoid the bottom-two elimination spots and keep their dreams of winning the CCT alive.

Round five’s pairings promised to answer several key questions, most notably, who would remain undefeated after the match between juggernauts So and Carlsen?

The headline act on day three was the showdown between the tournament leaders, and while Carlsen was considered the favorite, pundits and fans alike knew it would be a tense affair.

In the first game, So showed exemplary knowledge of rook and pawn endgames, defending down by a pawn while Carlsen pressed for over 30 moves. The game eventually culminated in a clever rook sacrifice by So that forced a stalemate.

A quick draw in the second game left So and Carlsen with everything to play for in armageddon. With the white pieces, So played what IM Danny Rensch described as the „game of the tournament so far“, a fitting title for an effort that overcame the five-time world champion.

Taking advantage of Carlsen’s impetuous queen sacrifice 22…Qxf6??, So coasted to victory and claimed his fifth straight match victory. While many had quashed suggestions that So was one of the pre-tournament favorites due to his recent inability to procure decisive results, it will be difficult for anyone to bring his rampage to a halt.

Nakamura’s fortunes appeared to be turning around on day three after a round one win over Abdusattorov, especially since it was with the black pieces and even featured a brilliant move. Luck just wasn’t on the American’s side, though, and his Uzbekistani opponent proved he is more than just a toothless tiger, pouncing on a middlegame blunder and squaring up the match.

A frustrated Nakamura walked out of an interview with Norwegian chess journalist Kaja Snare before the armageddon tiebreaker, giving insight into his mental state after a disappointing 1/5 start.

Abdusattorov would go on to win the third game of the match while Nakamura struggled to click into gear. The 19-year-old would later state: „I didn’t believe that I’m going to win this game, but things turned out well for me.“

It got worse for Nakamura. By Round 6, Carlsen was the only player who had won his match without needing an armageddon tiebreaker while Caruana and So picked up consecutive match wins on day three.

Bouncing back from his loss against So, Carlsen took no prisoners in round six against Vachier-Lagrave, and he produced a 23-move miniature in their first game. On the white side of an English Opening: Neo-Catalan Defense Declined, the world number-one conjured an incisive kingside attack, his pieces moving in fluid harmony to assist with the demolition job.  

Incredibly, Vachier-Lagrave really made just one mistake but was duly punished by Carlsen, who capped off the game with two piece sacrifices in the final five moves of the game.

Despite being one of the world leaders in Ruy Lopez endgames structures, specifically the Berlin Defense, Vachier-Lagrave decided to keep material on the board. However, Carlsen was more than up to the task and eventually confirmed a draw while up a pawn in a rook and knight ending.

Vachier-Lagrave’s 1/2 on day three has given him a temporary spot in the top six, though with a match against Adbusattorov looming, anything is possible.

Caruana’s defensive efforts against Nakamura were one of the highlights of day three and also a major reason why his countryman was unable to find his feet in the armageddon game when the script was flipped.

With mere seconds on the clock, Caruana successfully defended against Nakamura’s probing bishop pair in the first game and then an even more difficult queen and pawn ending in the second.

In the latter, an incorrect threefold repetition claim halted play for several minutes, and even though Nakamura gained two minutes on the clock, the pause gave Caruana ample time to figure out how to achieve a repetition.

Bidding for time in the armageddon tiebreaker only added to the drama as the players both elected to play Black with nine minutes and 59 seconds and were forced to re-bid by IA Judit Sztaray. It was eventually confirmed that Nakamura would play Black with nine minutes and 10 seconds.

While Caruana would later admit that „Hikaru was definitely not in form today,“ the world number-two’s ability to create a tremendous pawn duo in the final game led to one of the most destructive attacks of the tournament so far.

Nakamura is in a dire situation with one round-robin match left to play and will need to defeat Lazavik and hope that other results, namely those of Vachier-Lagrave and Firouzja, fall his way.

For So, it’s a different story. Cracking the likes of So was always going to be a difficult task for Abdusattorov and after a near-perfect 69-move Scotch Game, the former world rapid champion was pleased to find himself with the bishop pair in the second game.

While the clergymen while still on the board were unable to dint So’s position, Abdusattorov’s light-squared bishop could have ruined So’s run if he hadn’t pinched a pawn with 30…Qxh4?.

The position was the closest that So has come to losing in the whole tournament thus far, and Abdusattorov was likely left ruing his chance following So’s hold with Black in the decisive armageddon game.

Rounds seven of the round-robin will be on Tuesday, December 12, starting at 12 p.m. ET / 18:00 CEST / 22:30 p.m. IST.

You can watch the Champions Chess Tour Finals 2023 on Chess.com/TV, our Twitch channel and catch all our live broadcasts on YouTube.com/Chess. The games can also be followed from our Events Page.

Adapted from FM Jack Rodgers‘ report for Chess.com. Read the full report with game analysis here.