Azerbaijan FIDE World Cup

by ChessBase
7/26/2023 – All eyes are on Baku as the chess elite descends on Azerbaijan for the World Cup. The event will feature an unprecedented prize fund of 2.5 million US dollars. For the first time, the top three players from both the Open and the Women's section, which will be held together at the same time, will qualify for the Candidates tournaments.

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For nearly one whole month, the centre of the chess world will move to Baku, Azerbaijan. From 30 July to 24 August 2023, the Caucasus country will be host to the chess elite vying for the top places, qualifying for the 2024 Candidates tournaments. 

The format of the event was changed in the previous one (Sochi, 2021) by adding an extra round, which allowed increasing the Open section from 128 to 206 contestants. The Women's section will feature 103 players.

The 2023 event brings another change: instead of the top two, the top three players from each event will qualify for the forthcoming Candidates tournament, which will take place next April in Toronto, Canada. 

This event will be of special focus for Magnus Carlsen. The current World Number One rated player finished third in the previous tournament. Carlsen never won the World Cup, and he even never made it to the final – a surprising miss given that he has won everything else in chess there is to win.

While this will be the tenth competition in the Open section, the event in Azerbaijan will only be the second event of its kind for women (the first one was in Sochi in 2021).

The 2021 decision to increase the number of players meant that the top seeds would be joining the event from Round 2. The list of top seeds features all the world's best and strongest, save the current world champion, Ding Liren and the #6 on the July 2023 FIDE rating list Alireza Firouzja. 

The leaders in the Open section of its 10th jubilee event include Magnus Carlsen, Ian Nepomniachtchi, Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura (who was granted a wild card), Anish Giri, Wesley So, Gukesh D and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave as well as the local favourites – Azerbaijan's heavyweights and the top world players – the 2019 World Cup winner Teimour Radjabov and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. 

Joining the star-studded lineup will be the defending champion Jan-Krzysztof Duda (above). Having won the 2021 event, Duda will be looking to score a second victory. It has been achieved only once before - by Levon Aronian, who won the World Cup in 2006 and 2017.

Among the more seasoned participants, the event will feature the likes of Etienne Bacrot and the FIDE World Cup winners Boris Gelfand (2009) and Peter Svidler (2011, who was awarded a wild card for the 2023 event). At the time of writing, it is still unclear if the legendary Ukrainian player Vasyl Ivanchuk will attend, as he was denied permission to leave the country. The chess world has called on Ukrainian authorities to grant him an exemption – which you can read more about here.

In the Women's section, all eyes will be on Ju Wenjun, the reigning Women's World Champion (above), and the 2020 Candidate Aleksandra Goryachkina. They will face tough competition from former women's world champions Alexandra Kosteniuk (who won the inaugural Women's World Cup, in 2021), Tan Zhongyi, Mariya Muzychuk and Anna Ushenina, as well as top players such as Humpy Koneru, Kateryna Lagno, Anna Muzychuk, Nana Dzagnidze and others.

The pairings and potential notable clashes

With the pairings tree already published (here), some exciting match-ups can already be anticipated.

Top seed Carlsen has a relatively straightforward path in the first two rounds before coming up against either the young German GM Vincent Keymer or the Iranian Amin Tabatabaei.

Former World Rapid Champion Nodirbek Abdusattorov will likely face Anton Korobov, while Ivanchuk (assuming he plays) is going up against Wei Yi. The winner of the spectacular 2019 Isle of Man Grand Swiss, Wang Hao, will clash with England's David Howell, assuming both make it to the third round. Peter Svidler also has a relatively easy path to round three, where his biggest challenge is likely to be Jorden Van Foreest. Nepomniachtchi, Caruana, Nakamura, Duda, So and Vachier-Lagrave also seem to have a light task in the first two rounds.

All attention in the women's section will be riveted to the World Champion Ju Wenjun and 2020 candidate Aleksandra Goryachkina, who should not have too many difficulties in the first rounds. The other potential top match-ups in the Women's section are likely to be Assaubayeva vs Paehtz, the Ukrainian face-off between Anna Muzychuk and Anna Ushenina, as well as a duel between Irina Krush and Polina Shuvalova.

The best and only opportunity for many

The forthcoming World Cup in Baku will be the only opportunity for many players to qualify for the Candidates and get a chance to vie for the prestigious World Championship crown. For the chess world, this will be the opportunity to witness some of the most unlikely match-ups, as lesser-known players from across the globe will have a chance to fight – and upset – the top world heavyweights.

This unprecedented opportunity will ignite hope and a fighting spirit among the participants. But greatness awaits only a select few.

About the event

The FIDE World Cup has been held since 2005 and takes place every two years. The first Women's World Cup was organised in 2021.

The regulations for this year's events, as well as the breakdown of the prize fund, can be found on the Official Information section of the event website:

For information about arrivals and accommodation, go here.

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