CCT Finals: So, Carlsen and Caruana start strong

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
12/10/2023 – Three players grabbed back-to-back wins in the first two rounds of the Champions Chess Tour Finals: Magnus Carlsen, Wesley So and Fabiano Caruana, with Caruana prevailing twice in Armageddon to end the day sharing the lead. Notably, one of the three players who lost his first two matches is Hikaru Nakamura, who celebrated his 36th birthday on Saturday. | Photo: / Thomas Tischio

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Naka turns 36 years old

Commentators Robert Hess and David Howell, two grandmasters with plenty of competitive experience, reiterated during the live webcast of the Champions Chess Tour Finals that playing on one’s birthday can be rather difficult. They were discussing this topic because Hikaru Nakamura turned 36 years old on the first day of action in Toronto.

And, indeed, things did not go well for the famed chess streamer, who made a couple of uncharacteristic blunders to lose both his round-1 match against Wesley So and his round-2 match against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.

Meanwhile, the numbers 1 and 2 in the classical-chess FIDE ranking, Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana, got off to a strong start, winning their two matches to end the day sharing the lead with So, who besides beating Nakamura, had little trouble defeating young Denis Lazavik, the underdog in the 8-player event.

The first stage of the tournament is a single round-robin, in which the top two finishers will advance directly to the semifinals, those placed third to sixth will advance to a ‘survival stage’, and the bottom two will be eliminated. The final standings will be decided according to the number of match wins, with the first tiebreak criterion being “the match wins in matches between tied players”.

Champions Chess Tour Finals 2023

Round 1: Caruana prevails in Armageddon

Champions Chess Tour Finals 2023

In the match facing perennial favourite Magnus Carlsen against newcomer Denis Lazavik, the former showcased his experience and technical expertise to get a comfortable 1½-½ victory — find below Robert Ris’ excellent video highlighting Carlsen’s endgame prowess.

Wesley So (over Hikaru Nakamura) and Alireza Firouzja (over Nodirbek Abdusattorov) also won one and drew one to start the day with two-game wins. The one match decided in Armageddon was the one facing Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Fabiano Caruana.

Caruana’s bid of playing with 9 minutes and 52 seconds on his clock got him the black pieces. By move 46, he had two extra pawns in an endgame, but MVL still had chances to escape with a draw — however, the Frenchman missed his chance to simplify the position and instead blundered into a losing position.

Here 46.Bxd6 followed by 47.Ra8 allows White to recover a pawn and get drawing chances in the ensuing 3 vs. 2 rook endgame. However, the immediate 46.Ra8, as played by Caruana, loses by force to 46...c5 47.Ra5 Nb7

MVL resigned, since 48.Rb5 loses to 48...Kc6. Placing the rook on a8 was the right idea, but the Frenchman failed to find the correct move order.

All games - Round 1

Champions Chess Tour Finals 2023

The Finals of the tour are taking place in Toronto | Photo: / Thomas Tischio

Expert analysis by IM Robert Ris

Round 2: Three matches go to sudden death

Champions Chess Tour Finals 2023

In round 2, only Wesley So got a 1½-½ win, over Denis Lazavik. The remaining three encounters went to sudden-death deciders, with Fabiano Caruana (against Alireza Firouzja), Nodirbek Abdusattorov (against Magnus Carlsen) and Hikaru Nakamura (against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave) bidding less time than their opponents and getting the black pieces.

Nakamura had the better minor piece and a strong pawn on g2 when he suddenly played an unnecessary intermediate move.

38...Rh1 is the strongest move for Black here, albeit it is true that leaving the seventh rank might be scary in such a double-edged position. Nonetheless, 38...Bxe6, as played by Nakamura, simply allows White to keep his extra piece after 39.Rxe6 Rh5+ 40.Kg4

Perhaps Nakamura only calculated 40.Kg6, when Black gets back the piece after 40...Rxe6+ 41.Kxh5 Re5+ — in this line, the resulting position is drawn according to the computer.

In the game, MVL kept his cool and patiently converted his advantage into his first match victory of the event.

All games - Round 2

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave | Photo: / Thomas Tischio


Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.