CCT Finals: Abdusattorov and Caruana survive

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
12/13/2023 – Fabiano Caruana and Nodirbek Abdusattorov advanced to the semifinals of the Champions Chess Tour Finals after going through the ‘survival stage’ on Tuesday. The two players who were knocked out of the competition in this stage were Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Hikaru Nakamura, with the latter coming inches away from reaching the semis via the longest path. The U.S. star would have needed to win three matches on a single day — he beat Denis Lazavik and MVL before losing in Armageddon to Abdusattorov. | Photo: / Thomas Tischio

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So vs. Abdusattorov, Carlsen vs. Caruana

The rules in the Champions Chess Tour Finals are somewhat intricate, but they make for a good spectacle for those following the action live. Getting a winner in every single match and granting 1 point to the winner (no matter whether he wins in Armageddon or not) is a welcome improvement, while creating an incentive for players to fight for the highest possible spot in the round-robin also secures fighting chess throughout.

Out of the eight participants in the round-robin, the top two move on to the semifinals at once, and the next four in the standings advance to the ‘survival stage’ — importantly, though, those placed third and fourth play in a winners’ bracket and those placed fifth and sixth need to win two matches to make it to the semifinals (i.e. the winner of the losers’ bracket faces the loser of the winners’ bracket to decide the final spot in semis).

In Toronto on Tuesday, the first deciding moment came in the seventh round of the initial stage, with Hikaru Nakamura barely reaching the ‘survival stage’ after beating Denis Lazavik and seeing Magnus Carlsen getting the better of Alireza Firouzja in Armageddon.

The final standings of the round-robin had Wesley So and Magnus Carlsen placed first and second, in that order; Fabiano Caruana and Nodirbek Abdusattorov advancing to the winners’ bracket in the survival stage; and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Hikaru Nakamura reaching the losers’ bracket in said stage.

Champions Chess Tour Finals 2023

Caruana beat Abdusattorov in Armageddon to reach the semis, while Nakamura defeated MVL to gain the right to face Abdusattorov in the final match for survival. In an exciting confrontation that was only decided in sudden death, Abdusattorov was the last player to qualify to semis by showing better nerves than his famed opponent in Armageddon.

The last decision left to be made was for So, the winner of the round-robin, to choose who would be his opponent in the semifinals. Understandably, So chose Abdusattorov, against whom he has a better score than against Caruana — the Uzbek GM is also the player who had to play one extra match on Tuesday.

Champions Chess Tour Finals 2023

Round 7: It all works out for Naka

Going into the final round of the first stage, Hikaru Nakamura was sharing last place in the standings with Denis Lazavik, who incidentally was his last rival of the round-robin. To reach the ‘survival stage’, Nakamura needed both to beat Lazavik — which he managed, in style — and for Magnus Carlsen to beat Alireza Firouzja. The former world champion showed his endgame skills to win the Armageddon with the white pieces.

Thus, Carlsen’s win allowed Nakamura to advance to the ‘survival stage’.

Meanwhile, Wesley So suffered his first loss of the event, as he was defeated by Fabiano Caruana in sudden death. Also, Nodirbek Abdusattorov beat Maxime Vachier-Lagrave by winning the Armageddon with black.

All games - Round 7

Magnus Carlsen

Magnus Carlsen | Photo: / Thomas Tischio

Survival stage: Abdusattorov makes it through

Champions Chess Tour Finals 2023

Fabiano Caruana (third place in the round-robin) beat Nodirbek Abdusattorov (fourth) with black in the Armageddon to reach the semis, but the format of the stage meant Abdusattorov still had a chance to advance — if he beat Hikaru Nakamura, who came from defeating Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in the ‘losers bracket’.

Abdusattorov first played white, and got an advantage, but failed to convert it into a win in a tricky opposite-coloured bishop endgame. A rather quiet draw followed, which meant it all would be decided in Armaggedon. By this point, more than five hours had passed since the start of the day’s action.

In the time bidding, Abdusattorov got the black pieces. The Uzbek star played actively despite only needing a draw, which allowed Nakamura to get chances to grab the initiative in a sharp position. The U.S. star, however, faltered on move 26.

25.Re8+ all but forces Black to play 25...Rf8, and after 26.Rxa8 Rxa8 27.Re6, White gets a clear positional edge due to Black’s weakened pawn structure.

After Black blocked on f8, though, Nakamura replied by 26.Re6, perhaps expecting his opponent to repeat the position once with 26...Rf6. But Abdusattorov corrected his previous error, as he decided to make the most of his initiative on the kingside via 26...Rac8 27.a4 d3

Now 28.Qxd3 would be followed by 28...f3, breaking through and getting ready to activate his dark-squared bishop. Instead, Nakamura went for 28.Kh1, but after 28...Qg3 it was White who needed to be careful to keep the balance.

Abdusattorov did not falter from this point on. A draw was reached on move 63, which meant Nakamura, one of the pre-tournament favourites, had been eliminated from the competition.

All games - Survival stage


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.