CCT Finals: Carlsen beats Caruana in thrilling match

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
12/14/2023 – Magnus Carlsen and Nodirbek Abdusattorov won the first sets in the semis of the Champions Chess Tour Finals in Toronto. Carlsen defeated Fabiano Caruana in a thrilling match which featured five decisive results and the Norwegian winning from a lost position (a queen down). Abdusattorov, on his part, lost the first game against Wesley So, but then won two in a row and drew the fourth to claim overall victory. | Photo: / Thomas Tischio

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Carlsen 3 - 2 Caruana

The match featuring the two highest-rated players in the world was a thriller. Magnus Carlsen won the first game after coming from behind in a position with rook and two pawns (for Carlsen) against a queen and three pawns. Both sides had connected passers, though.

84...h3 by Fabiano Caruana was a hard-to-explain mistake — starting with 84...g5, to defend the h-pawn, made perfect sense. Of course, at this point both players had less than 10 seconds on their clocks.

After 85.Rxh3+ Kg8 86.Rd3 engines show zeros in their evaluations, but four moves later things went from bad to worse for Caruana, who blundered with 90...Kf6

Resignation came after 91.Re8 — but 90...Kf7 on the previous move would have prevented this idea, as Black would have been able to escape with a draw by perpetual check starting with 91...Qf6+. Surely a painful loss for the U.S. star!

Fabiano Caruana

Fabiano Caruana | Photo: / Thomas Tischio

Remarkably, Caruana more than recovered from the hiccup in game 1, as he won the following two games in style.

First, he showcased great technical skills to outplay Carlsen in a rooks-and-knights endgame with an extra (doubled) pawn. Then, he needed no more than 12 seconds to find a tactical blow that exploited Carlsen’s error on the previous move.

32.Nf1 allowed 32...Nxg2 33.Kxg2 Qg4+, recovering the missed piece after having gained a pawn while destroying White’s kingside defences.

Following simplifications, Black emerged two pawns up in an endgame with rook and bishop against rook and knight. Carlsen continued fighting until move 49, but Caruana had little trouble converting his advantage into a win.

Now Carlsen needed to win on demand — with black — to take the match to Armageddon.

Champions Chess Tour Finals 2023

Tense battles in progress! | Photo: / Thomas Tischio

And the ever-fighting Norwegian managed to do just that. Caruana misplayed the early middlegame, as castling kingside turned out to be the wrong decision on move 14. Shortly after, Carlsen converted his positional advantage into a material edge with a well-known yet good-looking thematic sacrifice.

19...Bxh2+ gains a pawn by force, as there followed 20.Kxh2 Rxd2 21.Bxd2 Qd6+

Carlsen soon traded queens, and slowly but surely converted his extra-pawn advantage into a win in the endgame.

Following the topsy-turvy action, Carlsen bid less than 9 minutes in the Armageddon, and later explained that he did not have the energy nor the nerves for a long fight. Considering this factor, it is not surprising (in hindsight) that the world number one opted for an aggressive approach with black in Armageddon.

The strategy worked wonders for the former world champion, who won the deciding game in 39 moves to get an all-important victory in the first set of a very tough semifinal.

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Abdusattorov 2½ - 1½ So

Fighting chess was also seen in the semifinal facing round-robin winner Wesley So against Nodirbek Abdusattorov, who came from knocking out none other than Hikaru Nakamura on what ended up being a long day at the office on Tuesday.

So started with a trademark technical victory, which did not bode well for the youngster’s chances in the match. But the 19-year-old once again demonstrated his tenacity and ambition — the Uzbek GM immediately bounced back with the white pieces, as he got to finish game 2 with a flourish amid a major-piece struggle.

A cold-blooded Abdusattorov, who had a 30-second advantage on the clock at this point, found 35.Qxd7 Qxd7 36.f7, and there is no stopping the pawn from queening. So resigned.

Nodirbek Abdusattorov

Nodirbek Abdusattorov | Photo: / Thomas Tischio

Abdusattorov won the next game as well. After gaining a pawn in the late middlegame, the Uzbek star showcased one of his biggest strengths: his ability to convert slightly superior endgame positions.

Converting this position into a win against a technical expert like So is surely admirable. Abdusattorov later celebrated having won from “a drawn endgame”.

A draw in the fourth game gave Abdusattorov overall victory in the fisrt set of the match.

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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.