CCT Finals: Carlsen and So to fight for the title

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
12/15/2023 – Magnus Carlsen and Wesley So knocked out Fabiano Caruana and Nodirbek Abdusattorov, respectively, in the semis of the Champions Chess Tour Finals. Carlsen twice beat Caruana by a 3-2 score, while So bounced back from his loss in the first set, and then won the 3-game decider by winning with the Armageddon decider with the white pieces. | Photo: / Thomas Tischio

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Carlsen 3 - 2 Caruana

The first draw of the whole match facing Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana was seen in the second set, on Thursday. A second draw followed, and then three wins for the player with the white pieces. Carlsen bid two more seconds than his opponent in the Armageddon, and managed to beat Caruana out of a Ruy Lopez, the U.S. star’s speciality, to get overall victory.

Once again, Caruana proved to be one of Carlsen’s strongest rivals in the world, as the Norwegian later confessed that “he could have easily won the match”.

Caruana 0 - 1 Carlsen

First set’s Armageddon analysed by GM Karsten Müller

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So 2½ - 1½ Abdusattorov

Third set: So 2 - 1 Abdusattorov

In the other semifinal, a third set was needed to decide who would reach the match for the title. Nodirbek Abdusattorov had won the first set on Wednesday and only needed a draw to reach the final. However, Wesley So started strong in the second set, grabbing two consecutive wins to leave his young opponent already in a must-win situation if he wanted to end the match after two sets.

Abdusattorov did win the next game, with the black pieces, but a draw in the fourth encounter meant a 3-game third set would be necessary.

Two consecutive draws were signed in the deciding set, and it was Abdusattorov who got the black pieces (and draw odds) in the ensuing Armageddon. So played his usual brand of precise, technical chess to outplay his young opponent.

Here White has a positional advantage due to Black’s isolated pawn on the d-file. The most accurate move to defend here, though, was 28...Re8, attacking the e-pawn. Abdusattorov’s passive 28...Rd8 allowed So to nevertheless grab the loose pawn three moves later.

Note that after 28...Re8 29.e3, Black has 29...Nf3+, forcing simplifications. Also, in case of 29.Ne3, there is 29...Rxe3, an exchange sacrifice that the youngster might have missed in his calculations.

The point is that after 29.fxe3 Nxe2+ 30.Nxe2, Black has 31.Qxe3+ Kh1 32.Ne4, not grabbing the piece immediately but threatening a perpetual check.

None of this appeared on the board, though, as it is surely difficult to find such a line in a rapid game — with so much at stake.

In the game, So converted his advantage effortlessly, thus getting the right to face Carlsen in the final match of this year’s Champions Chess Tour.

Wesley So

Wesley So | Photo: / Thomas Tischio

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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.