Magnus Carlsen and Wesley So reach Fischer Random final

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
10/30/2019 – The semi-finals of the Fischer Random World Chess Championship came to an end on Tuesday. Wesley So and Magnus Carlsen advanced to the final match with categorical victories over Ian Nepomniachtchi and Fabiano Caruana respectively. So surpassed the 12½ points mark needed to win after three of the eight games scheduled for day three, while Carlsen played one more encounter before being declared the winner. | Photo: Lennart Ootes /

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No need for Blitz

The two eventual winners of the semis in Bærum started day three with a considerable advantage over their rivals. Especially Wesley So, who had won two of the four 'slow rapid' games to take a six-point lead over Ian Nepomniachtchi into the final day of the semi-finals — the slower games gave three points per win and one-and-a-half points per draw. Carlsen, in the meantime, had a three-point advantage over Fabiano Caruana.

While Carlsen kept a cool head after losing the first encounter on Sunday and bounced back with two victories in the next three games, Nepomniachtchi apparently felt he needed to win at all costs after losing the third game of the series. This proved to be a key factor, as getting to day three six points behind put too much pressure on the Russian, who ended up failing to score a single win against So.

The aforementioned crucial defeat was seen on day two, when the following starting position was drawn from the 960 possibilities:


In all four games played from this position, White opened with 1.f4 and Black quickly fianchettoed his light-squared bishop on b7. In a reckless attempt to even the score after losing the first Monday game with White, Nepomniachtchi gave up a pawn on the kingside and expanded his army on both flanks. So used his usual sound positional style to take over and calmly took the material offered by his opponent:


The Russian tried to muddy the waters with 16.f6, but So spent two minutes on 16...xg1, correctly assessing White's attempt as merely speculative. The American converted his advantage swiftly in what the commentators considered to be the turning point of the match.

Wesley So, Ian Nepomniachtchi

Wesley So versus Ian Nepomniachtchi | Photo: Lennart Ootes /

However, there was still hope for Nepomniachtchi, a specialist in quicker time controls. When day three came, a strange incident during the first game might have affected his concentration though. This was the new starting position:


One of the restrictions for the initial positions in Fischer Random is for the king to be forcefully between the rooks, in order to keep the possibility of castling available for the players in all cases. The 'resulting position' of the king and rook after castling — short or long — is the same one as in regular chess. For example, if White castles short in this case, he is supposed to make way with his queen from f1, and then put the king on g1 and the rook on f1.

Also, as in regular chess, the touch-move rule applies, so when a player wants to castle he must always touch the king first. But if the rook is on g1, how are you supposed to put the king there without first lifting the rook? 

As luck would have it, the first one to face this dilemma was Nepomniachtchi, who touched the rook when he intended to castle. So did not say a thing, but the arbiter approached the board and asked the Russian to move his rook. The players were disturbed by the incident and quickly agreed to a draw. However, Nepomniachtchi appealed the arbiter's decision, claiming that it was impossible for him to castle without touching the rook first.

Ian Nepomniachtchi

Ian Nepomniachtchi discussing with the arbiters | Photo: Lennart Ootes /

Some clever suggestions were immediately shared online:

The arbiters looked at the video recording of the moment in which the incident took place and decided that White clearly intended to castle. First, they proposed replaying the position from that point on, but then noticed that the players might have seen or heard the computer evaluations of the arising positions. It was decided to play the whole game again, and both players complied.

In the replay, Nepomniachtchi missed a big chance to bridge the gap on the score board:


The Russian star played 30.xc3, keeping an edge, when 30.♘d6 was a good-looking killer blow. The idea is to capture the bishop with the queen even after 30...♜f8, opening up the diagonal for the monster piece on a1. In the end, So held the draw.

Fischer Random World Chess Championship 2019

A first-class organization in Norway | Photo: Lennart Ootes /

After these strange occurrences, So won one and drew one to get a 13:5 victory with five games still to play. It was a powerful performance by the American, who confessed to have found some helpful strategies to play this format on Wikipedia!

So was also adamant in praising the new FIDE leadership for paying more attention to the format first presented by Bobby Fischer. The Filipino-born grandmaster explained how different his experience has been in this tournament compared to the Isle of Man event, when he spent hours preparing to face very strong lower-rated opponents only to finish "in the top thirty". 

Carlsen: "This is why we play Fischer Random"

After losing his first encounter against his latest challenger to the world crown Fabiano Caruana, Carlsen bounced back with two consecutive wins in the slow rapid section. In both cases, he used sound positional chess to defeat his opponent, and both times he won while marshalling the black pieces. This was a recurrent topic of discussion among the commentators — why Black tends to do better in Fischer Random? The world champion later hypothesized:

You have a little more information since you go second. Usually in chess that's not a positive thing, but since we don't really know how to play the opening... [...] Maybe people also feel a bit too much of an entitlement as White — they feel they have to be better and underestimate Black's counterplay.

Magnus Carlsen

Magnus Carlsen is a celebrity in Norway | Photo: Lennart Ootes /

Day three started with a draw, in which Carlsen was the one pushing from the middlegame. Then the world champion won again with the black pieces. His first moves from this game later invited him to reflect positively about the format used in this tournament:


The game continued 3...g5 4.xh8 xh8 5.0-0 h5, when according to the Norwegian Black already has a good position. As it happened, Carlsen's long-standing initiative on the kingside gave him a 36-move victory. Talking about the opening, he referred to Fischer Random in general:

I think all the players...they love it. Exactly the second game today, after six to eight moves, I was really thinking, 'this is why we play Fischer Random'. You go g5, you go h5, and suddenly your position is great. I mean, you don't see that in regular chess — it adds such a different dimension to the game. [...] It shows why this game has a right to exist at the highest level.

Fabiano Caruana, Magnus Carlsen

As always, Fabiano Caruana put up a great fight | Photo: Lennart Ootes /

Caruana also got a considerable edge out of the opening in the next game, this time with White, which meant he was trailing by three points before the fourth game of the day. The score favoured Carlsen 10½:7½, so a win would be enough to secure match victory. As it usually happens, the player pressured to win at all costs (Caruana) over-pressed from the get go and found himself in a difficult situation later on:


White is a pawn up and has a dominant position. Carlsen later confessed that he got a little nervous here, and felt he was about to lose the thread, which pushed him to simplify into a position that involved less risk — 27.xd6+ cxd6 28.xd6 followed.

The ensuing endgame was still better for White, but at some point it seemed like Caruana was about to save the draw. Carlsen kept pushing notwithstanding and ended up getting the win that gave him the pass to the final after 53 moves.

But, how much would it mean to the classical world champion to win the Fischer Random World Championship?

Obviously it would be a big deal to win here. I always thought that a match against Fabiano would be very tough, so I'm very happy to have gotten through that.

Then concluded:

Whenever there are titles to be had, I wanna have them. That's my general mindset (smiles).

Magnus Carlsen

The perennial favourite — Magnus Carlsen | Photo: Lennart Ootes /

The final and the match for third place kick off Thursday, with the same format used in the semi-finals — the first two days the players will face off in 'slow rapid' games, with 45 minutes for the 40 first moves and 15 minutes for the rest of the game.

Download the PGN files of the games and examine them in ChessBase: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3.

Rank Name Score Rating
1 Carlsen, Magnus 12½/20 2876
2 Caruana, Fabiano 7½/20 2812
Rank Name Score Rating
1 So, Wesley 13/18 2767
2 Nepomniachtchi, Ian 5/18 2776

Commentary webcast - Day 3

Commentary by Sopiko Guramishvili, Danny Rensch and Yasser Seirawan


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.


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