FTX Crypto Cup: Comebacks

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
5/27/2021 – Teimour Radjabov and Wesley So won the first sets of their quarterfinal matches in the FTX Crypto Cup, while Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana managed to draw their mini-matches by scoring wins on demand in the last game of the day against Hikaru Nakamura and Ian Nepomniachtchi respectively. In the face-off between Carlsen and Nakamura, all four games finished decisively and favoured the player with the white pieces. | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Altibox Norway Chess

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Radjabov and So win first sets

The FTX Crypto Cup managed to gather the ten highest-rated players in the world, with the likes of Ding Liren (world number 3) and Levon Aronian (5) not even managing to make it into the knockout stage. Moreover, those who did reach the single elimination stage are faced with tough opponents from the get go — most notably, Magnus Carlsen was paired up against Hikaru Nakamura while Fabiano Caruana is playing Ian Nepomniachtchi in the quarterfinals.

In the matches mentioned above, Carlsen and Caruana, the strongest players in the world according to rating, managed to save a draw in their first mini-matches by scoring wins on demand in their last games of the day. Meanwhile, Teimour Radjabov and Wesley So won their first sets against Anish Giri and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave respectively.

FTX Crytpo Cup 2021

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Nepomniachtchi 2 - 2 Caruana

The new challenger for the World Championship faced the last player to challenge Carlsen for the world crown. Nepomniachtchi kicked off the day with a win, as he made the most of his bishop pair with the white pieces. 

After two draws, Caruana needed a win in game four. The American had the white pieces and reached a rook endgame a pawn to the good.


As Karsten Müller noted in his analysis, placing the rook behind the passed pawn is not always the right move. Nepo here faltered with 49...Ra8, when 49...a3 was the way to go in order to save the draw. Soon after, Caruana grabbed Black’s h-pawn and went on to win with his three connected passers.

In the replayable board below, note that games 1 and 4 include instructive analyses by GM Müller, our in-house endgame specialist.


Select an entry from the list to switch between games

Nakamura 2 - 2 Carlsen

In what has become a major rivalry of online chess, Nakamura and Carlsen played four decisive games in the first set of their quarterfinal match. The world champion’s on-demand win in game 4 demonstrated his ability to turn a strategic advantage into a full point.


White got a strong passer on the b-file by eliminating the temporarily passive knight on a5 (although that knight was ready to be transferred to c5 soon) with 23.Bxa5 bxa5. Carlsen continued to push forward with 24.d4, making the most of his initiative. The world champion would later give up an exchange on his way to a must-needed victory.


So 3 - 1 Vachier-Lagrave

Previous experience has shown that when So is “in the zone”, it is extremely difficult to face him in any time control. The Filipino-born grandmaster beat MVL in games 3 and 4 on Wednesday after drawing the first two encounters — remarkably, he has not lost a single of his 19 games so far in the tournament.

In game 3, he defeated his French opponent from the black side of a Berlin Defence.


Black already has the upper hand, but he needs to be precise in conversion. So spent almost 7 minutes (in a 15-minute game) on 22...f5 — the computer’s first suggestion — and went on to show great technique until getting a remarkable 34-move victory. 


Radjabov 2½ - 1½ Giri

Two previous winners of Champions Chess Tour events drew their first three games, before Radjabov defeated Giri from the white side of a materially balanced endgame.


The bishop proved to be stronger than the knight in this ending with pawns on both sides of the board. In a classical game, it’s likely that Giri would have managed to put up more resistance, but under these circumstances he ended up resigning the game after 62 moves.



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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