World Cup: Caruana advances, Carlsen bounces back

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
8/10/2023 – Six players have already reached the round-of-16 in the open section of the FIDE World Cup, including Fabiano Caruana, who beat Ray Robson, and Alexey Sarana, who knocked out sixth seed Wesley So. The remaining ten spots will be decided in Friday’s tiebreaks, with Magnus Carlsen reaching that stage after bouncing back in his match against Vincent Keymer. In the women’s section, three players secured their spots in quarterfinals: Aleksandra Goryachkina, Tan Zhongyi and Polina Shuvalova. | Photo: FIDE / Anna Shtourman

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A strange tactical recourse, missed

Vincent Keymer only needed a draw to knock Magnus Carlsen out of the FIDE World Cup. It is often noted that playing for a draw is a bad idea in these situations, especially against tough opponents. In Thursday’s rematch, Carlsen managed to get a fighting position on the board, with kings castled on opposite sides and chances for both sides.

In the early middlegame, however, Carlsen played a natural-looking move that gave Keymer a tactical opportunity described by Peter Leko as “a very strange motif”.

16.a3 allowed 16...Bxc3 17.Qxc3 and 17...Nxe4, a temporary knight sacrifice which was not played by the German prodigy. Instead of spending more time analysing the position after 17.Qxc3, Keymer quickly swapped queens with 17...Qxc3 — he only needed a draw, and was probably very focused on not falling behind on the clock.

The idea behind 17...Nxe4 is that grabbing the knight, either after exchanging queens or immediately, gives way to an indefensible fork of the e2-knight and the h4-bishop — e.g. 18.Qxe5 Rxe5 19.fxe4 Rxe4

Strange, indeed. Carlsen noticed that he had just dodged a bullet when Keymer grabbed the queen on c3 instead of the pawn on e4, as he told press officer Michael Rahal after the game. Olimpiu di Luppi clipped the Norwegian’s reaction:

Carlsen also mentioned that he felt his opponent was playing hesitantly throughout. Once the game shifted to an endgame with rooks and bishops of opposite colours, Keymer found himself needing to defend a difficult position against the toughest of opponents. Under these circumstances, it is not very surprising that the 17-year-old faltered eventually.

52...Be2, looking at the c4-pawn, was the best defensive try here. Black’s 52...Bg2, on the other hand, failed to 53.Rf5. Placing the rook on the f-file was the only winning move, and Carlsen was not going to let the chance slip away this time around, as he played the move after thinking for over five minutes.

Nine moves later, Keymer resigned.

Six players through to the round-of-16

Keymer was the only player who won on Wednesday and failed to advance after the second classical game of the round, as the remaining four winners of game 1 drew the rematch and secured a spot in the round-of-16. In addition, two players won game 2 to make it through to the next stage of the event:

  • Alexey Sarana upset Wesley So in their first game and safely drew the second encounter to leave the sixth seed out of contention.
  • Ferenc Berkes eliminated a higher-rated opponent for a third time in a row, as he defeated Ruslan Ponomariov by a 1½-½ score in round 4.
  • Nils Grandelius knocked out Jaime Santos. The Swedish GM had needed tiebreaks to advance in the previous two rounds.
  • Vidit Gujrathi played back-to-back exciting games against Etienne Bacrot, and managed to score 1½ points to reach the next round.
  • Fabiano Caruana achieved an attacking, 27-move victory over Ray Robson in the second game of the all-American matchup.
  • Arjun Erigaisi defeated fellow prodigy Javokhir Sindarov in their second encounter, and is set to face Grandelius in the next round.

Nils Grandelius

Nils Grandelius | Photo: / Maria Emelianova

Caruana had 27 minutes to Robson’s 3 — with 21 moves left to be played before the time control — when he confidently opted for 20.Bxh6 in the following position.

After 20...gxh6, White should not play the hasty 21.Nxh6 but the precise 21.Qd2 Nf4 22.g3, with a winning position. Seven moves later, time-trouble addict Robson threw in the towel.

Ray Robson, Fabiano Caruana

Fabiano Caruana defeated Ray Robson | Photo: / Maria Emelianova

Similarly to Robson, Vidit had less than 10 minutes (8 to be precise) 21 moves before reaching the time control in his rematch game against Bacrot. Moreover, the Frenchman, in a must-win situation, had managed to provoke his opponent to enter a completely wild position.

Engines do not approve of Vidit’s 20...Qxe1 here, but the Indian star nevertheless managed to escape with a draw in the end — overcoming his huge disadvantage on the clock to win a match without needing tiebreaks for the first time in the event.

Vidit Gujrathi

Vidit Gujrathi | Photo: / Maria Emelianova

Round 4 games - Open

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Women’s: Humpy wins tactical skirmish

In the women’s tournament, only one player had managed to gain a 1-point lead in the first game of the round-of-16 — and she was not one of the three players who secured a spot in the quarterfinals after Thursday’s rematches.

Bella Khotenashvili failed to get at least a draw against Humpy Koneru to make it through without needing tiebreaks. In a tension-filled game, Humpy prevailed despite erring at a few critical junctures of the struggle.

Placing either rook on the c-file is best here, while Humpy’s 25...Nxd5 loses Black’s advantage according to the engines. However, Khotenashvili had only 2 minutes on the clock at this point, and failed to find one of the two refutations in this complex position: 26.Rhe1 or 26.Nh5. Of course, noticing why these moves are the best alternatives amid the chaos is all but impossible with so little time on the clock!

There followed 26.Rhd1 Nf4+ 27.Kf1 Qf3 28.Be4 Qxb3

Grabbing the exchange with 29.Bxa8 instead of keeping her attacking chances alive via 29.Nf5 was another mistake by Khotenashvili, who could not recover and ended up getting mated on move 42.

Bella Khotenashvili, Humpy Koneru

On to rapid and blitz tiebreaks — Bella Khotenashvili and Humpy Koneru | Photo: FIDE / Stev Bonhage

The three remaining players who won on Thursday — and, unlike Humpy, already gained spots in the quarterfinals — were also rating favourites in their matches:

  • Aleksandra Goryachkina knocked out Nino Batsiashvili and thus won a third consecutive match without needing to play a single tiebreak game.
  • Tan Zhongyi knocked out her compatriot Zhu Jiner. Tan did play tiebreaks in her round-3 match against Mai Narva.
  • Polina Shuvalova knocked out Teodora Injac, who came from upsetting 2021 World Cup winner Alexandra Kosteniuk in the previous round.

Tan Zhongyi

Tan Zhongyi | Photo: Anna Shtourman

Round 4 games - Women’s

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Full schedule | Pairings and results

All games with computer analysis: Open | Women’s


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.