World Cup: Abasov’s dream run continues

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
8/17/2023 – Nijat Abasov, the 69th seed in the open section of the FIDE World Cup, has all but secured a spot in the next edition of the Candidates Tournament, as he beat Vidit Gujrathi with white to knock him out of the event. Since Magnus Carlsen, his next opponent, also reached the semifinals and is very likely to skip the Candidates, the Azerbaijani will not even need to finish among the top-3 to reach the 8-player World Championship qualifier. Fabiano Caruana also advanced to the semifinals, while Praggnanandhaa bounced back in his match against Arjun Erigaisi. Among the women, Aleksandra Goryachkina drew Tan Zhongyi and made it through to the final. | Photo: FIDE / Stev Bonhage

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Almost certainly in the Candidates!

The 2020-21 edition of the Candidates Tournament had a clear underdog in Kirill Alekseenko, who qualified to the 8-player event after having a good result in the 2019 Grand Swiss and then receiving the wildcard spot granted by FIDE. The next edition of the Candidates is likely to also have at least one underdog (more might qualify via the Grand Swiss), as Azerbaijani grandmaster Nijat Abasov all but secured a spot in the event set to take place in Toronto by upsetting Vidit Gujrathi in the quarterfinals of the FIDE World Cup.

The knockout tournament in Baku grants three spots in the Candidates, but since Magnus Carlsen also reached the semis, it seems like Abasov will not even need to win his next match to qualify. Carlsen, who has been very critical of the World Championship cycle in the past, told the chess24 commentary team after knocking out Dommaraju Gukesh:

Under the current format there is absolutely no chance. I think everybody should operate under the assumption that I will not play at the Candidates and that everybody else who’s in the semifinals is qualified for the Candidates.

Coincidentally, Carlsen is set to face Asabov in semis. The latter, a 28-year-old grandmaster with a peak rating of 2670 (currently at 2646), will face the famed Norwegian in an official tournament for the first time in his career. The former world champion noted that “it will not be easy”, but he also mentioned that he is happy not to be facing one of the very top guys at such a late stage of the event.

Abasov, the 69th seed in Baku, qualified to the event thanks to a strong performance at the 2023 European Championship and was one of the thirteen Azerbaijanis that got to play the knockout event on home soil (Abasov was born in Baku, in fact).

The local fans were surely looking forward to seeing either Teimour Radjabov (7th seed) or Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (9th seed) in these late stages, but it is actually the fifth-strongest Azerbaijani in the field who made it all the way to the semifinals.

To reach the final-4, Abasov has already knocked out five higher-rated opponents in the tournament: Laurent Fressinet, Anish Giri, Peter Svidler, Saleh Salem and Vidit Gujrathi!

Nijat Abasov, Vidit Gujrathi

Vidit Gujrathi resigns the game | Photo: FIDE / Stev Bonhage

Commentator Peter Leko praised Abasov’s play in the rematch against Vidit, as the underdog magnificently handled a strategic middlegame battle to get an advantage in a position with opposite-side castling.

White is clearly better here, with his mobile pawns on the queenside ready to break open the position around Black’s king. Vidit’s 30...b6 was a futile attempt to deal with the problem, since 31.axb6 axb6 32.c5 secures White a way in. Twelve moves later, Vidit politely allowed his opponent to show mate on the board.

IM Robert Ris shared expert analysis of the instructive game!

Fourteen years later: Caruana knocks out Dominguez

Back in 2009, a 17-year-old Fabiano Caruana, still representing Italy, was the clear underdog in his second-round match against 15th seed Leinier Dominguez, still representing Cuba, at the FIDE World Cup in Khanty-Mansiysk. The young Caruana upset his strong opponent in tiebreaks (the match ended 4-2) and went on to reach the fourth round, where he was knocked out by the brilliant Vugar Gashimov.

Fourteen years later, Caruana faced the same opponent in the knockout event’s quarterfinals. This time around, he was the rating favourite in an all-American confrontation.

In what Caruana described as “a really tough game”, he outplayed Dominguez from a position with queen and bishop against queen and knight.

Extreme precision is needed here with Black, as White’s army is better coordinated. Dominguez’s 38...b5 was not the most accurate, as engines give 38...Qc2 as the best alternative here — the idea is that after 39.Bxb6 Black has 39...Nh4+ 40.gxh4 Qg6+ 41.Kh2 Qxb6.

After the text, White soon managed to grab one of his opponent’s queenside pawns. The conversion was no walk in the park, though, as Caruana needed to show good technique until getting the 94-move win that granted him a spot in the semifinals.

Caruana came from saving a draw in the first game of the match. In the post-game interview with Michael Rahal, the former World Championship challenger confessed:

I do feel quite tired. It’s a pretty energy-draining tournament, so I need these rest days. I’m glad that I have them to recover some energy. I think it’ll probably come down — between the final four players — to nerves and tiredness.

The US grandmaster’s next rival will be either Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu or Arjun Erigaisi, who will decide their match in Thursday’s tiebreaks. All players still in contention will get a rest day on Friday.

Fabiano Caruana, Leinier Dominguez

Fabiano Caruana knocked out one of his seconds from the 2018 World Championship match, Leinier Dominguez | Photo: FIDE / Stev Bonhage

Pragg strikes back

Given the fact that Pragg and Arjun were paired up against each other in the quarterfinals, there was no doubt that at least one Indian player would reach the semis. Now that Vidit and Dommaraju Gukesh have been eliminated, the winner of the clash of Indian prodigies will decide who (almost surely) gets a spot in the 2024 Candidates Tournament.

On Wednesday, Pragg remarkably managed to win on demand with the black pieces.

From this double-edged position, White found nothing better than to go all-in on the queenside, transferring his king to that side of the board to get the a-pawn promoted. As it turned out, though, Black’s active monarch gobbled up the white pawns on the kingside and helped one of his own pawns to become a queen just in time.

52.a8Q g1Q followed, and Black’s extra pawns gave Pragg the victory he needed to keep his hopes to play in the 2024 Candidates alive.

Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu

Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu | Photo: FIDE / Stev Bonhage

Carlsen draws Gukesh - Expert analysis by IM Robert Ris

Quarterfinals’ games - Open

Replay games from all round at

Women’s: Goryachkina in the final

A 41-move draw in the semifinal between underdog Nurgyul Salimova and Anna Muzychuk means that the all-European matchup will be decided in tiebreaks. Meanwhile, Aleksandra Goryachkina got the draw she needed against former women’s world champion Tan Zhongyi to reach the final of the event.

Eager to simplify the position, Goryachkina agreed to enter the following slightly inferior position with the white pieces.

Of course, Tan could not be too disappointed after reaching this position — especially with black, while facing the excellently prepared Goryachkina. The Russian star, however, trusted that she would be able to hold a draw from this symmetrical, queenless position. And that is precisely what she did, as she secured her spot in the final after signing a 66-move draw.

Since Goryachkina is already qualified to the Candidates Tournament via the 2022–23 Women’s Grand Prix, Tan still has a chance to herself get a ticket to the event in Toronto: to get it, the Chinese GM needs to win the match for third place, which starts on Saturday.

FIDE World Cup 2023

The women’s tournament semifinals | Photo: FIDE / Stev Bonhage

Semifinals’ 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.