World Cup: All square in the final, Abasov beats Caruana

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
8/23/2023 – The first game of the FIDE World Cup final ended drawn, as Praggnanandhaa could not get much of an advantage with the white pieces against Magnus Carlsen. In the match for third place, on the other hand, underdog Nijat Abasov managed to upset Fabiano Caruana, after the latter blundered in a sharp middlegame emerging from a Catalan Opening. | Photo: / Maria Emelianova

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Carlsen’s food poisoning

Magnus Carlsen could have easily been eliminated from the World Cup as early as in the fourth round, when he lost his first classical confrontation against Vincent Keymer.

Not only did the former world champion bounced back in that match, but went on to score three consecutive wins in the following two rounds (two over Vasyl Ivanchuk and one over Gukesh). In fact, so far in Baku, the Norwegian has gained 5.7 rating points thanks to his 10/13 score in classical chess — note that he has a vast rating advntage over pretty much every other player in the world!

In a popular interview conducted by Michael Rahal during this event, Carlsen referred to classical chess as “stressful” and “boring”, but that did not prevent him from increasing his already stratospheric classical rating. And after holding Praggnanandhaa to a draw on Tuesday, he is one victory away (with white) from winning the World Cup.

Magnus Carlsen

Magnus Carlsen | Photo: / Maria Emelianova

After the draw, the world number one confessed that he has not been feeling very well the last few days due to a case of food poisoning. In the game, he duly neutralized Pragg’s attempts to get something going on the queenside, nonetheless.

The queens and light-squared bishops left the board here — 18.Qxd8 Rfxd8 19.Bxc6 bxc6, and correct play by both sides led to a 35-move draw.

Expert analysis by IM Robert Ris

Caruana blunders

Right after obtaining yet another upset victory, Nijat Abasov had this to say about his opponent, Fabiano Caruana:

I decided to test my luck [in the Catalan]. I had some ideas, and it turned out that Fabi was not ready against it, I guess.

Indeed, Caruana struggled from the get go, as Abasov got a comfortable position with a coordinated army ready to lash out on the kingside under the correct circumstances. Caruana’s meltdown came earlier than expected, though.

23...Qb4 was played after a 23-minute reflection, and it was a game-losing blunder (23...f5 was the way to go). The refutation was completely straightforward — 24.Bxh7 Kxh7 25.Ne4, and Black found nothing better than 25...Qe7, returning.

Resignation came after the very next move: 26.f5

Incredibly, Black is completely busted after the 3-move sequence following the blunder. A number of nice tactical shots justify Black’s resignation — e.g. 26...exf5 27.Nf6+ gxf6 28.Qxh6+ (diagram below) Kxg6 29.Rh3#

All lines work for White.

Expert analysis by IM Robert Ris

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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.