World Cup: Caruana strikes back, Carlsen opts for quick draw

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
8/24/2023 – Both the final and the match for third place will be decided in tiebreaks at the FIDE World Cup in Baku. While Magnus Carlsen played it safe with white against Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu to secure a second draw in the final, Fabiano Caruana bounced back from a disastrous showing on Tuesday to keep his chances of reaching the podium alive. | Photo: FIDE / Stev Bonhage

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Fortune favours the brave

After previous editions of the World Cup saw the final matches consisting of four classical games and tiebreaks, if necessary, the International Chess Federation rightfully decided to shorten the length of the event’s deciding confrontation to only two games. Such a long, nerve-racking tournament naturally exhausts the contenders who reach the final stages, and this year’s edition was no exception.

Third seed Fabiano Caruana, for instance, noted after knocking out Leinier Dominguez in the quarterfinals:

It’s a pretty energy-draining tournament. [...] I think it’ll probably come down — between the final four players — to nerves and tiredness.

Surely fatigue has been playing a big role in the recent matches, with 31-year-old Caruana losing his semifinal match to Praggnanandhaa (18 y.o.) in tiebreaks and then collapsing quickly in his first game of the match for third place against Nijat Abasov (28 y.o.).

A fighter at heart, Caruana invited his opponent to enter a complex position in the rematch. Abasov, who has shown remarkable preparation throughout the event, took more than 5 minutes for a single decision for the first time on move 7, while his opponent all but blitzed out 13 straight moves in the opening.

Only after Abasov’s inaccurate 13...g5 did Caruana use a considerable amount of time before playing his next move.

The US star was exploring the consequences of going for the forcing line that would, twenty minutes later, appear on the board: 14.Bd6+ Kg7 15.Qxf6 Kxf6 16.Nxa8 Nxd5 17.cxd5 exd5

White has an exchange for a pawn, and has the kind of advantage Caruana surely had envisioned during his preparation — if everything went according to plan!

Converting such an advantage in a queenless position is no easy task, however, especially while facing an in-form, motivated opponent. Only three moves later, Caruana chose a faulty plan by playing 20.Bb5, and saw his opponent finding the refutation that increased the chances of the game ending in a draw.

As it turned out, it all come down to an endgame with three pawns per side on the kingside.

In these structures, converting the extra exchange into a win is rather demanding, as commentators began to examine Abasov’s chances of crating an unbreakable fortress.

Caruana’s experience came to the fore, though, as he continued to create difficult challenges for his opponent, who finally erred on move 55.

55...Rc1 instead of 55...Rc6, as seen in the game, was necessary here, preparing to give a check from h1 if the king goes to h4.

Shortly after this mistake, Abasov threw in the towel, which means the match for third place will be decided in Thursday’s tiebreaks (starting an hour earlier than usual, at 12:00 CEST).

Caruana could not have put it better: it will come down to nerves and tiredness.

Expert analysis by IM Robert Ris

Carlsen chooses to get an extra rest day

On the same day that India landed the Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft on the unexplored south pole of the moon, a youngster from Chennai had a chance to upset the strongest chess player of this era in the final of an incredibly demanding knockout event. The dynamic and enthusiastic ChessBase India team even set up a live show at the premises of The Habitat!

However, the potential celebration for Indian followers was delayed by a day, as Magnus Carlsen decided to play it safe with the white pieces.

Trying to create something with black here could only backfire against a player of Carlsen’s technical ability. The finalists continued playing until move 30, when they were allowed to agree to a draw in a very symmetrical position.

Carlsen, who has been experiencing food poisoning in Baku, understandably chose to get a bit of rest in the contest against his (much) younger opponent.

Luckily for fans all over the world, the Norwegian’s decision resulted in an extra day of tension-filled action. Fighting chess is all but guaranteed in what is likely to become a memorable day in chess history! (Starting an hour earlier than usual, at 12:00 CEST.)

Magnus Carlsen

Draw agreed — on to tiebreaks! | Photo: FIDE / Stev Bonhage

Expert analysis by IM Robert Ris

Final and match for third place - Open

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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.