Magnus Carlsen “completes” chess as he bags World Cup title

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
8/24/2023 – Magnus Carlsen has won it all. The world number one beat Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu in tiebreaks to win the FIDE World Cup for the first time in his career. After his victory, the Norwegian noted that he will not attempt to recover the World Championship title unless there is a major change in the format, especially regarding the shortening of time controls. Meanwhile, third seed Fabiano Caruana beat Nijat Abasov in the match for third place to secure a spot in the 2024 Candidates Tournament. | Photo: FIDE / Stev Bonhage

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A clash of generations

There is no hiding the fact that a new generation of elite chess players is slowly taking over the sport. In the final of the FIDE World Cup, Magnus Carlsen, who was born in 1990 and obtained his GM title in 2004, defeated a player born in 2005 — the talented and ever-humble Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu.

Also known as Pragg, the youngster from Chennai had a remarkable showing in Baku, as he knocked out both Hikaru Nakamura and Fabiano Caruana (seeded second and third respectively) before reaching the final against Carlsen. For his efforts, the prodigy gained 20.2 rating points in classical chess, thus climbing to the 20th spot in the live ratings list

Pragg also climbed to the 3rd spot among the juniors (under-20 players), as he now stands only behind Alireza Firouzja and Dommaraju Gukesh. The top-3 are joined by yet three more prodigies who have already crossed the 2700 rating barrier. Or as Carlsen put it in an interview conducted by the chess24 commentary team:

I think this generation of players born 1990-94 really have dominated for a long time, and finally now with these youngsters born 2003 and after, we have a generation that’s worthy of succeeding us when the time comes — the time could be fairly soon!

It will certainly be exciting for chess fans to see this story unfolding as time goes by. Will it be Firouzja who goes on to dominate? Or will it be one of the three Indians — Gukesh, Pragg and Arjun Erigaisi? Perhaps Nodirbek Abdusattorov, or the steady climber Vincent Keymer...

For now, however, the likes of Carlsen, Caruana, Nakamura and world champion Ding Liren are still going strong!

Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu

Praggnanandhaa signing autographs for even younger fans! | Photo: FIDE / Anna Shtourman

As for Carlsen’s accolades, there is little that can be said besides the list of trophies shared by Norwegian journalist Tarjei J. Svensen on X.

The 32-year-old has won it all, as the World Cup was the one big trophy missing in his cabinet. Besides beating formidable opponents in five World Championship matches, Carlsen won the Rapid and Blitz Championships multiple times and has accumulated no fewer than eight triumphs at the traditional Tata Steel Masters in Wjik aan Zee.

Carlsen later shared the following GIF on his X account — chess, completed!

Of course, what most fans were wondering after this victory was whether Carlsen is planning to fight to regain the World Championship title by playing the Candidates. In line with previous comments on the subject, the Norwegian asserted:

The one non-negotiable point for me, if I ever were to play the World Championship again, is that there would have to be more games and shorter time controls. [...] With the classical time control, I think there is just no way.

If that is the case, Nijat Abasov will get an invitation to the 2024 Candidates Tournament, which already has Ian Nepomniachtchi, Praggnanandhaa and Caruana in the list of participants. The remaining contenders will be decided by rating, according to the FIDE Circuit ranking and in the FIDE Grand Swiss.

Magnus Carlsen

A man of strong opinions — Magnus Carlsen | Photo: FIDE / Stev Bonhage

In Thursday’s tiebreaks, Carlsen kicked off with a win. He had the black pieces and outplayed his young opponent in a queenless endgame.

Black has an edge thanks to his more active pieces. More importantly, Carlsen had been putting pressure on Pragg for a while now, and the Indian had less than 20 seconds on the clock at this point — no wonder he erred with 42.a6 here.

There followed 42...bxa6 43.Ba4 Rc3 44.Na5

Going for the c6-pawn only distracted White’s pieces from defending his king. Carlsen played 44...Ng5 and 44...Ngh3+ on the next two moves, creating mating threats that Pragg could not counter without giving up a lot of material. Resignation came on move 47.

In the rematch, Carlsen had no trouble neutralizing his opponent while marshalling the white pieces. A 22-move draw sealed the deal for the strongest player in the world.

Expert analysis by IM Robert Ris

Caruana overpowers Abasov

Back-to-back wins in the rapid tiebreakers secured Fabiano Caruana a spot in the next edition of the Candidates (no matter Carlsen’s decision to play or not). A great calculator, the US grandmaster found a nice tactical shot in the first game of the day against Abasov.

Black is already clearly better here, with the threat of transferring the queen to h4 an irresolvable problem for Abasov. Nonetheless, getting rid of the c3-knight at once with 23...Rxc3 was the most precise way to convert the advantage — the minor piece would jump to e2 after an immediate 23...Qh4, defending g3.

Since grabbing the rook with 24.bxc3 fails immediately to 24...Qh4, Abasov went for 24.Nxf5 Nxf5 25.bxc3. Still, there came 25...Qh4, and there is no way to defend the white king without making major material concessions.

After 26.g3 Nxg3, Black had more than enough firepower to force his opponent’s resignation, which came two moves later.

Abasov went all-in in the rematch, but saw a cold-blooded Caruana making the most of the allowances made by the Azerbaijani with such an all-or-nothing approach.

The former World Championship challenger won the game in 29 moves to reach the podium after three and a half weeks of gruelling yet exciting competition!

Fabiano Caruana

Fabiano Caruana | Photo: FIDE / Stev Bonhage

FIDE World Chess Cup 2023

The podium | Photo: FIDE / Stev Bonhage

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.