Champions Chess Tour (Day 3): So Defeats Carlsen; Nakamura On Brink Of Elimination

Champions Chess Tour (Day 3): So Defeats Carlsen; Nakamura On Brink Of Elimination

Defending champion GM Wesley So continued his unbeaten run at the 2023 Champions Chess Tour Finals with his most impressive day yet, scoring match wins over GMs Magnus Carlsen and Nodirbek Abdusattorov.

GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave secured his first match win in an all-French clash with GM Alireza Firouzja while GM Hikaru Nakamura’s woes continued as he suffered back-to-back armageddon losses to Abdusattorov and Caruana.

With one round-robin matchup remaining, So, Carlsen, Caruana, and Abdusattorov’s spots in the finals have been confirmed while four players—Nakamura, Vachier-Lagrave, Firouzja, and GM Denis Lazavik—will fight for a top-six spot to keep their dreams of winning the CCT alive.

Standings | Round-Robin 


Round 5: So Topples Carlsen, Takes Sole Lead

Round five’s pairings promised to answer several key questions, most notably, who would remain undefeated after the match between juggernauts So and Carlsen?

So 2-1 Carlsen

The headline act on day three was the showdown between the tournament leaders, and while Carlsen was considered the favorite, pundits and fans alike knew it would be a tense affair. 

In the first game, So showed exemplary knowledge of rook and pawn endgames, defending down by a pawn while Carlsen pressed for over 30 moves. The game eventually culminated in a clever rook sacrifice by So that forced a stalemate.

A quick draw in the second game left So and Carlsen with everything to play for in armageddon. With the white pieces, So played what IM Danny Rensch described as the “game of the tournament so far”, a fitting title for an effort that overcame the five-time world champion.

In this kind of form, So is almost impossible to beat. Photo: Thomas Tischio/Chess.com.

Taking advantage of Carlsen’s impetuous queen sacrifice 22…Qxf6??, So coasted to victory and claimed his fifth straight match victory. While many had quashed suggestions that So was one of the pre-tournament favorites due to his recent inability to procure decisive results, it will be difficult for anyone to bring his rampage to a halt.

Our Game of the Day has been analyzed by GM Rafael Leitao below. 

Abdusattorov 2-1 Nakamura

Nakamura’s fortunes appeared to be turning around on day three after a round one win over Abdusattorov, especially since it was with the black pieces and even featured a brilliant move. 

Luck just wasn’t on the American’s side, though, and his Uzbekistani opponent proved he is more than just a toothless tiger, pouncing on a middlegame blunder and squaring up the match.

Nakamura has had a stellar year over the board but hasn’t found his form in Toronto. Photo: Thomas Tischio/Chess.com.

A frustrated Nakamura walked out of an interview with Norwegian chess journalist Kaja Snare before the armageddon tiebreaker, giving insight into his mental state after a disappointing 1/5 start.

Interestingly, the interaction with Snare was not the first time the journalist has been cut short by a top player. A viral conversation dubbed “The Shortest Interview of Magnus Carlsen, Only 10 Seconds!” occurred in 2021 at the FTX Crypto Cup after the then-world champion lost to GM Teimour Radjabov.

Abdusattorov would go on to win the third game of the match while Nakamura struggled to click into gear. The 19-year-old would later state: “I didn’t believe that I’m going to win this game, but things turned out well for me.”

Firouzja 0.5-1.5 Vachier-Lagrave

With both French representatives sitting at the bottom of the table, their match against each other was vital in terms of propelling one of them forward in the tournament. Flying the flag, Firouzja comically chose to play the French Defense and tried his luck against Vachier-Lagrave’s Steinitz Variation but quickly found himself in a worse position.

Playing the French Defense against your French compatriot is an interesting game plan. Photo: Thomas Tischio/Chess.com.

Patience was a virtue for Vachier-Lagrave as Firouzja eventually blundered away the game with 54…Nd7??, allowing White to sacrifice a rook for a decisive pin tactic.

Vachier-Lagrave was able to draw the second game, but it did not come easily. Firouzja missed a shot that would have forced the game into an easily winning ending.

Lazavik 0.5-1.5 Caruana

Caruana’s match win over Lazavik was perhaps the smoothest of round five and following a win from the white side of the Giuoco Piano Game, Pianissimo Variation, the U.S. champion invoked GM Bobby Fischer and played the Huebner Variation of the Nimzo-Indian Defense, famously used to defeat GM Boris Spassky in the fifth game of the 1972 World Championship.

Fischer vs. Spassky, 1972. Photo: Wikipedia.

Round 6: Caruana Beats Nakamura, Moves Into Top Six

Carlsen was the only player who won his match without needing an armageddon tiebreaker while Caruana and So picked up consecutive match wins on day three.

Carlsen 1.5-0.5 Vachier-Lagrave

Bouncing back from his loss against So, Carlsen took no prisoners in round six, and he produced a 23-move miniature against Vachier-Lagrave in their first game. On the white side of an English Opening: Neo-Catalan Defense Declined, the world number-one conjured an incisive kingside attack, his pieces moving in fluid harmony to assist with the demolition job.  

Incredibly, Vachier-Lagrave really made just one mistake but was duly punished by Carlsen, who capped off the game with two piece sacrifices in the final five moves of the game.

Despite being one of the world leaders in Ruy Lopez endgames structures, specifically the Berlin Defense, Vachier-Lagrave decided to keep material on the board. However, Carlsen was more than up to the task and eventually confirmed a draw while up a pawn in a rook and knight ending.

Carlsen has guaranteed himself at least a second-place tie and will play in the winner’s bracket regardless of round seven’s results. Photo: Thomas Tischio/Chess.com.

Vachier-Lagrave’s 1/2 on day three has given him a temporary spot in the top six, though with a match against Adbusattorov looming, anything is possible.

Nakamura 1-2 Caruana

Caruana’s defensive efforts against Nakamura are one of the highlights of day three and also a major reason why his countryman was unable to find his feet in the armageddon game when the script was flipped.

Caruana amplified Nakamura’s frustrations with excellent defense. Photo: Thomas Tischio/Chess.com.

With mere seconds on the clock, Caruana successfully defended against Nakamura’s probing bishop pair in the first game and then an even more difficult queen and pawn ending in the second.

In the latter, an incorrect threefold repetition claim halted play for several minutes, and even though Nakamura gained two minutes on the clock, the pause gave Caruana ample time to figure out how to achieve a repetition.

Bidding for time in the armageddon tiebreaker only added to the drama as the players both elected to play Black with nine minutes and 59 seconds and were forced to re-bid by IA Judit Sztaray. It was eventually confirmed that Nakamura would play Black with nine minutes and 10 seconds.

While Caruana would later admit that “Hikaru was definitely not in form today,” the world number-two’s ability to create a tremendous pawn duo in the final game led to one of the most destructive attacks of the tournament so far.

Nakamura is in a dire situation with one round-robin match left to play and will need to defeat Lazavik and hope that other results, namely those of Vachier-Lagrave and Firouzja, fall his way.

So 1.5-1.5 Abdusattorov

Cracking the likes of So was always going to be a difficult task for Abdusattorov and after a near-perfect 69-move Scotch Game, the former world rapid champion was pleased to find himself with the bishop pair in the second game.

So closes in on a draw with Abdusattorov. Photo: Thomas Tischio/Chess.com.

While the clergymen while still on the board were unable to dint So’s position, Abdusattorov’s light-squared bishop could have ruined So’s run if he hadn’t pinched a pawn with 30…Qxh4?.

The position was the closest that So has come to losing in the whole tournament thus far, and Abdusattorov was likely left ruing his chance following So’s hold with Black in the decisive armageddon game.

Lazavik 1.5-1.5 Firouzja

All three games between two of the field’s youngest players were solid and played with above 98% accuracy according to Chess.com’s Game Review. While a draw in the armageddon game meant that Firouzja (who played with Black) would take the match point, Lazavik can take solace in the fact that he barely put a foot wrong.

Lazavik (White) effectively played at the same level as Firouzja throughout the match.

The Belarussian teenager faces the mammoth task of overcoming an on-tilt Nakamura in round seven to escape the bottom two.

On his day, Lazavik can upset anyone. Naturally, he hopes that Nakamura is his next big scalp. Photo: Thomas Tischio/Chess.com.

The 2023 Champions Chess Tour Finals (CCT Finals) is the closing event of the Champions Chess Tour, Chess.com’s most important event to date. The players meet in Toronto, Canada, in a thrilling last clash for the title. The Finals feature a $500,000 prize fund.


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