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Caruana Survives Near-Upset; Carlsen, Firouzja, So Win Matches In 3 Games

Caruana Survives Near-Upset; Carlsen, Firouzja, So Win Matches In 3 Games

AnthonyLevin
| 21 | Chess Event Coverage

GMs Magnus Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana, Alireza Firouzja, and Wesley So move on to the Division I Winners Semifinals of the 2023 Julius Baer Generation Cup after winning their matches on day one.

Carlsen, Firouzja, and So all won their matches with a game to spare against, respectively, GMs Amin Tabatabaei, Nodirbek Abdusattorov, and Pavel Eljanov, who will continue in the Losers Bracket. GM Denis Lazavik was a draw away from taking down Caruana, but the U.S. champion won on demand in game four and then won the armageddon game to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

In Division II, eight players remain in the Winners Bracket. Having recently added "world champion" to his resume, GM Ian Nepomniachtchi played a "Petrosian king march" in his second victory against GM Maksim Chigaev.

The Division III Winners Bracket treated fans to a battle of two legends, GM Gata Kamsky vs. GM Vladimir Kramnik. The former won after finding a queen trap as early as move 11 in the London System (or a deliberate queen sacrifice by his opponent). Eight players are left standing in the Winners. 

The knockout tournament continues on Thursday, August 31, starting at 11 a.m. ET / 17:00 CEST / 20:30 IST.

See what happened
You can re-watch the Julius Baer Generation Cup on Chess.com/TV. You can also enjoy the show on our Twitch channel and catch all our live broadcasts on YouTube.com/Chess. The games can also be followed from our Events Page.
The knockout tournament was hosted by GMs David Howell and Simon Williams as well as IMs Tania Sachdev and Jovanka Houska.

Division I

Plenty of action preceded the first day of the fifth knockout of the 2023 Champions Chess Tour. Three participants' recent speed chess accomplishments stood out. The previous week, Carlsen won the FIDE World Cup, defeating GM Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu in the rapid tiebreaks. Caruana, too, finished in third at the World Cup after also winning his match in tiebreaks.

The day before the knockout's first day began, Firouzja also warmed up with a double Titled Tuesday win, pocketing $2,000. All three players continued their hot streaks as they won their matches on Wednesday.

It wasn't just the chess that was fast and furious, though. In Oslo, the commentators threw down in go-kart racing, which Howell reportedly won. It seems chess Elo does transfer to other activities after all.

Day 1 Match Scores


Carlsen-Tabatabaei 2.5-0.5

Carlsen will be looking to win his third CCT event this year and has already earned his seat in the December Finals. Tabatabaei, playing in his first Division I knockout, faced the hardest possible pairing on the first day.

In the first game, Carlsen unveiled an exchange sacrifice out of the opening, but the Iranian grandmaster defended tenaciously and was even slightly better at several points. But game two was where the first blood was drawn.

The second game started off turbulently as Tabatabaei sent his h-pawn down the board for an early assault in the English Opening. Soon, however, the players liquidated into an unusual endgame where both sides had a pair of doubled pawns. Carlsen then sacrificed a pawn and worked his signature endgame magic.

By the time he had a winning position, Howell commented: "Magnus in endgames, you can't survive against him, simply!"

Magnus in endgames, you can't survive against him, simply!

—David Howell

The world rapid chess champion followed up this victory with another in the next game, where a short maneuvering phase led to a white attack. By the time his knight sunk its teeth into the weak f5-square, Howell remarked musically: "With that white knight on f5, Amin will not survive!"

GM Rafael Leitao breaks down the rest of the details in our Game of the Day analysis below.

Rather cryptically, Carlsen in the post-game interview stated: "I do hope for my opponent today... that even though the last two games weren't so good, perhaps with some changes, you know, some new people to work with, better influences, maybe he can play even better."

"Are you talking about Hans Niemann right now?" commentator Sachdev asked, to which he responded: "I am talking about influences in general" with a smile.

Lazavik-Caruana 2-3

This was Caruana's fourth appearance in Division I knockouts. After coming painstakingly close to winning two events previously, making it to the Grand Final but unable to finish the job, he stormed back into this knockout through the Play-in phase.

Lazavik, on the other hand, qualified for Division I for the first time by winning Division II of the last CCT event, the Aimchess Rapid. Just 16 years old, the youngest player to reach Division I this season, the Belarusian GM proved that he is a force to be reckoned with.

Neither player had real winning chances in the first two games, which ended in draws, but the third game immediately injected drama into the otherwise closest and calmest match. Caruana blundered in an equal rook endgame he would otherwise draw 99/100 times.

Needing to win on demand, and facing a Berlin Defense in their final regular game, Caruana showed his class. His powerful attack led to the win of a piece, then a second one, and then, naturally, the game.

The tide continued to turn against Lazavik in the armageddon game. Caruana was converting a decisive advantage quite smoothly until he lost control after 57.Kc4?. After that, Black was back in the game, and Caruana desperately tried 63.e5!?, a move that objectively loses, but drawing was not an option.

It paid off, and although Lazavik got one more chance to draw the game, he wasn't able to find it. Caruana went on to win a unique endgame featuring a queen against two minor pieces.

In the interview, Caruana cheerfully admitted: "I even had my mouse on the resign button... but then he gave me another chance." It was a close call for the super-GM, and perhaps a preview of upcoming attractions from the youngster who will have a second life in the Losers Bracket.

Caruana will face Carlsen in the Winners Semifinals tomorrow.

Abdusattorov-Firouzja 0-3

Neither of these players is a stranger to Division I of the CCT. Both made it to this division twice before, and only Abdusattorov won one of them, punching his ticket to the Finals. Firouzja's victory was a statement as loud as a sonic boom, as he won all three games.

In the first game, the final key moment started on move 27. White (Abdusattorov) was a pawn down but could still salvage the game. He went for the active option, normally to be recommended. But chess is full of exceptions, and White's three pieces that "invaded" Black's camp suddenly turned up emptyhanded. The Uzbek GM had to trade down into a losing endgame, which Black converted flawlessly.

It's easier to checkmate with a queen on the board, but less so in the endgame. Firouzja nicely won game two with checkmate on the board.

Needing to win on demand two times to keep the match alive, Abdusattorov didn't really get a single chance in game three. Firouzja won that one too, with Black, even when a draw would have sufficed.

So-Eljanov 3-0

Like Caruana and Carlsen, So has made it to three Division I knockouts previously, but also like Caruana, has yet to win one. Eljanov is playing in Division I for the first time, after qualifying through the Play-in. So won the other hat trick of the day.

The first game was relatively uneventful, an even affair until Eljanov blundered a pawn and resigned 10 moves later. Game two, So won with a crushing attack, with Black. The star move was 24...Nfg3, a piece sacrifice to break the barricades.

Needing just a draw in the third game, So faced a Hippopotamus Defense—a dubious opening that at least keeps tension on the board. Yet the Filipino-American grandmaster didn't face any challenges and won that game too, completing the clean sweep.

So will face Firouzja in the Winners Semifinals tomorrow.

Division I Standings

Division II

After winning the first game and drawing the second against Chigaev, Nepomniachtchi's creativity came to the fore in the third. Perhaps inspired by Jules Vernes' Around the World in 80 Days, Nepomniachtchi's white king traveled across the two hemispheres of the chessboard.

The white king, which was on the g1-square on move 18, found itself on the a2-square nine moves later. Not that we haven't seen the idea before, but it's still quite rare—and always striking. After this cunning plan, Nepomniachtchi went on to win a long game, ultimately with a passed a-pawn.

The final 3-0 score in favor of GM Alexey Sarana against GM Nihal Sarin may shock some fans. Nihal forfeited the first two games as he could not get his camera to work in time for the games, and he lost the third game with Black after a mouse-slip in a winning position. Next week, they will have a fitting rematch in the Speed Chess Championship Presented By Coinbase.

Division II Standings

Division III

Matches in this division are just two games, instead of four. Kamsky was able to win the first game and then save a lost, pawn-down endgame in the second to win the match. 

Game one was another W for the trusty London System, an opening some (incorrectly) claim to be the best there is. Jokes aside, it was a sharp, theoretical battle after 7.dxc5, and after Kramnik's unpopular 8...Bg4, the players were in nearly novel territory.

The first new move, 10.Nb5!?, was nicely prepared as it instantly provoked a mistake. White won the black queen in what was either a queen trap or a deliberate queen sacrifice. Although Black was not lost there, and there was still quite a battle, having the queen certainly helped Kamsky's case.

Kamsky will face GM Sam Sevian, who's won a Division III event before, on day two.

Division III Standings


The Champions Chess Tour 2023 (CCT) is the biggest online tournament of the year. It is composed of six events that span the entire year and culminate in live in-person finals. With the best players in the world and a prize fund of $2,000,000, the CCT is Chess.com's most important event yet.


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AnthonyLevin
NM Anthony Levin

NM Anthony Levin caught the chess bug at the "late" age of 18 and never turned back. He earned his national master title in 2021, actually the night before his first day of work at Chess.com.

Anthony, who also earned his Master's in teaching English in 2018, taught English and chess in New York schools for five years and strives to make chess content accessible and enjoyable for people of all ages. At Chess.com, he writes news articles and manages social media for chess24.

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