Carlsen Wins 1st World Cup, Caruana Places 3rd
Carlsen is king. Photo: Stev Bonhage/FIDE.

Carlsen Wins 1st World Cup, Caruana Places 3rd

| 219 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Magnus Carlsen can now say that he has won every significant classical chess title that he's set his sights on. The five-time world champion won his first World Cup crown by defeating GM Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu 1.5-0.5 in the rapid tiebreaks of the 2023 FIDE World Cup for a match victory of 2.5-1.5. In the third-place playoffs, GM Fabiano Caruana convincingly defeated GM Nijat Abasov in both rapid tiebreaks for a 3-1 victory and third place.

It was a heartbreaking defeat for the Indian youngster, who had the initiative in the first game until Carlsen fought back and won in a tense endgame. In the second game, the world number-one allowed no chances, and Praggnanandhaa's impressive World Cup run came to an end as hundreds of thousands of fans watched the tense battle.

   How to watch the 2023 FIDE World Cup
You can watch the 2023 FIDE World Cup broadcast on Twitch and YouTube. You can also find all the details for the Open and Women's sections on our live events platform.

The broadcast was hosted by GM Daniel Naroditsky and GM Peter Leko

Carlsen-Praggnanandhaa: 2.5-1.5

Praggnanandhaa and Carlsen at the board
The last game of the final match. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

25 days after the first move of the 2023 FIDE World Cup was played, two players sat opposite each other. The tension must have been palpable, as each was on the brink of a monumental personal achievement. Praggnanandhaa could become the youngest, lowest-seeded, and first Indian player in history to win the World Cup, and Carlsen might finally attain the only title that had thus far eluded him in his illustrious career.

The Indian grandmaster, whose published rating crossed 2700 for the first time during the event, opted for an Italian Game with an early 5.a4 in the first rapid tiebreak game. His opening choice and preparation received praise from commentators, and it was his more experienced opponent who had unpleasant problems to solve out of the opening.

After both players missed knight retreats that were the engine's top choices, Carlsen's king stepped up to g7 as White's army pointed at the kingside. While most players would never dare move their king toward their opponent's attack, the former world champion demonstrated that he understood his king's defensive power and even visibly relaxed after his move.

Praggnanandhaa lost his time advantage as he spent close to seven minutes moving his own king to h1, and it was speculated that he had missed Black's defensive 17...Qf6. Psychologically, it is difficult to accept that one's promising winning chances have dissipated, and in a rapid game there's little time to process such a turn of events.

The 18-year-old did a remarkable job of staying level-headed, and in the complex endgame that followed, the silicon machine took turns awarding microscopic advantages to each player, and no single predicted outcome was clear. But soon "blitz mode" was reached, where a 10-second increment likely feels like nothing when the World Cup victory is at stake.

Black and white tunnel vision on Praggnanandhaa with Carlsen in the foreground
Under pressure. Photo: Stev Bonhage/FIDE.

Praggnanandhaa advanced his a-pawn with just six seconds remaining on his clock, and Carlsen seized the opportunity it presented. His rook and knights invaded, and India's second-ever player to qualify for the Candidates faced the prospect of going down a piece or getting mated. He chose a third option: he resigned. 

The Game of the Day that won Carlsen the 2023 World Cup is annotated by GM Rafael Leitao below.

Facing a well-prepared Alapin player is the worst nightmare of anyone in a must-win situation with the black pieces, and unfortunately for Praggnanandhaa that was his reality in the second game. It was a good opening choice by Carlsen, who played 6.Bc4 instead of the 6.cxd4 employed by GM Arjun Erigaisi is his own match against Praggnanandhaa.

Throughout the game, White was the only one with winning chances, and as Carlsen advanced his pawn to d5, the match was as much as over. A few moves later, a draw offer was accepted and the historic win was cemented.

After his impressive play throughout the event, it was painful to watch Praggnanandhaa's World Cup journey end in such a manner, but the Indian superstar garnered many additional fans over the past month and proved that he is a force to be reckoned with. His rating is gradually catching up to his strength, and he has many promising years ahead of him.

His performance garnered praise from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as well as the Indian chess legend himself, GM Viswanathan Anand.

The young player heads home with $80,000 and a guaranteed place in the FIDE Candidates Chess Tournament 2024—metaphorically, since the World Rapid Teams Championship 2023 starts in two days' time in Dusseldorf.

Praggnanandhaa at the board
A bittersweet tournament, but his stellar performance shouldn't be overshadowed by the final outcome. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

It seems health issues were the precursor to success this World Cup, as Women's Champion GM Aleksandra Goryachkina shared in her post-event interview that she too had been ill before her final tiebreaks.

In the end, Carlsen overcame tough opposition, food poisoning, and a waning interest in classical chess to complete his "Grand Slam" of chess victories. In the champion's own words, he has completed chess.

Carlsen smiling at the board after the game as Praggnanandhaa and an arbiter look on.
The cherry on top of a lifetime of incredible chess achievements. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Caruana-Abasov: 3-1

Although much of the day centered on the final match, it was not because of a lack of action in the third-place playoffs. The Caruana of a few days ago was nowhere to be seen, as he made his two victories over his grandmaster opponent look effortless. The world number-three confirmed in his post-match interview that he had headed into the tiebreaks with confidence in his chess abilities, buoyed on by his comeback victory in the classical games.

Caruana and Abasov at the board
The (relative) calm before the storm. Photo: Stev Bonhage/FIDE.

Abasov surprised Caruana with a Trompowsky, but fortunately for the U.S. super-grandmaster, it was not an unpleasant surprise, as he'd prepared 2...Nc6 with his second for his first-round opponent. GM Micheil Mtschedlischwili opted for the London in his clash against Caruana, and as a result, Abasov had no idea about the American's preparation and 10.Bd3 was where things started to go wrong.

Caruana invested his time wisely in the middlegame and improved his position. He had better squares for his pieces, and—as is often the case—the superior position led to tactical possibilities. An exchange sacrifice removed one of White's defenders, and Black's pieces surged toward the enemy king. Abasov was up on the clock, but all the time in the world could not have saved him and his dwindling army.

Needing to win on demand with the black pieces against one of the world's best is no enviable position—Caruana himself shared how few times he's been able to do this in past tournaments. Abasov returned to his main weapon of the Rossolimo, and Caruana played the main line in what Leko dubbed a "professional approach." In the main line, Black can equalize with precise play, but the match leader didn't have to worry about equality in this particular game.

Abasov at the board
A great tournament, if not a great ending. Photo: Stev Bonhage/FIDE.

Abasov tried to spice things up with 9...Ng4, which was understandable in a must-win game, but his opponent was not fooled by the move he termed as "dubious," and after a couple more missteps from Black, it must have felt like terrible déjà vu for the 2017 Azerbaijani chess champion as his king was subjected to another onslaught. He tried one last trick before resigning a few moves later as Caruana showed he could not be fooled.

It was an unfortunate end to the event for the local hero who had a phenomenal run to his fourth-place finish, which included knocking out notable players such as GMs Anish Giri, Peter Svidler, and Vidit Gujrathi. He can be proud of his overall performance, and if Carlsen follows through on declining his invitation to the Candidates, it will be the opportunity of a lifetime for Abasov.

As for Caruana, he ended the tournament on a high note and is pleased to have locked in his Candidates spot without having to wait for Carlsen or qualify via another route. He shared that he was happy with his classical play overall in the event, since the few shaky moments are hard to avoid in such an event.

Caruana smiling as putting on headphones
Caruana had good reason to smile once the games were done. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

When asked about the upcoming youngsters, the third-placed player said that in the coming months he expects a lot of them to close the rating gaps distancing them from the current top players. But he thinks it's not yet time for a generational shift—he doesn't see them dominating all events in the near future, but he's excited to play against fresh opposition and see the talented crop of new players at more top events.

In an insightful interview on the broadcast, Carlsen also shared that he feels that "chess is in good hands for the future," and that while the players born in 1990-1994 have dominated for ages, the players born since 2003 seem to be good successors when their time comes. The full interview, where he shares his thoughts on the World Cup, classical chess, and the upcoming Speed Chess Championship is a highly recommended watch.

At the end of the event, both Carlsen and Caruana's tournament performance ratings were above 2800, and Carlsen definitely succeeded in dispelling any bad impressions of his classical chess after some poorer results (by his standards) earlier in the year. He has also "corrected his World Cup legacy," improving on his already good 2021 World Cup performance, and there was not much more he could have asked for from this tournament.

His hard work over the past month netted him nearly four classical rating points, and it is understandable that he prefers to only play classical chess on special occasions. Caruana gained the same number of points and is the world number-two in live ratings, while Abasov and Praggnanandhaa will be happy with their +31 and +20.2 points respectively, with the Indian grandmaster just breaking into the live top-20.

It's been an exciting month for chess fans, and it is sad to see the event draw to a close. Fortunately there is no shortage of events on the chess calendar, and the heroes of the World Cup—some newly discovered—will no doubt continue to bring entertaining and instructive chess for us to follow in the coming months.

World Cup | Final Scores

The 2023 FIDE World Cup and Women's World Cup in Baku, Azerbaijan, were big knockout events that determined six spots in the 2024 FIDE Candidates Tournaments. The action began July 30 and ended August 24, with a combined $2.5 million prize fund.

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