Carlsen, So On Brink Of World Cup Exit
Despair for Magnus Carlsen as he realises he's blundered against Vincent Keymer. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Carlsen, So On Brink Of World Cup Exit

| 79 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Magnus Carlsen is in danger of tumbling out of the 2023 FIDE World Cup after 18-year-old GM Vincent Keymer pounced on a blunder to beat the world number-one for the first time. GM Wesley So is also in a must-win position in Thursday's second game after getting outplayed by GM Alexey Sarana.

The Women's section was quieter, but the one decisive result was a big one—GM Bela Khotenashvili took down women's number-three seed GM Humpy Koneru with the black pieces.

The second games of round four will begin Thursday, August 10, at 7 a.m. ET / 13:00 CEST / 4:30 p.m IST.

   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

Out of the 24 games played as round four began, just six were decisive, but they included two sensations, and enough action to keep chess fans glued to their screens.

Open Section: Carlsen, So Stunned; Wins For Vidit, Grandelius, Berkes

The World Cup is a brutal tournament, with the field cut in half every three days and even the top stars unable to dodge the bullets. Of the top-20 seeds, half had already fallen before round four began.

Carlsen knows all about that, since in 2017, at the same last-32 stage, he lost the first game to Chinese GM Bu Xiangzhi and was unable to mount a comeback in the second. He's in similar peril six years later, and a curiosity is that the other big star to suffer a loss had the same rare position on the board after seven moves.

Carlsen and So had different colors, and the games were very different, but both clashes were won by the young underdogs.

Keymer was not in the mood to show the world number-one any mercy. Photo: Stev Bonhage/FIDE.

Keymer here chose 8.Bd3, just as he had a year ago in Biel against GM Gukesh D, and Carlsen was clearly prepared, soon blitzing out a new idea where he brought his knight to h5 instead of castling. Up to a point, it seemed only a question of whether he would take over and win with the black pieces, but then Keymer spotted a fine tactic with 26.Nxd5! 

The German grandmaster noted: "I found this Nxd5 idea where I thought at least I will have no issues, I should be fine, but I didn’t really believe that I had any winning chances."

The assessment didn't change until, with Keymer down to around five minutes while Carlsen still had over 40, the former world champion played 36...Nc7?, overlooking that after 37.Nd6! White was winning a pawn based on what were, for players at this level, trivial tactics. Carlsen was understandably aghast.

Keymer understood how difficult it was for his opponent: "Obviously after 37.Nd6 suddenly it’s very hard for him to make the right move, and also psychologically—before everything was fine, and suddenly there are huge issues."

Keymer had to deal with an abundance of options and little time, but he didn't put a foot wrong as he went on to score the biggest win of his career.

That clash is our Game of the Day, with GM Rafael Leitao explaining all the twists and turns.

The final moments of the game are potentially huge for the tournament, but also a milestone for Keymer.

The German number-one, who has now climbed to 2720.4 and world number-24 on the live rating list, explained he'd never beaten Carlsen before:

"We’ve played a lot of games, also online, and I don’t know if I’ve ever beaten him even in a bullet game! I had winning positions against him in quite a few, but I think I’ve never managed to beat him, and of course doing it here in such an important game is great."

The good news for Carlsen is that, unlike in 2017, he has the white pieces with which to try and hit back in game two. Keymer acknowledged there was a tough challenge ahead. His plan? "You have Black against Magnus Carlsen, you just have to try and be solid." 

So has given the impression that he wants to be elsewhere. Photo: Stev Bonhage/FIDE.

Carlsen had shown no signs of weakness before his one-move blunder, but the same couldn't be said of three-time U.S. Champion So, who has looked completely out-of-sorts in Baku. He scraped through earlier rounds against GMs Emre Can and Jules Moussard, and it wasn't just on the chessboard that he looked shaky. A cat-lover, he expressed regret at not being able to see his family's new kittens grow up in his home in Minnesota, even uttering the phrase, "I'm hoping to lose early." At the same time, he said, "I want to fight hard" and added:

"There’s a bit of a pressure from my side, trying to qualify for the Candidates, because I’m not playing in the Grand Swiss. So there’s a slight bit of pressure, and I don’t play well under pressure."

Sarana whipped up an unstoppable attack. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

All in all, his mindset feels wrong, and that was reflected in a loss to 23-year-old Sarana which was shocking not so much for the result, but for how crushing the win was. So has a reputation as one of the toughest players to beat with the white pieces in world chess, but Sarana made it look easy.

That means that So now needs to win on demand with the black pieces against Sarana, who is known as a beast with the white pieces. For instance, on the final day of the 2022 World Blitz Championship he beat GM Hikaru Nakamura and Carlsen with White in consecutive rounds.

When he was asked if he would prefer to start the World Cup matches with White or Black he responded: "I would prefer everywhere White. I play much better, I think!"

There were just three more decisive games in the Open section, with two of them long but impressive grinds. Swedish GM Nils Grandelius spoiled the pawn structure of Spanish GM Jaime Santos Latasa by move 24 and then went on to win in 101 moves, sacrificing and picking up pawns along the way, but never losing control.

Carlsen had reason to envy his previous world championship second, Grandelius. Photo: Anna Shtourman/FIDE.

Hungarian GM Ferenc Berkes started the World Cup with a loss, but he bounced back and went on to knock out higher-seeded GMs Boris Gelfand and Nikita Vitiugov. Now he's taken the lead against another chess legend, GM Ruslan Ponomariov, who in 2002 became the youngest ever FIDE world champion after winning a 128-player knockout. That game featured a novelty that sums up modern chess. In a position where previously players had tended to defend the c3-pawn or get the king to safety with 11.Kf2, Berkes simply played 11.h4!?  

Ponomariov thought for 25 minutes before taking the c3-pawn, which may have been inaccurate, and while White was hardly winning by force, the 45-move victory that followed was remarkably smooth.

Berkes has been one of the surprises of the 2023 FIDE World Cup. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

The day's fastest win came from the player who arguably deserved it most, Indian GM Vidit Santosh Gujrathi, who had battled through 17 games, and two epic tiebreaks, just to reach round four. He described his win over French GM Etienne Bacrot as follows:

"I got an interesting position. In the middlegame he allowed me to play 13.f4, 14.e5, and strategically Black is OK, but he’s just a few tempi down. I thought I should take advantage of it, and I sacrificed two pawns with 15.f5! Nxe5 16.f6!. I think if he had taken with the bishop there are a couple of sacrifices, but I do not see a win for me there. But he took with the pawn, which was I think the decisive mistake, because I just get a free attack. All my pieces were in the game and his king was too weak."

As well as wins, we got 11 draws in the Open section, with clashes such as GMs Ray Robson vs. Fabiano Caruana, Jan-Krzysztof Duda vs. Parham Maghsoodloo, Gukesh vs. Andrey Esipenko, and Vasyl Ivanchuk vs. Vahap Sanal seeing little action before the players agreed to a draw just after the minimum 30 moves required by the regulations.

There were also some real battles, however, including the longest game of the day, the all-teenage GM Javokhir Sindarov vs. GM Arjun Erigaisi. Arjun won a pawn and was pressing hard, but one false step in a rook endgame and his chance slipped away.

Erigaisi couldn't finish off Sindarov. Photo: Maria Emelianova/FIDE.

2011 World Cup winner GM Peter Svidler looked to have the wind in his sails against GM Nijat Abasov, the player who had failed to read the script about a GM Anish Giri vs. GM Laurent Fressinet grudge match and instead beat them both. Svidler missed the chance to play 16.Nxd5!, however, and later had to scramble to make a draw.

Praggnanandhaa's first classical game against Nakamura was a fantastic fight. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Perhaps the most-anticipated game of the day was the clash between world number-two Nakamura and fast-rising Indian star GM Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu. It didn't disappoint, with the 17-year-old seeming to get the better of a very tense early middlegame struggle when he was able to put a pawn on b4 before his opponent.

In his recap video, Nakamura says of this moment: "Already here I was not very happy, but I told myself at this point of the game, just keep playing moves, and don't blunder, and maybe you'll survive!" 

Ultimately the five-time U.S. champion did more than that, coming very close to squeezing out a win before missing a trick in the time scramble. By the end, he was the one to offer a draw, after Praggnanandhaa had solved his problems.

That's just the beginning, as we'll get a second classical game in all 16 matches, with Carlsen and So among the players fighting for their World Cup lives.

Round 4 Results: Open

Fed Player Rtg - Fed Player Rtg G1 G2 TB
GM Vincent Keymer 2690 - GM Magnus Carlsen 2835 1-0 . .
GM Vasyl Ivanchuk 2667 - GM Vahap Sanal 2585 ½-½ . .
GM Wang Hao 2709 - GM Rasmus Svane 2625 ½-½ . .
GM Gukesh D 2744 - GM Andrey Esipenko 2683 ½-½ . .
GM Peter Svidler 2688 - GM Nijat Abasov 2632 ½-½ . .
GM Saleh Salem 2661 - GM Daniele Vocaturo 2609 ½-½ . .
GM Vidit Gujrathi 2719 - GM Etienne Bacrot 2662 1-0 . .
GM Ian Nepomniachtchi 2779 - GM Nihal Sarin 2688 ½-½ . .
GM Ray Robson 2689 - GM Fabiano Caruana 2782 ½-½ . .
GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda 2732 - GM Parham Maghsoodloo 2719 ½-½ . .
GM Radoslaw Wojtaszek 2676 - GM Leinier Dominguez 2739 ½-½ . .
GM Wesley So 2769 - GM Alexey Sarana 2685 0-1 . .
GM Nils Grandelius 2684 - GM Jaime Santos 2656 1-0 . .
GM Javokhir Sindarov 2659 - GM Arjun Erigaisi 2710 ½-½ . .
GM Ferenc Berkes 2615 - GM Ruslan Ponomariov 2664 1-0 . .
GM Hikaru Nakamura 2787 - GM Praggnanandhaa R 2690 ½-½ . .

All Games: Open Round 4.1

Women's Section: Khotenashvili Strikes, Roebers Loses Perfect Streak

The Women's World Cup is half the size and hence one round shorter. So we're already down to the last-16, with the players fighting for quarterfinal spots. Four of the players seeded to reach this point failed to make it: IM Sarasadat Khademalsharieh, and GMs Nana Dzagnidze, Alexandra Kosteniuk (the defending champion), and Kateryna Lagno.

One big-name star in danger of joining them is Humpy, who reacted badly to a move-six novelty by Khotenashvili and never recovered.

After the game, Khotenashvili didn't seem entirely sure if her novelty was intended or had somehow been misremembered.

All the remaining games were drawn, though only the all-Chinese clash between WGM Zhu Jiner and GM Tan Zhongyi was over quickly. The game between GMs Anna Muzychuk and Mariya Muzychuk stretched to 38 moves and a few hours, and even if it never felt like either player was in great peril it still defied expectations that the sisters, who have drawn all their classical games, would make two swift draws before starting to play only in tiebreaks.

The Zhu vs. Tan clash guarantees a Chinese player in the quarterfinals. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

IM Teodora Injac (against IM Polina Shuvalova) and IM Medina Warda Aulia (against IM Nurgyul Salimova) achieved big advantages with the white pieces but were unable to convert, while the most dramatic moment late in the round was when IM Eline Roebers came within a whisker of making it a perfect 7/7 score in Baku. 

Roebers almost remained perfect, but 6.5/7 isn't bad! Photo: Maria Emelianova/

You can play through all the games below.

Round 4 Results: Women

Fed Player Rating Fed Player Rating G1 G2 TB
GM Ju Wenjun 2564 - GM Elisabeth Paehtz 2471 ½-½ . .
GM Anna Muzychuk 2504 - GM Mariya Muzychuk 2511 ½-½ . .
IM Teodora Injac 2415 - IM Polina Shuvalova 2496 ½-½ . .
IM Medina Warda Aulia 2409 - IM Nurgyul Salimova 2355 ½-½ . .
GM Humpy Koneru 2553 - GM Bella Khotenashvili 2475 0-1 . .
WGM Zhu Jiner 2498 - GM Tan Zhongyi 2523 ½-½ . .
IM Eline Roebers 2419 - GM Harika Dronavalli 2500 ½-½ . .
GM Nino Batsiashvili 2474 - GM Aleksandra Goryachkina 2557 ½-½ . .

All Games: Women's Round 4.1

On Thursday the six players who lost in game one must hit back to force tiebreaks on Friday or they'll be out of the 2023 FIDE World Cup.

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

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Colin McGourty

Colin McGourty led news at Chess24 from its launch until it merged with a decade later. An amateur player, he got into chess writing when he set up the website Chess in Translation after previously studying Slavic languages and literature in St. Andrews, Odesa, Oxford, and Krakow.

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