Top Seed So Wins Final Fischer Random World Chess Championship Knockout Qualifier
Top seed Wesley So had reason to smile as he booked the final spot in the Fischer Random World Chess Championship Quarterfinals.

Top Seed So Wins Final Fischer Random World Chess Championship Knockout Qualifier

JonathanTisdall
GM JonathanTisdall
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34 | Chess Event Coverage

The favorites again advanced to the last stages of the knockout competition to determine the event's quarter-finalists with the top four seeds contesting a very even and tense bracket semifinal. Whether it was the makeup of the field or the starting positions that came out of the "hat," the last of the qualifiers seemed to unfold at a different pace from earlier editions with a much higher percentage of patient, nervy maneuvering and technical grinds. 

With the later stages of the Fischer Random World Chess Championship to be staged in Norway, there had to be some added interest in two of the underdog qualifiers to the bracket, IMs Atle Gronn and Geir Sune Tallaksen Ostmoe, who faced stern challenges in fourth-seeded GM Daniel Fridman and sixth-seed GM Alexander Donchenko, respectively. Gronn, a well-known TV personality due to the popular Magnus Carlsen broadcast coverage in Norway, was methodically dismantled by Fridman, but Ostmoe, who is a highly accomplished chess study composer, produced the result of the round with an impressively controlled elimination of his dangerous opponent. 

Geir Sune Tallaksen Ostmoe provided upset lovers with their treat of the day. Photo: Anniken Vestby.

A nice positional win with black in game one with a mutual tactical blip gave Ostmoe the lead, and he composed a stalemate to ensure advancement instead of playing for a shutout in the return game. 

The other first-round matches went according to script, though the violent first game of the event to finish was a crowd-pleaser. Belarus GM Sergei Azarov laid down an early marker by savaging Azerbaijani colleague Vuqar Rasulov in a match that proved less close than it looked on paper. 

While the second round had some heroics, the favorites weathered all storms. Third-seed but second-rated super-GM Evgeny Tomashevsky continued a very methodical march towards the final by putting down the underdog. Ostmoe blundered a mate in a position that went horrible quickly, and Tomashevsky sliced his way to a 2-0 victory when playing black. 

Quick, resourceful and aggressive, Parham Maghsoodloo seemed a FR chess natural.

Second-seeded invitee GM Parham Maghsoodloo continued his rampage to the semis with a potent mix of trouble-making and, most of all, speed. His clash with Azarov looked to be a meeting of danger men, but the Iranian youngster proved to be the real assassin. 

The left bracket produced the drama of the round. Both Wesley So and Fridman were taken to tiebreaks, though in quite different ways. Fridman's match versus GM Igor Lysyj was quite an unusual duel for this variant, with the players apparently content to settle for repetitions and move on to quicker time controls. Lysyj might rue his pacifistic decision as white in game two, as it was one of the sharpest and most promising of the match. Fridman decided the contest when he decided to vary from another repetition, as black in game four, and crashed through suddenly to win. 

Daniel Fridman proved exceptionally hard to beat.

Peruvian GM Jose Eduardo Martinez Alacantara gave viewers a new underdog to root for with his excellent tussle with the top seed. Both players created lasting pressure when playing white in the first pair of games, and Martinez won a sparkling game on demand to send the match into overtime.

So produced another fine example of sustained and increasing positional pressure in game three and won the match when Martinez mishandled what probably should have been a winning sacrificial attack in game four. The match created nervous moments for Wesley before the last upstart of the event exited.

While all this was going on, speedy winners Tomashevsky and Maghsoodloo started their semifinal early. The contours of this particular duel became clear very quickly—the Russian's slower paced technical expertise against the Iranian's speedy resourcefulness. The contrast seemed a bit generational with the classical approach of producing more best moves and risking time-trouble accidents that was pitted against youthful pragmatism and the ability to keep conjuring up obstacles quickly. Game one illustrated this dramatically with Parham winning a lost-queen ending thanks to sustained trickery.

Forced to win on demand, Tomashevsky shelved his frustration and produced an even better performance, this time keeping enough time on the clock to finish the job.

In the 10-minute pairs, Tomashevsky continued to show his class. Drawing solidly with black in game three, Evgeny produced another elegant squeeze in the fourth and final game. Spectator smarterchess summed it perfectly: "You know you're in trouble when your opponent has a chess looking position and yours still looks random."

The other semi also went into overtime with immovable Fridman notching up two solid draws in the 15-minute games. Game three very, very nearly went the same way, but So managed to generate some perilous complications in a rook ending as time ran out and won with admirable precision after finally producing an error from Fridman.

Fridman pressed for revenge in a dour and dogged fourth game, but not much of an impression was made on So, though the position was thoroughly played and fought. This meant that the final would be contested between the two highest rated "regular" chess players. 

Randomness didn't dim Tomashevsky's clean, classical style.

The final followed what seemed to be the theme of the day where So and Tomashevsky were involved—mounting varying degrees of unpleasant pressure when playing white. Unfortunately for Evgeny, the amount of pressure involved in game one quickly became painful, and once again viewers were treated to the sight of classy, "chessy" Fischer Random play from Wesley, who methodically increased positional advantages, this time trading them for a direct attack. 

The return game echoed the course of So's semifinal with a determined opponent struggling desperately to create any chance but with no reward for efforts. So ended the last flicker of hope by weaving a net around Tomashevsky's king and forcing a perpetual check. The favorite had done it again—yet more evidence that while the random factor may vary, this variant is very definitely still chess. 

"In general, I got really good positions with white and really bad positions with black," was So's verdict on his event, and he was especially relieved to have escaped a second black loss against Martinez.  Tomashevsky was a bit disappointed with his white starting position in the final game but gracious in defeat, summing up: "In the final he just outplayed me."

The full bracket from Sunday's qualifier.

So and qualifiers Ian Nepomniachtchi, Alireza Firouzja, Peter Svidler, Vidit Gujrathi and Vladimir Fedoseev will now be joined by seeds Fabiano Caruana and Hikaru Nakamura in the quarterfinals of the World Fischer Random Chess Championship. World Champion Magnus Carlsen is seeded into the semifinals of the event. 

Sunday's broadcast with commentary from GM Aman Hambleton:

The official website can be found here: www.frchess.com.

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