Wesley So - Magnus Carlsen: 13½ - 2½
After a hard-fought draw in the first slow rapid game with black, the American GM scored three victories in a row and created an almost insurmountable lead. On the final day, Wesley drew the first fast rapid game, won the second one and became Fischer Random World Champion.
Match for third place
Ian Nepomniachtchi - Fabiano Caruana: 12½ - 5½
After the opponents traded blows on the first day, Nepomniachtchi prevailed the third game and made a draw in the fourth encounter. On the final day, Ian kept pushing - he scored two victories in three games and secured the third place.
The first official FIDE World Fischer Random Chess Championship is in the final stretch. The event, officialized by FIDE for the first time in history, is a joint effort of Dund (the organizer of the unofficial Fischer Random match between Classical chess champion Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura in 2009) and Chess.com. The semifinals and the finals of the event are held from October 27 till November 2 in Norway, at the Henie Onstad Art Center located just outside Oslo.
After the massive qualifying open tournaments that run from April to August, the Championship reached the elimination phase during which 84 qualifiers + 12 invited players squared off in six knockout brackets (16 players each), in 2 games mini-matches with a time control of 15+2. Six winners of those brackets, namely Ian Nepomniachtchi, Alireza Firouzja, Vidit Gijrathi, Peter Svidler, Vladimir Fedoseev and Wesley So joined Hikaru Nakamura and Fabiano Caruana in the 3-day quarterfinal stage with a guaranteed prize fund of $10,000.
The draw produced the following quarterfinal pairs:
Hikaru Nakamura – Wesley So
Ian Nepomniachtchi - Alireza Firouzja
Vidit Gujrathi – Vladimir Fedoseev
Fabiano Caruana – Peter Svidler
On October 4 four quarterfinal matches were played, with the winners going directly into Day 3.
Each duel consisted of two “slow rapid” games (45 min for first 40 moves, 15 min for the rest of the game) with victories worth 3 points, two “fast rapid” encounters (15+2 time control) with wins equal to 2 points, and a couple of blitz games (just one point for a victory).
Gujrathi and Fedoseev exchanged blows in slow rapid, but in the rapid games the Russian’s high-voltage, very entertaining style earned him two victories and an early qualifying for Day 3.
Hikaru Nakamura and Wesley So also did not need all six games to determine the winner. After Hikaru’s winning a slightly better endgame with the opposite-colored bishops and rooks in the first encounter, Wesley blundered the rook in the second one, making his task virtually impossible to accomplish.
Peter Svidler took a slow start in his match with Fabio Caruana, but after winning the second rapid game he came very close to forcing armageddon. The Russian GM obtained a very promising position with black in the second blitz game but terrible blunder derailed his comeback.
The match Nepomniachtchi – Firouzja was the only one that day that saw armageddon. Interestingly enough, the rating favorite Yan Nepomniachtichi was on the verge of elimination in blitz games, but after losing the first encounter he convincingly leveled the score in the second one. The Iranian prodigy won the coinflip and chose white in armageddon. In the middlegame, Ian forced Alireza to sacrifice a pawn to avoid repetition and converted extra material in the ensuing sharp skirmish.
The next day those who had suffered defeats were given a second and the last chance to continue their quest for the final stage in Norway. Wesley So and Alireza Firouzja grabbed this opportunity and after defeating Peter Svidler and Vidit Gujrathi respectively, made it to Day 3.
Finally, on October 6, six players competed for three slots in the semifinals:
Hikaru Nakamura – Fabiano Caruana
Wesley So – Vladimir Fedoseev
Ian Nepomniachtchi - Alireza Firouzja
Surprisingly, all three matches were one-sided and did not require blitz games to determine the winners.
In the American derby Nakamura – Caruana the native of Italy dominated both slow and fast rapid games skillfully applying the centralization strategy he had revealed in one of his earlier interviews. When it came to blitz encounters Fabio already had an overwhelming lead.
By a twist of fate Nepomniachtchi and Firouzja squared off for the second time in the span of three days. This time around the Russian GM quickly took the lead after winning the first slow rapid game and drawing the second one. Alireza kept up the tension by scoring a nice victory in the first fast rapid encounter and narrowing the gap, but Ian crushed his hopes with a spirited attack right in the next game.
The outcome of So – Fedoseev clash was to a great extent determined by a terrible blunder the Russian GM made after reaching a drawing position in the second slow rapid game. Vladimir did not pack it in and put up some fight in the fast rapid games, but the opponent was just better.
Thus, Magnus Carlsen, who enters the competition at the semifinals stage, Fabiano Caruana, Wesley So and Ian Nepomniachtchi will meet over the board in Norway on October 27 and play it down to the winner. The first official Fischer Random champion will be crowned on November 2.
Photo: Maria Emelianova and Lennart Ootes