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staging about 6 hours ago Edit Chess News From Missing Mate To Swindling Stalemate, Carlsen Thwarts Challenger


GMs Magnus Carlsen and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave are the last two players standing in Winners Bracket of the 2023 AI Cup.

With blazing attacking play in the final game, GM Ian Nepomniachtchi came within inches of forcing a playoff vs. Carlsen. Yet, the world number-one sidestepped defeat with the help of stalemate tricks. In the clash of attackers, Vachier-Lagrave’s dynamic awareness overcame GM Shakriyar Mamedyarov‘s aggressive attempts.

In the Losers Bracket, GM Anish Giri launched fireworks on the board to knock out GM Hikaru Nakamura. Meanwhile, GM Alireza Firouzja found a state of strategic clarity to eliminate GM Denis Lazavik.

In Division II, GM Alexey Sarana scored a major upset vs. GM Fabiano Caruana

In Division III, GMs Evgeny Alekseev and Rauf Mamedov defeated younger opponents and will meet in the Winners Final. 

The knockout tournament continues on Wednesday, September 26, starting at 11 a.m. ET / 17:00 CEST / 20:30 IST.

See what happened

Division I

Winners Match Scores – Day 2


Carlsen-Nepomniachtchi 2.5-1.5

The five-time world champion vs. the two-time challenger. The model pragmatic, universal player vs. the unbridled attacker. We have another chapter of Carlsen vs. Nepomniachtchi and once again, it’s the challenger with everything to prove. In their recent Speed Chess Championship encounter, Carlsen didn’t just win the match—he dominated in all three time controls. Known for taking his competitive situations to heart, Nepomniachtchi was certainly out for vengeance. 

At the beginning of this match, Nepomniachtchi played from a dark room. Was this a display of his pessimistic outlook vs. Carlsen?

In their first game, after Nepomniachtchi equalized in the opening, Carlsen generated attacking play in the queenless middlegame, wrecking his opponent’s kingside structure. 

The players headed into a pawn-up ending for Carlsen, and the result seemed like a forgone conclusion. Yet, Nepomniachtchi―despite the appearance of darkness all around him on camera―kept hope alive and managed to slip into a drawn same-colored bishop ending. 

In game two, the lights came on in Nepomniachtchi’s playing room, paralleling the stroke of luck that saved him from a blunder on the board. In a moment of mutual blindness between the 16th world champion and his last challenger, Carlsen missed the opportunity to checkmate in three moves.

You can see exactly the moment that each player realizes what happened on their cameras. 

Despite the eventfulness of the first two battles, the players remained tied. In the middlegame of game three, Carlsen brought his pieces to their ideal posts and like magic, a slight edge grew into a raging attack. Carlsen redeemed himself for the previous slip by creating a mating net in the rook ending. 

Nepomniachtchi next found himself in a must-win position. The final game was an absolute clash of titans, a struggle between the distinct abilities of both competitors. When Carlsen played the opening inaccurately, Nepomniachtchi crashed through with one sacrifice after another as his pieces hovered around the open black king. Yet, Carlsen escaped into an unbalanced and tricky ending.

Nepomniachtchi continued to press, marching all of his passers down the board to collect up much of Black’s remaining army. Finally, he reached a theoretically won queen vs. rook ending on move 80. Yet, Carlsen fought on, creating every obstacle he could, including setting fork and stalemate traps. In the end, he survived Nepomniachtchi’s 129-move onslaught to win the match without a playoff. 

In the post-match interview, Carlsen shared what caused him to miss the mating combination in game two: “When he played Bc3, I had the feeling that this move was a little bit wrong. The thing is, I was fairly happy with Ne3; that’s why I didn’t look further…. That was insane. Always look for captures and checks, kids.”

Vachier-Lagrave-Mamedyarov 3-1

While both competitors have been known to favor sharp, attacking play, Vachier-Lagrave’s approach tends to be more calculated and balanced while Mamedyarov’s is more intuitive and uncompromising. 

After two draws, Mamedyarov played aggressively—despite many of his pieces being undeveloped—against the uber-solid Ruy Lopez. Vachier-Lagrave countered sharply, taking the fight head-on in the center, drawing the first blood of the match. 

Suited to his style, Mamedyarov chose a hyper-combative approach to his all-or-nothing situation. As the Azerbaijani grandmaster’s queen and bishop stared down the longest diagonal with vicious intentions against the black king, Vachier-Lagrave found a brilliant intermezzo to give his own attacking play an extra tempo and clinch the match with a 28-move victory. 

As the last competitors remaining in the Winners Bracket, Carlsen and Vachier-Lagrave will face off on Wednesday.

Losers Match Scores – Day 2


Nakamura-Giri 0-2

For online chess, Nakamura tends to be the favorite against most players. Against Giri in particular, he has a nearly 80-point edge in Chess.com rapid ratings and a 7-1 lead in their head-to-head games.

Nakamura is known for his inventive opening ideas, especially in online games. Giri has a collected and flexible style, known for his precise opening preparation and his understanding of a wide variety of positions.

In game one, Nakamura’s started with the unorthodox—yet common in his own games—1.b3. When the American grandmaster’s setup left his kingside loose, Giri jabbed at the structure and dashed his minor pieces into the weak points around his opponent’s king. Giving his opponent no time to set up his defenses, Giri continued to rip open that side of the board, creating a myriad of threats. Giri’s explosive victory is our Game of the Day, analyzed by GM Rafael Leitao below.

Nakamura was now on his last life, needing a win to trigger a playoff. We learn a lot about a player from how they react with their back against the wall. Do they dive into an all-or-nothing mentality? Do they play it calm and collected, aiming for an unconventional position where they can gradually build up strategic play? Do they head into the types of positions they know best and hope for a kind of home-court advantage?

Nakamura opted for a blend of the latter two: He chose the Hippo opening, avoiding main line theory that Giri knows deeply while aiming for a conventional type of setup that the American grandmaster favors. 

Giri created passer on the queenside and advanced it all the way to the seventh rank while Nakamura pressed forward on the kingside with King’s Indian Defense style attacking ideas—seemingly exactly the kind of game that suits Nakamura in a must-win situation. Yet, Giri’s queenside pressure kept his opponent preoccupied, preventing Nakamura’s attack from ever really leaving the ground. In fact, the Dutch grandmaster even later took over the kingside by conquering the light squares with his queen and bishop.

After the match, Giri shared his thoughts on Carlsen: “It looks to me that the margin is pretty small, yet he wins almost everything.”

Firouzja-Lazavik 1.5-0.5

In the Julius Baer Generation Cup Losers Final, Firouzja and Lazavik faced off for the first time in rapid. In a close match, Firouzja came out ahead but admitted that Lazavik “was a better player today than me.”

These two young competitors represent contrasts in playing styles. Lazavik is known for his strategic and technical approach to the game while Firouzja thrives on his cunning ideas and over-the-board improvisation. 

Firouzja opted for an early queenside expansion, allowing him to shut out Black’s a7-bishop, effectively giving him an extra piece in the struggle. He also set up a preemptive rook lift that he swung over to the kingside many moves later. After gaining great pressure on the kingside, he traded queens, confident in his ability to convert the ending. With his extra piece (in effect) and vast activity, Firouzja picked apart Lazavik’s queenside structure, creating an unstoppable storm of connected passers. 

In game two, Lazavik aimed for a position with a slow grind and a strategic comfort zone. In the midst of the duel, Lazavik was able to imbue his style on the game, achieving a slightly better ending where he could press without risk. Yet, the resourceful Firouzja ultimately held the balance, winning the match. 

As the Losers Bracket progresses, Firouzja will meet Nepomniachtchi while Giri will play against Mamedyarov. 

Division I Standings

Division II

One of the biggest upsets was Sarana’s victory versus Caruana. Tied after three rounds, Sarana tipped the scales in his favor in the final game by creating a positional clamp over the position and doubling his rooks on the seventh.

 Sarana will face GM Vladimir Fedoseev in the Winners Semifinals. 

Division II Standings

Division III

Alekseev and Mamedov defeated their younger American opponents, GMs Sam Sevian and Ray Robson, in the Division III semifinals. With a queen vs. a rook, a bishop, and a pawn, Mamedov picked apart Robson’s center structure in the time scramble, creating an unyielding passer. 

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.


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