2023 FIDE World Cup Semifinals and Women's World Cup Finals Begin Saturday

The semifinals of the 2023 FIDE World Cup begin Saturday, August 19 at 6:00 a.m. CDT in Baku, Azerbaijan. At the same time, the finals and third-place match for the 2023 FIDE Women’s World Cup will begin. Now, let’s meet our (semi)-finalists and how they got here.


World Cup: Carlsen and Caruana on Collision Course (Or are they?)

Two of the top four seeds have advanced to the semifinals, with top-seeded GM Magnus Carlsen and third-seeded GM Fabiano Caruana taking care of business in a tournament notorious for producing upsets (just ask second-seeded GM Hikaru Nakamura).

Joining them are two surprising names: Azerbaijan’s GM Nijat Abasov and India’s GM Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu. The 28-year-old Abasov has been rated as high as 2670, and surely was not many fans’ pick to be the last Azerbaijani player standing in Baku.


Image Caption
From the brink of elimination to the 2024 Candidates, Pragg's journey has been riveting to follow (courtesy Maria Emelianova/Chess.com)


In some sense, the 18-year-and-one-week-year-old “Pragg” is less surprising, as his ascent to the tops of the chess world have been chronicled since his quest to chase the title of world’s youngest grandmaster. But in another sense, Pragg just crossed 2700 for the first time and was not even the highest rated of the four Indian quarterfinalists.

Abasov will face Carlsen and Caruana will play Pragg in the semifinals.


Carlsen 1½–½ Gukesh


Image Caption
Carlsen essayed another remarkable endgame victory (courtesy Stev Bonhage/FIDE)


Carlsen won his first game, despite playing with the black pieces, in typical style: patiently developing a small advantage until he is presented with an opportunity to convert into a winning endgame.



He then drew the second game comfortably to advance. With three spots in the 2024 FIDE Candidates tournament up for grabs, the quarterfinal matches are of particular importance.


Image Caption
Carlsen, in typical candid fashion, expressed his disinterest in classical chess throughout much of the World Cup so far (courtesy Anna Shtourman/FIDE)


In theory, only three semifinalists are guaranteed a spot, but Magnus has said he will decline his invitation (pending changes to the current format). This means Caruana, Abasov, and Praggnanandhaa have all earned Candidates spots before the third-place match is decided.


Abasov 1½–½ Vidit

The 69th seed continued his improbable run by defeating one of the four Indian phenoms in the quarterfinals. The Azerbaijani quickly took initiative with the white pieces and never relinquished it in a compelling statement before his matchup with Carlsen.


Image Caption
"I got next" (courtesy Maria Emelianova/Chess.com)


Caruana 1½–½ Dominguez


Caruana Dominguez
Image Caption
The All-American quarterfinal served as a preview for October's U.S. Championship (courtesy Anna Shtourman/FIDE)


In the battle of the Americans, GM Leinier Dominguez Perez came close to converting a winning endgame in game one, but Caruana managed to create just enough complications to hold the draw. At the critical moment, Dominguez had to find the only winning move in a complicated position, and erred.



Caruana found himself in a similar position in the next game, winning a pawn before the time control after Dominguez missed a chance to create more counterplay. Dominguez then tried to play the roll of spoiler, but Caruana was able to hold on.



Image Caption
Caruana could be on track for a 2018 rematch with Carlsen. But will it be for first place, or third? (courtesy Anna Shtourman/FIDE)


The extra rest day should prove particularly advantageous for Caruana as he prepares to face the winner of the marathon tiebreaker between Praggnanandhaa and Arjun.


Praggnanandhaa 5–4 Arjun

With no disrespect intended for the other quarterfinal matches, this was simply put the most thrilling, nail-biting, entertaining, and overall greatest attraction of the round (if not the whole tournament). 19-year-old Indian GM Arjun Erigaisi is known for producing explosive chess as well as his friendship with Pragg. Indeed, the two continued their nightly tradition of taking evening walks even during their match.


Over three days and nine games, Black boasted six victories, two draws, and only one loss. But even though White only won one game, it was the one that counted, with Praggnanandhaa winning the first “sudden death” blitz game.


game 1
Image Caption
Before the gloves came off: Arjun and Praggnanandhaa in the first classical game (courtesy Anna Shtourman/FIDE)


As a reminder of the tiebreaker format, the players first play a pair of rapid games (25-minute games with 10-second increment per move). If tied, they then play a pair of 10-minute games with 10-second increment. If still tied, they play a pair of 5-minute games with only 3-second increment. And, finally, if still tied, they begin playing individual 3-minute games (with only 2-second increment) until there’s a winner.

Arjun had to be a heavy favorite after winning the first classical match, particularly since he had the black pieces. Some nice ideas in the endgame, including a sound piece sac, gave him what he needed.



But “Pragg” came roaring back, allowing Arjun’s a-pawn to advance to the sixth rank when, suddenly, White’s position was in shambles and the pawn was frozen.



After two draws in the rapid tiebreaks (the only two draws of their nine games), things got intense. In the ten-minute games, Pragg first won a remarkably complex rook-and-many-passed-pawns endgame.



In his first must-win game, Arjun then played boldly on the queenside, advancing a pawn to the seventh out of the opening and forcing a quick resignation.



In the first blitz game, Pragg’s ferocious tactical finish really felt like it was an exclamation mark on the match.



But then, needing to win with the black pieces on demand once again, Arjun delivered a perfectly measured response to Pragg’s Queen’s Gambit, playing just boldly enough without exposing himself to anything too obvious in order to force sudden death.



When nothing else is working, play 1. b3 (or, here, 1. Nf3 followed by 2. b3) and stop worrying about things like “an objective advantage” in the opening. Pragg put this tilt-tested strategy to work in the final game, winning a pawn early and holding on to convert the resulting rook endgame.


Image Caption
If you thought this match was tense, imagine how Praggnanandhaa's mother felt! (courtesy Maria Emelianova/Chess.com)



This entire match is worthy of far deeper and more detailed attention than it has received here. For now, hopefully this makes Pragg’s encounter with Caruana this weekend even more exciting.


Happy Pragg
Image Caption
courtesy Maria Emelianova/Chess.com



Women’s World Cup: Goryachkina versus Salimova set

Because the Women’s World Cup is one round shorter than the World Cup, the semifinals were already played this week, with the finals and match for third place to begin Saturday.

Similarly, three spots in the 2024 Women’s Candidates are up for grabs. One interesting difference, however, is that the fourth-place finisher would not qualify in the event that one of the top three finishers either declined or already received an invitation. Rather, that spot will be determined by rating.

This is relevant because semifinalist GM Alexandra Goryachkina has already qualified for the Candidates in virtue of finishing second in the FIDE 2022-23 Women’s Grand Prix.

Indeed, with Goryachkina winning her match against GM Tan Zhongyi, only two players will earn trips to the Candidates from the Women’s World Cup.


Goryachkina 1½–½ Tan

Neither of these players would be surprise entrants in the finals, to say the least, with Goryachkina having challenged GM Ju Wenjun for the 2020 Women’s World Championship and Tan having challenged GM Lei Tingjie in the Candidates finals earlier this year.


Image Caption
Goryachkina has to be the heavy favorite in her finals match (courtesy Maria Emelianova/Chess.com)


Goryachkina got the better of her opponent on the black side of a Carlsbad structure, but Tan managed to trade just enough pieces to achieve a roughly equal endgame. But almost immediately, she allowed Goryachkina a crucial pawn break that gave her an advantage she never relinquished.



Now, Tan will have to play GM Anna Muzychuk for a Candidates invitation. As a fan, this is bittersweet: both players clearly deserve to qualify, but it is nice that at least one of the third-place matches will be “high stakes” this year.  


Salimova 3½–2½ A. Muzychuk

Bulgarian IM Nurgyul Salimova continued her remarkable run in this event, defeating GM Anna Muzychuk in the tiebreaks of their tense match. The result was particularly noteworthy because Muzychuk has won world championships in both rapid and blitz time controls, making her a particularly daunting tiebreak opponent.


Image Caption
The start of some fireworks (courtesy Anna Shtourman/FIDE)


But after two draws in the classical portion, Salimova came out swinging with the black pieces. In a time scramble for the ages, she sacrificed a rook that Muzychuk really should not have taken.



Needing to win on demand, Muzychuk was up for the challenge. But in the first ten-minute game, Salimova (this time playing with the apparent disadvantage of moving first) unleashed yet another tactical storm.


Image Caption
Salimova was unable to contain her excitement after winning the first tiebreak game (courtesy Maria Emelianova/Chess.com)


This time, Muzychuk was unable to counter, sending Salimova to the finals along with her automatic GM norm and a spot in the Candidates.



Having already earned her second GM norm and becoming the first IM in 26 years to qualify for the Women’s Candidates, one might wonder what else Salimova has to play for. As if the title of champion was not enough, she would also earn the GM title automatically in virtue of winning the Women’s World Cup. There is a ratings minimum of 2300 for this automatic conferral to go through, but Salimova is currently 120 points over the threshold.


Image Caption
Salimova revealed she has been training with none other than Abasov (second from right). Both players have set peak ratings in this tournament (courtesy Maria Emelianova/Chess.com)


This would also make Salimova just the 11th woman to earn the GM title at the age of 20 or under, as well as the 42nd woman overall. No pressure, Nurgyul!


US Chess covers the whole chess world.Period.Everyone deserves a seat at the table..... never dreamed I would live to see this. Thanks so much to JJ "the cool".                                                        Jude Acers/New Orleans

Add new comment

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.

Plain Text Comments