Caruana, Nakamura Out; Wesley So Through to FTX Crypto Semi

Image Caption
photo Maria Emelianova


Grandmaster Wesley So is the only American left standing in the FTX Crypto Cup. 

The reigning US Chess Champion is one of four players remaining in the seventh installment of the online $1.5M Meltwater Champions Chess Tour, which began last Sunday with an original cast of 16 and contained the complete top-10 GMs in the world.  

After three draws on Friday, So proved a knight was better than a bishop in the endgame, winning with the black pieces in his fourth game against World Champion Candidate Ian Nepomniachtchi and taking an early lead in the semifinal. The second set will be played Saturday at 11:00 a.m. eastern, with the match winner scheduled to meet that between World Champion Magnus Carlsen and Azerbaijani GM Teimour Radjabov, on the other side of the bracket. The two split their Friday set 2-2. 

[pgn][Event "FTX Crypto Cup KO 2021"] [Site " INT"] [Date "2021.05.28"] [Round "2.14"] [White "Nepomniachtchi, Ian"] [Black "So, Wesley"] [Result "0-1"] [WhiteTitle "GM"] [BlackTitle "GM"] [WhiteElo "2792"] [BlackElo "2770"] [ECO "A08"] [Opening "Reti"] [Variation "King's Indian attack, French variation"] [WhiteFideId "4168119"] [BlackFideId "5202213"] [EventDate "2021.05.26"] 1. Nf3 d5 2. g3 Nf6 3. Bg2 e6 4. O-O Be7 5. d3 O-O 6. Nbd2 c5 7. e4 Nc6 8. Re1 b5 9. e5 Nd7 10. Nf1 a5 11. h4 b4 12. Bf4 a4 13. a3 bxa3 14. bxa3 Rb8 15. Ne3 Bb7 16. c4 Nb6 17. cxd5 Nxd5 18. Qxa4 Nc3 19. Qc4 Qa5 20. Rac1 Nb5 21. Nc2 Nxa3 22. Nxa3 Qxa3 23. Bg5 Rfd8 24. Bxe7 Nxe7 25. Qxc5 Qxc5 26. Rxc5 Bxf3 27. Bxf3 Rxd3 28. Be4 Rd7 29. h5 g6 30. Kg2 Kg7 31. Rh1 Ng8 32. Rhc1 gxh5 33. Rh1 Rb4 34. Bc2 Kh6 35. Bd1 h4 36. Be2 Ne7 37. Rxh4+ Rxh4 38. gxh4 Ng6 39. Kg3 Rd4 40. Rc4 Rxc4 41. Bxc4 Nxe5 42. Bb3 Kg7 43. f4 Nc6 44. Bc2 h6 45. Bb1 Ne7 46. Kg4 Nd5 47. Kg3 Kf8 48. Kg4 Nf6+ 49. Kf3 Ke7 50. Bc2 Nh5 51. Kg4 Ng7 52. Bb1 f6 53. Ba2 Kd6 54. Kf3 h5 55. Kg3 Kc5 56. Bb3 Kd4 57. Kf3 Kd3 58. Ba4 Nf5 59. Bb5+ Kd4 60. Be8 Nxh4+ 61. Kg3 Nf5+ 62. Kf3 Ng7 63. Bf7 Kd5 64. Bg6 f5 65. Bf7 Kd6 66. Kg3 Ke7 67. Bg6 Kf6 68. Bh7 Ne8 0-1 [/pgn]

Chances for an American to win the FTX title had looked excellent mid-week, with three U.S. players advancing into the tournament’s top-8 knockout bracket that began Wednesday. So did his part, advancing after two sets and without a loss in his quarterfinal against French GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. But both GMs Fabiano Caruana and Hikaru Nakamura were eliminated in their first-round quarterfinal matches, each losing in blitz playoffs to Nepomniachtchi and Carlsen respectively.


Champions Chess Tour FTX Crypto Cup Quarterfinal Results
Image Caption
The FTX Crypto Cup Quarterfinal Results. // courtesy Champions Chess Tour


The pair of quarterfinal knockouts leaves a sting after three stellar performances in FTX’s preliminary stage, an all-play-all format over the tournament’s first three days. Caruana, in his first appearance in a Champions Tour event, earned the bracket’s top seed by finishing clear first at 10/15; Nakamura and So both finished a point behind to grab the third and fifth seeds.

For Nakamura, that meant an instant rematch with Carlsen who, after earning the top seed in each of the first six Champions Tour events, limped through the FTX preliminary stage at 8.5/15 and only made the bracket cut by a half point. But after meeting just three weeks ago in the finals of the last Champions Tour event, the New in Chess Classic, Nakamura and Carlsen quickly added another chapter to the rivalry with perhaps their most-fiery match to date. 

Nakamura traded wins with the World Champion through the first six games of their quarterfinal, both scoring two points with the white pieces in Wednesday’s first set, and then each picking up a win with the black pieces to begin Thursday. The match’s two final draws were as chaotic as the decisions, including this 1. b4! out of Carlsen, his second Orangutang opening of the tournament, that left him walking a thin line to save the half point. Tied after two sets, the match was settled after Nakamura dropped both 5+3 Blitz playoff games. 

[pgn][Event "FTX Crypto Cup KO 2021"] [Site " INT"] [Date "2021.05.27"] [Round "1.23"] [White "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Black "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [WhiteTitle "GM"] [BlackTitle "GM"] [WhiteElo "2847"] [BlackElo "2736"] [ECO "A00"] [Opening "Polish (Sokolsky) opening"] [WhiteFideId "1503014"] [BlackFideId "2016192"] [EventDate "2021.05.26"] 1. b4 e5 2. Bb2 Bxb4 3. Bxe5 Nf6 4. c3 Be7 5. e3 c5 6. Bxf6 Bxf6 7. g3 b6 8. Bg2 Nc6 9. d4 Ba6 10. Ne2 O-O 11. O-O Re8 12. Re1 Rc8 13. a3 Bxe2 14. Rxe2 cxd4 15. cxd4 Nxd4 16. exd4 Rxe2 17. Qxe2 Bxd4 18. Ra2 Rc1+ 19. Bf1 Rxb1 20. Qd3 Rb2 21. Rxb2 Bxb2 22. Qd6 g6 23. a4 Qe8 24. Qd2 Ba3 25. Bb5 Bc5 26. Bxd7 Qe4 27. Bb5 h5 28. Qe2 Qf5 29. Kg2 h4 30. gxh4 Qf4 31. h5 gxh5 32. Qf3 Qxf3+ 33. Kxf3 a5 34. Kg2 h4 35. h3 f6 36. f3 Kg7 37. Bc6 Kg6 38. Bb5 f5 39. Bc6 f4 40. Bb5 Kf6 41. Bc6 Ke5 42. Bb5 Kd4 43. Bc6 Ke3 44. Bb5 Bb4 45. Bc6 Bc5 46. Bb5 Bb4 47. Bc6 Bc5 1/2-1/2 [/pgn]

Caruana’s quarterfinal match with Nepomniachtchi was a bit more subdued, with one win each in Wednesday’s first set and draws in the remaining six games. The American was eliminated after losing just 3 of 25 games in his first Champions Tour event, the fatal loss coming in the first Blitz playoff against Nepomniachtchi, where the Russian earned an edge in an English and stretched an exchange into a winning endgame. 

[pgn][Event "FTX Crypto Cup KO 2021"] [Site " INT"] [Date "2021.05.27"] [Round "1.31"] [White "Nepomniachtchi, Ian"] [Black "Caruana, Fabiano"] [Result "1-0"] [WhiteTitle "GM"] [BlackTitle "GM"] [WhiteElo "2792"] [BlackElo "2820"] [ECO "A20"] [Opening "English opening"] [WhiteFideId "4168119"] [BlackFideId "2020009"] [EventDate "2021.05.26"] 1. c4 e5 2. g3 Nf6 3. Bg2 c6 4. Nf3 e4 5. Nd4 d5 6. cxd5 Qxd5 7. Nc2 Bc5 8. Nc3 Qe5 9. O-O O-O 10. Nxe4 Nxe4 11. d4 Qe7 12. dxc5 Nxc5 13. Ne3 Be6 14. b3 a5 15. Qc2 Nba6 16. Bb2 f6 17. Qc3 Nb4 18. Rfc1 b6 19. Nc4 Nd7 20. Qe3 Rab8 21. a3 Nd5 22. Qd2 Nc5 23. Qc2 Bf7 24. e4 Nc7 25. Bd4 Nxb3 26. Qxb3 b5 27. Qe3 Bxc4 28. Bc5 Qe5 29. Bxf8 Rxf8 30. a4 Ra8 31. axb5 Bxb5 32. f4 Qe7 33. e5 fxe5 34. Bxc6 Bxc6 35. Rxc6 Qd7 36. Rac1 exf4 37. Qb3+ Qd5 38. Qb6 Ne8 39. gxf4 Nf6 40. Qc5 Qxc5+ 41. R1xc5 a4 42. Rc8+ Rxc8 43. Rxc8+ Kf7 44. Kg2 Nd5 45. Kf3 Ne7 46. Ra8 Kf6 47. Ra6+ Kf5 48. Rxa4 Kf6 49. Ke4 g6 50. Ra6+ Kg7 51. Ra7 Kf6 52. h3 Ke6 53. Ra6+ Kf7 54. Ke5 Kf8 55. Ra8+ Kf7 56. Ra7 Kf8 57. Ke6 1-0 [/pgn]

For advancing to the top-8 of the FTX Crypto Cup, all three Americans have earned a seat in the next Champions Tour event, scheduled for June 24. So will play the second set of his semifinal with Nepomniachtchi on Saturday beginning at 11:00 a.m. eastern, with the finals scheduled for Sunday and Monday.