World Cup: Goryachkina Wins Thriller, Pragg Upsets Caruana in Semis

The 2023 FIDE Women's World Cup concluded August 21 when Russian GM Alexandra Goryachkina defeated Bulgarian IM Nurgyul Salimova 2½–1½, winning the second game of the rapid tiebreaks. 


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Goryachkina won her first FIDE Women's World Cup in 2023, and looks to follow it up with another Candidates victory (behind GM Ju Wenjun) and adds a World Cup title to her list of accolades (courtesy Stev Bonhage/FIDE)


The 20-year-old Bulgarian underdog came close to making history (and earning the GM title) in the first game, conducting a beautiful attack that came to a head with a shocking 25th move.



But Goryachkina defended valiantly, and Salimova did not have enough time on the clock to navigate the deceptively rich complications. 


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courtesy Stev Bonhage/FIDE


With colors reversed, Salimova was unable to get anything against Goryachkina's Catalan, and ended up being a pawn down for most of the game. As Goryachkina looked destined for victory, though, Salimova returned the favor, putting up stubborn resistance to reach a drawn ending. 

But with not much time left on the clock, Goryachkina kept asking questions until she finally caught Salimova's bishop offsides:



While a disappointing finish to a great story for Salimova, she still became the first IM since 1995 to earn a spot in the Women's Candidates tournament. Goryachkina's victory was well deserved, as well, and makes a statement as she gears up for Toronto in eight months. 


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Salimova (L), Goryachkina, and Anna Muzychuk (R) on the podium (courtesy Maria Emelianova/


Ukrainian GM Anna Muzychuk defeated Chinese GM Tan Zhongyi 1½–½ to clinch third place and the final spot in the Women's Candidates. Despite stubborn defense for most of the game, Muzychuk's attack in Saturday's game was too strong, and from there the match outcome was never in doubt. 



Today (Tuesday), all eyes were on the FIDE World Cup finals and third place match. Because of the larger player pool, this event has one extra round compared to the Women's event.

But, over the weekend, as Goryachkina was putting on her endgame clinic at the next table, GMs Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana were each trying to stave off upsets from unlikely challengers. 


Carlsen Abasov
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Abasov (R) put up a worthy fight against Carlsen (courtesy Maria Emelianova/


Carlsen earned yet another extra rest day, clinching his match Sunday with a 1½–½ victory over Azerbaijan's GM Nijat Asamov. These games were particularly tense, though, with Carlsen being dead lost to a near-invisible "quiet move" before storming back in game one:



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The 28-year-old was not the highest rated Azerbaijani player in the World Cup, but became a hometown celebrity by the end (courtesy Maria Emelianova/


After two draws, Caruana had to work the overtime shift on Monday against India's 18-year-old prodigy GM Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu. In contrast to Carlsen's opening innovation and all-out warfare, Caruana took a more measured approach in the classical portion, pushing in both games but not managing to convert in either. For instance:



Then, on Monday, "Pragg" quickly found himself in hot water in the first rapid tiebreak. Despite missing a cleaner tactical win, Caruana kept up phenomenal positional pressure and made a correct sac to secure a winning endgame. 


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Pretty soon, he won't look so surprised in moments like this (courtesy Maria Emelianova/


Things are never as easy as the engine makes them look, however, and it turned out Caruana's whole plan of promoting queenside pawns depended on his f-pawn remaining on f2. As soon as he played f2-f4, Pragg held the draw.



This set up a remarkable game where Pragg played nearly perfectly, and Caruana had no answer:



The finals began today, with Pragg drawing with the white pieces against Carlsen and Abasov essaying a spectacular attacking game out of a Catalan against a shell-shocked Caruana. The final classical game takes place tomorrow, August 23, at 6:00 a.m. CDT, with tiebreaks the following day if needed.