Both Hikaru Nakamura and Nodirbek Abdusattorov were players awarded wildcards from co-organisers; Nakamura’s from the Charlotte Chess Center and North American Corporate Chess League and Abdusattorov’s wildcard was from Offerspill Sjakklubb.
Try our custom puzzle set made from the later games of the tournament:
As the seeding for the knockout stages were directly affected by their results in the previous Swiss stage, both tournaments had some fiery match-ups in the final 16. Anish Giri overpowered Richard Rapport in fast fashion, a feat echoed by Nodirbek Abdusattorov in his games against Le Quang Liem. Giri was forced to blitz tiebreaks by Eric Hansen, before continuing smoothly against Georg Meier to make it to the final. Meanwhile, Abdusattorov dispatched Johan-Sebastian Christiansen before having his first wobble against Nijat Abasov. Forced to the blitz tiebreak for the first time, Abdusattorov bested a tilted Abasov to make it to the final.
With a Giri versus Abdusattorov final, Lichess commentators FM Gauri Shankar and WGM Sabina Foisor polled users to determine who the community thought would be the finalist. With more than 70% voting for Giri, the community’s prediction was clear. But Abdusattorov forced Giri onto the back foot from the first rapid game of four, yet this wasn’t Giri’s first rodeo and he stopped the bleeding and stabilised with two draws. Going into the fourth rapid game, Giri needed a win on demand to stay in contention — and got it!
With both players on 2 points out of 4, the knockout went to blitz tiebreaks. Abdusattorov, seemingly in unstoppable form in the blitz stages — having only won every blitz tiebreak game in the knockout stage — repeated this against Giri, defeating him 2–0 in the blitz portion.
At 18 years old, Abdusattorov is one of the most promising youngsters of the next generation. At 17 years old, he won the World Rapid Chess Championship 2021, defeating Magnus Carlsen on the way. This achievement made him the youngest World Champion in Rapid, and in any of the three FIDE recognised time controls. Most recently, the world number 30 played board 1 for Uzbekistan at the 44th Chess Olympiad in Chennai, where he halted a seemingly unstoppable run by Gukesh D. This effort propelled Uzbekistan to team gold, but Abdusattorov also took an individual silver for his results on board 1 (+7 -1 =3) and a performance rating of 2803. By several years, Abdusattorov will be the youngest player in the field at Reykjavik.
Abdusattorov in 2019 (photo: Wikipedia)
Georg Meier won in straight sets against Abasov to take 3rd place. Meier’s achievement is especially notable as he came the furthest in the entire competition without any wildcard, and also balancing a full time career out of chess. The Offerspill Qualifier also hosted an untitled amateur player, Vignesh B — who made it the furthest of any player without a title (although with a 2382 FIDE rating he is eligible to be titled), before being eliminated by GM Guillermo Vazquez. Vignesh B shared with Lichess that:
“The Swiss Phase 2 especially was a great experience for me, getting to play against some top GMs like Moussard, Zhamsaran, etc, and various other strong players. I was elated that I had somehow managed to squeeze into the top 15. The knockouts were interesting, but the first game was extremely poor from me (maybe a bit overwhelmed by the big stage), and I couldn’t convert a better position in the second game. Though unhappy with my performance in the Knockouts, I was happy for the opportunity on the whole.
I’d like to thank Lichess for giving numerous opportunities for players like me to face some of the most renowned players of the world, through tournaments like this. And I look forward to taking part in more of these events. Also, this whole event has made me love the 960 format a lot more, I’d certainly love to play more 960 events too.”
Meanwhile, the Charlotte Chess Center and North American Corporate Chess League was almost entirely dominated by US players, with 1st, 3rd and 4th place all going to those under the US flag.
The FIDE-flagged Andrey Esipenko bested the beloved king of ultra fast time controls, Andrew Tang (aka, penguingm1). No slouch in rapid and blitz chess himself (the jury is out on bullet and ultrabullet), Esipenko had plenty of time in the rapid stages, winning both games. Doing so, Esipenko faced charismatic compatriot Alexander Grischuk (who had defeated Jeffery Xiong). Overcoming Grischuk in the blitz tiebreaks, Esipenko then met Gata Kamsky (who had defeated the NYT chess columnist and well-known commentator, Daniel Naroditsky). Winning one rapid game each, and then one blitz game each, the only Armageddon game of either knockout tournament was seen — with Esipenko getting the point and becoming the finalist to meet Hikaru Nakamura.
Nakamura had to knock out several of his compatriots in his route to the final. First came IM Andy Woodward — at 12 years old, the youngest of all players within the final 16. Woodward was kind enough to share a brief tournament report for us, which is given in full at the end of this article. He describes the match-up as a “David and Goliath story”:
“Right before the knockout games started, my opponent was changed to Hikaru (the top one seed). I started being nervous at first. Then I knew I didn’t have much chance. I decided to forget about the results. Just play for experience. The first game was up and down. I was better but blundered away in time trouble. I kind of bluffed in the second game because I needed a win to have a chance. I had an advantage at one point but wasn’t able to keep it.
Overall, it was a great, fun experience! I really appreciate the organizer for giving me this opportunity to play against many strong and experienced players!’
Nakamura had this comment to say of his experience against Woodward:
“I was impressed by the play of the young Andy Woodward who at the age of 12 is exhibiting some signs of a player who has a very bright future ahead of him.”
Nakamura went on to defeat another compatriot and prodigy, Awonder Liang, repeating this feat against another compatriot and prodigy — Sam Sevian. Looking unstoppable, Nakamura breezed to the finals, winning against Esipenko 2.5 / 4 with a game to spare.
Nakamura was the only player to play four knockout rounds, without going to a single blitz tiebreak. Meanwhile, in third place, Gata Kamsky defeated compatriot Sam Sevian.
At 34 years old, Hikaru Nakamura will be the oldest player in the field at Reykjavik. Currently the world number 6, Nakamura’s accomplishments within chess and corollary to it are well-known. First breaking into the top 10 in 2010, he had a peak rating of 2816 in 2015 and was the world number 2. Holding 5 US Championship titles, a participant in two Candidates Tournaments (most recently in Madrid 2022), and two bronze medals in Rapid World Championships, Nakamura will certainly be one of the favourites. Off the board, he is well-known as a social media influencer and chess personality, with nearly 1.5m followers on Twitch, and over 1.3m followers on YouTube.
Nakamura in 2016 (photo: Wikipedia)
IM Andy Woodward’s event report
I got the invitation to play in the FIDE CCC & NACCL online qualifier second stage tournament right before I left for a norm tournament in Seattle. I was very excited but didn’t have time to think about it until I came home a week later. I didn’t have experience playing the chess960 games. So I started looking up positions and briefly went through Wesley So’s Chessable course on chess960 (Thanks to a friend). I only had time to look at around 250 positions. But I found myself liking chess960 games a lot (maybe because it doesn’t require much opening preparations?)
I didn’t have any expectations when I played in the qualification stage because there were so many top Grandmasters. I was very lucky that my opponent made a mistake in the last round and quickly lost. I realized that I had a chance although quite a few games were still going on. I said a quick prayer and left the rest to God. I couldn’t believe that I was placed 15th place and made it to the knockout stage in the end!
I was just so thankful to have the opportunity to play against the top players. I was also nervous. My mom reminded me of the David and Goliath story. I was ready to practice more and do my best. But right before the knockout games started, my opponent was changed to Hikaru (the top one seed). I started being nervous at first. Then I knew I didn’t have much of a chance. I decided to forget about the results. Just play for experience. The first game was up and down. I was better but blundered away in time trouble. I kind of bluffed in the second game because I needed a win to have a chance. I had an advantage at one point but wasn’t able to keep it.
Overall, it was a great, fun experience! I really appreciate the organizer for giving me this opportunity to play against many strong and experienced players! I seldom participated in the online tournaments or the chess960 tournaments in the past because my parents rarely paid attention to them. This experience was beyond my expectations, both in smooth organization and in the strong field. I need to brush up my chess960 skills and hopefully get better next year! Thank you again for organizing this and for introducing Chess960 to me!