The Winners Semifinals of the 2022 Rapid Chess Championship presented by Coinbase transpired on Friday in two colossal clashes that saw GMs Hikaru Nakamura and Ian Nepomniachtchi progress to the Winners Final.
GMs Wesley So and Vladimir Fedoseev both fought valiantly in their respective matches and will have second chances to return to the Winners Bracket should they prove triumphant in the Losers Bracket. Joining them there will be GMs Parham Maghsoodloo, Ding Liren, Dmitry Andreikin, and Fabiano Caruana, who all won their respective matches to keep their tournament chances alive.
The Winners Final, as well as the Losers Round Three and Quarterfinals. will take place on August 20, starting at 9 a.m. PT/18:00 CEST.
How to watch?
Hoping to recover from last week’s knockout loss against So, Nakamura was extra careful with his opening choices in Friday’s semifinal match, opting for a swap to 1.d4 in the opening game. Having played 1.Nf3 for the majority of his RCC games this season, the calculated decision to swap clearly paid off as Nakamura obtained a +2 position after just 20 moves. So, who was hunched over a chair that he was using as a table for his laptop, created enough counterplay to stabilize the position, eventually securing a draw in 58 moves.
With everything on the line in the second game, So chose the Italian Game as his poison of choice but could not find a way through the stiff defense thrown up by Nakamura. In the end, Nakamura’s knight pair ended up doing the damage, winning one of So’s pawns and allowing the American streamer to quickly convert.
In the second semifinal match, Fedoseev was not in the mood to fight with the white pieces after Nepomniachtchi played a Semi-Tarrasch Defense in the first game. Fedoseev chose the unusual 5.Be3 which had been reached at the master level just three times prior to the game. Nothing came of the novelty and a 21-move draw ensued, putting immense pressure on Fedoseev with the black pieces in the second, but this game was also drawn.
Nepomniachtchi moved up a few gears in the final game and decided to go for a more aggressive Catalan than his game-two attempt. Fedoseev began to fall back and set up a fortress-like defense, but Nepomniachtchi was knife-sharp, finding a brilliant knight sacrifice that left the world championship challenger in a dominant position.
Nepomniachtchi’s win earned him a match in the Winners Final against Nakamura and it is anyone’s guess who will win the blockbuster showdown on Saturday.
Losers Round One
Inspiring play in the Losers Bracket on Friday showed that several players are still worthy contenders to challenge the eventual winner of the top bracket. GM Alexander Grischuk was completely winning in his first game against Maghsoodloo, although consecutive blunders after a brilliant move left him hopelessly lost.
Unable to find his feet after, Grischuk was eliminated by the Iranian GM after a comfortable hold in the second game.
Ding was anything but shy on the board in his games on Friday and dispatched GM Jose Martinez, scoring 1.5/2. During the second game, Ding flashed his tactical prowess with the incisive 37.Rxd4 that left both of his rooks hanging after a previous rook sacrifice by his opponent had gone awry! Sadly, neither rook could be taken by the Peruvian number two and he laid down his sword just six moves later.
Andreikin’s match against GM David Paravyan was one of the more straightforward of the day after the former European blitz champion won a pawn with the white pieces in the first game. In the second, Paravyan could not crack Andreikin’s solid Berlin Defense, and a 1.5-0.5 match result was quickly confirmed.
After a disappointing Round of 16 loss yesterday, Caruana hurdled over GM Maxim Matlakov with two wins, returning to the form that saw him win multiple Swiss and knockout events in the RCC’s inaugural season.
Losers Round Two
GMs Daniil Dubov and Maghsoodloo, both known for their dynamic playing styles, faced off in the second round in a Queen’s Indian Defense. Neither player was able to find ways to break through until Dubov capitulated on move 35, allowing Maghsoodloo to trick his opponent with a passed pawn and win the game in one fell swoop.
With the white pieces, it was the Iranian GM who again leaped to an advantageous position against Dubov’s Semi-Slav, but this time a draw was agreed upon in order to secure the match.
Ding capped off a near-perfect day with a 2-0 drubbing of the rapid world champion GM Nordibek Abdusattorov. The Uzbek GM’s dream run came crashing down after he was punished in the first game for loosening the pawns around his king, allowing an inspired Ding to lacerate his kingside.
Andreikin looked slightly sharper than GM Jeffery Xiong in their encounter after winning the first game in just 16 moves! Xiong clapped back in the second though, and an armageddon tiebreak was needed to split the two. Andreikin was able to build a small advantage out of the Symmetrical English Opening before bringing down the hammer with a nicely placed seventh-rank rook, securing his spot in the next round.
GM Alexey Sarana has been one of the shining stars of the RCC season and fought with gusto in his finals matches, but his tournament was brought to an abrupt halt on Friday by Caruana. The match was not without hiccups for the American GM, who needed to bounce back from a 0-1 deficit, though in the armageddon tiebreak he displayed world-class preparation to rout his opponent with the Nimzo-Indian Defense.
Day 2 Standings
All Games | Winners Semifinals
The Rapid Chess Championship Finals is Chess.com’s biggest and most elite rapid tournament. It is a 16-player knockout event with a 10+2 time control. If players draw, a single armageddon game with a bidding system determines the winner. The total prize fund of the RCC is $650,000, with a $150,000 prize for the finals alone.
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