GMs Ian Nepomniachtchi and Hikaru Nakamura were confirmed on Saturday as the grand finalists for the 2022 Fischer Random World Championships after winning their respective semifinals by convincing margins.
Nakamura only needed three games to book his spot after dispatching the world rapid champion GM Nodirbek Abdusattorov 3-0, while Nepomniachtchi was equally impressive against GM Magnus Carlsen after losing the first game, bouncing back to take their match 3-1.
The finale of the Fischer Random World Championship will take place on October 30 at 8 a.m. PT / 17:00 CEST.
Four deserving semifinalists seemed impossible to split on paper however the position randomizer tried its best to throw the players with an oddly asymmetrical position selected for the first round of the day. Interestingly, the starting position only showed a 0.27 advantage for white, slightly less than that of a normal chess game.
The queenside was always going to be a target in such a setup and Nakamura did his best to distract Abdusattorov with a wild kingside rook lift on move three. Despite the diversion, the Uzbek GM was able to nab Nakamura’s a-pawn with his queen and assume a sizeable advantage. He relaxed a little too soon though and Nakamura pounced, trapping his queen and forcing an unfavorable exchange that cost him the game.
Carlsen finished what Abdusattorov could not and decimated Nepomniachtchi’s queenside with a perfectly timed bishop sacrifice. As if the bishop offering wasn’t enough, Carlsen then offered an additional exchange sacrifice to rub salt in his opponent’s wounds. The game wasn’t a perfect one and Carlsen had to prove himself in the endgame, following some stiff resistance from Nepomiachtchi. The world champion eventually pulled through to take the lead.
After an unbeaten streak in the group stage, Abdusattorov looked the least likely to go down without a serious fight but Nakamura was simply unstoppable on Saturday when push came to shove. The American blitzer’s second game was the most compelling of the day and he led from start to finish, surging to 2-0.
Looking to join his longtime rival on 2/2 in his own semifinal match, Carlsen appeared to be well on his way to a second win before several uncharacteristic blunders flipped the script. Carlsen’s 41. Rd2? was the worst of these and proved decisive, leaving the classical world champion with his head in his hands.
🌟 A miracle for Nepomniachtchi!
Carlsen is left with his face in his hands after a shocking, uncharacteristic blunder. #FischerRandom pic.twitter.com/ef0oha5h91
— ChesscomLive (@ChesscomLive) October 29, 2022
Round three saw the introduction of another unusual starting position where the player’s knights began on the a1 and h1 squares.
In a must-win situation, Abdusattorov opted for a big center setup against Nakamura and showed promising signs of a resurgence when he traded the queens and established two passed pawns on the c and d-files. The key moment of the game came when Abdusattorov had the opportunity to create a third passed pawn on move 21 but he missed his chance and Nakamura swiftly turned things around.
It almost seemed like Nakamura was in a rush on Saturday and now we realize why… he had to get back to his hotel to film his recap on the day’s play for Youtube, which he uploaded only an hour or two after the games finished. His analysis of his three games is well worth a watch!
A 3-0 match score didn’t do justice to the strength Abdusattorov showed in this tournament and it is easy to imagine that the 18-year-old will be a frontrunner for this, and other titles, in years to come.
Meanwhile, a crucial game was playing out between Carlsen and Nepomniachtchi who wrestled in a back-and-forth third game. Nepomniachtchi fought for the initiative from the get-go and was eventually rewarded for his efforts, prevailing in just 28 moves.
Our game of the day has been analyzed in detail by GM Rafael Leitao below.
If there is one player that you would tip to win on demand with black it would of course be Carlsen. From move one, the Norwegian world champion showed his intent to create imbalance and asymmetry and after seven moves each, Carlsen had only moved pawns! The strategy certainly paid off and Carlsen began looking for tricks and traps that would bother Nepomniachtchi but no water could be wrung from this stone on Saturday.
Carlsen definitely had the means to draw the game but given that only a win would see him progress he pressed and ultimately overpressed, resulting in a 3-1 margin in favor of Nepomniachtchi.
With both finalists having played confidence-boosting matches on Saturday, a high-octane showdown is expected in Sunday’s final between Nakamura and Nepomniachtchi. One of these players will be crowned the new Fischer Random world champion, so tune in to find out who will win.
The Fischer Random World Championship, brought to you by the Government of Iceland and the City of Reykjavik, gathers top players worldwide to compete in a series of classical Fischer Random games for their share of the $400,000 prize fund and the title of FIDE Fischer Random World Champion. Fischer Random (also known as Chess960) is a chess variant where all standard chess rules are the same, except for the starting position of the pieces, which can be in one of 960 semi-random setups. Heavily endorsed by the 11th world champion GM Bobby Fischer, the variant sidesteps opening preparation to highlight players’ true understanding of chess.