Fabiano Caruana called it a miracle that he beat Alireza Firouzja from a position two pawns down on the way to winning their ChessKid Cup showdown 1.5:0.5. Fabiano will now play Jules Moussard, who overcame Dmitrij Kollars, for a place in the Grand Final, where the opponent will be Nodirbek Abdusattorov. The 18-year-old Uzbek grandmaster survived some tricky moments to send Jorden van Foreest down to the Losers bracket.
As on Day 2, the most anticipated showdown on Day 3 of the ChessKid Cup was in the Division I Losers bracket, where either Fabiano Caruana or Alireza Firouzja would be eliminated.
Caruana had the white pieces in Game 1, but his ambitious pushing of his h-pawn backfired, as he ended up two pawns down and then was hit by Firouzja’s own wielding of the h-pawn as a weapon.
Fabiano later commented:
The first game was a miracle, I think that’s the only way to put it! I was two pawns down, and maybe on a very good day you draw that position, with some luck, but winning it is almost unthinkable.
It seemed just to be a matter of how to convert, with Alireza at one point rejecting an exchange of queens that would have led to a winning knight endgame. Soon afterwards he lost control, but then again, right at the end, Black was winning.
57…Qe4+! 58.Kg1 Qe1+ 59.Kg2 Ne3+ gives Black the win. Fabiano commented:
At the end he had this Qe4 move, which was just completely winning. That would be game over, but of course when it gets down to seconds anything can happen.
It was unfortunate for Firouzja that the seemingly similar check 57…Qc2+? just lost on the spot to 58.Kh3. There’s no way to trap the white king, and after 58…f5 59.Qf8+ Alireza resigned, since it’s checkmate next move.
That meant Firouzja had to win the second game on demand, and with 22.c5!? it seemed he might get chances.
Fabi dug deep and correctly calculated 22…bxc5! 23.dxc5 Bxc5 24.Qxd7 Bxf2+! 25.Kxf2 Rcd8!, when it seems objectively best for White would be to allow a draw by perpetual check. That would be no good for Alireza, however, so he gave up his queen with 26.Qxe8+!? instead.
Fabiano confessed that the resulting material imbalance made him feel “extremely nervous”, until Alireza simply blundered a full bishop on e4.
I guess he wasn’t fully there today, because also the second game his blunder at the end really shows that he wasn’t seeing the board very clearly.
Fabiano will now play Jules Moussard for a place in the Grand Final after Jules took down Dmitrij Kollars. The players traded wins with the white pieces, and then Jules credited a “bluff” for giving him the win he needed in Armageddon.
Dmitrij thought for a minute and just accepted the loss of the c7-pawn with 23…Rf7, but in fact he could have played 23…Qxc7!, since 24.Qxd5+ Kg7 25.Rxe4 runs into 25…Rd8!
You need to see a move further, however, since 26.Qb3 only fails to win for White because of 26…Rxf3!, when 27.gxf3 Qxg3+, then capturing on f3 and d1, is decisive. In the game Dmitrij never got another chance, and was also plagued by connection issues.
Jules noted of playing Caruana:
I have to take revenge for my countryman Alireza! He lost to Kollars, and I took revenge, and now it’s my turn to do the same with Fabi, I hope.
The player Caruana and Moussard will be playing to face is Nodirbek Abdusattorov, who defeated Jorden van Foreest in the Winners final.
After a quiet 1st game this match exploded in the second, when we got some mind-blowing complications based on the theme of back-rank mate. 23.Qxa6!? was just the start.
It was actually possible to take on a6, with a level position, but Jorden declined with 23…Bd4 and chaos ensued. The threats and counterthreats meant anyone could lose track, as Nodirbek did when he played 31.d6? instead of simply winning the f2-bishop with 31.Rxf2!
I played 30.Qf3, but honestly my plan was playing d6, as in the game, so after he played 30…f5 I just immediately played d6, because this was my initial plan. I just didn’t see Rxf2. It was some kind of hallucination that I’m getting mated.
Nodirbek Abdusattorov's Norway Chess warm-up is going almost perfectly
After 31…Bh4! the game ended in a draw, but Nodirbek did take the lead in the next game after spotting the shot 22…Nxe3!, exploiting the unfortunate square the white queen had just been placed on.
Whatever White does, Black is winning material, and although Jorden did everything he could to complicate matters it wasn’t enough.
That meant Jorden had to win the final game with the black pieces, which was looking unlikely until 35.Rb7? allowed 35…f5! to come as a thunderbolt.
It was an echo of how Jorden had won with Black in the final round of the Tata Steel Masters to deny Nodirbek his first supertournament victory, but this time Nodirbek managed to hold on. He explained:
I missed f5. I totally missed this idea of trapping my bishop on f3, and I was very lucky to be able to play 36.e3 and I have this [36…Qc4] 37.Qa1 trick, to coordinate my pieces. Otherwise I would just have been getting crushed there. It’s very tough.
One or two inaccuracies and the advantage had gone, with Nodirbek clinching his third match win in a row.
He now gets to rest on Thursday, before on Friday he’ll play the Grand Final, which will be a rematch against Jules Moussard, Fabiano Caruana or Jorden van Foreest.
If any of those players is going to get revenge they’ll need to do it twice, since if Nodirbek is beaten once he also gets a second chance in a 2-game Grand Final reset.