Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Hikaru Nakamura, and Anish Giri won Play-In matches to take the remaining spots in Division I of the AI Cup, joining Magnus Carlsen, Alireza Firouzja, Ian Nepomniachtchi and Denis Lazavik in the last regular event of the 2023 Champions Chess Tour season.
Grandmasters David Howell and Robert Hess commentated on the AI Cup Play-In on Monday, September 18.
Repeating his result in the Julius Baer Generation Cup Play-In, Fabiano Caruana rose to first among a field of 171 titled players. In the penultimate round, he defeated Georg Meier, who had earlier beaten Hikaru Nakamura and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, with creative play in a tense battle.
Anish Giri swept his last four games to finish second. In the penultimate round, he defeated Sam Sevian by spotting a tactical nuance.
Jan-Krzysztof Duda went undefeated, finishing with the top tiebreaks of the pack of eight players on 6.5 points. He served Giri his only loss of the event in round three. Playing the appropriately-named "Freak Attack" of 6.Rg1 vs. Giri's Sicilian Nadjorf, Duda created active play on all sides of the board, ultimately conjuring up an unstoppable attack on the king.
Dmitry Andreikin, Vladimir Fedoseev, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Hikaru Nakamura finished in fourth to eighth, moving onto the Match Play stage.
One of the most stunning upsets of the tournament was FM Garg Aradhya's win over the 14th world champion, Vladimir Kramnik. The Indian FIDE master played with verve from the opening, sacrificing an exchange for intuitive and lasting compensation in the form of his bishop pair, activity and control of the center.
In a two-game match, the top eight battled for the four Division I qualification spots. None of the favorites won the first game. Dmitry Andreikin upset Hikaru Nakamura in a positional duel featuring a stunning tactical insight. This is our Game of the Day, annotated by GM Rafael Leitao below.
Ever the fighter, Nakamura evened the score on demand in the next game, sending the match into overtime.
In the armageddon playoff, Andreikin had Nakamura on the ropes as he advanced his passers in the rook ending, but Nakamura snuck away in the last seconds, winning the match with a draw with Black.
The top finisher gets to choose their opponent for the Match Play, and Fabiano Caruana may have ended up regretting his choice of Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. In his signature aggressive style, the Azerbaijani grandmaster defeated Caruana in a tactical duel with Black in their first game, setting the tone for the match.
In game two, Mamedyarov gained the initative and an extra pawn in the early middlegame. Yet, Caruana later had chances to fight back. Can you find the American grandmaster's missed opportunity in the puzzle below?
Black to move.
In the end, Mamedyarov paralyzed Caruana's position and then crashed through with a mating combination when the world no. 2 tried to stir up unsupported counterplay, due to his must-win position.
After starting with a draw, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave achieved a commanding position out of the opening vs. Jan-Krzysztof Duda in Game 2, and the Polish grandmaster never quite got back into the game.
Anish Giri and Vladimir Fedoseev drew both their rapid games, sending matters into an armageddon playoff. Giri bid just over seven minutes for draw odds with Black and successfully held the balance in a double-edged game.
The four qualifiers join Magnus Carlsen, Alireza Firouzja, Ian Nepomniachtchi and Denis Lazavik in the AI Cup main event that begins on September 25.
Since Magnus is the top seed and Hikaru finished 8th in the Swiss we're set to see Carlsen-Nakamura on Day 1!