FTX Crypto Cup: Caruana tops; Carlsen, Nepomniachtchi survive

Ian Nepomniachtchi - Carlsen’s challenger for the World crown in November - also made a spectacular comeback scoring 3.5 points from four rounds to take the last qualifying spot of the knockout phase.

Having stayed away from the elite online tournaments since the suspension of the Candidates Tournament in 2020, Caruana topped the table with vengeance.   -  Getty Images

Facing elimination, Magnus Carlsen pulled off a sensational victory over in-form Teimour Radjabov in the 15th and final round to be among the quarterfinalists of the FTX Crypto Cup online rapid chess tournament on Tuesday.

On an action-filled final day of the preliminary league, Ian Nepomniachtchi - Carlsen’s challenger for the World crown in November - also made a spectacular comeback scoring 3.5 points from four rounds to take the last qualifying spot of the knockout phase.

When the dust settled, the quarterfinal line-up threw up some interesting face-offs. Carlsen was drawn to arch-rival Hikaru Nakamura while Nepomniachtchi clashed with leader Fabiano Caruana.

Having stayed away from the elite online tournaments since the suspension of the Candidates Tournament in March 2020, Caruana topped the table with vengeance, after failing to be the challenger for the world crown.

Even as Caruana cruised to tally 10 points, the talking point was whether Carlsen and Nepomniachtchi could make the ‘cut’.

Defeat in Monday's last round and four straight draws on Tuesday left Carlsen frustrated before the concluding round. He played white against Radjabov, knowing full well that any result other than a win meant the end of the road in this competition.

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With other contenders like Aronian facing last-man Alan Pichot, Nepomniachtchi playing an off-form Alexander Grischuk and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov taking on the unpredictable Daniil Dubov, Carlsen was a worried man.

As things turned out, Aronian expectedly beat Pichot to compound Carlsen’s problems. But Nepomniachtchi’s win over Grischuk ended Aronian’s campaign. Meanwhile, Dubov signed off with a win over Mamedyarov.

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After Carlsen managed to find the winning continuation against an already-qualified Radjabov, he made no secret what it meant to survive to fight another day.

“I was aware that I would very, very likely be out with a draw. I was following the other games a bit, but there was only so much that I could do. Fortunately, I managed to pull it off myself in the end, but it was nerve-wracking.

“Getting through is the most important thing, but obviously it’s a massive relief! So the first day was really, really bad and the second was a lot better but a really, really poor last game. And today (it) was just nerves. I felt really, really uneasy after losing the last game yesterday, and I never could find my rhythm at all today, and I’m just happy to survive,” remarked a relieved Carlsen.

Asked about his upcoming encounter with Nakamura, Carlsen said, “I guess it’s not ideal for either of us, but it’s a lot better than being out!”

The results:

15th round: Hikaru Nakamura (USA) drew with Fabiano Caruana (USA); Anish Giri (Ned) drew with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (Fra); Magnus Carlsen (Nor) bt Teimour Radjabov (Aze); Ding Liren (Chn) drew with Wesley So (USA); Alexander Grischuk (Rus) lost to Ian Nepomniachtchi (Rus); Daniil Dubov (Rus) bt Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Aze); Alireza Firouzja (FIDE) drew with Peter Svidler (Rus); Alan Pichot (Arg) lost to Levon Aronian (Arm).

14th round: Caruana drew with Carlsen; So drew with Giri; Svidler drew with Nakamura; Vachier bt Pichot; Radjabov drew with Dubov; Mamedyarov drew with Grischuk; Nepomniachtchi bt Ding; Aronian bt Firouzja.

13th round: Dubov lost to Caruana; Giri drew with Nepomniachtchi; Nakamura lost to Firouzja; Carlsen drew with Svidler; Pichot lost to So; Grischuk drew with Radjabov; Vachier drew with Aronian; Ding drew with Mamedyarov;

12th round: Caruana bt Grischuk; Mamedyarov drew with Giri; Aronian drew with Nakamura; So drew with Vachier; Radjabov bt Ding; Firouzja drew with Carlsen; Svidler drew with Dubov; Nepomniachtchi bt Pichot;

11th round: Ding drew with Caruana; Giri bt Radjabov; So drew with Aronian; Carlsen drew with Nakamura; Dubov lost to Firouzja; Grischuk bt Svidler; Vachier bt Nepomniachtchi; Pichot lost to Mamedyarov.

Standings: 1. Caruana (10 points), 2-5. Giri, Nakamura, Vachier, So (9); 6-7. Carlsen, Radjabov (8.5), 8-9. Nepomniachtchi, Aronian (8), 10. Mamedyarov (7.5), 11-13. Firouzja, Svidler, Ding (7), 14. Dubov (6), 15. Grischuk (5), 16. Pichot (1.5).

Quarterfinal line-up: Caruana-Nepomniachtchi; So-Vachier; Carlsen-Nakamura; Radjabov-Giri.

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