Semifinalists clear - Caruana, So and Nepomniachtchi join Carlsen
October 18, 2019

The third and final day of the World Fischer Random Chess Championship provided plenty of sharp exciting play - but also some surprisingly abrupt results - all of the matches were decided in the fast rapid games, and two of them were clinched in the minimum of three total games.

The all-American clash between top chess seed Fabiano Caruana and former FR titleholder Hikaru Nakamura was the first to finish. Just as on day one, Caruana banked a 'slow rapid' win with black in game one. This very 'chessy' positional performance gave him a three-point lead.

On day one, Caruana's opponent Peter Svidler managed to mount steady pressure and carve away at the lead for a while, but a Nakamura comeback didn't materialize today. The second slow game was a hard-fought draw, and then a sparkling, carefree attacking display with white in the first 'fast rapid' game brought Fabiano another win and an insurmountable lead.

One of the striking things about Caruana's play in this game is how it very clearly followed the philosophy he described in his post-match interview on day one. There Fabiano said that he felt aiming for a classical center (e4-d4) was just as much a priority for him in Fischer Random, because he feels that most chess principles should still apply in this variant.

The battle between Wesley So and Vladimir Fedoseev promised to be a volatile clash of styles. Although Wesley has demonstrated quite a universal style in his FR games in this event so far, his surprising ability to handle any old random setup and make it look quite harmonious has been noteworthy. Fedoseev revels in attack and chaos ... and some strange things happened in their duel.

Fedoseev was the bottom seed but a major handful.

The first slow game was sedate and 'normal', but with black in game two, Fedoseev raised the stakes with a speculative piece sacrifice. He was eventually saddled with a long defensive task, and a fascinating technical duel ensued. Incredibly, and heartbreakingly, Fedoseev inexplicably blundered horribly after reaching a drawn position, with plenty of time left on his clock. 

The first fast rapid game was insanely complicated, So finally getting a grip on things when the clock added to the Russian's obstacles, and American number two booked a ticket to the semifinal in Norway. 

So was back, and through.

Speaking of Americans, I can imagine that Nakamura might be doing a slow burn after pulling Caruana out of the hat as his opponent, and seeing the rival he beat on day one - So - advancing to the next stage. This scenario could have been even more infuriating as an outcome of the day's third pairing.

Nakamura eliminated - tempted to feel unlucky?

And speaking of infuriating, despite having produced the most painful error of the event to torpedo his chances, Fedoseev was still happy to get some more Fischer Random experience in - he and So were the only ones to complete the full set of games after a decision was reached. All the matches up to now had featured this voluntary approach of playing all games out, but only these two had the heart for it at event's end. For the record, Fedoseev won fast rapid game two, and the final blitz game to narrow the gap.

The third match of the day was actually a rematch - Iranian teenager Alireza Firouzja getting a second chance to get past Ian Nepomniachtchi. Their first meeting went to Armageddon, and the pressure must have been high on the Russian favorite - getting eliminated by the return of someone you already beat would be an incredibly irritating plot twist.

After beating Vidit Gujrathi in the comeback round on day two, Firouzja admitted in the post-match interview that he could think of more tempting pairings than facing Ian again...

Ian Nepomniachtchi - focused favorite.

After being taken the distance by Firouzja on day one, 'Nepo' seemed to be a bit sharper this time around, and he applied maximum match pressure by breaking through with white in the first, slow rapid, game with a smooth technical performance.

Ian forced a draw in game two with a cute tactical sequence, but got bogged down trying to defend as black in the first fast rapid game. The commentary team was first stunned by how far behind on the clock the habitually speedy Nepomniachtchi was, and there was pressure on the board as well. Firouzja delivered his own smooth white win to narrow the gap, but with these games only worth two points a win, there was still a point to make up.

The one thing Alireza could not afford though, was to lose another game. The second fast rapid game was razor sharp, and Nepomniachtchi produced some sparkling attacking chess when given the chance, ending the contest before the blitz phase.

The broadcast, including post-match interviews, is available for viewing.

And so, the semifinalists are clear. Besides Caruana's sage assessment of how important chess fundamentals are in the arena of the random start, it is worth noting that the classical Elo favorites rather than the big FR number-holders emerged to join Magnus Carlsen in Norway. In the end, this variant does appear to be, very much chess.

The next stage of the event will of course be live and over-the-board, which will allow for wider dissemination of the games as they happen. In accordance with chess hysteria levels in Norway, and the popularity of the Nakamura-Carlsen FR match last year, state broadcaster NRK is expected to televise every minute, and the venue should sell out again. Get ready for the FR revival!