An all-American semifinals led GM Fabiano Caruana to best the field for the second week in a row, winning week three of the 2022 Rapid Chess Championship presented by Coinbase. GM Jeffery Xiong finished second while the other American heroes, GM Hikaru Nakamura and GM Wesley So fell in the semifinals. Joining the Americans on the second day were GM Daniil Dubov, GM Alexey Sarana, GM Le Quang Liem, and GM Maxim Matlakov, their runs ultimately ending in the quarterfinals.
Participating in the event were 42 elite players on the FIDE top 100 list, top 10 women, and top 10 juniors in the world, alongside 10 wildcards. The event will continue next weekend, March 5-6, starting at 9 A.M. Pacific/18:00 Central European.
How to watch?
The Rapid Chess Championship is a weekly tournament held by Chess.com. It is a nine-round Swiss event with a 10+0 time control held every Saturday, followed by a knockout event on Sunday between the top eight finishers and a 10+2 time control. If players draw, they play another 3+2 game; if drawn, they play a 1+1 game; and if that is drawn, a single armageddon game is played.
Another week down in the Swiss containing some of the world’s elite players. In a previous recap, it has been stated that there are no clear favorites. While this author tends to agree if that statement is directed to the overall winner of the event, a case can be made that a certain few are standout favorites to make it to the final day of play. Players such as Nakamura, Caruana, So, and Dubov have made it known week in and week out that they are the players to beat.
Unfortunately for this old dog, who last week was excited by the names of GMs Aleksey Dreev and Peter Svidler making it to the knockout, this week was a week of the young guns, with Xiong, Sarana, and Matlakov joining the fray. While these aren’t necessarily household names just yet, viewers here certainly know these warriors and should be excited about the state of chess being carried into the future.
Caruana sliced his way through this elite field, continuing his hot streak from the previous week, finishing 7/9—half a point ahead of the field. His impressive result came despite again having the standard Berlin draw against both Nakamura and So. Perhaps one of his best wins came late in the event against Dubov, almost knocking the latter out of contention.
Dubov, on the other hand, did not have it as easy as Caruana, and with a loss in the penultimate round, he needed to rally back to win his last game just to make it to the knockout portion. A game which he most surely will forget, he was able to sneak by GM Hans Moke Niemann despite being lost, to assure his place in the knockout.
The final two rounds as usual were mayhem as players were jockeying for spots atop the leaderboard. One final player who has been mentioned previously but not gotten the credit he deserves is Le, who, with a bit of fortune by winning on time in round eight, all but secured his destiny into the final day.
As usual, the Swiss was a bloodbath with the best of the best showing their stuff, much to the delight of the viewers. To those of you who may be a smidge perturbed by the (in)famous Berlin draw, I question, dear reader, would you show your best plays in the scrimmage game?
Saturday Swiss | Final Standings (Top 20)
(Full final standings here.)
Unlike last week, where we had a quarterfinal match go to a 1+1 game, this week was the opposite. The players flew through the quarterfinals in what seemed like a blink of an eye. The first match was a rematch of Caruana-Dubov as mentioned earlier in this report, where Caruana deviated on move one by playing d4, leading to a Slav.
After an early e3 from Caruana, forgoing a4, Dubov had the option to play b5, which this author believed to be critical. The position becomes almost identical to the main line of the Slav in the game without white having to play a4, inducing a weakness to the b4 square. 14.h4 would have been the metaphorical nail in Dubov’s coffin but was missed by Caruana, though the position still remained clearly better for the white player.
The game ultimately ended with Dubov being pressured by the clock and missing a knight sacrifice draw, despite putting up epic defenses and ultimately falling.
The Nakamura-Le quarterfinal saw the American usher out his standard early b3 structures. Hikaru is arguably the driving force behind the popularity of this line and while he doesn’t get winning positions often out of the opening, he gets a playable position full of life and avoids a ton of theory. 19…Rfb8 led to disaster when in a very sharp position, Black should have played the cold-blooded bxa1=Q. Black’s move allowed White to play 20. e8=Q! and cement an overwhelming advantage. An incredible fight with both players having the ability to make a queen via promotion by move 20!
So-Sarana was the only match to not finish in the first game, with the players making a quick draw via perpetual in a Rossolimo Sicilian and So cleaning things up with the black pieces in the following game. The draw came as a curious surprise to the author, who believed that Sarana could have continued with 21…Qc6!—the analysis with the silicon monster can be viewed below.
The final game of the quarterfinals came between Xiong and Matlakov, with the American prevailing and allowing for all-American semifinals. The game started off with a London and just as this author was about to start doing anything else to avoid the inevitable snooze fest, the game became quite sharp. White was able to play an early c4 and Qb3, putting pressure on b7 thanks to an early Bf5 by black.13…a5 was an understandable mistake, wanting to avoid 13…Nbd7 14.Ba6, but this was in fact the best continuation. After 13…a5 black had nothing to really show for the pawn and in a short time, we were off to the semis.
Caruana-Nakamura in the semifinal is exactly why you shouldn’t show your cards in noncritical games, with Fabi busting out the home prep, much to the dismay of Nakamura. While Caruana’s 11.h4 followed by 12.h5 by no means refutes Black’s setup, it does show that h4 and h5 is ALWAYS a good idea and should always be played (joking, of course). The turning point came when Nakamura played 16…c5 instead of the more combative …c6.
In the post-tournament interview, Fabi mentioned that he believed this line was dead, but found an interesting idea where white castles long instead of short. While he was planning on playing it in an event, a week after he discovered the line, it was played by GM Rauf Mamedov and then about twenty other players.
So-Xiong got off to a rocky start with the players needing to abort as they were playing the wrong colors. Once the glitch was fixed, it seemed like So got a comfortable position in an Italian with a lot of space, especially after playing e5. Unfortunately, he quickly lost the thread and missed the brilliant 20…Nxg2 where white can comfortably resign, the game ended a few moves later.
The final game between Caruana-Xiong was a hedgehog, with White getting a dream position—at least optically. Don’t be fooled though, the hedgehog is known to be a tough nut to crack, but Xiong missed the mark with his h5-h4 plan and quickly found himself in a difficult position. 20.c5, while not loved by the engine, put a lot of pressure on Black’s position and forced accuracy, with Xiong ultimately succumbing to the pressure.
While Caruana may have had a tumultuous few days, playing the swiss from the lobby of a hotel, traveling home, and playing the knockout from his home, he showed that he was in top form. He did leave with a nugget of wisdom that: “although [he was] happy that [he had] White every game, perhaps that is a slight defect with the format.” A true class act, winning with grace but also highlighting that perhaps he had it easier than others.
The winner of the Swiss and the knockout was Fabiano Caruana with Jeffrey Xiong finishing as the runner-up. Below are the full standings and prizes of the knockout.
Sunday Knockout | Final Standings
|5-8||Le Quang Liem||Quarterfinalist||$1,000|
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