“Happy that the old guys are winning”

Fabiano Caruana will challenge Magnus Carlsen in the final

Even the world’s best at Chess960 cannot rule out early accidents. Magnus Carlsen’s recipe, however, was to move the early accident to before the game and then things would run smoothly on the board. After a shaving mishap, Carlsen started the game against Nodirbek Abdusattorov with a patch on his chin. He was spared any further accidents.

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Magnus Carlsen cruised into the final. Photo: Maria Emelianova

After two and a half hours, Abdusattorov stopped trying to win – a draw. The G.O.A.T. cruised into the final of the freestyle challenge named after him. He will face Fabiano Caruana there on Thursday and Friday, a rematch of the 2018 World Championship match.

Carlsen watched the almost seven-hour, back-and-forth semi-final battle between Caruana and Aronian without any preference for one or the other final opponent. “I’m mainly happy that the old guys are winning,” he explained with a laugh. Already before the last two days, the kings of chess have kept the jacks at bay this time.

match fabi lev

via chess.com

Carlsen’s final challenger had a much tougher time than Carlsen in the semi-finals. Caruana first had to blunder two rooks and break the Weissenhaus heart rate record (170!) out of sheer nervousness before he prevailed against Levon Aronian in Armageddon.

While the audience in the hall applauded and the one at the screens was still staring open-mouthed, Aronian took the defeat at the end of a wild duel with laconicism. “That was fun,” said the 41-year-old after six games, stood up and left for a glass of Borino, the fermented champagne without alcohol that most players and staff have come to enjoy.

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“That was fun”: Levon Aronian in his personal player’s space. Photo: Maria Emelianova 

After a series of dramatic ups and downs, it took Caruana longer to get his heart rate down into double figures. “I’m still shaking,” he explained in the Freestyle TV studio, where he went through critical moments of the six games with commentator Niclas Huschenbeth.

The world number two doesn’t actually want to play the competition so tensely. “I feel comfortable here, I like the game, I actually want to enjoy it without any pressure,” explained Caruana. But he just can’t calm his competitive heart. “As soon as I sit at the board, it gets intense.”

Aronian and Abdusattorov will now play for third place. Alireza Firouzja and Gukesh are the winners of the two semi-finals in the lower half of the tournament. Both will now fight in the match for fifth place for the place offered by organizer Jan Henric Buettner in the (probable) 2025 edition of the WEISSENHAUS Freestyle Chess G.O.A.T. Challenge. Vincent Keymer and Ding Liren will contest the match for seventh place.

Magnus Carlsen vs. Nodirbek Abdusattorov

He needed a few days to fully warm up, but it seems that Carlsen is there where he wants to be. Thanks to another good game against Abdusattorov, where he could force a draw from a close to winning position, the Norwegian star was the first to reach the final of the inaugural WEISSENHAUS Freestyle Chess G.O.A.T. Challenge.

“I’m really happy just to be here,” he said about reaching the final, when his opponent wasn’t known yet: “I feel like I’m finding my form a bit. I’m calm, I’m spending my time and I feel like I’m hitting my form at least a bit so regardless of whom I’ll play, I’m very pleased.”

Carlsen arrived somewhat late in the playing hall, too late to join the other players in the 10-minute pre-game analysis. Already after the second move he entered the confession booth, saying he was “quite optimistic” about the start of the game.

He even did a second confession, about 1.5 hours later, where he started with “I love this game.” He pointed out that the players had already spent half of their thinking time over the first seven moves, and that things were about to be heating up. Afterward, he elaborated a bit more on his excitement: “It’s obviously hard but it’s so interesting to have completely new situations from move one and each day and actually have some time to think about it, so yeah, it’s awesome.”

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Nodirbek Abdusattorov didn’t manage to put up a great fight against Magnus Carlsen. Photo: Maria Emelianova

Abdusattorov made an inaccuracy on move 10, and then committed a bigger mistake four moves later, missing a fairly simple tactic. It basically shut down his winning chances completely, and as soon as Carlsen saw a way to force a draw, he went for it.

Before the semifinals, Carlsen had called his opponent the player who had shown the best chess, but especially on the second day things went easier than expected: “Today he never really got a position where he could play for anything and then it’s hard to use his abilities there.”

At a moment when Aronian and Caruana still had to start their playoff, Carlsen said he didn’t mind much who would be his opponent: “I’m really just happy that the old guys are winning so regardless of whom I’m playing, it will be a lot of fun!”

Fabiano Caruana vs. Levon Aronian

Fabiano Caruana was winning in each of the six games against Levon Aronian, and yet the two US super-grandmasters played the most exciting match of the WEISSENHAUS Freestyle Chess GOAT Challenge so far, crowned by the first Armageddon game of the tournament.

“The problem was that I gave him two rooks,” Caruana explained afterwards. His blunders treated the spectators to almost seven hours of ups and downs, which were dramatic right to the end.

Aronian had won the first semi-final game, so Caruana had to strike back in the classical game. Caruana described the masterpiece to open the day as “probably my best game today”, which began symmetrically-innocently until gradually more and more pressure built up on Aronian’s uncastled king.

The score was 1:1, two rapid games followed. The first went very well for Caruana, who captured a gambit pawn, held on to it and then gradually took command. At one point the clock read 4 minutes vs. 10 seconds for Caruana. But on the board, oh dear:

Again, Aronian only needed a draw to win the match. What he played, however, was anything but solid and drawable. The creative devil on his shoulder had whispered to him to make an early queen foray and not to touch any pawns.

2:2. Blitz. Caruana again clearly dominated the opener with Black. And he also had the second game under control. But Caruana fans who thought he would now bring home the won endgame saw this:

The second rook blundered! 3:3, Armageddon. The rules go like this: Whoever is willing to play with less time gets Black. White gets 5 minutes (no increment) and has to win.

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How does this work? Chief arbiter Gregor Johann explains what to do now. Photo: Maria Emelianova

Levon Aronian offered 4:14 minutes, Caruana 4:11 – so he had Black. And played another convincing game in which he soon caught up with Aronian on the clock and was in control on the board. Aronian tried to turn the tide with a desperate sacrifice, but this time things ended regularly:

Alireza Firouzja vs. Ding Liren

A draw was not enough for Ding, but nonetheless his game with Firouzja was one of the best games he has played here at WEISSENHAUS. With a win already in the pocket, Firouzja was happy to trade queens early and seek more exchanges, but in the meantime, Ding’s slight endgame advantage was increasing little by little.

It does look like Ding had one chance, on move 30, to make his opponent’s life quite difficult but when he forgot to include an important check, Firouzja could trade more pawns after which it was not so hard anymore to secure the draw he needed.

Yesterday, Firouzja said that he is playing “without pressure,” but that might have changed since organizer Jan Henric Buettner announced that the top five players will be invited for next year’s tournament. That’s an extra incentive to fight in the remaining games, apart from the $15,000 to be won here.

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Alireza Firouzja stays in the fight for fifth place, Ding Liren will fight for seventh. Photo: Lennart Ootes

Gukesh vs. Vincent Keymer

Organizer Jan Henric Buettner had announced an extra prize for the four players in the semi-finals of the lower half of the tournament. The fifth-placed player in the 2024 tournament would qualify for the probable 2025 re-run.

This door is still open for Gukesh after his victory in the playoff against Vincent Keymer. “I’m very happy about that,” he said afterwards. He had hardly expected this after his opening defeat with the white pieces. “I just wanted to play a good game. It was a bit lucky that we got a very complex position in which Vincent wasted a lot of time right from the start. In the end, his position simply collapsed.”

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After the initial loss, Gukesh didn’t expect to turn the match against Vincent Keymer around. Photo: Maria Emelianova

Peter Leko saw early on that this white game was not going well for his protégé Vincent Keymer. “I’m not happy with it, it’s not Vincent’s style,” lamented the Hungarian when Keymer came out of the opening very passively.

A little later in the confession booth, it emerged that Vincent Keymer wasn’t happy either. He saw “no reason to be proud” in view of a game that went against him right from the start.

So Gukesh had countered Keymer’s opening black win. 1:1 after the classical games – play-off. “I was completely relaxed,” Gukesh reports. He played free of pressure. Good games came out of it, especially the first, which he won with White despite considerable pressure on the clock.

“In the second, I was completely lost for a while. But I kept defending as best I could.” Then this happened:

By Conrad Schormann and Peter Doggers

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