GM Hikaru Nakamura was crowned FIDE Fischer Random World Chess Champion on Sunday after winning a thrilling Armageddon tiebreaker final against GM Ian Nepomniachi.
Splitting the points in their four-game mini-tournament, Nakamura saved his best effort for the decider and won his first World Championship title in 50 years in Reykjavík, paying tribute to the heroics of the format’s namesake, GM Bobby Fischer. At the height of the Cold War, the American GM defeated Boris Spassky.
Nakamura won $150,000 for winning the event, with the remaining $400,000 in prize money split between the other participants.
In the consolation races, GM Magnus Carlsen overtook world rapid champion GM Nodirbek Abdusatorov to round out the podium, recovering from a 1-0 deficit in the process.
Congratulations @GMHikaru 2022 to succeed #fisher random World Championship! 🏆
He played brilliantly all week and won the final Armageddon tiebreak against Nepo to clinch the title! 👏 pic.twitter.com/ZwhA0FyacQ
— Chess.com (@chesscom) October 30, 2022
The final day of the Fisher Random World Championship would culminate in Nakamura and Nepomniachi’s first single player world title, and tensions were high from the moment the clocks struck at 3pm local time.
The starting positions in the first two races were relatively straightforward. Key features include a queen in the corner and bishops remaining in their normal squares.
Playing with the black pieces, Nakamura suddenly took command of the center and pushed Nepomniachi back. Unable to wrestle the lead from Nakamura, Nepomniachi eventually succumbed to a trick that cost him a piece.
Although the early defeat hurt his chances of winning the title, Nepomniachi was well aware that a comeback was possible after a brilliant comeback against Carlson in Saturday’s semi-final.
In the second game, Nakamura was able to move into a position that resembled his trusty Nimsowitz-Larsen opening, which he has performed well in online tournaments over the years. By move 40, Nakamura gained +2.5 but instead of pressing for the win, he chose to repeat the moves.
With his shoulder under heavy pressure, Nepomniachi hit at the perfect time in the third game, handing Nakamura his first (and only) loss of the entire event. Nepomniachtchi was clinical with the black pieces and confidently sacrificed an exchange in move 20 to open up attacking lines on the queenside to bring the score head to head in the final regulation game.
Nakamura stunned onlookers in the fourth game by offering a draw on move 15 after an early draw with the black pieces, prompting leading commentator Hess to ask: “Are they allowed to offer a draw?!” Both players were happy to settle matters with an Armageddon tiebreaker, but the loser inevitably regrets the unfinished business in the fourth round.
“Are they allowed to draw?!” –@GM_Hess
An Armageddon heading into the playoffs with Nepo vs. Nakamura #fisher random The World Championship still hangs in the balance! pic.twitter.com/B6TA7pcHNP
— ChesscomLive (@ChesscomLive) October 30, 2022
An auction process was held to decide who would play which color in the tiebreaker. Nepomniachi won the bid to play black with 13 minutes on the clock and a tie at 15 by Nakamura. The final starting position was immediately announced and the players had five minutes to strategize.
Nepomniachi Armageddon looked to have the game under control after trading the opposite-colored bishop in the middlegame, but Nakamura muddied the water and stormed home to claim his first World Championship title. GM Rafael Leito has our Game of the Day commentary below.
At this point Nakamura celebrated the historic victory as many expected, with a prompt YouTube video featuring his games! At the end of the video, he mentions that he will soon be traveling to Toronto, where he will compete in the Chess.com Global Championship Finals. Given his astronomical performance rating of 2924 (calculated based on FIDE Rapid Rating) for this tournament, Nakamura is one of the favorites to win in Toronto as well.
Aside from the title fight, three consolation races took place in Reykjavík on Sunday to decide the finishing order of the rest of the field. After a disappointing semifinal loss, Karlsson, who was in early trouble against Abdusatorov, lost the first game after the Uzbek GM cleverly trapped his bishop.
Carlson beat Abdusatorov 3-1 to return to the competition and the podium. Overall, the world champion was not in his best form, but will have two more chances to clinch world championship titles in December at the World Blitz and Rapid Championships.
GM Vladimir Fedosev surpassed his rating to edge out defending champion GM Wesley Zoe by two points to finish fourth, while GMs Matthias Bluebohm and local Horvar Gretarsson finished seventh and eighth respectively.
This year’s Fischer Random World Championship sparked debate about the future of chess and provided a refreshing step away from the world’s best in classical events. As Nepomniachi graciously tweeted after losing Sunday’s match, the chess world “hopes to see more Fischer Random tournaments in the future.”
Logic could never be found in Armageddon games. But this has its own logic.
Hope to see more Fisher Random tournaments in the future.
– Yan Nepomniachi (@lachesisq) October 30, 2022
The Fisher Random World Championship, organized by the Government of Iceland and the City of Reykjavik, gathers the best players from around the world to compete in a series of classical Fisher Random games to champion. Fisher Random (also known as Chess960) is a chess variant where all the standard chess rules are the same except for the starting position of the pieces, which can be in one of 960 semi-random arrangements. Strongly endorsed by 11th World Champion GM Bobby Fischer, the opening opening variant to highlight players’ true understanding of chess.