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8 September 2017

A Lengthy Walk to Carlsen

Round one of the World Cup in the review of Eteri Kublashvili 

Game 1

The World Cup is always expected to come up with some starting surprises, and this time these expectations have not failed to come true.  Since the games are many, it is anything but easy to pick up on the best demo samples.  One of the participants claims that even reaching Carlsen across the playhall takes 4 minutes, what can be said about the workers of the journalistic genre then?  Therefore, I ask readers (especially so if there are World Cup participants among them) not to take offense if they think something important is missing from the initial reviews.

In general, the first game day shaped well for the overwhelming majority of Russians; out of 20 grandmasters only Vladimir Fedoseev and Anton Demchenko lost their encounters.

Winning their first games were Vladimir Kramnik, Alexander Grischuk, Peter Svidler, Ernesto Inarkiev, Alexei Dreev, Maxim Matlakov, Evgeny Najer and Vladislav Artemiev.

A Bedouin, Essam El Gindi, has long stood his ground against Alexander Grischuk, but his desire to give a book treatment to the endgame by leading the king towards the center proved his undoing.

Grischuk – El Gindy

45…Kf6?! 46. Rxa6 Nxb4?? 47. Ra7! Black resigns.

Vladimir Kramnik's success was also built on a solid positional foundation:  the middlegame had the ex-world champion well compensated for the missing pawn with a pair of bishops, and following the opponent’s error these two fighters turned to full power.

Dai – Kramnik

44. g3?

Retreating the king to h1 was a better option.

44…Bxh3! 45. Nxd6 hxg3+ 46. fxg3 Qg4, and Black’s edge turned into decisive before long. 

The world’s strongest grandmasters always know to correctly use the home rank weakness, which was demonstrated by Alexey Dreev’s victory over Axel Bachmann in a duel of approximately equal opponents.

Bachmann – Dreev

White has just regained the a6-pawn, which was met by 32…Qc1!  33. Rxc6 Qxf1 34. Rf6 Re1 35. Qxf4 Qg1+ 36. Kg3 Re3+ 37. Kh4 Rе4, and White said farewell to arms in a short while.

The World Cup holder Sergey Karjakin drew as Black with the youngest participant, a 16-year old Anton Smirnov of Australia, which has become one of the starting surprises of the Tbilisi knockout event.

More draws followed in the games Antipov - Tomashevsky, Nepomniachtchi - Palac, Dubov - Fridman, Kulaots - Vitiugov, Xiong - Motylev, Grachev – Melkumyan and Andreikin - Goganov.

Nikita Vitiugov’s position was shaky at a certain moment, but his rival Kaido Kulaots had too little time (literally seconds) to come up with precise execution, so a draw was sealed via a move repetition.  Jan Nepomniachtchi's opponent, Mladen Palac, agreed to a draw with an extra pawn in a very complex many-piece endgame.  Nothing else but subtle nuances allowed Dmitry Andreikin to bail out from a very difficult position against Aleksey Goganov.

Now let us move on to non-Russian players. Since Yaroslav Zherebukh has not arrived at the tournament, his rival and compatriot Alexander Onischuk (who celebrated his birthday on September 3) has automatically passed into the next round.

The majority of favorites confidently confirmed their high rank and defeated less titled opponents. However, even no lesser person than Viswanathan Anand took a lot of time and patience to grind down the young Malaysian bearing a surname of Yeoh. Anish Giri has also spent a lot of efforts and time to break down the fortress, built by one of the two female World Cup participants - Nana Dzagnidze.

Nevertheless, the sensation did happen as soon as day one. Thus, Bator Sambuev defeated Wei Yi. After the game, the Canadian player shared details of his success:

- I have looked into all games by Wei Yi that I could lay my hands on and managed to identify certain setups quite unpleasant for him. I have expected this opening, but had nothing special prepared for it, just decided to grab the center and launch a kingside offensive. The opponent was in time trouble; when I put the queen on h5, he had, perhaps, 5 minutes for 20 moves. Despite all this, he managed to come up with interesting ideas, and if I had taken the exchange, he would have obtained a decent compensation. I do not know if he missed Bh3, but it matters that I did not."

Let us have a closer look.

Sambuev – Wei Yi

White’s position is overwhelming, but he could have been tempted by an exchange. However, Sambuev hits the nail on the head

23. Bh3! Rfd8 24. Rd4. Blacks resigns because he is defenseless to the pending threats along the h-file. 

The Cuban Gonzalez Vidal, bearing a Russian first name Yuri, has upset Harikrishna, winning a pawn from the favorite and then driving Pentala’s king into a mating net.

Pavel Eljanov has suffered a bitter defeat from Alexander Lenderman. Pavel outplayed the opponent, having won two pawns, but the outcome of the game was decided in a one-move blunder.

Eljanov – Lenderman


54. Rd2? Rxd4. White resigned several moves later.

The bitterest aftertaste is perhaps with Alexander Fier, who had excellent opportunities to get at Etienne Bacrot’s king, but failed to make the best of his attack, and after the trade of queens the game fizzled out into a draw.

One of the big upsets was a draw in the Vachier-Lagrave – Khusenkhojaev encounter. So great is the authority of number two on the world’s rating list that his opponent agreed to a draw while up a whole pawn.

Teimour Radjabov’s position as White against Helgi Dam Ziska with an attack and the h5-pawn looked very promising, but the opponent were among the first (if not the first) to agree to a draw.

All in all, there were many short draws on day one with not a few players opting to shift the burden of war to a later time.

Game 2

No big surprises happened on day two, just the momentum carried on from the previous one. Thus, not only Pavel Eljanov failed to bounce back from his failure to Aleksandr Lenderman, he lost his second game as well. Thus, the Ukrainian grandmaster is out of the Tbilisi event.

Sooner or later, Magnus Carlsen, Wesley So, Fabiano Caruana, Vladimir Kramnik, Levon Aronian, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Hikaru Nakamura, Alexander Grischuk, Viswanathan Anand, Ding Liren, Anish Giri, Peter Svidler and a number of other stars ended up confidently winning their matchups.

Having taken down the hope of Uzbekistan Jakhongir Vakhidov with the score 2:0, Peter Svidler shared his impressions:

- I received a great gift in the first game, and in the second one Jakhongir was in a difficult must-win situation. In the first duel I offered a draw in an equal position. I thought the opponent would agree, and we would go prepare for the next game, but he rejected my proposal, spending almost all of his time along the way, which I consider a rather strange decision. I understand him being ambitious and never playing for a draw, but an objective outlook on the situation is still required. He ended up in a bad position and losing. In the second game I could, in general, handle the opening calmly and wait for him to plunge into complications.


Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Teimour Radjabov have demonstrated textbook examples of building up an attack via a piece sacrifice.

Vachier-Lagrave – Khusenkhojaev

The bishops’ dance ended in White's favor.

19. Bxh6! Bxh3 20. Bg5! Bg4 21. Bxf6 Bxf3 22. Nf5 Nf4 23. dxe5 dxe5 24. Bxe5, and MVL celebrated success shortly after.

Ziska – Radjabov

22…Nxg3! 23. fxg3 Qxg3 24. Qc2 f5 25. Bc5 f4 26. Qf2 Qg6 27. Bxf8 Rxf8 28. Qe2 Bb6+ 29. Kh1 f3, and White resigned a couple of moves later.

Hou Yifan continues her headhunt in the men's tournaments. In the second game of her match with Kacper Piorun she capitalized on her perfect calculating technique.

Hou Yifan – Piorun

37. g4! Rf4 38. Bxg7+ Kxg7 39. Qe5+ Rf6 40. Nd4 Qg6 41. g5 Bc5 42. Kh1. Black resigns.


Nevertheless, some favorites have been forced into tie-breaks.

A 16-year-old Anton Smirnov, having made two draws with Sergey Karjakin, admitted that he had had a serious amount of home preparation for his opponent back in Australia, cooperating with several grandmasters; thus, he got a comfortable game, taking no particular risks along the way. In general, Anton was very pleased with the outcome of the classical games and went into a tie-break in a cheerful mood.

Ian Nepomniachtchi made a very quick draw in game two, which so much amused Hikaru Nakamura, Baadur Jobava, and a dozen other players. In general, the vast majority of tiebreaker matches were played following two draws in the classical section.

Good chances to take the match in the main time were with Bassem Amin, but the fate had it otherwise. A hasty pawn advance allowed Viktor Erdos bailing out via a stalemate, which was a stunner to both the Egyptian and everyone watching the game.


Erdos – Amin

Two extra pawns, Carl!

67…a3? 68. Rxa3! Rh3+ 69. Ke4 Rxa3. Draw.


Coming back after game one upsets were Vladimir Fedoseev, Anton Demchenko, Pentala Harikrishna, Wei Yi and Murali Karthikeyan.


Additional tie-breaks have been as many as 22. The remaining qualification tickets into 1/32 were contested between Nepomniachtchi - Palac, Bacrot - Fier, Jobava - Salgado Lopez, Andreikin - Goganov, Tomashevsky - Antipov, Adams - Batchuluun, Ivanchuk - Kazhgaleyev, Karjakin - Smirnov, Yu Yangyi -  Pourramezanali,  Fressinet - Lenic, Dubov - Friedman, Fedoseev - Bacallao Alonso, Howell - Tari, Adhiban - Nguyen, Harikrishna - Gonzalez Vidal, Vallejo - Karthikeyan, Wei Yi - Sambuev, Demchenko - Areshchenko, Rodshtein - Hovhannisyan, Nisipeanu - Sevian, Amin - Erdos and Grachev - Melkumyan.

Vladimir Fedoseev has demonstrated an inspiring performance to defeat his rival Bacallao Alonso in both rapid games. It seems that round one failure has only spurred the Russian to further achievements.

Sergey Karjakin went into an awful deep think in the first rapid duel against Anton Smirnov, but still managed to outwit his opponent. In the second encounter, a vice-world champion was adamant.

In game two of the rapid matchup against Hrant Melkumyan, Boris Grachev benefitted from the opponent's error and, having sealed the victory, went into round two.

Winning in the Russian derbies Andreikin - Goganov and Tomashevsky - Antipov were the oldest in rating and age. Let me note that after the starting round, the only Russians knocked out of the event so far have been in these two matchups only.

Also qualifying into 1/32 from the rapid stage have been Yu Yangyi, Wei Yi, Etienne Bacrot, Boris Grachev, Vasily Ivanchuk, Michael Adams, Maxim Rodshtein, Francisco Vallejo and Samuel Sevian, who has defeated Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu.

An intense struggle between Anton Demchenko and Alexander Areshchenko has ended in the Russian’s victory after 10-minute games. The opponents have not made even a single draw, and both had to come back at different stages of the match. Both 10 +10 games have been taken by the Russian, although he was at great risk in the final encounter.

A European battle Tari – Howell was a tough one. The opponents drew their classical, rapid and the first 10-minute games, whereas in game two the Norwegian took the upper hand over the Englishman, the latter’s rating being higher by far. This is yet another big upset of round one.

A similar match scenario has occurred between close namesakes Daniil Dubov and Daniel Fridman, as well as in the duel of Ian Nepomniachtchi and Mladen Palac. In the second 10-minute games, the Russians were superior and have landed into 1/32.

The World Cup’s start has also been hard on Pentala Harikrishna: he had to bounce back in the classical chess, upon which he failed to come victorious out of the rapid, whereas the first 10-minute encounter was anything but an easy walk in the park for the Indian at all. However, he still managed to escape in the endgame and win the next game, securing his ticket into the next round.

Luka Lenic has knocked out Laurent Fressinet. I wonder if the Frenchman stays to assist Magnus Carlsen.

Victor Erdos has prevailed over Bassem Amin, disheartened by a bitter stalemate that happened in their previous encounter.

A blitz section was reached by Baadur Jobava and Ivan Salgado Lopez. Having survived a difficult situation in the first game and scoring brightly in the second, Jobava’s success is a pleasure for his numerous fans.

A brave dzhigit and an ingenious hidalgo celebrated the end of round one in the press center over a bottle of wine, surrounded by their journalist friends.

The Russians’ round two paths will not be strewn with roses. Firstly, the drawing of lots has paired many Russian players: Kramnik - Demchenko, Matlakov - Andreikin, Karjakin - Dubov, Fedoseev - Inarkiev and Vitiugov - Najer. And, secondly, others yet will have to contest the rating favorites: Carlsen - Dreev, Vachier-Lagrave - Grachev, Giri - Motylev and Radjabov - Artemiev.

Peter Svidler will play Victor Erdos, Alexander Grischuk - Jorge Cori, Evgeny Tomashevsky - Francisco Vallejo, and Ian Nepomniachtchi - Baskaran Adiban.

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