3 November 2015

No Orchids for Alexander’s Passed Pawn

World Cup tragedies – first part of the review by grandmaster Dmitry Kryakvin.

There is no need to say that the Russian fans’ expectations of the central event of the year were mixed with a very moderate optimism. Our grandmasters have until now not participated in the Candidates Tournaments since the times of Vladimir Kramnik’s automatic qualification because of his huge rating are over, whereas Evgeny Tomashevsky and Dmitry Jakovenko ended their Grand Prix series with mingled feelings. There existed fears that for the first time since 1948 the national players were not only far from competing in the match for the world crown itself but might even fall short of qualifying into it altogether!

However, the attitude towards the World Cup in Russia has changed dramatically in the recent years. Sometime in the past these events saw the Russian grandmasters performing rather unsuccessfully, when after the victory of Alexander Khalifman in Las Vegas (1999) a bad patch was hit since in India in 2000 a rising star Alexander Grischuk managed to rise only as high as the semi-finals, whereas a year later in Moscow Ruslan Ponomariov knocked out almost every member of the Russian national team. Finally, in 2004 in Libya the last of the Russian representatives who reached the quarterfinals was the late Andrey Kharlov, while the World Cups 2005, 2007, 2009 witnessed a varying degree of success, which, however, fell short of the desired results which could be expected of the strongest chess nation.

A lot has been written about the formula producing unfair and random results, so that even Alexander Roshal, who had at his time persuaded Kirsan Ilyumzhinov to organize the FIDE World Knockout Championship in Groningen (1997) instead of seeking a compromise between Kasparov and Karpov, later complained that it might have been not the most balanced of judgments. But that time has passed, and since 2011 the World Cup has turned into a fighting arena of players invariably flying the Russian tricolor flag. The finals Svidler - Kramnik and Grischuk - Andreikin have added themselves to the treasury of chess art and turned the tide of public opinion in favor of this format so that from then on chess fans started looking forward to the most spectacular event of the modern chess. 

Meanwhile, this time around there was no guaranteeing success at all. Save for Carlsen and Anand, the tournament was represented by all (!) strongest foreign players of our days: Veselin Topalov, Hikaru Nakamura, Fabiano Caruana, Anish Giri, Wesley So, Ding Liren, Levon Aronian, Boris Gelfand, Teimour Radjabov, Leinier Dominguez, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. Meanwhile, Nakamura and Caruana and eventually Topalov and Giri have already secured their participation in the candidates’ battles, the fact which might have acted soothingly on these extraordinary grandmasters; moreover, some scenarios might have landed the bronze prize winner of the FIDE Grand Prix Dmitry Jakovenko into the Candidates Tournament. However, it was nothing more than a hazy dream.

So, the chief arbiter Faik Gasanov whistled an imaginary whistle, and the World Cup started off - a tournament which can either glorify a player or break his fate and career. In his review, the author of these lines decided to follow the example of the glorious "Football Club", which prior to Tina Kandelaki had for many years been anchored by Vassily Utkin. The most vivid examples from Baku can be stacked up to as many as ten and arranged in ascending order in terms of drama intensity. I thank my grandmaster friends and journalists who have assisted me in having this material prepared!

Tenth Place. Vice-champion’s Error

The first round brought a couple of surprises along with it as one of the greatest knockout fighters of our time, a winner of the 2009 trophy Boris Gelfand had to say farewell to the World Cup. He is a man who was an inch away from the title of the World Champion in a tough battle against Vishy Anand. The Israeli grandmaster’s lot was to play against the young Chilean master Cristobal Henriquez, who displayed a rather decent performance in the U18 Junior Championship, where he not only won the third place, but also acted as a co-author with Sasha Bortnik, a winner of the Durban tournament, in one of the most exciting of its games.

However, in his match against Boris Abramovich the envoy of the South America refused to cooperate in the role of Dr. Watson and gave a real battle to the 2012 vice-world champion.

Gelfand (2741) – Henriquez (2511)
Round 1, Game 1

We may say that this is a typical Gelfand-type of position in which Boris Abramovich used to be adamant in grinding down the resistance of a weaker side! A bishop pair advantage and the weak c5-pawn provide White with sufficient grounds of counting for success both with and without queens on the board; however, the opponents were playing on the increment time of 30 seconds and started to commit blunders. 


Blundering the exchange is a first warning alarm. However, in the heat of a fight Cristobal failed to make use of the 56…Ne5! gift.

56…Nd6? 57.Bd5 Nb5 58.Ra5 Nf6 59.Bc6 Nc7 60.Bc3 

A straightforward assault against the c7-knight was worthy of paying attention to - 60.Ra7 Rc8 61.Ba5; now the Chilean player is in time to gradually find outposts for his cavalry. 

60...Ne6 61.Be5 Rc8 62.Bb7 Rd8 63.Ba6 

63.Ra4 was a more accurate move, taking control over the е4-square and thus denying access to the black knight into this location.

63...Ng5 64.Qc6 Nge4 65.Be2 Qd7 66.Qb6 

Black’s counterplay is now visible even with a naked eye. White should have probably opted in favor of changing the nature of the game via 66.Qxd7 Rxd7 67.Bc4, although in this case he could hardly count for something more than 4 versus 3 pawns on the same flank followed by an indefinite number of moves required to bring this advantage home.

66...Nd5 67.Qb3 f6 68.Bb2 Qc7 69.Rb5? 

Yet another blunder of the exchange! However, even the strongest 69.Ra3 continuation allowed Black to bail out with a perpetual check: 69…Nxf4! 70.exf4 Qxf4+ 71.Kh1 Rd1+! 72.Bxd1 Qf1+ 73.Kh2 Qf4+ with a draw.


This is yet another amnesty! Now the rook’s plight is even more desperate than used to be as far back as move 56, when after 69...Nd6! 70.Qxd5 Nxb5 71.Qf5 Nd6 72.Qh7 Nf7 White would have ended up having no sufficient compensation for the missing exchange, although could still count on being able to bail out in the heat of time trouble.

70.Qa3 Qe7 

The intended 70...Ne4 was losing a pawn after 71.Bd4, and it was at this moment that the young opponent succumbed to pressure applied by his renowned counterpart.

71.Rxc5 Nb1? 

The knight walks right into a cage; after a better continuation 71...Nxe3 72.Rc3 the bishops would have acquired new scope for operations, although without any decisive threats yet. 

72.Qa5 Nxe3 

This is a moment of truth! Both 73.Rc1, and 73.Bc1 are winning because the entrapped cavalry cannot be set free. However, having automatically played 73.Qb5? (this move has for some reason not been included into the text of the game), Gelfand immediately noticed that 72…Qe4! would have landed him on the verge of defeat because he was about to lose his f4-pawn! It was therefore followed up by a strategic draw offer from a seasoned player, which was accepted by the surprised Henriquez without going deep into details…

The anxieties of game one are over and the highly experienced Boris Gelfand in now in charge of the black pieces

In game two Gelfand demonstrated a clear drawing continuation to his younger opponent in one of the fashionable lines of the Chelyabinsk variation, whereas in the first tiebreak game he was pressing his opponent as Black, but in which peace was negotiated once again. Who could have thought that it was already Henriquez’s turn to act in game four?

Gelfand (2741) – Henriquez (2511)
Round 1, Game 4
Slav Defence 

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.e3 Bg4 5.h3 Bxf3 6.Qxf3 e6 7.Bd3 Bb4+ 8.Nc3 Nbd7 9.a3 

Avoiding 9.0-0, which was seen in game one. 

9…Bxc3+ 10.bxc3 0–0 11.0–0 Qa5 12.Bd2 e5 13.cxd5 cxd5 

This precise move order by Black goes back to the games Stefansson - Harikrishna (2008) and Malakhov - Harikrishna (2009). Boris Gelfand was very likely to have some improvement prepared, but did not produce it over the board for some unknown reason. Maybe he just got something wrong...


Vladimir opted for 14.Qe2 Qc7 15.Rfc1 e4 16.Bb5 a6 17.Bxd7 Qxd7 18.c4 dxc4 19.Rxc4 Rfc8 20.Rac1 Rxc4 21.Qxc4 Nd5 22.a4 and a draw was agreed shortly after. White might have initially prepared a more flexible move 15.f3!?

14...Qc7 15.Qb3 

Was it that Gelfand initially intended to play 15.f3 in this position? Now Black achieves a very promising position with relatively simple moves. One of his knights lands on с4, the rooks are doubled along the c-file, whereas the second knight is in anticipation of the exchange on c4 in order to occupy the d5-square.

15...e4 16.Be2 Nb6 17.Rfb1 Rab8 18.a4 Nc4 19.Be1 Rfc8 20.Qa2 b6 21.Rb4 Qc6 22.Rab1 Ne8 23.Bxc4 dxc4 

Although White is not the one to be envied, either the passive defense or the musketeer-like 24.Rb5 Nc7 25.Re5!?, which is voted for by the engine, still gave better survival chances than a nervous move played in the game.

24.f3? exf3 25.Bg3 Rb7 26.Be5 Re7 27.a5 bxa5 28.Rb5 Qg6 29.Rxa5 Qd3 30.Ra3 f6 31.Bf4 g5!

The fate of the game is clear now. 

32.Bg3 Rxe3 33.Re1 Re2 34.Rxe2 fxe2 35.Bf2 Qd1+ 36.Kh2 Qf1 37.Bg3 e1Q 38.Bxe1 Qxe1 39.Rxa7 Qe6 40.Qb1 Rc7 41.Ra8 Re7 42.Qb4 Kg7 43.Rd8 Qe3 White resigned, and the Chilean qualified into the second round, where he lost to the South America’s patriarch Granda Zuniga with a 0-2 score.

The Chilean master took the upper hand in an opening dispute and went on to win the match

Ninth place. Bad Luck and Nervousness

An incredibly tense struggle happened in the second round match between Wei Yi and Yuri Vovk. The experts’ predictions for the genius Chinese player in this cycle varied from a simple success in Baku to as far as qualification into the final match against Magnus Carlsen, but the Ukrainian chess player turned out to be well-prepared for the upcoming confrontation, and his part of the tilting scale nearly outweighed that of the Chinese hero.

Wei Yi won the first game convincingly, when in the Andreikin variation arising after 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4 c5 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.Be3 cxd4 8.Nxd4 Bc5 9.Qd2 0–0 10.0–0–0 a6 11.Qf2 Bxd4 12.Bxd4 b5 13.Be3 Qa5 14.Kb1 b4 15.Ne2 Qc7 he employed the Fabiano Caruana’s recipe 16.Ng3! a5 17.Nh5. However, Yuri would not give in and gained a stable positional advantage in the second game, which he managed to convert after the Chinese player’s error committed in the ending. Two long rapid games resembled the clinch of wrestlers where both opponents tried to break each other’s joints out, but in which none managed to carry out a decisive takedown. After that there came a turn of the short rapid games. 

Wei Yi (2734) – Vovk (2628)
Round 2, Game 5 



The author of these lines remembers playing a similar position back in 2007 in the Higher League in Krasnoyarsk as White against Sergei Volkov, the founding father of the entire variation, employed by Yuri in this game. When I was young, I too wanted to install my knight on g5, at which moment Sergey’s face didn’t fail to conceal, "Oh, my God, what a fish is sitting there opposite me!" And he was certainly right. A setup in which Wei Yi favored his knight’s jump on g5 is relatively better than the one happened in the above-mentioned game, but worthy alternatives were found in opting for standard types of approaches 17.Nc5 Nxc5 18.bxc5, as well as 17.g4 with the idea of meeting 17... fxg4 by 18.Nd2.

17...Bxg5 18.fxg5 a5! 

Black’s knight is heading for b3, and it was therefore high time that 19.Nc5 Nxc5 20.bxc5 be contemplated about with the intention of applying pressure against the а5-pawn.

19.bxa5 Nxa5 20.g4 Nb3 21.gxf5? 

The Eastern Grandmaster overestimates his chances. A simple 21.Ra2 fxg4 22.Qxg4 Rxf1+ 23.Bxf1 Nf8 24.Nb2 wouldn’t promise a slightly better position for White already, but he was not missing his draw either. From now on Vovk, despite being in time pressure, copes with finding his way around the position with crystal clarity.

21...Nxa1 22.Qxa1 Rxf5 23.Rxf5 exf5 24.Bxd5+ Kh8 25.Qf1 

Because of his a4-knight White fails to set his pawn chain into free sailing, which is vividly testified by the lines following 25.e6, after which besides 25…Nf8 there exists also 25...Qd6! 26.exd7 Bxd7 27.Bf3 f4 28.Bd2 Qg6; when the scattered White’s army, despite being temporary up material, is doomed to failure. 

25...Qa5 26.Bc6 Bb7! 

Sufficient was 26...Qa6 27.Qf3 Nf8, but the Lviv grandmaster comes up with a lot more spectacular solution. 

27.Bxd7 Qd5 28.Bf4 

A more stubborn continuation 28.Qh3 Qxd7 29.Nc5 Qc6 does not promise a sweet life either, but now Vovk, with the help of a couple of spectacular and geometrically precise maneuvers literally tears the opponent's position apart.

28...Ba8! 29.Bxf5 Rf8 30.Nb6 Qh1+ 31.Kf2 Qf3+ 32.Kg1 Qxc3 33.Bg3 Qxd4+ 34.Qf2 Qa1+ 35.Qe1 Qa7! 36.Qf2 c3!

White cannot avoid losing material, and after a couple of moves Yuri promoted his pawn.

37.e6 Bc6 38.e7 Qxe7 39.Nc4 Be4 40.Nd6 c2 41.Nxe4 c1Q+ 42.Kg2 Qc6 White resigns. 

As Wei Yi had to come back, he opted for a rather unexpected course of events by going for the "stonewall." As Vovk handled the first part of the game in a firm and confident manner, I suspect the Chinese national team coaches were already on the point of being ready to pack the bags of their talented student...

Vovk (2628) – Wei Yi (2734) 
Round 2, Game 6 

The d5-pawn is as simple as lost, therefore Wei made a last hope move – 21…g5

After 22.f5! Bxe5 23.Rde1 or 22.cxd5! Rxf4 23.Qg3 White’s win was as easy as a walk in the park, but at this very crucial moment the Ukrainian athlete lost his shooting touch. 

Sad faces of the Chinese spectators

22.Qg4?! d4 23.Bxb7 Qxb7 24.fxg5? 

Yet another mistake, upon which the Chinese player cheered up significantly. Whereas 24.h4! was a logical and clear path to winning a pawn, 24.Qхg5?, on the other hand, was losing to 24…Kh8 and White fails to defend the g-file. 

24...Qe7 25.e6 Qd6 

Scene change has taken place, and after Yuri didn’t make a logical 26.Qe2 move, the enemy’s army invaded his camp. 

26.Rd2? Rxf1+ 27.Kxf1 Rf8+ 28.Ke1 Rf4 29.Qh3 Qc6 


King’s evacuation via 30.Kd1 Qh1+ 31.Kc2 Qe4+ 32.Qd3 Qxe6 33.Bc1 would have allowed White to regroup his pieces and try his chances in counterattacking the enemy’s king while the game was still in time trouble. Now, however, the b2-bishop would never enter the game. 

30...Qh1+ 31.Ke2 Re4+! 32.Kd3 Rxe7 33.Kc2 Bf4 34.Qc8+ Kg7 35.Rxd4 

35.Qf5! Rf7 36.Qe6! was the last practical chance to bail out since finding the most precise continuation 36…Bxd2 37.Qe5+ Kf8 38.Qb8+ Ke7 39.Qxa7+ Ke6! 40.Qxb6+ Kf5 41.Qxc5+ Kg4 with just a few seconds on the clock was a rather challenging task. 

35...cxd4 36.Bxd4+ Kg6, and the score became 3-3.

Despite having suffered a terrible blow, Yuri Vovk continued to struggle against the genius, whose rating was superior to his own by over 100 points. In the first blitz game the native of Lviv used the inverted V pawn formation with the bishop on f4 against the King's Indian Defence and won a pawn by subtle maneuvering, for which Black’s compensation was only of a theoretical nature.

Yuri Vovk had all chances to curb the Chinese genius 

Vovk (2628) – Wei Yi (2734)
Round 2, Game 7 


This move allows Black to launch a spectacular counterplay. White should have started with defending his с5- pawn first by 22.b4, when 22…Nd3 fails to 23.Bxd3; with that done, he could comfortably deploy his knight on b6/consolidate his position/improve the positions of his pieces, etc. 


Whereas Wei Yi is prepared to part ways with the exchange, White is be better off declining this gift. 


Now White is not overly happy about 23.Bxd3 exd3 24.Qxd3 Nxc5 because the black bishops start to operate to the max of their capabilities.

23...Qg5 24.Bxf8? 

Once the defending bishop has disappeared from the board there is no one to safeguard the White king, especially since his faithful vizier is in exile on a3! The intermediate 24.h4! Qxh4 25.Bxd3 exd3 26.Qxd3 would have allowed Vovk to maintain his advantage just because of the Nb6 threat.

24...Rxf8 25.Nb6 

One inaccurate move was enough to render White defenseless! The power of Black’s attack is demonstrated by the following lines: 25.Rf1 Bxd4 26.exd4 Nf4 or 25.Rc2 f4 with the decisive threats.

25...Nxb6 26.cxb6 Nxc1? 

Wei Yi hurried to restore the material balance and the struggle could have flared up again, whereas after the uncompromising 26...Bxd4! 27.exd4 e3 28.f3 Nf4 the game would have been already over.

27.Rxc1 Bxd4 

Even as much as two additional seconds might be enough to seal the fate of your game! Had Vovk resorted to the deflection of Black’s queen via 28.h4! Qh6 29.Bxa6, any outcome of the match would have been possible because White’s passed pawns were extremely dangerous!

28.Bxa6? f4! 29.exd4 

There is no saving the game any longer! 29.h4 is no longer a rescue in view of 29...Qxh4 30.exd4 e3 31.fxe3 f3 32.Qxf8+ Kxf8 33.Rf1 Qg5 34.Rf2 Qxe3 35.b7 Qb3. 

29...f3 30.g3 Qxc1+ 31.Kh2 Qd2 32.Kg1 Qe1+ and White stopped the clock. The Chinese took a 4-3 lead and held his position together as White, thus qualifying into the following round. 

“I was already 90% in the Final 32, but what can be done… Bad luck and nervousness is an integral part of a chess game”, this is how the outcome of the match was sadly commented by Yuri on his Facebook page, whereas the “Wei Yi legend” only in the bud at that moment.

Wei Yi together with the Chess Olympiad Champions

Eighth place. Can we call it a big sensation?

Meanwhile, in the second round the tournament was left by one its top players Levon Aronian, who has recently distinguished himself in the Sinquefield Cup and who was in a desperate need to achieve the maximum in Baku - like Kramnik, Levon’s rating has recently dropped down and was no longer his automatic warranty of getting directly into the Candidates Tournament. His opponent was Alexander Areschenko - one of the fundamental players of the Ukrainian team, both a great theoretician and a practical player. The rivals already competed in the World Cup 2005; back then Levon was in the lead throughout the entire match (as well as during the entire tournament!) and played with great enthusiasm, having finally prevailed with a 1.5-0.5 score.

In the current match Aronian had more pleasant positions in both classical games, but Alexander defended stubbornly, and the favorite failed to convert his initiative into something more tangible. The turning point happened in the first rapid game.

Aronian (2765) – Areschenko (2661)
Round 2, Game 3

This time the Armenian grandmaster employed his favorite Bc4 system against the Grunfeld Defence, which had secured Aronian many glorious victories. Now Levon could not be content with 23.Qxe5+?! Qxe5 24.dxe5 Bxb5 25.Rxb5 Rd2, whereas after 23.dxe5 hxg5 24.exd6 Bxb5 25.Rxb5 Rxd6 26.Rxg5 Rd2 27.Nc3 Kh6 Black obtained decent compensation for the missing pawn in the resulting ending.

23.Qg3! Bxb5 24.Rxb5 exd4

At this very moment there happened something resembling a blackout. Quite in the audacious attacking spirit of Levon was 25.e5! Qe7 26.e6 Rc8 (26...Qxe6 27.Nf4! loses the exchange, whereas 26...Rd6 27.Qe5+ doesn’t help Black at all) 27.Re1 Rc5 28.Rxc5 Qxc5 29.Nf4!, although here Black had 29…d3+ 30.Kh1 Qf5! 31.h3 Qxf4 (losing is 31...d2 32.Qc3+) 32.Qxf4 Rxf4 33.e7 d2 34.e8Q dxe1Q+ 35.Qxe1 Rf7, and Black should be able to hold this fortress with careful defense. 

Instead of going for the king attack Aronian gave a check for some unknown reason.


The point of White’s play remains unclear even if Black opted for 25... Rf7, but Areschenko calculated the lines up to the knight ending with an extra pawn and went for it, relying on the "rule of Botvinnik," which states that the knight ending up a pawn is evaluated same as a pawn ending provided there are still enough pawns on the board.

25...Kg8! 26.Qxd6 Rxd6 27.Rd5 Rxd5 28.exd5 d3 29.Nc3 d2! 

Although the a5-knight is out of the game, White fails to quickly get rid of the bold passed pawn of Black’s. As Black threatens to add his rook into attack, the follow-up is forced. 

30.d6 Rd8 31.d7 Kf7 32.Kf2 a6 33.Ke2 Ke6 34.Kxd2 Rxd7+ 35.Rxd7 Kxd7 36.Nd5 b5 – Levon went on to defend in a desperate and ingenious manner, but was forced to surrender some tens of moves later. In the return game the Armenian grandmaster went “All-in” in the Pirc Defence with the a6, but allowed to get himself squeezed on the queenside – as the Soviet blitz players used to say, he failed to achieve even as much as shaking the chess table... 2-0, and Aronian became the last of Armenian grandmasters to say farewell to Baku.

After round two the tournament said farewell to the 2005, 2007 and 2009 World Cup winners!

It is a sensation, isn’t it? However, it was not everybody’s opinion. Here is the opinion of a renowned expert Vladimir Tukmakov, "Alexander Areschenko, who defeated the Armenian grandmaster, is a very strong chess player. At the peak of his career he had a rating of 2700 and up. So, this defeat can hardly be labelled as a big sensation. For me a lot more surprising is the fact that Areschenko managed to outplay Aronian in rapid chess, in which Levon is a recognized expert. Naturally, I know Areschenko very well, he used to be one of my students back at the time when I was coaching the Ukrainian team, and it seems to me that in the rapid chess his performance is no inferior to than of Aronian. However, here in Baku he won this mini-match rather convincingly."

Alexander Areschenko took Vladimir Tukmakov by surprize, winning in the rapid format 

In round three Alexander Areschenko was faced off with Wei Yi and succumbed to youth pressure with a 0,5:1,5 score, having thus joined the Facebook discussions with Yuri Vovk on further trajectory of the Eastern genius star. 

Seventh Place. Spider-Man against Norman Osborn and Doctor Octopus 

Back in the early 90s the Englishman Michael Adams was one of the best representatives of the generation who were predicted to be victorious over the great "Ks". For his unique maneuvering positional style the Adams’s fans labelled their hero a "Spiderman" because Mickey indeed acted as if weaving invisible web filaments around his opponents.

Michael “Spiderman” Adams

In a certain sense the leader of the Foggy Albion was deprived of his share of luck because unlike his older compatriot Nigel Short he never succeeded in going as high as the match of his life. In 1997 in Groningen Adams qualified into the final against Vishy Anand and, when the score was 4-4, was to play the "Armageddon" as Black against his historic rival in many aspects. Michael outplayed the winner of the tournament, and needed to make only one last move 27... f5!, which would have forced further material acquisitions and would have qualified the native of Truro into the match against Anatoly Karpov. However, this move was never made on the board, and eventually Anatoly Evgenievich was faced off against Anand.

Michael Adams’s second chance occurred in 2004, when in the FIDE knockout World Championship final in Libya he was fighting against Rustam Kasimdzhanov. The winner, according to the Prague Agreement, was entitled to a match against Garry Kasparov. There is little doubt that had Adams won the match, his duel with Harry the Thirteenth would have taken place in designated timelines. Still, when Michael was a member of the top ten players of the world with a rating of 2730 this encounter would be a point of interest to the sponsors. In addition to that, England was far from those forces which desired to prevent Kasparov from fighting for the throne yet another time...

Alas, when the score was 3-3 Adams lost an overwhelming position and eventually went down with a 3.5-4.5 score. While the opponents of his youth Anand, Kramnik and Gelfand were battling their way to the champion's throne through the generation Next, the "Spiderman" went into the shadows for some time and his rating fell below 2700. However, having completed his fourth decade, the Englishman once again acquired a taste for the game and returned to the "top 20". As for the World Cup in Baku, Adams didn’t fail to demonstrate to such powerful opponents as Victor Laznicka and Leinier Dominguez that his experience as a knockout fighter is worth more than their younger age!

The second round match Adams-Laznicka started off with two mutual knockout attacks by both partners. In the long rapid games the rivals also exchanged spectacular blows, in which the quality of performance was very high. In short rapid games Michael launched forward, but then suddenly lost his bearings in the second game, where Laznicka was already in a position with no reasonable moves to make at all - 3-3. In the blitz games, however, Victor had every chance of going into the next cycle against Dominguez.

Adams (2742) – Laznicka (2676)
Round 2, Game 7

In the position on the diagram the black queen is opposed by two rooks, which lack coordination, and, in addition to that, the opposite-colored bishops further enhance the attacking capabilities of the stronger side. A winning path 33...b4! 34.axb4 axb4 35.Bxb4 Qd4+ was rather easy to calculate, although White is also in a bad shape in the case of a relatively simple 33...Bd5!?, when 34.Rxg7? fails to 34…Qf3+ 35.Ke1 Qe3+ 36.Kd1 Bb3 – mate. What was it that flashed through the Czech player’s mind over those seconds? Anyway, Laznicka failed to believe his luck and decided to go along with a perpetual check.

33…Qc2+ 34.Ke3 Qd3+ 35.Kf2 Qc2+ 36.Ke3 Qd3+?? Draw!

Laznicka (2676) – Adams (2742)
Round 2, Game 8

The opening part of the game was mishandled by the Englishman because his minor and heavy pieces never reached mutual harmony, while Victor managed to have taken a fair amount of space. Although Black intends to move Ne7-g6, profiting from the vulnerability of the f6-knight White could have played 17.Nd1! Nh7 18.Nf4 with a huge amount of advantage. Victor routinely deployed the rook into the game, whereas Adams used this time to equalize the game, having preliminary undermined the center.

17.Rae1?! Ng6 18.f4 c6! 19.Nd4 Rxe1 20.Rxe1 c5! 21.bxc5 Qxc5 22.Ne4 Nxe4 23.Bxe4 Nf8 24.Bd3 Re8 25.Rxe8 Bxe8, and the Englishman didn’t fail to hold his position together.

Let the Armageddon start!

Prior to the start of Armageddon the Adams’s facial expression was that of calmness and confidence. The Englishman was in charge of the white pieces and finally succeeded in breaking through the ill-fated Scandinavian Defence that caused him so much trouble in the tiebreak. Even when the Laznicka’s clock displayed him being down to one minute only, Victor did not hurry with the moves on the board in his difficult position. It looked as if the grandmaster from Pardubice was not deliberating about the situation on the board, and rather on how he had failed to win the previous two games. Adams advanced into final 32.

The battle between Mickey and Dominguez proceeded in a completely different fashion than the previous match. Whereas Laznicka managed to pull Adams into irrational and little-studied positions, Leinier staged a competition with his partner over the intricacies of positional play. In addition to that, the favorite’s status this time belonged to the Cuban player, while the Englishman was largely keeping a lower profile as "number two". It used to be either the Ruy Lopez with endless maneuvers and exchanges or the "Berlin" with 5.Re1 and simplifications along the e-file with subsequent endgames and yet another exchanges to follow. Draws, draws, and yet more draws. Thus, when the score became 3-3, the match passed into the blitz stage, where the most exciting events broke out.

Adams (2742) – Dominguez (2732)
Round 3, Game 7 


This weakening of the defensive formations is quite inexcusable, whereas 36.Nb4!, followed by rerouting the knight to d3 and trading it for the Black’s counterpart on f4 was quite in the spirit of the match. The game was likely to end in a draw, followed by yet another draw and yet another Armageddon... Now Black launches an assault against the residence of the white king.

36...Rxe3 37.Rxe3 h5 38.Ne1 h4 39.Nd3? 

 White blunders the exchange and his position starts to remind a patchwork that features holes along the dark squares; however, 39.Qf2 was not losing an exchange after all.

39...hxg3+ 40.Kxg3 Nh4! 

The f3-pawn is hanging; therefore White has to part ways with his rook in order to avoid getting mated.

41.Qe2 Nf5+ 42.Kf2 Nxe3 43.Qxe3 Qf5 44.Kg2 

Any normal person would have considered Black's position to be winning without fail, and Leinier Dominguez belonged to one of these normal people. Are any additional efforts yet needed when Black is just a clear exchange up with the open line available for his rook? However, the fact of the matter is that this is where the Cuban player could have prevented the sad fate that befell him later with the help of a specific move order 44... Rf6! 45.Ne5 Re6 46.Qe2 c5, not allowing Adams to regroup his pieces so that they occupy the best defensive locations.

44…Kh7?! 45.Qe2 Rf6 46.b4 Rh6 47.Nf2 Re6 48.Qd2 Kg8 49.Ng4 Qf4 50.Qd1 

The queen, king and knight on g4 do a great job of jointly controlling all points of invasion on the kingside, and you just cannot do without having to open a second front! Realizing that he was not going to have an easy ride into the final 16, Dominguez decided to gain more time for future deliberation of moves and thus complicated his task even further.

50…Qf5 51.a4! Qf4?! 

It allows blockade of the queenside, which could have been discouraged by a prophylactic 51... b6.

52.a5! Re7 53.Kf2 Qf5 54.Kg2 Qe6 55.Kf2 Qd6 56.Kg2 Re6 57.Kf2 Qe7 58.Qd2 Qd8 59.Qd1 Qd6 60.Qd2 Qf4 61.Qd1 Kf8 

Having accumulated enough time, Leinier rushes his king over to the queenside to lend assistance in carrying out the pawn breakthroughs. If only he knew what was there in store for him…

62.Kg2 Ke7 63.Kf2 Kd6 64.Kg2 Kc7 65.Kf2 Kb8 66.Kg2 Ka7 67.Kf2 b6 68.axb6+ Kxb6 

A blitz game with the time increment is a very strange thing. Vyzhmanavin and Arbakov would have been terribly outraged by these meaningless movement of pieces, the only purpose of which was to increase the digital clock time from 0.01 up to at least 0.05, and, preferably, up to 0.10. Fighting according to the principle "whoever is faster" is undoubtedly a more courageous undertaking, but there used to have occurred precedents of unfair “chopping down” of chess clock hands. However, being in an official tournament in a situation like this you just cannot come to grips with your opponent as is customary to happen in Moscow parks ...So, after all, it is preferable to follow on an action movie featuring the Fischer time control.

Prior to breaking up the position with а5-а6 Leinier, being an experienced blitz player and a former World Champion in Blitz, makes another series of moves aimed at gaining yet more time.

69.Kg2 Kb7 70.Kf2 Qf5 71.Kg2 Re8 72.Kf2 Qe6 73.Qd2 Kb6 74.Qd1 Qd6 75.Kg2 a5 76.bxa5+ Kxa5 77.Qa1+ Kb6 78.Qb2+ Kc7 79.Qa2 Rb8 80.Ne5 c5?! 

This time around Dominguez is failed by a lack of composure. He should have opted for 80... Rb7 and spend a few moves on having the black king sheltered more safely. Although the lines for the rook have already been opened, a queen and a knight, especially in blitz, are known of being capable of creating dangerous threats.


The g5-pawn is held at gunpoint!

81…cxd4 82.cxd4 Rb4 83.Qxg5 Rb2+? 

Giving this on the off check only puts the rook in a precarious position, and Black had better grab the pawn 83... Rxd4 84.Qxg7+ Kc8, although the chances of winning are, objectively speaking, no longer significant. However, any result is possible in a blitz game.



The check from c1 was a threat and the g7-pawn was hanging, whereas in the case of 84...Kb6 85.Qxg7 Rb1 White was in a reasonably good shape to start pushing his rook pawn forward (without missing the rook check from g1, of course), but Leinier simply allowed his pieces to be forked. 

85.Qxg7+ Kb6 86.Qf6+ Kb5 87.Nd3!, and the knight proved superior to the rook in this battle. Following this ordeal Dominguez failed to pull himself together and went on to lose the return game as well. As for the exhausted by endless tiebreaks Adams, he was paired against Nakamura, who also needed to work himself out that late night in Baku, playing additional games of round three. 

Leinier Dominguez’s tragedy - going down being up a whole exchange! 

Sixth Place. Following the trail of Denis Khismatullin 

Round three of the World Cup paired extremely strong players, when besides the super battle Andreikin-Kramnik there stood out also and encounter between Alexander Grischuk and Pavel Eljanov. The native of Moscow is not only an elite grandmaster, but also a brilliant chess player in the rapid format of chess, the fact which granted Grischuk with additional bonuses in knockout tournaments. However, Alexander’s start in Baku was anything but easy – having missed a bunch of goal-scoring opportunities he finally prevailed over the leader of the Turkmenistan chess Yusup Atabayev only as late as the blitz section, then went on to win a difficult match against Vladimir Fedoseev. Eljanov, on the other hand, had so far scored +4-0=0, whereas his performance demonstrated that he was in an excellent shape and in a serious winning mood. The Russian player was in charge of the white pieces in game one and the fierce battled broke out. 

Grischuk (2771) – Eljanov (2717)
Round 3, Game 1

With yet five moves to make the time control move the Moscowite was as usual in a severe time trouble. Under different circumstances Pavel could have given a serious amount of consideration to 35...Qb1!? 36.Re2 (the game also ends in a draw after 36.b4 f4 37.a6 f3+ 38.Kh3 h5 39.a7 g5 40.Qxg5 Qxa2 41.Qxf6 Qxa7 42.Qf5+) 36...b4! 37.Re3, although in this case White is happily past the time control trouble while still keeping his dangerous passed rook pawn. Therefore, he makes up his mind to launch an assault against the enemy’s king!

Interestingly, Eljanov has recently become a co-author of a unique combination by Denis Khismatullin, which was carried out in a somewhat similar heavy piece ending featuring both passed pawns and weak kings. Did the brilliant play of Denis come to the mind of the Ukrainian player during this encounter?

The beginning of the heavyweights' battle in a heavy piece ending

35… f4 36.a6?!

White could have delayed his quest for the second queen in favour of creating his own mating counter-threats: 36.Rc2! b4!

It turns out that 36...f3+ fails to 37.Kh3 Rg6 (or 37...Qf1+ 38.Kh4) 38.Rc8 and it is White who captivates the enemy’s king first. 

37.a6 f3+ 38.Kh3 Qf1+ 

There is no spare time to set ambush against His Majesty because after 38...Qh1 39.Rc6! Qg2+ 40.Kg4 Rxc6 41.Qxc6 Qxf2 42.Qxe4+ the queen ending is winning for White, whereas the pawn cannot be captured by the rook either in view of  38...Rxa6 39.Qf5+ Rg6 40.Rc6, winning. 

39.Kh4, and now Black is up against a difficult choice of either transiting into the rook ending down a pawn - 39...Qd3 40.Qxd3 exd3 41.Rd2 Rxa6 42.Rxd3 or continue fighting with queens on the board - 39…Qxa6 40.Qxe4+ Kh8 41.g4!, and the initiative belongs to White.

However, the straightforward pawn march towards the 8th rank is strong enough as well. 

36...f3+ 37.Kh3 Rg6? 

This losing move eventually landed Eljanov in the Final 16! The Ukrainian grandmaster declined the best continuation 37... e3! 38.Qe4+ Rg6 39.Qxf3 exf2 40.Rxf2 Rxa6 41.Qf5+ Rg6 42.Kg2 since White has consolidated and can count on further elimination of the b5-pawn because of the pinned g6-rook. However, the outcome of the game would have remained unclear.


The White pawns comes to a halt without ever becoming a queen. It turns out that after 38.a7! Qg1 (38...Rg5 39.a8Q) White can profit from 39.Qf5! Qg2+ 40.Kh4 Qxh2+ (40...e3 41.a8Q exf2 42.Qxg6+, and Black’s king will be mated shortly after) 41.Qh3, and White ends up winning after all!



Pavel is again looking for trouble, ignoring 38... e3 39.Qxf3 exf2 40.Rxf2 Rxa6 41.Qf5+ Kg8 42.Kh3, where White retained minor chances of achieving success and Black kept significant chances of making a draw. However, now that the discovered check looks pretty menacing and the clock displays only the incremented seconds, it is difficult to come up with a fearless 39.Qf5! Qxb3 (the point being that 39... e3+ 40.Kh5!! Qd6 41.a7 e2 42.Ra1, and White promotes on the next move!) 40.Ra5 Qb4 41.Kh5!! Qxa5 42.Qxg6+ Kg8 43.Qe8+ Kh7 44.Qxe4+ Kg8 45.Qb7 with the winning queen ending. However, finding such a pawn march for Khismatullin or Grischuk when in good shape is a piece of cakes, but, alas, Alexander lacked this very shape in Baku.

39.Kh3? Rg5 40.Qf7 Qc5! 

What a beautiful geometrical coordination of pieces! The queen is perfect on this square as she takes control over the a7-square and aims at the f2-pawn, while assisting the rook in creating mating threats along the fifth rank. The time control will pass, but even prolonged contemplation does not help White in finding a way of saving his queen - it is compulsory to part ways with the strongest piece.

41.g4 Qc1 42.a7 

The white king is doomed after 42.Kg3 Qg1+ 43.Kf4 Rxg4+ 44.Ke5 (44.Ke3 Qc1+ 45.Kd4 e3+) 44...e3 45.Qf5+ (45.a7 e2) 45...Rg6 46.Qxf3 Qxh2+ 47.Ke4 Qd6 – either immediately or after a while. 

42...h5 43.Qxh5+ 

The effective-looking 43.Qg8+ Kxg8 44.a8Q+ Kh7 45.Qxe4+ proved to be not so effective in the final run: 45…Kh6 46.Qe3 Qc8 47.Qe4 Qxg4+ 48.Qxg4 Rxg4, and White is going to lose this rook ending. Grischuk sacrificed his queen in the hope of building up a fortress based on his strong a7-pawn. 

43...Rxh5+ 44.gxh5 Qc8+ 45.Kg3 Qa8 46.Ra6 Kg8 47.b4 Kf8 48.Kf4 Ke7 


It was high time that creating a second passed pawn be given a try: 49.h6! gxh6 50.Rxh6. Black must have pinned his hopes on the pawn stab 51…e3! 51.Rh7+ Kf6 52.Kxe3 Kf5 53.Rf7+ Kg4, although here White has 54.h3+ Kxh3 55.Rxf3+ Kg4 56.Rf7 Qd5 57.f3+ Kg5 58.Kf2. While this ending needs further analysis, White’s hopes for a draw are still alive. 

Alexander sticks to the passive setup in the hope that the black king will not make it across the 5th rank without having to lose the b5-pawn with check. Then the passed a7-pawn perishes also, but White can go on trying to eliminate the e4-f3 pawn chain, reducing the game to a drawish structure with the pawn on f2 and with the rook going back and forth from e3 to g3. But Eljanov does not allow this by resorting to the zugzwang ideas.

49...Kd7 50.Kd4 Kc7 51.Ke3 Kb7 52.Ra5 Kb6 53.Ra3 Kc6 54.Ra5 Kd6! 

Now 55.Kf4 allows the penetration of Black’s king via 55...Kd5 56.Rxb5+ Kc4, whereas after 55.h3 Ke6 56.h4 Kd6 White is running out of any further pawn moves - 57.Ra2 Ke5. The Russian player attempted to physically bar the invasion and immediately found himself in the mating net. 

55.Kd4? Qd5+ 56.Ke3 Ke5 White resigns.

The opening part of the return game promised an interesting fight as Grischuk managed to avoid the drawish lines by resorting to the "hedgehog" setup, which pleased Sergey Shipov to a great extent. Eljanov got down to laying siege against the black queenside and at the crucial moment Alexander committed a tough positional blunder, after which his pieces ended up in the inferior positions – 2-0.

Pavel Eljanov won his third match with a 2-0 score

The loss of Grischuk proved a heavy blow to the Russian troops in Baku as it has, in fact, removed the ace of trumps from our deck. Also, the third round proved to be impassable for the Russian champion and one of the heroes of the past World Cup Evgeny Tomashevsky, who succumbed to Maxim Vachier-Lagrave in a vicious battle. Next in the line were Peter Svidler and Sergey Karjakin, whereas on a tiebreak the public attention was focused on the arenas of fighting between Hikaru Nakamura and Jan Nepomniachtchi and between Dmitry Andreikin and Vladimir Kramnik…

Pictures by Eteri Kublashvili