Highlights from the European Hybrid World Cup Qualifier

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
6/4/2021 – The European Qualifier to the World Cup was played as a hybrid tournament last week, with participants playing from approved venues monitored by foreign arbiters. A total of 36 players obtained spots in the World Cup, scheduled to take place from July 10 to August 6 in Sochi. Highlights from the massive event include a 14-year-old girl knocking out an experienced grandmaster, and a young Slovak player offering a draw after Boris Gelfand hung his queen due to a mouse slip. | Pictured: GM Jergus Pechac

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Only in Europe...

As it is always the case, the biggest qualifying event to enter the World Championship cycle was played in Europe. Given the current difficulties related to the sanitary crisis, the European Chess Union and the International Chess Federation decided to organize the European qualifier to the World Cup as a hybrid tournament. A total of 264 players from 35 countries registered to participate. 

The first phase was a knockout tournament, in which it was necessary to win three matches in a row to get one of the 36 tickets to the World Cup — except for the top 24 rated players, who had a bye in round 1, i.e. they only needed to win two matches. Each match consisted of two classical games (120 minutes for the game with 30-second increments); if the score was level after these two games, two blitz tiebreakers followed (10'+3"); and if the tie remained, a single sudden-death encounter was used as the decider.

European Chess Union

The playing venue in Spain

No fewer than 9 players from the top 20 in the initial rank failed to qualify, including Kirill Alekseenko, David Navara, Boris Gelfand, Pavel Eljanov and Nils Grandelius. Meanwhile, the lowest-rated player to make it into the World Cup was Polish IM Pawel Teclaf (2502) — the 17-year-old already showed he has plenty of potential in the recent Polish Championships, when he came fourth after losing the match for third place against Bartosz Socko.

Teclaf was not the only youngster that got a spot in the World Cup via the hybrid qualifier, as six more players aged 20 or younger also qualified — Andrey Esipenko (Russia), Haik Martirosyan (Armenia), Bogdan-Daniel Deac (Romania),  Thai Dai Van Nguyen (Czech Republic), Nikita Afanasiev (Russia) and Adam Kozac (Hungary).

Not all the youngsters that left a mark qualified to the World Cup, though. Below we tell you how Eline Roebers and Jergus Pechac also shone in the event, while 16-year-old Vincent Keymer — already a household name in the chess world — did not make the most of a remarkable queen sacrifice in his match against Viktor Laznicka.

Roebers stuns Mastrovasilis

Eline Roebers is a 14-year-old rising star from the Netherlands. The talented youngster has been coached by two ChessBase collaborators, Merijn van Delft and Robert Ris — Merijn analysed one of Roebers’ games from last year’s U-14 World Rapid Championships, which she won, while Robert recently looked at the Dutch girl’s victory in her classical game against Greek GM Anastasios Mastrovasilis.

Roebers lost the first game against Mastrovasilis, but managed to level the score by winning the next encounter with the white pieces. In his Fast and Furious show, Ris presented the readers with the following position. How to proceed with White?


The 14-year-old found 24.Qe7 — not 24.cxd3, when Black would get counterplay with 24...Bxf5 — and went on to score a remarkable 32-move victory. 

Roebers and Mastrovasilis traded wins in the blitz tiebreaker that ensued, but it was the youngster who prevailed in the sudden-death decider as a 39-move win with white gave her the pass to the next stage of the qualifier.


All 5 games from the Roebers v Mastrovasilis match

Eline Roebers

Eline Roebers | Photo: Harry Gielen

Good manners

When a mouse-slip is seen in a blitz or bullet game played online, most of the time it is simply regarded as part of the game, with the favoured player simply taking the ‘gift’ and moving on to the next encounter. In case of a disconnection, the protocol might vary — e.g., during the Chessable Masters, Magnus Carlsen resigned game 2 against Ding Liren after the Chinese star had lost the previous game on time due to a disconnection.

Given all these precedents, what 19-year-old Jergus Pechac did in game 4 of his match against living legend Boris Gelfand was a real show of good old gentlemanly manners.


Gelfand still had plenty of time on his clock when he mouse-slipped with 16.Qb4, leaving his queen en prise. Instead of grabbing the queen, Pechac immediately offered a draw. Gelfand accepted, which meant the match would be decided in Armageddon.

Much like Roebers, the lower-rated player was forced to win with the white pieces in order to reach the next stage of the knockout. Pechac managed, and he did so without taking advantage of the nuisances connected to online chess.


All 5 games from the Pechac v Gelfand match

Keymer’s missed chance

The likes of Alireza Firouzja, Andrey Esipenko and Nodirbek Abdusattorov have already become household names for the chess fans, despite being astoundingly young. The same can be said about 16-year-old Vincent Keymer, who was paired up against Czech GM Viktor Laznicka in the second round of the qualifier. 

Playing white, Keymer was doing great, as he correctly gave up his queen for a rook and a piece to get a strong initiative on move 34.


White’s 35.Rxd7 allowed 35...Rc1+ 36.Qxc1 Bxc1. Keymer entered this line because he had already foreseen 37.Bf6+ Kh6 38.Ne7


The white rook is now up for the taking. Except that after 37...Qxd7 38.Ng8+ Kh5 39.g4+ Black’s only defence is 39...Qxg4+ giving back the queen.

Keymer’s fine combination left him a piece up, although Black did get two connected passers on the queenside soon after. The position was winning for White, but a serious error by the young German on move 60 not only spoiled his advantage but turned the tables in Laznicka’s favour. The Czech grandmaster went on to win the game. A draw in the second game left Keymer out of contention.


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European Chess Union

The playing venue in Germany


Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.


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