FIDE World Cup 2017: World No.35 eliminates World No.1

by Sagar Shah
9/11/2017 – Magnus Carlsen made the bold decision to play in this unpredictable knock out format of the World Cup, and on Sunday he was eliminated by world number 35 Bu Xiangzhi of China. Along with Magnus, also Kramnik and Nakamura have had to book their return tickets. Out of the top ten players in the world that were playing at this event, only one has qualified to round four. Five have been knocked out and four will play the tiebreaks. We have a huge round three, game two, report from Tbilisi. | Photos: Amruta Mokal

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Kramnik and Nakamura also out

World Cup

The World Cup 2017 started with all the top ten players in the world (in fact 19 out of the top 20). After just eight days of chess in Tbilisi only one player out of these top ten has booked a spot in the fourth round. That's the super solid Wesley So. Five of the players (Carlsen, Kramnik, Mamedyarov, Anand, Nakamura) have been eliminated and four others (MVL, Aronian, Caruana, Grischuk) are going to fight it out in the tiebreaks. What's going on? How is it that the top players are getting knocked out by players rated nearly 100 Elo points below them.

Some people say that the World Cup is a lottery format. One mistake and you are out. Well, shouldn't the higher rated player be making fewer mistakes? I find the following reason to be much more convincing: the lower rated players, or the so-called underdogs, hardly ever get a chance to play these top players. In the tournament when they do get an opportunity, they have nothing to lose, while the elite players have a lot of pressure to perform. As a result the underdogs play with all their energy and well above their actual level. Also most of the lower rated players are not used to getting paid just for playing at an event. They have to fight through nine rounds of an open tournament, play the tense final round and if successful, earn a prize. But here at the World Cup, they are paid a fixed sum. This amount keeps increasing as they qualify for the next rounds. The financial security is one of the reasons why the underdogs have a feeling of taking as much risk as they can. Also the general level of play and the methods of opening prepration have improved tremendously and the gap between a 2650+ player and a 2750+ is no longer as huge as it used to be.

In round three, Magnus Carlsen was knocked out by Bu Xiangzhi. Vladimir Kramnik was finished off by Vassily Ivanchuk and Hikaru Nakamura was eliminated by Vladimir Fedoseev. These were the three huge upsets of the day.

Bu Xiangzhi vs Magnus Carlsen

After losing the first game with the white pieces, Carlsen was in a desperate situation. He needed to win with black. Bu is a very solid player. He has been around the 2700 Elo mark for nearly ten years now. To create chances against him with the black pieces was not going to be easy. 

Magnus Carlsen getting ready for the most important game of his World Cup 2017

Everyone was quite surprised with Magnus' choice of going for the Meran. Maybe he should have played something more unorthodox in reply to Bu's 1.Nf3 with a move like 1...g6. The Chinese player mentioned after the game that he was expecting the Dutch and was quite comfortable facing it. Magnus equalized comfortably out of the opening and it seemed as if he would start squeezing the life out of his Chinese opponent, but then this happened.


It was extremely important for Magnus to play 14...Qc7. This would have kept the position complex and we would get to see quite some fighting chess. However, Carlsen missed a simple tactic and played the move 14...0-0. White was now able to show what exactly was wrong with the World Champion's decision. Bu found the move 15.Ne5! and after that the position was completely in White's favour.


I will celebrate tonight with my friends in the Chinese restaruant!

In the above interview when I asked Bu Xiangzhi whether he thinks he would qualify for the Candidates now that he has beaten the World Champion, he said, "I would just like to play happy chess." After the interview I asked Bu what he meant by happy chess. And he said, "Happy chess is playing chess with happiness and without worrying who your opponent is. You just make your moves and enjoy the game!" Well, if Bu Xiangzhi keeps winning I am sure we will get to hear a lot more about this concept of "happy chess"!

The hotel is filled with many chess fans who come to see the games! Bu Xiangzhi was, of course, the hero of the day

Vladimir Kramnik vs Vassily Ivanchuk

Guess the number of times these two guys have played each other including the formats of rapid, blitz and classical? 103! Vladimir Kramnik has 22 wins, Ivanchuk has 19 and the rest have been draws. The battle between two old rivals turned out to be very interesting. Kramnik chose the sedate exchange variation of the Caro Kann and developed his bishop to d3, followed by pawn to c3 and so on. He had a normal opening position, but then decided to mix things up with h4!?


Ivanchuk coming back to the board after visiting the washroom during the time pressure period

Ivanchuk played solid chess and didn't do anything silly. Very soon Kramnik moved his pawn to c4 and then to c5. This same pawn reached b6 and had to be defended by White's bishop moving to c7. Ivanchuk slowly surrounded the pawn and won it. Soon he was a pawn up. Using his extra material he could take the game into an endgame where he had his chances, but whether the pawn was sufficient for a win was unclear. Kramnik made some uncharacteristic errors in the endgame and was very soon lost.

Getting knocked out from the World Cup was a big setback for Kramnik, but he was a true sport on the board. He not only shook hands of Ivanchuk immediately after the game, but did so again (picture above) when they were about to leave the playing arena.


Kramnik likes to keep his nutrients during the game nicely lined up next to the board, but they didn't help him overcome Chucky!

Vladimir Fedoseev vs Hikaru Nakamura

Hikaru Nakamura was knocked out of the World Cup by Russian youngster Vladimir Fedoseev

Vladimir Fedoseev is a fearless player. He doesn't really care much for the stature of his opponent. He plays what he feels are the best moves and shows tremendous amount of self-belief. It is was this confidence that helped him beat a player as strong as Hikaru Nakamura and it the same quality that has helped him become number 21 in the world on the live ratings. Yes, the Russian now has an impressive live Elo of 2737!

Fedoseev chose the four knights and Hikaru mixed up his opening preparation. After just 12 moves we reached a position which Vladimir described as the most terrible position he had seen for black pieces! Hikaru defended staunchly and made the technical task of his opponent as difficult as possible. But the margin for error for White was quite huge. Fedoseev made a few inaccurate moves, but finally did manage to bring the full point home and eliminate his American opponent.

In an utterly lost position Hikaru Nakamura sat on the board for nearly ten minutes looking at the scoresheet and trying to think where was it that he had gone wrong. When he resigned he had overcome his grief of losing to some extent and then analyzed his game with his opponent.

Vladimir Fedoseev shows his entire game with analysis of what he thinks were the most critical lines against Hikaru Nakamura


The four knights opening that Vladimir Fedoseev chose can be good weapon to avoid lines like the Berlin, Petroff and also the main lines of Ruy Lopez and Giuoco Piano. In case you would like to add this opening to your repertoire GM Simon Williams has recorded quite a huge DVD on this topic with five hours of video training.

Rocket Repertoire: The Four Knights

Like a fine wine, the Four Knights only improves with age, establishing itself as an extremely effective way of meeting 1...e5. On the outside this opening seems deceptively quiet, yet apparently natural moves can often lead to some devastating attacks.

Being a point down and able to make a comeback against a player like Aronian shows how strong you are

One player who was really impressive today was Maxim Matlakov. He had lost the first game to Levon Aronian after he got outplayed by the Armenian. Playing against an in-form Aronian in a must-win situation was not easy. But Matlakov delivered, and he scored an excellent win in just 27 moves.

As Matlakov said in an interview to ChessBase after the game, "Levon had easier ways to equalize the game, but I think he wanted to score another victory and hence chose a risky path."

Matlakov shows some nice ideas from his win over Aronian


Levon Aronian with his physical trainer and fans. Did you know, Levon is such a big celebrity in his country, that the Armenians living in Tbilisi come to the tournament hall to just watch him play and get a glimpse of him?

One player who has impressed everyone is GM Daniil Dubov. The match between Artemiev and Dubov was dubbed as the duel between two of the biggest rising stars of Russian chess. And the match surely lived up to expectations.


Dubov explains his strategy in this tournament, "I am here to gamble! I knew that my opponent had better technique than me. My best chance was to create complicated positions which would be difficult for him to handle. When my opponent was thinking for his move, I realized that I could play this sacrifice with 13.Bb5! I thought this would be the bravest bluff of my life and went for it. The positive part about it is that I had to no longer think about cheeky things like how to make a draw."

Artemiev was better at some point in the game and his opponent even offered him a draw. But after a long thought he decided to play on and went wrong. Dubov finished off his game with tremendous perfection. Check out the game to see some very wild variations and imaginative calculations:


Dubov is the man to watch out for! Next he faces the winner between Aronian and Matlakov.

Talking to press officer Anastasiya Karlovich Dubov said, "Before the tournament I visited Saint Petersburg where my good friend Maxim Matlakov lives. We met and we discussed how nice it would be to meet each other in round four. But for that I would have to beat Karjakin and he would have to get past Aronian. At that point we laughed it off. But now we are just one hurdle away from meeting each other. I hope Maxim beats Aronian and we play each other!"

Earlier I thought Wesley having his chair sideways is just a co-incidence. Now I realize that it is something that he does on purpose!

"I think this format suits me very much," said Wesley So in an interview after his match with GM Francesco Vallejo Pons. The American GM had won the match comfortably with a score of 1½-½. He is through to the fourth round where he would meet the winner of Baadur Jobava and Ian Nepomniachtchi. After a disastrous Sinquefield Cup, it seems as if Wesley has steadied his boat. He is right now the only top ten player in the world to enter the fourth round.

Wesley So speaks about his match with Vallejo Pons and more

Svidler knows he has to be in Tbilisi for a long duration, for which staying fit is a must!

Peter Svidler showed superior understanding of the d3 Ruy Lopez and beat his opponent Alexander Onischuk to advance to the fourth round. He will now face Bu Xianghzi. Peter will surely not underestimate his Chinese opponent especially after what he did to the World Champion. So it will be an exciting match to look forward to.

Wang Hao was able to beat Yuri Kuzubov and advance to the fourth round

The match between Sethuraman and Anish Giri was filled with many exciting moments. In the second game Sethuraman built up a winning position.


Sethuraman made one strong move after another and very soon had an advantage of three points around move 24. He carried this advantage for nearly 20 moves, where he had so many different possibilties of finishing the game. But, Sethuraman could not find the killer blow and Anish survived.


Clockwise from top left: Sethuraman dominating for nearly 90% of the game, Anish finally heaving a sigh of relief, Giri shows the win to his opponent, Sethuraman is devastated at having missed such a winning position.

Making the impossible possible — Anish Giri!


Near the elevator little Danny had a question to his dad!

"Danny, that was a pawn sacrifice for compensation. There are some things that you still don't understand!"

World Champion Magnus Carlsen is out of the World Cup 2017. The decision taken by him to play was very bold. It's true that he wasn't able to achieve his goal, but thanks to his participation this event became much bigger and grander than what it usually is. 

Results of Round 3, Game 2

Bu Xiangzhi 0.5-0.5 Magnus Carlsen
Peter Svidler 1-0 Alexander Onischuk
M. Vachier-Lagrave


Aleksandr Lenderman
David Navara 0.5-0.5 Alexander Grischuk
Vladimir Kramnik 0-1 Vasily Ivanchuk
Sethuraman 0.5-0.5 Anish Giri
Maxim Matlakov 1-0 Levon Aronian
Daniil Dubov 1-0 Vladislav Artemiev
Wesley So 0.5-0.5 Vallejo Pons
Baadur Jobava 0.5-0.5 Ian Nepomniachtchi
Vladimir Fedoseev 1-0 Hikaru Nakamura
Anton Kovalyov 0-1 Maxim Rodshtein
Evgenvy Najer 0.5-0.5 Fabiano Caruana
Richard Rapport 0.5-0.5 Li Chao
Yuri Kuzubov 0-1 Wang Hao
Vidit Gujrathi 0.5-0.5 Ding Liren

Overall score in the match

Players on the left qualifed for round 4 and players on right are eliminated

Bu Xiangzhi 1.5-0.5 Magnus Carlsen
Peter Svidler 1.5-0.5 Alexander Onischuk
Daniil Dubov 1.5-0.5 Vladislav Artemiev
Wesley So 1.5-0.5 Vallejo Pons
Vladimir Fedoseev 1.5-0.5 Hikaru Nakamura
Vasily Ivanchuk 1.5-0.5 Vladimir Kramnik
Maxim Rodshtein 2-0 Anton Kovalyov
Wang Hao 1.5-0.5 Yuri Kuzubov

Tiebreaks in round 3

Aleksandr Lenderman Maxime Vachier-Lagrave
Alexander Grischuk David Navara
Anish Giri Sethuraman
Levon Aronian Maxim Matlakov
Fabiano Caruana Evgenvy Najer
Li Chao Richard Rapport
Ding Liren Vidit Gujrathi
Ian Nepomniachtchi Baadur Jobava

Update on the Anton Kovalyov incident:

We published an article on how Anton Kovalyov was asked to change his shorts before the game. Following an exchange with the chief arbiter Tomasz Delega and ECU President Zurab Azmaiparashvili, he did not turn up to the round and left the Hualing Hotel and the city of Tbilisi. His reasons have been mentioned in the aforementioned article. We now have some updates:

  • Association of Chess Professionals (ACP) are gathering signatures on a petition in protest of the actions of Zurab Azmaiparashvili
  • Azmaiparashvili clarifies about what he meant when he used he word "Gypsy" (video below)
  • Kovalyov's opponent Maxim Rodshtein speaks about getting two walkovers and advancing to round four

Zurab Azmaiparashvili clarifies about the context in which he used the word "Gypsy"

Maxim Rodshtein, the opponent of Anton Kovalyov, speaks about getting two walk-overs and advancing to round four

Replay the games of round three:



Sagar is an International Master from India with two GM norms. He loves to cover chess tournaments, as that helps him understand and improve at the game he loves so much. He is the co-founder and CEO of ChessBase India, the biggest chess news portal in the country. His YouTube channel has over a million subscribers, and to date close to a billion views. ChessBase India is the sole distributor of ChessBase products in India and seven adjoining countries, where the software is available at a 60% discount. compared to International prices.


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