So near yet so far: Vitiugov's World Cup

by Sagar Shah
9/28/2019 – "This tournament is like life — eventually, it has a sad end. Lucky guys leave it quickly, stubborn ones, who fight on their limits — sometimes painfully." Nikita Vitiugov crashed out of the World Cup in the quarter-finals. IM SAGAR SHAH takes a look at two of Vitiugov's masterpieces at the 2019 World Cup and invites you to solve some very interesting positional decisions that were taken by the Russian GM. | Photo: FIDE webcast

Power Play 7 - Improve your pieces Power Play 7 - Improve your pieces

Why is manoeuvring important, and in what circumstances should we consider manoeuvring rather than another course of action? In this 7th Power Play DVD, Daniel King helps you to recognise when a piece is poorly placed and what to do about it.

More...

A match away from a dream

"So what colour do you prefer for the first game of your match [at the World Cup]," asked Eteri Kublashvili to Ding Liren. After some thought Ding replied, "Normally it is better to play black first like in soccer games. For example, in an event like European Championships the team that plays away first has some advantage."

Grischuk, who was standing next to Ding, chimed in, "But you know Vitiugov starts with white, wins with white every time and wins the match!" [laughter]. And it's true! Vitiugov played some of the best chess of his life at the World Cup 2019 and in rounds three and four he eliminated Sergey Karjakin and Wesley So without going into the tiebreaks. In both matches Vitiugov scored 1½-½, showing tremendous chess with the white pieces. Let's have a look at both the games and learn from the Russian GM.

Vitiugov was sublime at the World Cup 2019 with the white pieces | Photo: FIDE

 

In this well known Anti-Berlin position Vitiugov took on c6 with his bishop. 

 

The move 11.h4 is a very interesting one. White gains space on the kingside. He may castle long, but right now he doesn't want to commit his king. At the same time pushing the pawn h5-h6 is bound to create some soft points in the position where Black can be attacked.

 

Now this is a new direction. White plays his pawn to a4, in a way saying to Black — look I am not going to castle short or long. I am going to keep my king in the centre where it will be safe. While you have a problem on hand now: your a5 pawn is slightly weak.

 

When Vitiugov took the knight on d4, Black has three ways to recapture. How would you take on d4?

Definitely Karjakin's 16...♛xd4 was incorrect. Better was to play exd4 attack the knight and push it back to f1. Yes, the bishop on b6 is slightly passive, but so is the knight on f1. And this would have been the right way to continue the game.

 

See how the h6 pawn comes in handy?

 

Vitiugov has managed to place his strong opponent in great danger. Black's e5 pawn is weak and thanks to the h6 pawn and opposite coloured bishop situation, the king on g8 is also feeling the heat.

 

Will you exchange the queens or not?

 

30.b3! was a fine move by Vitiugov. Next he goes ♕a1, ♖1e2, a1-e1, the bishop goes to c3 and e5 will become very difficult to defend!

 

The rooks have come off the board but White is still better because his queen and bishop create quite some problems 

 

After some repetition Karjakin blundered in this position. He played 52...♛d5. Can you finish off the game? 

 

53.c5+ and it is a mate in few moves. You can work out the details!

That was some high class chess by Vitiugov | Photo: FIDE

 

After beating Sergey Karjakin in round 3, it was now time for Wesley So | Photo: FIDE

 

Wesley So has always played the Petroff when he wants a solid game with black pieces. Vitiugov went for 3.d4.

 

After eight moves we reach this position. What is your assessment? Who do you think is better?

In such positions the way one would understand what's going on is through Silman's "method of imbalance". But before we go there I would like to ask you whether the pawns on c2 and c3 look weak to you? 

When you look at this 4 vs 3 rook endgame, the question that needs to be asked is — Which pawn structure do you think is better? It is natural to think that with the pawns on h7-g6-f7, Black's position is pretty good. However, having the pawns on f7 and f6 has its own benefits. If you look closely, one of the main ways in which White plays for a win in the left diagram is to try and extract a passed e-pawn, while this is very difficult in the first position, it is absolutely impossible in the second diagram because of the doubled f-pawns! If one black pawn exchanges itself with the e-pawn, there is another one still left and White doesn't get a passed pawn. Now let's come back to the Vitiugov vs So position:

 

Although this is a theoretical position, I would like to take a look at it in some detail. The main reason being the interesting imbalances in this position. Let's jot down the imbalances:

  1. The first thing that strikes you is the pawn structure. Black clearly seems to have a better structure as he doesn't have any doubled pawns like White has on the c-file.
  2. Thanks to the e5 pawn, White has some space advantage.
  3. White has a majority on the kingside while Black has a majority on the queenside.
  4. White has the semi open b-file which could prove useful.

After listing the imbalances you begin to understand a few things. The pawn structure is really not the main thing in the position. It would have been if Black had knights on the board. Imagine adding a knight on d7 and a white knight on f3. Suddenly things are not so clear, because the knight gets a very nice square on c5. As there are only bishops on the board, White doesn't have to worry about his pawn weaknesses for now. Also the pawns on c2-c3 prevent Black pawns from advancing easily on the queenside.

Imagine you had a pawn on b2 instead of c3. One can easily imagine the move c5 being more powerful as then Black wants to run down White with c4, d4 and so on. With the doubled pawns, it is not so easy for Black to push on. For White on the other hand, the pawn majority on the kingside is easier to expand with f4-f5. Black can stop White pawns after f4, by playing ...f5. However, that gives White a passed pawn on e5, as we see in the game. All in all I feel that the position is slightly better for White.

 

When White went 10.f4, Wesley decided that he cannot let these pawns keep rolling and hence met it with 10...f5. While this stopped the f-pawn in its tracks, it allows White a passed pawn on e5.

 

White plays his pawn to 12.a4. This doesn't have a particular purpose, but it just gains space on the queenside.

 

Black has just played his queen to c7. How should White continue?

Vitiugov came up with a very nice plan. Playing against opponent's weaknesses is his strength. He figured that the pawn on d5 is weak and should be pressurized systematically.

 

Well done if you found the move 17.f2, with the idea of rerouteing the bishop to f3 via e2.

 

When you put micro problems to your opponent, they are bound to go wrong! Here the pawn moves to b6, defending c5, but it gives White an additional option to create further play with the a5 breakthrough!

 

Now there are two weaknesses for Black to take care of — b5 and d5 — while c3 which theoretically should be a bad pawn is actually the best pawn in White's position. It restrains everything in Black's position.

 

White's pressure is slowly building up. How should you continue?

Vitiugov realized the importance of shifting the pieces once again. The bishop has done its role on f3, it is now time to get it to e2 to attack b5. White began with...

 

26.b2! I really like this move. White will next play ♕f1 and then ♗e2. The queen can next make her way to b1 and it is not going to be easy to hold the b5 pawn.

 

Look at how beautifully Vitiugov has arranged his pieces. This is pure art! All his pieces are attacking something, while all of Black's pieces are just defending!

Vitiugov managed to play accurately right until the very end and won the game!

 

Chess is often quite cruel!

The way Vitiugov was playin — as can be seen from the above two games — he should have made it to the finals and booked a spot for himself at the Candidates. However, look at how things turned around just within a couple of days. Vitiugov had to play a marathon encounter against Yu Yangyi in the fifth round that went all the way to Armageddon.

Armageddon spelled the end for Vitiugov | Photo: FIDE

The match went right up to the final game in the Armageddon! In the last game of the match Vitiugov with black needed a draw to qualify. He had four minutes as compared to Yu Yangyi who had five, but was in a must-win situation.

 

Yu Yangyi blundered big time right out of the opening with 9.♗e4. Can you see how this is a huge mistake?

 

Vitiugov took the pawn on g2 and next the one on f4 and was well on his way to victory! 

Can you believe that, from the above position, a player like Vitiugov, who was in such great form at the World Cup, couldn't win?

 


The end of the road for the Russian GM

After the tiebreak, a dejected Vitiugov sat in his chair after the loss for 2-3 minutes reflecting on what he had done.

Later he tweeted:

This tournament is like life - eventually, it has a sad end. Lucky guys leave it quickly, stubborn ones, who fight on their limits - sometimes painfully. But what happened here also matters and I am proud of the level of chess I've showed in the tournament (not today:-).

Vitiugov is a fine chess player. He has won the Gibraltar Masters in the past, recently competed at the Grenke Classic, won the Prague Masters in 2019 and has been in the top finishers at the Russian Super League for many years. He is right up there with the best, but has not received enough invitations to play at the absolute elite tournaments. For a player like him, finishing in top two of the World Cup would mean the biggest breakthrough of his chess career — an entry into the Candidates! And how close he was! Oh well, that's how chess is! Unpredictable.

Links




Sagar is an International Master from India with two GM norms. He is also a chartered accountant. He loves to cover chess tournaments, as that helps him understand and improve at the game he loves so much. He and is the co-founder and CEO of ChessBase India website, the biggest chess news outlet in the country.
Discussion and Feedback Join the public discussion or submit your feedback to the editors


Discuss

Rules for reader comments

 
 

Not registered yet? Register

lajosarpad lajosarpad 10/3/2019 11:38
@daftarche

I do not assume that I know their state of mind, but I know that such long tournaments and preparing for the next opponent in rest days is tiring and difficult. Nobody forces you to contemplate about this scenario, but it's strange that you have a problem with me doing so. A runner close to the end of a marathon is usually tired, or, at least not as fresh as at the start. It's common sense to know this and not some special power that I may have.
lajosarpad lajosarpad 10/3/2019 11:36
"of course they are not as fresh as day 1 but assuming they are extremely tired and somehow here it is vitiugov whom his chances would increase is unfounded."
Ok, let me elaborate. If I'm playing a much stronger player than myself in a scenario when both of us are very tired, then of course both of us can make a mistake. Yes, indeed, I can make a mistake and lose as a result, but he can make a mistake as well and lose as a result. Assuming that there is a 60% of draw, 30% for him to win and 10% for me to win in normal circumstances we can say that he is the favorite. If, on the other hand, both of us are tired and there is a 20% chance that any of us would make a losing mistake, then we need to multiply the chances above with 4/5 and add 10%-10% to both the wins in order to reflect the possibility of blunders due to tiredness, which will result in 48% + 10% for him to win, 24% for draw and 8% + 10% for me to win. So, his chance decreased from 60% -> 58% and my chance increased from 10% -> 18%. As you can see, in such a scenario of tiredness, given this example I am still an underdog, but the gap is smaller, because there is another phenomena modifying the chances and the difference in playing strength becomes less important when we are both tired than in a well rested. Let's take another example, to make sure you understand this point. If there is a super GM I would never be able to beat in normal circumstances, if both of us are tired, then he could make a blunder which allows even me to win. Yes, I could make a blunder as well, but he would beat me in normal circumstances even without the blunder.

"somehow this idea of fatigue exists in your mind and you go through all these mental gymnastics to justify that it would help vitiugov."
Was this meant to be an argument?
lajosarpad lajosarpad 10/3/2019 11:12
@daftarche

"in sports there is no place for ifs and buts."
I do not think that the sentence above holds much water. Nobody forces you to analyze a scenario which didn't occur, but telling others not to analyze it makes little sense.

"also ding played a good match vs yangi and eliminated him so this is another reason to disprove this idea that ding's play would suffer in semi final because of tiredness."
Yangi was eliminated indeed, but that doesn't make Ding Liren less tired in the semifinal, hence, if he was tired, which I'm sure he was, then there was more chance for him to make a mistake than at the start of the tournament. In the third game of the final he erred against Radjabov. It is true that this is later in time than his semifinal match, but he had a rest day prior to this match. That's of course not enough to become fully rested.

"pay attention to the fact that you can make up some arguments that if both players are very tired, it is ding who could benefit."
My point was that both Ding and Vitiukov were tired, hence there was more chance for both of them to make mistakes, which decreases the gap between the two players. Vitiukov would have been still an underdog, but with a smaller margin than in a scenario when both of them are well rested. My argument is that both of them are tired and it doesn't ignore the fact that Ding Liren could have benefitted from this situation as well. The chances in this scenario would have been affected by the factor of tiredness as well besides the actual difference of the players.

"these are all in your head and you can justify it however you want."
Was this meant to be an argument?
daftarche daftarche 10/2/2019 08:25
@lajosarpad first of all vitiugov lost to yangi. in sports there is no place for ifs and buts. he lost on the chessboard and got eliminated. that's it. he had plenty of time to prove he is better than his opponent and failed to do it. also ding played a good match vs yangi and eliminated him so this is another reason to disprove this idea that ding's play would suffer in semi final because of tiredness. pay attention to the fact that you can make up some arguments that if both players are very tired, it is ding who could benefit. these are all in your head and you can justify it however you want. of course they are not as fresh as day 1 but assuming they are extremely tired and somehow here it is vitiugov whom his chances would increase is unfounded. ding had 3 rest days one after the first round one after 4th round(the rest day everyone had) and one after 5th round not to mention he played two games vs a 1900 rated player in the first round which he won effortlessly. a top pro like ding is playing in top tournaments a lot and is used to this pressure. he played in the last world cup and reached final. just to compare, he recently played 11 classical games against the best in the world in sinquefield cup with one rest day and he won the tournament at the end. somehow this idea of fatigue exists in your mind and you go through all these mental gymnastics to justify that it would help vitiugov. that is why i am not interested in this discussion anymore because first of all vitiugov lost to yangi and this discussion is pointless and secondly you somehow assume you are aware of the state of mind of these players. adios!
lajosarpad lajosarpad 10/2/2019 12:54
@daftarche

You were right indeed about Vitiukov having to beat Ding Liren in order to qualify to the candidates.

Players being tired after such a long tournament and so few rest days is a fact. Players are preparing against each-others in their "free" time, so it is safe to assume that Ding Liren is tired and weaker than before the tournament. Which means that he can make errors. I only know about two rest days for the winners of classical matches. Vitiukov was/is tired as well, true, but I didn't compare their tiredness, but merely pointed out the fact that normally at the end of such a long tournament, with all the stress, intensive calculations and long training sessions players tend to be tired, hence it is easier to catch Ding Liren off guard than at the start of the tournament.

"if they are all tired then there is no logic in saying that ding being tired reduces the difficulty for vitiugov."

You have misunderstood this point. At the end of a tournament, when everybody is tired they are all having greater chances to go wrong in a game, which means that everybody becomes easier to beat. Ding Liren is easier to beat after such a long tournament, however, this is true for Vitiukov as well. In a match between the two of them Vitiukov would be the underdog, so, if two players are very tired, that helps the underdog. The favorite would have the upper hand in normal circumstances, but in circumstances of extreme tiredness that's not necessarily the case. Such a circumstance increases the chances of the underdog. If they had a match which day would start well rested and prepared, then Ding Liren would have a significantly higher chance to win than Vitiukov. If they are both very tired, then the volatility induced by the increased chance of possible errors on both sides reduces the differences and hence increases the chances of the underdog, who is still an underdog, but is closer to equal grounds than normally.
daftarche daftarche 10/1/2019 08:11
so it turned out vitiguv had to still beat ding liren if he had beaten yangi and that was my point. also your point about players being tired is subjective and speculative. i think having 3 rest days before semi final in this tournament including one just before the semi is enough to let you play your normal chess so i would rather not discuss further who is tired or not or who is more tired because these are just our opinions and projections. also you mentioned in your post that "Ding Liren was almost always playing tiebreaks, so he was very tired after Vitiukov's match, which reduces the difficulty for Vitiukov" but now you are saying you didn't mean ding is more tired than others. if they are all tired then there is no logic in saying that ding being tired reduces the difficulty for vitiugov.
instead of all these pointless discussions about tiredness i would like to stick to the objective fact that ding is a big favorite against some one like vitiugov because he is better than him in all time controls. also it is wishful thinking that with players like nepo, karjakin and grischuk or even artmiev, vitiugov gets the wild card.
lajosarpad lajosarpad 10/1/2019 02:54
@daftarche

"ding didn't play tiebreaks against grischuk so that means he had a rest day while vitiguv had to play till armageddon against yu."
That's a good point. Except his first match and the one against Grischuk, Ding always had tiebreaks. This is a more accurate way to put it.

"also whenever ding played tiebreaks he finished his opponent off in rapid."
I didn't check whether this is accurate, but assuming that it is, even then Ding didn't have many rest days and preparation takes a lot of energy.

"the fact he beat yu yangi shows there is no reason to think he was more tired than other players"
My point was that Ding was tired and not that Ding was more tired than others. The point I made was that Ding was more tired at that stage of the tournament than at the start of it.

You can see the regulations here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Chess_Championship_2020

It seems that I was wrong, when I thought that if the first place or the second at the World Cup qualifies by rating, then the third player at the World Cup would qualify by his World Cup result. It is the other way around: If someone qualifies by being #1 or #2 at the World Cup and would qualify via rating as well, then the next player by average rating will qualify rather than by World Cup results.

As a result, if someone is not #1 or #2 at the World Cup, then he will not qualify via his result at the World Cup. I would like to apologize to anyone who might have been misled by my misunderstanding.

Nevertheless, there is a wildcard and Vitiukov might qualify by the organizer's wildcard.
daftarche daftarche 10/1/2019 12:50
ding didn't play tiebreaks against grischuk so that means he had a rest day while vitiguv had to play till armageddon against yu. also whenever ding played tiebreaks he finished his opponent off in rapid. the fact he beat yu yangi shows there is no reason to think he was more tired than other players. also i dont know how this qualification system works and whether the next spots goes to the highest average rated player or third place in the world cup in case mvl qualifies via grandprix. and if you know please provide some evidence. all i know is that even if he had won, there was still a lot of if and buts and there was no guarantee he would play in the candidates.
lajosarpad lajosarpad 9/30/2019 12:43
@daftarche Ding Liren was almost always playing tiebreaks, so he was very tired after Vitiukov's match, which reduces the difficulty for Vitiukov. Still, Ding Liren is a great player himself as well, but even if Vitiukov would have lost against Ding Liren, due to the fact that Ding Liren has a very high level of ÉLŐ, Vitiukov still would have had a chance to qualify. Not to mention the fact that Vachier-Lagrave stands well in the Grand Prix.
daftarche daftarche 9/30/2019 11:17
this article is just tying to make it so dramatic. he still had to beat a solid top player like ding liren which is a very difficult task for vitiguv. so he was not close at all to the candidates.
Peter B Peter B 9/30/2019 02:07
Surely there is time for more rapid games before they go to Armageddon?
JuventusLION JuventusLION 9/29/2019 03:21
I agree with "Momotombo"...EXCELLENT and very instructive article. I think so far Vitugov played the best of all players at the tournament.
lajosarpad lajosarpad 9/29/2019 09:32
Vitiukov has displayed excellent chess, he deserves a lot of respect. And he is a gentleman in his loss too.
Frits Fritschy Frits Fritschy 9/28/2019 10:44
Just toss a coin instead of Armageddon. The majority of chess players might not want it - because they are below 1400 elo - but there isn't any difference apart form the painfulness of 'games' like this.
Momotombo Momotombo 9/28/2019 06:56
Excellent report!
1