FIDE World Cup 2017: 35 decisive games

by Sagar Shah
9/4/2017 – It was the first day of the FIDE Chess World Cup 2017 and from the point of view of spectators things couldn't have got better. 35 out of the 64 games ended decisively. The biggest upset of the day was surely GM Bator Sambuev beating Chinese prodigy Wei Yi. But from the chess point of view it was Alex Lenderman's victory from a completely lost position against Pavel Eljanov that caught many eyeballs. We bring you analysis and video interviews of almost all the top players. | Photos: Amruta Mokal

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A bloody day one

World Cup

Magnus Carlsen had the white pieces. He was playing an opponent rated 567 points below him. Yet after three hours of play, nothing was certain. True, the World Champion had a small edge, but it was not substantial. Finally, the Nigerian player went wrong and Magnus registered the full point after 39 moves. Magnus rushed out from the tournament hall and when I asked him his thoughts about the game, with a relieved smile he said, "well, it was one point!"

This is the thing about the World Cup: No point comes easy. Not even if you are a World Champion. Each and every board saw a mammoth fight and at the end of the day we had 35 players who would surely sleep well. Their 35 opponents would be thinking really hard as to how the tables can be turned when they sit opposite each other in game two.

The pressure is immense. Many players came to Tbilisi with no real hopes. But when you get to the board and soak in the environment, you want to stay here. You want to stay for as long as possible and fight against the best players in the world. After all, you are never going to play a tournament where after winning the first round the prize money nearly doubles! (€6,000 to €10,000 if you qualify to round two.)

Before starting with the key games of the first round, it should be mentioned that there was one player who didn't have to go through all of the pressure related issues mentioned above: Alexander Onischuk. His opponent Yaroslav Zherebukh couldn't make it to the event which meant that Onischuk not only advanced to the second round, but he also got three free days! Zherebukh had applied for his Green Card in USA and fearing that he may not be admitted back to the country, he decided not to travel to the World Cup. What a pity.

The top board encounter between Magnus Carlsen and Balogun Oluwafemi

Carlsen wasn't at his sharpest and best form, but he never really let his small advantage slip. He played solidly and outplayed his opponent slowly to pocket the full point. Full credit to the Nigerian player for making the World Champion's task as difficult as possible. He will have one more shot at taking down the best player in the world, this time with the white piece.


Daniel King analyzes Carlsen 1-0 Oluwafemi


The biggest upset of the day was surely Bator Sambuev's win over Chinese super talent Wei Yi. Wei Yi has been in great form recently and has climbed all the way up to 2748 on the Elo rankings. But on Sunday, he was clearly missing things and when he made the final error, Sambuev finished him off to perfection.

The giant killer of day one: 36-year-old Russian-Canadian GM Bator Sambuev

Bator Sambuev 1-0 Wei Yi


"I made two strong moves to win the game" —Bator Sambuev on his win against Wei Yi

Biggest heartbreak

If there was one game that witnessed the biggest turnaround on day one, it had to be Aleksandr Lenderman's win over Pavel Eljanov. The Ukrainian grandmaster had shown phenomenal chess in the 2015 edition of the World Cup reaching the semi-finals. He showed that same level of play today and gained a winning position. However, just after the time control, Eljanov started to go really wrong and within just ten moves slumped to a defeat from a position where he was two pawns up.

Lenderman speaks about his victory to Ian Rogers

Aleksandr Lenderman speaks to Ian Rogers about his topsy-turvy victory

Pavel Eljanov 0-1 Aleksandr Lenderman


A few more important upsets included India's Harikrishna Pentala losing to Yuri Gonzalez Vidal and Bacallao Alonso beating Vladimir Fedoseev.

Top players and how they won

One thing that we rarely get to witness is 2750+ players playing against 2450-2550 opponents. These match-ups always result in interesting games because the 'relatively' lower rated players are strong and experienced in their own way. How do these super grandmasters manage to beat them? Well, we present you with five such games of Anand, Nakamura, Giri, So and Aronian along with short analysis and their video interviews to give you a good idea.

1. Yeoh Li Tian 0-1 Vishy Anand

The five-time World Champion was up against Malaysian number one 17-year-old Yeoh Li Tian.

The Malaysian just gave up his queen and Anand was very surprised by this decision


Anand speaks about his win over Yeoh Li Tian

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2. Hikaru Nakamura 1-0 Mollah Abdullah Al Rakib

Nakamura had a tough game against his Bangladeshi opponent Al Rakib. At some point he was even worse. But when the position became quite sharp, Abdulla went wrong and handed over the full point to his opponent.


Hikaru Nakamura wins against Abdulla-Al-Rakib after a wild game

3. Levon Aronian 1-0 Daniel Cawdery

Aronian took a lot of risks and gave his opponent a shattered pawn structure. But in return Cawdery had the bishop pair. He made good use of it and had quite a promising position. But soon the pressure became too much to handle for the South African player, and he blundered away the game in just one move.


Levon Aronian shows some very complicated lines from his game

Aronian wants to stay here right until the end, and he knows that it would be impossible without daily fitness regime

4. Ruiz Castillo 0-1 Wesley So

Wesley's opponent played a very unambitious opening and the American GM showed how equal is not always drawish.


So explains how he slowly ground out the win from the equal looking Caro Kann endgame

5. Anish Giri 1-0 Nana Dzagnidze

Anish played an inspired game of chess sacrificing an exchange and slowly grinding down his opponent. The conversion was not as smooth as he would have liked, but it was good enough.

11-month-old Daniel comes to the playing hall to root for his dad!


Petrosian used to play defensive exchange sacrifices. Anish likes to go for aggressive ones!

This picture surely deserves a good caption (let us know in the comments)!

Divine inspiration

Getting sufficiently inspired before the game is extremely important for professional players. Different things work for different players. The main thing is that you have to get into the right frame of mind to give your best.

Kramnik likes to look upwards for inspiration!

So does Richard Rapport!

Alexander Areshchenko gets into the groove by looking inwards

Some just focus on the board like Hou Yifan

There is a Nepo inside every chess player who is completely lost once in a while!

Higher rated beats lower rated

These are the results (27 games) where the higher rated player beat the lower rated opponent. Some of them might have a rating very close to each other like Areshchenko (2652) beating Demchenko (2645).

Lower rated beats higher rated

These are the cases where the lower rated player beat his higher rated opponent. There is also one case where both players had the same rating — Bachmann and Dreev where the Russian player won. 

Draws where white was higher rated

14 games were drawn where the white player was higher rated:

Draws where black was higher rated

15 games were drawn where the black player was higher rated:

Games and commentary:

Commentary by GM Ivan Sokolov

Round 1.1 Highlights by IM Lawrence Trent

IM Lawrence Trent examines key moments from Round 1, Game 1

Game 1.2 on Monday

The second game of the first round is going to be an extremely interesting affair. 35 players who are trailing by one full point would like to strike back. How many of them can deliver under pressure? For those who have drawn their first round game, will have to tread very carefully. One wrong move and you are out of the championship. The stakes are higher, and we look forward to some exciting games of chess.


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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