FIDE World Cup: A few upsets

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
9/11/2019 – The most anticipated tournament of the year kicked off in Khanty-Mansiysk. Most of the favourites started with a win, with eleven out of the sixteen top seeds getting a full point on Tuesday. The biggest surprise rating-wise was given by Norwegian Johan-Sebastian Christiansen, who beat Radoslaw Wojtaszek with Black. But Christiansen was not the only young player to have a good day, as Alireza Firouzja, Nihal Sarin, Andrey Esipenko and Nodirbek Abdusattorov also got off to a good start. Do not miss the round-up show by IM Lawrence Trent. | Photo: FIDE

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A young man's game?

The future generation of top players is quickly rising through the ranks, as increasingly younger talents are making a name for themselves in the world of professional chess. The inaugural round of the World Cup in Khanty-Mansiysk was no exception to the rule, as most players aged 20 or younger got things rolling favourably in the Siberian city.

This does not mean the older generations are doomed by any stretch of the imagination, as was proven in previous editions — if we just focus on the winners, Boris Gelfand was 41 when he won the event in 2009 and  Vladimir Kramnik was 38 when he got first place in 2013. 

Nonetheless, we cannot but be stunned by the precocity of players like Nodirbek Abdusattorov (14 years old), Nihal Sarin (15) or Alireza Firouzja (16).

Alireza Firouzja

Will Alireza Firouzja continue his brisk ascent? | Photo: FIDE

Sarin's victory was particularly startling, as he took down Jorge Cori in style from the white side of a Sicilian Kalashnikov. Let us not forget that the youngster from India got a wild-card invitation to participate in this tournament — the organizers' decision has already been justified. Sarin spent quite a while on moves 10 to 12, but he had used his time wisely, as he correctly decided to give up a pawn for the initiative at that point:

 

After 13.ed5, Cori found the first suggestion of the computers, 13...f6, but by then it was clear White was the one pushing. Black could capture on b3 and get a small material edge, but his out-of-play knight on a5 and White's active pieces gave the Indian more than enough compensation. 

Later on, Sarin found another fine positional move to consolidate his advantage:

 

19.fb1 cemented White's advantage and Sarin went on to show great maturity to convert his positional advantage into a 57-move victory.


Sarin vs Cori analysed by IM Sagar Shah


While Sarin took down a higher-rated opponent, Alireza Firouzja — the youngest 2700+ player in the world — defeated Arman Pashikian with the white pieces before the time control was reached. In the meantime, the youngest of all, Nodirbek Abdusattorov (2608), got a safe draw with the white pieces against Maxim Matlakov (2716), despite having been surprised by his Russian opponent as early as move 5.

Another success story for a youngster on opening day was Andrey Esipenko's win over Ruslan Ponomariov. A very accomplished player in this format, Ponomariov won the FIDE World Championship knock-out tournament in 2002 and was the World Cup runner-up in 2005 and 2009. After his loss against Esipenko, though, he will need to win with Black to stay alive in Khanty-Mansiysk. 

The 17-year-old from Russia played the Caro-Kann Defence, equalized after the opening and reached a comfortable endgame by move 35:

 

Esipenko gobbled up White's f-pawn five moves later and went on to patiently convert his advantage into a win.

Diego Flores, Gawain Jones

Ruslan Ponomariov blurred on the background (left) — focus on Diego Flores, who lost against Gawain Jones | Photo: FIDE

All games mentioned in this section

Notice Sarin's game has been annotated by IM Sagar Shah.

 

Top boards action

Johan-Sebastian Christiansen turned 21 this year, but we will choose to include him in this section (and not in the 'young guns category' above), as his opponent was not only older than him but also the sixteenth highest-rated player in the field. Christiansen had the black pieces against Radoslaw Wojtaszek and slowly outplayed his experienced rival after getting a strategic advantage in the middlegame:

 

Wojtaszek's 29.b4 boosted the computer's evaluation in Black's favour, but proving the advantage was not a trivial task. Christiansen kept up the pressure, creating threats on both sides of the board and sidestepping his opponent's tricks until forcing White's resignation on move 51. Much like Ponomariov, Wojtaszek will need to bounce back with Black to stay in the race.

FIDE World Cup 2019

A crowded playing hall...for now | Photo: FIDE

Other top players that got in trouble were Levon Aronian and Hikaru Nakamura. While Nakamura kept things under control when he noticed he was in danger against Algerian Bilel Bellahcene, Aronian was facing difficulties against the oldest player in the field, 53-year-old Essam El-Gindy from Egypt. The Egyptian was an exchange up against the defending champion, but chose to give up his material edge to eliminate White's powerful central knight on the last move prior to the time control:

 

El-Gindy's 40...db6 was not a mistake, but converting a heavy-piece endgame against someone as tricky as Aronian is not an easy task. Furthermore, the Armenian equalized three moves later and the point was eventually split. In the diagrammed position, the Egyptian could have gone for the initiative with 40...♛g4, but we cannot blame him for not finding that move with the clock ticking down and such a strong player on the other side of the board.

Leinier Dominguez, Alder Escobar

Eighth seed Leinier Dominguez defeated Colombian GM Alder Escobar | Photo: FIDE 

There were some hiccups, as we saw above, but it was mostly smooth sailing for those at the very top of the ratings list. Ian Nepomniachtchi, for example, built up a devastating attack after giving up a piece against Mongolian Sugar Gan-Erdene:

 

Here Nepomniachtchi had planned to go 26...b4+ — which he played in less than a minute — and after 27.cxb4 c4+ 28.a1 axb4 the a-file is wide open. Gan-Erdene, the only untitled player in the line-up, used some desperate defensive resources, but soon enough was pushed to accept defeat with mate-in-three on the board:

 

Ian Nepomniachtchi

Ian Nepomniachtchi only needs a draw on Wednesday to reach round two | Photo: FIDE

All games mentioned in this section

 

The myriad of chess action continues tomorrow, as sixty-four parallel games will take place for a last time in the tournament — barring the unimaginable occurrence of all match-ups ending up tied. Some will stay, some will go.


Round-up show

GM Daniel King reviews the action of the round


The Weekly Show with IM Lawrence Trent


Commentary webcast

Commentary by GM Evgeny Miroshnichenko, GM Alex Yermolinsky and IM Anna Rudolf


All results

 

All games

 

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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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psamant psamant 9/11/2019 10:48
This is a tournament that everyone looks forward to! Great chess all around!
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