FIDE World Cup: Bouncing back

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
9/12/2019 – More than half the matches of round one at the FIDE World Cup in Khanty-Mansiysk already have a winner, with most of the top twenty in the initial ratings list set to have a rest day before round two. That is not the case of Radoslaw Wojtaszek, however, who was eliminated by Johan-Sebastian Christiansen, while Yu Yangyi, Hikaru Nakamura and Dmitry Andreikin still have to defeat their lower-rated opponents on tiebreaks if they want to go through. Do not miss the round-up show by GM ERWIN L'AMI. | Pictured: Gawain Jones, who qualified to round two. | Photo: FIDE

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Knock-outs are tough

A big portion of the players participating in the World Cup have invested a lot of time making their way down to the Khanty-Mansiysk, and some of them are already packing their bags to return home after merely two days. But that is the nature of single-elimination tournaments, and for most chess players getting a chance to be a part of the World Championship cycle compensates for the long hours of travelling and the tension attached to it — besides prize money, of course. 

The second games from round one left forty-one players out of contention, while twenty-three pairings will go to tiebreaks on Thursday. The strongest players leaving Siberia are Radoslaw Wojtaszek and David Navara, who were knocked out by Johan-Sebastian Christiansen and Daniil Yuffa respectively. Meanwhile, three household names still need to show their prowess in rapid (and blitz, if necessary) to stay in the fight: Yu Yangyi, Hikaru Nakamura and Dmitry Andreikin.

Out of those three, perhaps Yu Yangyi is the one with the most difficult task ahead — at least psychologically — as he won game one but saw his opponent, Ehsam Ghaem Maghami from Iran, bounce back to tie the score. Four other players also got wins on demand after losing game one: Narayanan, Ganguly and Sethuraman from India, and Constantin Lupulescu from Romania.   

Daniel Anwuli

Nigerian Daniel Anwuli was knocked out — and encouraged — by Maxime Vachier-Lagrave | Photo: FIDE

Winning on demand

The disheartening feeling of losing the first game of the competition can only be surpassed by the elation felt after getting a win on demand to take the match to tiebreaks. On Wednesday, five players tied the scores of their match-ups after having lost game one the day before. For their opponents, going from a mindset of 'a draw is enough' to 'anything can happen on tiebreaks' will be a challenging task.

The biggest surprise of the day was certainly given by Ehsan Ghaem Maghami, a 37-year-old Iranian grandmaster who also holds a Bachelor of Laws. Ghaem lost his first game against world number ten Yu Yangyi with the black pieces. But, in game two, the Iranian obtained a positional edge out of the opening, thanks to the pair of bishops and a slight initiative. By move 34, he was clearly in the driver's seat:


34.c6 invites a queen trade that will end up favouring White. After the queens left the board, Ghaem rounded up Black's e-pawn. Yu Yangyi, in turn, thought his best chance was to exchange into an opposite-coloured bishop endgame, albeit with rooks still on the board. The Iranian GM accurately improved his position but missed a good chance on move 55:


Instead of the direct 55.b3+, Ghaem could have restricted the mobility of Black's king with 55.♖f1, which would have eased the conversion greatly. After the text, Yu Yangyi kept finding defensive resources and at some point it seemed like he would manage to hold the draw. But the underdog kept pushing, until getting the coveted win after long 132 moves. His next challenge? To defeat a top-ten rapid player on tiebreaks!

Ehsan Ghaem Maghami

Ehsan Ghaem Maghami from Iran | Photo: FIDE

Romanian Constantin Lupulescu, who recently won the strong Reykjavik Open, also managed to bounce back in his match against Latvian grandmaster Igor Kovalenko — he also got a strategic advantage in the early middlegame, but needed 'only' 57 moves to get the win.

Besides Ghaem and Lupulescu, no less than three Indian representatives won on demand on Wednesday: Narayanan defeated David Anton from Spain, Ganguly beat Vladimir Fedoseev from Russian and Sethuraman got the better of Rilton Cup champion Tamir Nabaty. Despite only needing a draw, Nabaty chose to play a setup with the kings castled on opposite flanks. Sethuraman, with Black, got a stable position and eventually took advantage of his opponent's imprecise calculation:


Nabaty erred with 24.c6, counting on ♘xf7+ later, as Black's a8-rook would be hanging after the other rook captures the knight. However, after 24...h6+ 25.c2 xf2, the anticipated 26.xf7+ xf7 27.xa8+ can be safely answered with 27...f8 and Black is totally winning. The game continued until move 38, when the Israeli threw in the towel.


Sethuraman defeated Tamir Nabaty to force the tiebreaks | Photo: FIDE

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IM Sagar Shah annotated the games played by Indian players.


Christiansen and Yuffa beat strong opposition

After sensationally beating Radoslaw Wojtaszek with the black pieces on day one, Johan-Sebastian Christiansen went on to show good preparation in the rematch encounter. In a well-known theoretical variation, the Norwegian played an exchange sacrifice that has mostly led to draws in previous attempts:


Players like Wei Yi or Alexander Donchenko could not defeat lower-rated opponents with Black after 13.xd7, while Wojtaszek, of course, needed to look for winning chances at all costs. As it tends to happen in these situations, this approach instead led to a loss, which meant Christiansen got his ticket to the next round with a 2:0 victory over the strong Polish grandmaster. 

Johan-Sebastian Christiansen

Johan-Sebastian Christiansen interviewed after his victory | Photo: FIDE

The other 2700+ grandmaster that was knocked out in round one was David Navara. The Czech had drawn his first game with Black against Russian Daniil Yuffa, after keeping the balance in a technical endgame. Navara faced the Caro-Kann Defence in the rematch encounter. Yuffa slowly but surely equalized the position in the early middlegame and made good use of a tactical chance offered by his rival:


Navara's previous 25.a5 was imprecise, as it allowed 25...d4 — after 26.xd4, Black can play 26...xg2+ and regain the piece in favourable conditions: 27.xg2 d5+ 28.f3 xb5.

Black was left with the better pawn structure and a flexible knight facing a rather hesitant bishop. Converting such a positional edge is never easy against the big guns, but Yuffa was up to the task and got to eliminate his opponent with mate-in-one on the board:


There is nothing White can do to prevent 62...♛g4#. Navara resigned.

Peter Svidler, Carlos Albornoz

The World Cup is a big chess celebration — Carlos Albornoz analysing with Peter Svidler after the latter won the mini-match 1½:½ | Photo: FIDE 

Following on some of the stories from our first report, the youngsters continued to impress. Alireza Firouzja, Nihal Sarin and Andrey Esipenko are already in round two, while Nodirbek Abdusattorov held a second draw against Maxim Matlakov. Although they are not as (incredibly) young, Parham Maghsoodloo and Jeffery Xiong also impressed, by getting 2:0 wins over Russians Maksim Chigaev and Igor Lysyj respectively.

Post-game interview with Jeffery Xiong

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Round-up show

GM Erwin l'Ami reviews the action of the day

Commentary webcast

Commentary by GMs Evgeny Miroshnichenko and Alex Yermolinsky

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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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