World Cup: The big guns are coming

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
7/15/2021 – Two matches — out of the 28 that went to playoffs in round 1 — reached the third set of tiebreaker games at the World Cups in Sochi: in the open, Neuris Delgado knocked out Niaz Murshed, while in the women’s section, Gulnar Mammadova eliminated Mai Narva in the longest matches of the inaugural round. Youngsters Volodar Murzin (14 y.o., pictured), Gukesh (15), Nurgyul Salimova (18) and Jennifer Yu (18) also made it through to round 2 on Wednesday. | Photo: Eric Rosen

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No more byes

First, try to solve these two quick tactical puzzles. Both positions were seen during Wendesday’s playoffs, one in the open section and one in the women’s section.

Find Black’s most forcing way to win
White to play and draw

The top 50 players in the open tournament and the top 25 players in the women’s tournament were directly seeded into round 2 of the World Cups in Sochi. In addition, 8 players could not make it to the city along the Black Sea in Southern Russia, which means 8 more players got to rest three days before joining the fray.

Out of the 109 matches that did take place in round 1, 28 were decided in Wednesday’s tiebreakers, which means some of the players who made it into round 2 will face well-rested top grandmasters after winning a tough three-day match. Specifically:

  • Gukesh (2578) vs Daniil Dubov (2714)
  • Ravi Haria (2440) vs Etienne Bacrot (2678)
  • Federico Perez Ponsa (2554) vs Alexander Grischuk (2776)
  • Alexadr Fier (2569) vs Vidit (2726)
  • Boris Savchenko (2553) vs Anish Giri (2780)
  • Bobby Cheng (2552) vs Levon Aronian (2781)
  • Abdelrahman Hesham (2397) vs Constantin Lupulescu (2656)
  • Krikor Sevag Mekhitarian (2554) vs Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (2770)
  • Volodar Murzin (2502) vs Vladislav Artemiev (2704)
  • Susanto Megaranto (2550) vs Fabiano Caruana (2820)

The same will be seen in one round-2 match in the women’s section...

  • Jennifer Yu (2316) vs Dinara Saduakassova (2500)

...although Yu — who won the 2019 US Women’s Championship — has plenty of experience facing higher-rated opposition. The same can be said about Gukesh and Murzin in the open section, two teenage rising stars who are most likely far from their peak rating.

Let us hope that the confidence boost and the fact that they have already warmed up in the first round will allow the lower-rated players to put up a strong fight against their famed rivals. After all, many of them have not played over-the-board chess for quite a while!

Ravi Haria

Ravi Haria | Photo: Eric Rosen

Going back to the tactical puzzles, the first one was seen in the first rapid game between Adly Ahmed and Abdelrahman Hesham. Black is completely winning, but Hesham surprised the commentators by playing a good-looking forcing move.


35...Rh2+ 36.Kxh2 Qh6+ 37.Rh3, and now came the move that justifies the line.


37...Rh1+ 38.Kxh1 Qxh3+ — the queen and knight duo win the game for Black. Hesham went on to draw the second game to advance to the second round after knocking out his higher-rated compatriot.

Other highlights from day 3 in the open section:

  1. English IM Hari Ravia knocked out Russian GM Vadim Zvjaginsev by scoring back-to-back wins in the 25-minute games.
  2. Paraguayan GM Neuris Delgado needed six tiebreak games to knock out Bangladeshi GM Niaz Murzhed.
  3. 14-year-old Russian IM Volodar Murzin knocked out Moldovan veteran GM Viorel Iordachescu.

Neuris Delgado

Neuris Delgado | Photo: Anastasiia Korolkova

Similarly to the all-Egyptian confrontation shown above, the lower-rated Ingrid Aliaga (Peru) had a completely winning position with black against Nurgyul Salimova (Bulgaria) in the first rapid game of the playoffs. The Peruvian WIM, however, was not careful enough in conversion.


Wondering why strong players continue playing in totally lost positions? Sometimes they are waiting for an opportunity like the one Salimova received in this game: the Bulgarian drew by stalemate after 60.Qg8+ Kg6 61.Qf7+ Kh6 62.Qxh5+ Kxh5 and the white king cannot move.

Salimova went on to win the second rapid encounter and advanced to round 2, where she will meet German number 1 Elisabeth Paehtz.

Other highlights from day 3 in the women’s section:

  1. 19-year-old American FM Jennifer Yu (2019 U.S. women’s champion) knocked out current Polish women’s champion Klaudia Kulon.
  2. Azerbaijani IM Gulnar Mammadova knocked out Estonian WIM Mai Narva in an extremely hard-fought match.

Jennifer Yu

Jennifer Yu | Photo: Eric Rosen

Endgame analyses

GM Karsten Müller sent instructive analyses from three positions seen in Wednesday’s tiebreakers. In Bilel Bellahcene vs Hovhannes Gabuzyan, White failed to defend an ending with bishop and two pawns against six pawns.


Bellahcene’s 55.e6 was the losing mistake. GM Müller demonstrates that 55.h3 was the very precise way to hold the draw. He also took a more in-depth look at the stalemate trick shown above and at a game between Hjorvar Gretarsson and Kirill Stupak — the former moved on to round 2, where he will face Maxim Matlakov.


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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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