World Cup: No punches pulled

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
7/23/2021 – Half the matches in the open section of the FIDE World Cup finished decisively on Thursday, with Kacper Piorun, Vidit Gujrathi, Vasif Durarbayli and Sam Shankland scoring crucial wins with the black pieces. The biggest upset rating-wise was Amin Tabatabaei (pictured) beating Harikrishna with the white pieces. In the women’s section, Antoaneta Stefanova and Polina Shuvalova won their first games in the round-of-16. | Photo: Eric Rosen

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Fighting chess

The FIDE World Cup kicked off about two weeks ago, and the massive event has been nothing short of exhilarating for chess fans around the globe. So far, we have seen little to none ‘calculated’ draws, with most of the players willing to take risks in the long-winded, gruelling knockout event.

With 32 players still in contention in the open section and 6 players from the top 10 having been eliminated, a particularly large number of participants at this stage consider that going for complications whenever they can is their best strategy, given how immensely rewarding the final prize is — a chance to fight to become the next challenger for the world crown in the Candidates Tournament.

Winning matches in two days, instead of going through nerve-racking rapid and blitz tiebreakers, might end up being a key factor in the deciding rounds.

FIDE World Chess Cup 2021

Behind the scenes | Photo: Anastasiia Korolkova

As it is often the case, Magnus Carlsen’s encounter was the main attraction in Thursday’s round of classical games. The world champion had the black pieces against Radoslaw Wojtaszek, and a highly enticing position appeared on the board in the middlegame, with both players giving up material before entering a dynamic, imbalanced battle.

 

Wojtaszek bravely went for 23.Nxf5 exf5 25.Bxf5, targetting h7 with his queen sneakily controlling the light-squared diagonal from b1. After thinking for 9 minutes, though, Carlsen found the best response — a strong counter-sacrifice: 25...Bxh4 26.gxh4 Qxh4.

In the ensuing tactical struggle, a materially imbalanced position appeared on the board, as Black had a queen, a rook and two extra pawns against White’s pair of rooks and pair of bishops. On move 35, Carlsen offered a draw.

 

The engines give Black a slight edge, and perhaps under different conditions Carlsen would have at least tried to create problems for his opponent. However, this time around, the world champion saw it better to secure the half point as he will have the white pieces in the rematch. This was Carlsen’s first draw in the event — he won all four of his games in the previous rounds.

Radoslaw Wojtaszek, Alina Kashlinskaya

Husband and wife still in contention — Radoslaw Wojtaszek and Alina Kashlinskaya | Photo: Eric Rosen

Even sharper struggles were seen in the games won by Etienne Bacrot and Vidit Gujrathi.

Facing Russian GM Pavel Ponkratov, Bacrot entered a sharp position out of the opening by castling queenside with the white pieces. A wild tactical struggle ensued, with the players needing to make tough decisions as early as move 10. Bacrot was in the driver’s seat, but his opponent missed a golden chance to create counterplay on move 30.

 

White no longer has his queen, but his better-coordinated pieces gave him a large advantage — until he played 30.Bg5. In the diagrammed position, Ponkratov played 30...Nxg5 and went on to lose the game 14 moves later.

We certainly cannot blame the Russian for not having found the equalizing move shown by the computer: 30...Bxc5 — a shot out of the blue! After 31.dxc5 Qxe5, White in fact needs to go for a perpetual check with 32.Rd8+, as otherwise Black’s queen and pair of knights will coordinate a deadly attack.

 

Ponkratov will now need to win on Friday to remain in contention. Bacrot, who was ranked as high as number 9 in the world, continues to show his strength, much like he did at the Grand Chess Tour rapid and blitz tournament in Paris.

Etienne Bacrot

Etienne Bacrot | Photo: Eric Rosen

Unlike Ponkratov, Vidit found the precise way to punish his opponent’s errors in another sharp encounter. Playing white, Jeffery Xiong had given up a piece to attack Vidit’s king with his queen and rook along the seventh file.

 

Unfortunately for the American, though, Vidit correctly accepted the sacrifice, as in the ensuing position it is Black who gets to successfully attack the opposite king — 42...Nf3+ 43.Kg3 (43.gxf3 Qe2+ 44.Kg3 Rg1+ 45.Kh4 Qf2#) Qe1+ 44.Kg4 Ne5+

 

For a second time in three moves, the knight gives a deadly check from a square defended by a white pawn. Xiong resigned 5 moves later.

Jeffery Xiong, Vidit Gujrathi

Jeffery Xiong and Vidit Gujrathi | Photo: Eric Rosen

Out of the 16 games played in the open section, 8 finished with decisive results. The biggest upset rating-wise was Amin Tabatabaei beating Pentala Harikrishna with the white pieces.

Meanwhile, three players that upset elite grandmasters in the previous round kicked off the fourth round with losses — Rinat Jumabayev (knocked out Fabiano Caruana) was defeated by Sam Shankland, Nodirbek Abdusattorov (Anish Giri) lost against Vasif Durarbayli, while Javokhir Sindarov (Alireza Firouzja) was beaten by Kacper Piorun.

Vladimir Fedoseev and Haik Martirosyan also won their games, as they got the better of Vladislav Kovalev and Ante Brkic respectively.

All games - Round 4, Day 1 

 

Stefanova and Shuvalova score

The 16 surviving participants in the women’s section are 3 match victories away from reaching the Candidates, and 2 of them kicked off the round-of-16 with a win.

Former women’s world champion Antoaneta Stefanova made the most of Aleksandra Goryachkina’s unlikely mistake to score a crucial win with the white pieces.

 

Inexplicably, the top seed in the women’s category blundered a piece with 26...Qxc5, as White can simply pin the knight with 27.Rc1. Goryachkina continued fighting until move 47, but to no avail — Stefanova, who became women’s world champion in 2004 by winning a 64-player knockout event, did not fail to convert her advantage into a win.

Antoaneta Stefanova

Antoaneta Stefanova | Photo: Anastasiia Korolkova

In the other game that finished decisively on Thursday, 20-year-old Russian IM Polina Shuvalova beat Nana Dzagnidze, also with the white pieces. Dzagnidze had also lost her first game in the previous round, against Carissa Yip, before bouncing back with three straight wins to convincingly get a ticket to the round-of-16.

In the most lopsided match rating-wise, 17-year-old Kazakhstani IM Bibisara Assaubayeva held second seed Kateryna Lagno to a draw with the black pieces.

All games - Round 4, Day 1

 

Replay all the games from the Women’s World Cup at Live.ChessBase.com

Rook and knight vs rook (analyses by GM Karsten Müller)

Endgame specialist Karsten Müller analysed two instructive positions from the women’s section. In both cases, White had a rook and a knight against a rook, a tricky setup to convert into a win. Valentina Gunina did not find the precise continuation in the following position.

 

The natural-looking 50.Ke3 is not correct here. GM Müller explains why 50.Nd2 was the winning move, and then shows how Shuvalova converted from a position with rook and knight versus rook, but with more pawns left on the board.

 

Polina Shuvalova

Polina Shuvalova | Photo: Anastasiia Korolkova



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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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