World Cup: Carlsen’s close call

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
7/28/2021 – Only after an extremely tense struggle did Magnus Carlsen manage to knock out Andrey Esipenko to reach the quarterfinals of the FIDE World Cup in Sochi, where he will face Etienne Bacrot. Jan-Krzysztof Duda, Vladimir Fedoseev, Amin Tabatabaei and Sergey Karjakin also went through. In the women’s section, Anna Muzychuk knocked out Nana Dzagnidze and qualified to the Candidates. | Photo: Eric Rosen

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Tabatabaei the underdog in the quarterfinals

The longest and most exciting playoff on Tuesday saw Magnus Carlsen knocking out Andrey Esipenko in the third set of blitz tiebreakers. After two draws at the start of the day, the world champion beat his young opponent in the first 10-minute game. Esipenko bounced back, but could not stop his famed rival from scoring back-to-back victories in the tense 5-minute encounters.

In the must-win game he actually won, Esipenko got a major positional advantage over the world number 1, but missed a simple shot to end the game on move 37.


After 37.Qxc3 Rxc3 38.Rb5 White needed a bit over 25 moves to convert his advantage into a win. Perhaps, had Esipenko found 37.Re8+ in the diagrammed position, he would have got more confidence going into the set of 5-minute games. 

Andrey Esipenko

On his way to the world’s top 10? — Andrey Esipenko | Photo: Eric Rosen

Carlsen will face Etienne Bacrot, who lost his first game with white against Kacper Piorun and went on to win the next three encounters to reach the quarterfinals of the gruelling event. 

In the last game of the match, Bacrot managed to convert this rook ending into a win.


The result had much to do with the fact that Piorun was in a must-win situation and escaped any previous potential draw by perpetual check. Nonetheless, GM Karsten Müller’s analysis, presented below, demonstrates how defending rook endings — which are famous for almost always finishing drawn — can be sometimes extremely difficult in practical games.


Kacper Piorun

Expressive — Kacper Piorun | Photo: Eric Rosen

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Etienne Bacrot

Frenchmen — Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Etienne Bacrot | Photo: Eric Rosen

The remaining results:

  • Jan-Krzysztof Duda knocked out Alexander Grischuk (1½-½)
  • Vladimir Fedoseev knocked out Velimir Ivic (2-0)
  • Amin Tabatabaei knocked out Haik Martirosyan (1½-½)
  • Sergey Karjakin knocked out Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (2½-1½)

FIDE Chess World Cup 2021

Source: Wikipedia | Click to enlarge

As we can see in the pairings for the quarterfinals, the most lopsided match rating-wise, naturally, is Carlsen vs Bacrot, although we should not be extremely surprised if the Frenchman at least manages to tie the classical portion of the match — Bacrot was ranked number 9 in the world in every 2005 FIDE list!

Meanwhile, the lowest-rated player overall is Tabatabaei, and he will have a tough task in facing Vladimir Fedoseev. The Russian had a bye in round 1 and then won the next three matches without ever going to tiebreaks, getting a 5½/6 score against Axel Bachmann, Timur Gareyev and Vladislav Kovalev. Nonetheless, despite having struggled against Haik Martirosyan, Tabatabaei also had impressive performances in classical chess, knocking out Yu Yangyi and Pentala Harikrishna by 1½-½ scores in rounds 3 and 4.

Duda vs Vidit and Karjakin vs Shankland are incredibly close matchups that could easily go either way!

Vladimir Fedoseev

Vladimir Fedoseev did not have it easy against Velimir Ivic, but made it to the quarterfinals in the end | Photo: Eric Rosen

All games - Round 5


Replay all the games from the World Cup at

In the one match that was decided in the rapid and blitz tiebreakers of the quarterinals in the women’s section, Anna Muzychuk defeated Nana Dzagnidze twice to both reach the semifinals and secure a spot in the next edition of the Women’s Candidates Tournament.

Muzychuk got a typical Sicilian kingside attack with the white pieces in the first rapid tiebreaker.


Dzagnidze’s 15...Qc5 was already a crucial error, as her opponent relentlessly used her initiative on the kingside until getting a 37-move win. The one correct move for black in the diagram was 15...Nxh5, although allowing the usual exchange sacrifice with 16.Rxh5 gxh5 17.Qxh5 is never pleasant.

White nevertheless got to play an exchange sacrifice to end the game later on.


36.Rfxg6 fxg6 37.Qd8+ and Dzagnidze resigned due to 37...Qf8 38.Rxg6+ Kg7 39.Rf6+.

Muzychuk will face top seed Aleksandra Goryachkina in the semis that start on Thursday (note that the rest day only applies to the women’s section, as the quarterfinals of the open section kick off on Wednesday).

Anna Muzychuk, Maria Fominykh

Anna Muzychuk talking with commentator Maria Fominykh | Photo: Anastassia Korolkova

FIDE Chess World Cup 2021

Source: Wikipedia | Click to enlarge

All games - Round 5


Replay all the games from the Women’s World Cup at


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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