World Cup: Underdogs Leiva and Salinas reach round 2

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
8/1/2023 – A few major upsets left rating favourites out of the World Cup in the first round of the multitudinous competition. In the open category, Gianmarco Leiva (Peru) and Pablo Salinas (Chile) gave the biggest surprises. In the women’s section, Qianyun Gong (Singapore), Turmunkh Munkhzul (Mongolia) and Maili-Jade Ouellet (Canada) pulled off the biggest stunners. | Pictured: Nurgyul Salimova | Photo: / Maria Emelianova

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Iturrizaga and Berkes bounce back

Most rating favourites moved on to the second round of the FIDE World Cup, where the top players are set to make their debuts in Baku. Not all of them, though. A few failed to bounce back after losing on Sunday, while others did get to keep their chances alive by taking their matches to rapid — and potentially blitz — tiebreakers.

Two 2600+ rated players got to show their class after losing to rivals rated almost exactly 200 points below them. On Monday, Eduardo Iturrizaga (Spain) and Ferenc Berkes (Hungary) tied the scores in their confrontations against Ganzorig Avartushmin (Mongolia) and Pouria Darini (Iran) respectively. The underdogs still have chances to reach round 2 in tiebreaks.

Ferenc Berkes

Ferenc Berkes | Photo: / Maria Emelianova

Denis Kadric (Montenegro) and Anton Demchenko (Slovenia), both members of the ‘2600 club’, were not as fortunate, though. The strong grandmasters were knocked out of the competition by the South American duo of Pablo Salinas (Chile, 2468) and Gianmarco Leiva (2374, Peru). Salinas also had a remarkable start in the previous edition of the World Cup, as he played a scintillating attack to beat Mads Adersen (Denmark) on the first day of action.

Leiva, on his part, showcased great fighting spirit to defend an endgame with rook, knight and a far-advanced passed pawn against a lone queen. Demchenko, a former European champion, could not break White’s defences despite engines giving White a 5-point advantage at various points during the game — of course, finding the winning lines in such setups is much easier for machines!

Demchenko, who recently transferred from Russia to Slovenia, played 122.Nb6, allowing Black to give perpetual check starting with 122...Qf8+. In the diagrammed position, endgame tablebases give only three moves as winning: 122.Ra4, 122.Ra5 and 122.Nd6+.

Ivan Schitco

Ivan Schitco knocked out Nidjat Mamedov | Photo: / Maria Emelianova

Also noteworthy were the match victories obtained by Ivan Schitco (Moldova, 2507) over Nidjat Mamedov (Azerbaijan, 2589) and by Emilio Cordova (Peru, 2552) over Timur Gareyev (United States, 2581).

Two other rating favourites were knocked out by walkover after failing to show up for the first round: Christopher Yoo (United States, 2606) and Eric Hansen (Canada, 2609).

Smirin finds checkmate

Colombian GM Santiago Ávila could have joined his Latin American colleagues in upsetting a higher-rated opponent, as he came from beating GM Ilya Smirin in the first game of their match. However, the experienced Israeli managed to bounce back after finding a good-looking checkmating pattern in a position with both kings wide open and queens still on the board.

Black is already in trouble, but his 21...Bxe3, looking to infiltrate with the queen via h4, only made things worse. Smirin grabbed the piece with 22.Nxe3, knowing all too well that after 22...Qh4 23.Qc8+, it is White who either checkmates or ends up in a position with (a lot of) extra material.

Instead of playing 23...Qd8 to enter a completely lost position, Ávila allowed his opponent to show the mating pattern on the board, all the way to the end: 23...Ke7 24.Ncd5+ Ke6 25.Qe8+ Kd6 26.Nc4+ Qc6 27.Nc3#

A discovered checkmate by the bishop — which had been sitting on e4 since move 19!

FIDE Chess World Cup 2023

Looking at the playing hall | Photo: FIDE / Stev Bonhage

Round 1 games - Open

Gong, Munkhzul and Ouellet knock out stronger opponents

The women’s section naturally saw similar situations as in the open on the second day of action. Like Iturrizaga and Berkes, Deysi Cori (Peru, 2369) scored in a must-win situation against Julia Alboredo (Brasil, 2208) to remain in contention.

Meanwhile, three underdogs made it to the second round, where they will be paired against three of the biggest favourites to make a deep run in Baku:

  • Gong Qianyun (Singapore, 2223) knocked out Khanim Balajayeva (Azerbaijan, 2368)
  • Turmunkh Munkhzul (Mongolia, 2226) knocked out Nataliya Buksa (Ukraine, 2365)
  • Maili-Jade Ouellet (Canada, 2201) knocked out Xiao Yiyi (China, 2372)

Gong, Munkhzul and Ouellet will face Bibisara Assaubayeva (Kazakhstan, 2469), Elisabeth Paehtz (Germany, 2471) and Irina Krush (United States, 2447), respectively.

Turmunkh Munkhzul

Turmunkh Munkhzul | Photo: / Maria Emelianova

Divya Deshmukh

Divya Deshmukh knocked out Puteri Munajjah Az-Zahraa Azhar | Photo: / Maria Emelianova

Round 1 games - Women’s

Expert analysis by IM Robert Ris

Full schedule | Pairings and results

All games with computer analysis: Open | Women’s


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.