16-year-old Nodirbek Abdussatorov dumped Anish Giri out of the FIDE World Cup as the star names continued to fall in Round 3 tiebreaks. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov lost to 20-year-old Haik Martirosyan, which, with the loss of Fabiano Caruana the day before, means only Magnus Carlsen, Alexander Grischuk, Sergey Karjakin and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave remain from the Top 10 seeds. Maxime survived a huge scare to beat David Paravyan in Armageddon. The top seeds are dominating the women’s event, but 17-year-old Bibisara Assaubayeva knocked out Bela Khotenashvili.
And here’s the day’s live commentary from Loek van Wely and Laurent Fressinet.
Top seeds tumble
The open section of this year’s FIDE World Cup has been brutal for the top players, with just half of the 32 expected to get to Round 4 making it.
Only four of the 16 Round 4 match-ups — Esipenko-Dubov, Vidit-Xiong, Vitiugov-Svidler and Karjakin-Artemiev — are as predicted by the pre-tournament seedings. In Round 2 we already lost Alireza Firouzja, Leinier Dominguez, Paco Vallejo, Kirill Alekseenko, Parham Maghsoodloo, Yuriy Kryvoruchko and Levon Aronian, who was unable to start. The classical games in Round 3 saw Fabiano Caruana joined in making an exit by Yu Yangyi, Jorden van Foreest and David Navara. The tiebreaks saw another five players expected to reach Round 5 fail to make it.
No. 4 seed Anish Giri loses to Nodirbek Abdusattorov
Uzbekistan’s Nodirbek Abdusattorov won the World Under 8 Championship and has been making waves since he began defeating grandmasters in style as a 9-year-old. He became a grandmaster soon after his 13th birthday, and at 16 he’s one of those prodigies whose rating might easily be pushing 2700 by now if the pandemic hadn’t intervened.
Nodirbek demonstrated he could fight as an equal with the world no. 8 by pressing in the first classical game with White and equalising easily with Black before both games ended drawn. The first classical game saw Anish play 3.Nd2 against the French, and when queens were exchanged on move 15 another draw seemed on the cards, until Giri reacted to 31…f5 with 32.g4?!
Our commentators could see no other explanation than that Anish had missed Nodirbek’s reply 32…Ng5!, when the threat of a fork meant Black got to pick up the pawn with 33.Kg2 fxg4. Another mistake a few moves later (37.Re3? instead of 37.Kxg4) suddenly saw Nodirbek on the verge of victory, with the d-pawn becoming a monster by the time Anish resigned on move 41.
That meant Giri had to win on demand with the black pieces, which is a tough ask, but something he looked to be handling to perfection, up until the moment he had a clearly winning position.
The problem was perhaps the abundance of potentially winning lines that all required precise calculation. Some clear-cut chances were missed, and with queens exchanged and a couple of connected passed pawns, Nodirbek had created real counterplay, but there were still ways to clinch victory. The neatest was after 36.Kf1.
36…Bxe4! 37.fxe4 Bxc5! 38.Nxc5 Ra1+! 39.Kf2 Rc1! is a surprising but completely winning little tactical point.
In the game after 36…Kf8 37.d6 Bxe4?! 38.fxe4 it was a very hard position to play for a win with Black. Giri kept trying, but ultimately all his attempts did were allow Nodirbek to push his e-pawn to victory. The last game was shaky, but ultimately it was a very impressive performance by Nodirbek to knock out the tournament’s 4th seed.
Anish could at least console himself that he hadn’t lost in classical chess like Fabiano Caruana and taken a rating hit. In fact his Round 1 wins and Round 2 draws had netted him a whole 0.6 points…
No. 6 seed Shakhriyar Mamedyarov loses to Haik Martirosyan
Shakhriyar Mamedyarov had stared into the abyss of World Cup exit after the fastest loss on the first day of classical chess in Round 3. He managed to come back with a long grind on the second day and had the momentum going into the tiebreaks, though his almost 7-minute think here wasn’t in his style.
8.g4!?, 9.g5 would normally come first, with the serious thought only beginning afterwards! Objectively Shakh was probably right to have his doubts, however, and the aggression backfired as Haik took over. Shakh still managed to get back into the game, and seemed very close to a draw in the ending.
Our commentators felt exchanging rooks with 72…Re3+ here reduced Black’s winning chances, but Haik went on to win brilliantly with knight against bishop.
That meant Mamedyarov again had to win on demand to prolong the match, but this time Haik was feeling confident with the white pieces, and in fact he was the one had had all the winning chances before Shakhriyar had to bid farewell to the World Cup.
Haik was interviewed afterwards.
He now plays Croatia’s Ante Brkic next, which is a match between the 102nd and 59th seeds. That’s not a record, however, since the Piorun-Sindarov Round 4 match sees on paper the 89th seed take on the 121st!
The other losses for the players seeded to reach Round 4 are less worthy of headline news. In better news for Azerbaijan, 85th seed Vasif Durarbayli is the player who will take on Abdusattorov after defeating 29th seed David Navara, while former Russian Champion and 21st seed Evgeny Tomashevsky was convincingly outplayed in tiebreaks by Iranian 85th seed Pouya Idani.
No. 24 seed Bassem Amin fell to Etienne Bacrot after failing to convert a completely winning position in the first rapid game, with Etienne showing how it was done in the second.
It was also formally an upset that no. 33 seed Radek Wojtaszek beat no. 32 seed Maxime Matlakov to set up a match against Magnus Carlsen. Their ratings only differ by a point, but it was a match where Maxim had a lot of reason for regret. He missed winning chances in the first game that he lost, and then just needed a few accurate moves to win the second and force 10-minute games — instead he committed an absolute howler and had to resign on the spot after 48.Ng5+.
No country for old men
One theme of the tiebreaks, and we saw this with Nodirbek and Haik, was youngsters overcoming their veteran colleagues. Vladislav Artemiev could perhaps have pushed more in the second classical game against 2009 World Cup winner Boris Gelfand, but he must have felt his rapid and blitz skills made him a big favourite in tiebreaks. So it proved, with Vladislav cruising to two wins.
Praggnanandhaa also triumphed in his epic match-up with 57-year-old Michal Krasenkow, with Pragg starting the first game 1.b3 and going on to score one of the most convincing games you’ll ever see in modern chess.
It would have been even nicer if he finished with the “queen sacrifice” 35.Qb2! instead, but it made no difference whatsoever. Once again, however, Krasenkow came back strongly and at times could have won the second game before he slipped to checkmate at the very end.
Another youngster who did well was 20-year-old Jeffery Xiong, who began the World Cup as the 20th seed. He completed a full recovery from his 120-move loss to Nils Grandelius on Day 1, though he admitted that he would have been out if his opponent hadn’t relaxed a little too early at the end of the second game.
In the rapid tiebreak Jeffery won a long and complicated first game and then was able to make a draw from a position of overwhelming strength after Nils went for a sacrifice and soon misplayed the follow-up.
45-year-old Peter Svidler is now in fact the oldest player remaining in either World Cup, after he overcame Ivan Cheparinov. In the first rapid game Ivan spent six minutes deciding not to take a pawn en passant before going on to get into immediate trouble in the more complicated line he chose.
Another star name to progress was 2018 US Champion Sam Shankland, whose hopes of going far have been boosted by the fact he now plays Rinat Jumabayev and not the US no. 1 Fabiano Caruana.
Sam won the second rapid game, though as he mentioned, it could have gone differently. The clearest moment was after 51…Kg5?
52.Qc6! was the move, defending f3 and threatening mate-in-2 with Qg6+, Qg4#. After 52…Kh4 White can safely grab the f8-bishop with 53.Qf6+. Instead in the game after 52.Qf7 Qxf3 53.Qf5+ Kh4 54.Qxf8 Qd5+! Sam took over and won.
The long haul
11 of the 13 tiebreaks in the Open section were decided in just two games, but the remaining two matches were epic encounters.
Indian no. 3 Vidit faced Indian no. 4 Adhiban, with the “Beast” having hit back to level the scores in the second classical game. The first two rapid games were then relatively calm, before the first 10-minute game saw Vidit score a win with the black pieces.
Vidit has just taken a rook on e2, but if White takes back on e2 with the queen or rook the position is roughly equal. Instead Adhiban blundered with 28.Qxc3? dxc3 29.Bxa8 c2! 30.Rc1 Rxa8 and, a piece down, resignation followed shortly.
Vidit, understandably, thought the match was almost over, since he had the white pieces in the next game and only needed a draw. He later commented:
I won a very nice game in the 10-minute, and I had White and I needed to make a draw, but I couldn’t do that, that was the biggest shock.
The second comeback game was amazing, with Adhiban managing to grind out a win in 99 moves — the World Champion was enjoying the show!
In the first blitz game Vidit was on the brink of victory with the white pieces, but when he let it slip it seemed to be advantage Adhiban, who had White in the final blitz game. Vidit said Adhiban probably failed to adjust in time to losing his extra pawn, but perhaps the game turned on move 29.
29.Rh8+! Kg6 30.h3 seems to give White a healthy advantage, with Qg8-h7+ one possible resource. Instead after exchanging rooks with 29.Qc2 Qxd8 30.Qxe4+ Vidit took over and ground out a win, with both players perilously low on time. The game ended when Adhiban “flagged”, but the position was already hopeless. Vidit described his feelings:
I’m so relieved, to be honest! There were so many moments where I thought that I’d jinxed it and the match is in jeopardy, but I’m just very, very relieved, and after I won I just had a big sigh of relief.
You don’t need to take his word for it!
Vidit now faces Xiong in Round 4, in one of the four matches that is exactly as seeded before the tournament began.
We almost lost 7th seed Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in what would have been another total shock, this time to 23-year-old Russian Grandmaster David Paravyan.
For one tiebreak game everything looked good for Maxime as he won an impressive “No Castles” game.
24.Kf1! was in fact strictly an only move, but after 24…Qe7 25.Re1 Be5?! 26.g3! the king found a safe haven on g2 and White was soon completely winning.
In the second game, however, it wouldn’t go so well!
Maxime blitzed out 18…Kf8?! almost instantly, only to sink into five minutes of thought after 19.Qa3! The Nb6 fork means Black can’t defend the a6-pawn, while 19…exd5 still doesn’t win material due to 20.exd5, and the c6-bishop has nowhere to go. After 19…Rb8 20.Qxa6 David never looked back and went on to level the match
The spectre of a World Cup exit was looming large, and the 10-minute games and first blitz game were very tense, with Maxime correctly pointing out he missed some chances in endgames. Then the final blitz game proved nerve-wracking for other reasons. Just when Maxime seemed to have broken through and was on the verge of a win that would avoid Armageddon…
The claim was incorrect, but as Maxime explained:
Basically the software claimed that there was three times the same position, but I knew that the position occurred three times but that twice it was his turn to move, and this time it was my turn to move, so I asked the arbiter to check it carefully. Then it was very difficult to come back to the game and I simply blundered something very sad like Qa8 threatens Qxd5+, after which I didn’t manage to win with two minutes against five seconds, so that was embarrassing, but nerves play a role!
Maxime, famous for his Berlin Wall toppling, did something he almost never does in the 10-minute games and played the Berlin — the only other time he seems to have employed it was as a surprise weapon against Wesley So in the Banter Blitz Cup Series Finals last year. He had another surprise ready for the Armageddon, which he started 1.e4 c5 2.Nc3, commenting:
I’m especially proud of my choice to play 2.Nc3 in the Armageddon because it worked like clockwork.
The game was decided in a few moves from this position.
22.c6! Qxc6 23.Rxe7 Re8? (a blunder, but White is in any case totally dominant) and now the 2-move sequence that clinched a place in Round 4, 24.Rxb7! Qxb7 25.Qxf6! Laurent was relieved!
We’re now going to get the mouth-watering MVL-Praggnanandhaa in Round 4.
17-year-old Assaubayeva reaches Round 4
The Women’s FIDE World Cup has half the number of players and one less round, so that we’re now down to the final 16 players.
It’s the opposite of the Open tournament, since all but three of the 16 top seeds have reached the Last 16 — Zhansaya Abdumalik, Lela Javakhishvili and Harika Dronavalli are the players missing. Five of the eight matches in Round 4 are exactly as predicted by the pre-tournament seedings.
No. 5 seed Nana Dzagnidze completed her comeback after losing the first classical game to 17-year-old Carissa Yip. She took over with Black within a dozen moves of a Caro-Kann in the first rapid game, before getting to land blows against White’s shaky position.
There was no way back, with Nana easily winning with the white pieces in the second game as well. She commented afterwards on her young opponent:
Overall I can say that she’s a very talented player, and also I think she plays very tricky, her style reminds me of Valya Gunina’s style!
Carissa fared better when it came to selfies.
Nana will now play 20-year-old Polina Shuvalova, who admitted her match against her 16-year-old Russian compatriot Leya Garifullina was “very nervous”.
Polina was in danger in the classical games and then got hit by an impressive attack from Leya in the first rapid game. The youngster played 35.Be6! at the second time of asking.
There was a nice finish, as after 35…Qxe6 36.d7+ Kg7 37.Qxc3+ Kf7 simply queening the pawn was objectively strongest, but promoting the pawn to a knight with 38.d8=N+ also did the job!
Polina said she relaxed after that loss, however, and she hit back with an absolutely crushing win of her own. Sadly for Leya, the match turned on a terrible blunder at the end of the first 10-minute game, which left her needing to win on demand with the black pieces. Polina admitted she mishandled things, but ultimately she held on.
The longest match of the day in the women’s section was the all-Ukrainian clash of former World Champions between Mariya Muzychuk and Anna Ushenina. It was eventually won by favourite Mariya, but only after both players had come back on demand, there were five wins for White in a row, and Anna missed a great chance to force Armageddon.
There was one upset, with 17-year-old Bibisara Assaubayeva from Kazakhstan following knocking out 15th seed Zhansaya Abdumalik by defeating Bela Khotenashvili. After four draws, Bibisara noted, in a Russian interview, “I managed to win convincingly” in the 10-minute games. She doesn’t seem overawed to have gone so far in the event.
Wednesday is a rest day in Sochi, with Round 4 starting on Thursday. The tension should only build as the players get closer to the big prizes.