Reports Sep 11, 2015 | 9:32 PMby Colin McGourty

Baku World Cup, 1.1: Upsets and unlikely heroes

The 2015 FIDE World Cup has begun! With 128 players in Round 1 we were guaranteed action, and while most of the big guns (Nakamura, Topalov, Caruana, Aronian, Kramnik…) got the wins expected of them, there was heroic resistance. Uganda’s Arthur Ssegwanyi drew in 158 moves against Anish Giri, Women’s World Champion Mariya Muzychuk held Mickey Adams, while the likes of Kamsky, Dominguez and Moiseenko all have must-win games tomorrow after suffering shock defeats. We take a look at some of the highlights.

Grischuk, one of those stars who failed to win, follows the fortunes of Caruana, who did | photo: official website

The early stages of the World Cup are a feast of chess, but with 128 players and 64 games at once it’s almost impossible to keep track of it all. We must all know the feeling of being so engrossed in other games that we completely forgot that one of our heroes was playing somewhere else in the tournament! So how can we cope with it all? Well first, of course, there’s our broadcast, which gives the best possible overview of all the action. You can also click through to any game from the selector below:

Let's focus on some of the highlights (or occasionally lowlights) of the first day of action!

Shortest game of the day

This was the closest we got to controversy on the first day of the 2015 FIDE World Cup. India’s Adhiban took a 15-move draw with White against young Russian star Vladimir Fedoseev. Was that the start of an avalanche of draws that would fuel the fury of Silvio Danailov at the lack of Sofia Rules for the World Cup?

No, was the short answer! Quick draws were few and far between, since the format of the World Cup means that players have little space for manoeuvre – why waste a single chance to push for a win in a classical game with the white pieces? And why do anything but push for a win if you heavily outrate your opponent? It remains to be seen what happens later in the tournament when the logic of Elo is no longer so clear and exhaustion builds.

Longest game of the day

Where else but in the World Cup would you find a player ranked over 3000 in the world competing with the world no. 6 for thousands of dollars in prize money? Uganda’s IM Arthur Ssegwanyi (2357) must have feared the worst when he misplayed the opening against Anish Giri (2793), but he hung on, and on, and on in a rook ending a pawn down that the players reached on move 43. The game only ended with bare kings on move 158, 6 hours and 10 minutes after the round had started and long after the other players had left the stage.

A long day at the office!

Fastest win of the day

Perhaps surprisingly, given the stakes and mismatches at the top, there were few quick knockouts, but Fabiano Caruana made very quick work of Tunisia’s Amir Zaibi (26 moves and 56 minutes remaining on his clock). Levon Aronian finished at just about the same time, having rushed Michael Widenkeller until his Luxembourg opponent lost on time.

World no. 2 Hikaru Nakamura needed a bit more time, but won with the greatest of ease and edged slightly closer to Magnus Carlsen on the rating list | photo: official website

Move of the day

Spanish Champion Paco Vallejo’s choice looks pretty good to us too!

See what he's talking about as Jan Gustafsson takes a look at the whole game:

Final position of the day

Just when we thought 17-year-old Russian prodigy Vladislav Artemiev was a master of technique he’s been winning games with wild tactical flurries instead. Time trouble didn’t aid India’s Surya Shekhar Ganguly, but you’ve got to enjoy a game that ends with almost everything en prise and a move like 26.exf7+!

Vladimir Kramnik qualifies for a runner-up spot for the brutal double attack 31…Qd5!

Of course 32.Rxd5 would fail to 32…Rg1+ and mate to follow. Peru’s Deysi Cori resigned, though she deserves credit for risking an early g-pawn push against the former World Champion.

Reigning Champion Vladimir Kramnik knows exactly what it takes to win this kind of event | photo: official website

Upset of the day

There are strong contenders here, including those who only drew, like Ssegwanyi above, or Women’s World Champion Mariya Muzychuk, who comfortably held Michael Adams with the black pieces. There were some big upset wins:

  • Lu Shanglei (2599) 1-0 Alexander Moiseenko (2710)  
  • Gadir Guseinov (2634) 1-0 Maxim Matlakov (2689) – a big scalp for a local hero!
  • Ray Robson (2680) 0-1 Yuri Vovk (2624)
  • Wen Yang (2620) 1-0 Igor Kovalenko (2702)
  • Gata Kamsky (2691) 0-1 Hrant Melkumyan (2622)
  • Sandra Mareco (2599) 1-0 Ni Hua (2704)

Simply in numerical terms, though, the prize has to go to:

  • Federico Perez Ponsa (2563) 1-0 Leinier Perez Dominguez (2732)

Leinier Dominguez is one of those who now has to win on demand on Saturday to avoid crashing out of the event after two days | photo: official website

The Argentine won that Latin American battle in real style, attacking on the kingside until he finally crashed through with a mating attack on the queenside:

Attack of the day

There were plenty of options here – for instance, Israeli Ilia Smirin’s demolition of strong French Grandmaster Romain Edouard, but since he’s been somewhat unfairly maligned (there was much amusement when he asked about the draw rules in the players’ technical meeting before the tournament), we’re going to hand this one to Peter Leko.

Exchanging off queens didn’t do anything to lessen the pressure Aleksey Goganov was under in a Winawer French, and 31.Nxe6+! sealed the deal:

The Russian didn’t take the knight since 31…fxe6 32.Rf8! was simply too sad to contemplate, but 31…Kc8 did nothing to help matters and he extended his hand after seeing 32.Nd4. A beautiful game by the Hungarian no. 1.

Nation of the day

Team China no doubt drew lessons from their early disappointment at the Women's World Championship knockout earlier this year | photo: official website

It’s not news that the Chinese are coming – or rather, they’ve already long since set up camp and are threatening to monopolise the top prizes in world chess. Despite some tough opposition on Day 1 their established stars all won: Wei Yi, Yu Yangyi, Wang Hao and Ding Liren. There were also upset wins for Lu Shanglei and Wen Yang, an upset draw for Zhao Jun (against Ian Nepomniachtchi), one expected loss (Zhou Jianchao to Dmitry Andreikin) and a draw for Hou Yifan. Only Ni Hua’s loss to Sandro Mareco stopped it from being a perfect day for the Chinese contingent.  

Mystery of the day

There were the usual false results you get with any big tournament and automatic chessboards (the players or arbiters put the kings on the wrong squares after a game is over with monotonous regularity), but the draw between Boris Gelfand (2741) and Chile’s Christobal Henriquez Villagra (2511) was correct. That was despite the fact computers give White an overwhelming advantage in the final position. 

The defining feature of the game, though, was that while the other games still being played were all endgames this remained - on move 72 - a highly complex middlegame, in which neither player had much time to think. So perhaps it was simply that Boris’ experience told him it was better to take a draw rather than risk a real setback. Or we’re missing moves. Or… answers, as they say, on a postcard 

Most unfortunate pre-tournament reflections

Latvia’s Igor Kovalenko, who recently went on an incredible Open tournament winning streak to cross the 2700 barrier, reflected on his chances in the upcoming World Cup. He began:

I’d like to share with you the thoughts that began to arise for me when I realised I’d made it into the World Cup. At 26 I’m going to play in that tournament for the first time. For a man in the Top 100 that’s ridiculous. It’s only in the first round that I’ll be a slight favourite while then, if I get further, at the very least I won’t be a favourite. For me, perhaps, it would be more comfortable to be an underdog in the first round as well, though I keep telling myself, “Igor, it’s time to get out of that habit!”

The first unusual sensation is that a draw with Black is good! But how can I get used to that? As a Swiss man how can I allow myself that? But I’ll try! I’m working on my consciousness as much as I can – sometimes I say to myself aloud what sounds like a mantra – a draw with Black is good.

This is how his first World Cup game with Black against Wen Yang ended up:

At least he now knows he can go all-out for a win with White! And he's not the only star who has to win on demand on Day 2 to force tiebreaks on Sunday.

Women's World Champion Mariya Muzychuk will have the white pieces against Adams on Saturday | photo: official website

Don’t miss our live broadcast of Game 2 of the FIDE World Cup at 12:00 CEST on Saturday.

You can also watch all the games in our mobile apps:


See also:

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