Anton Kovalyov booked his flight home for tomorrow, but the Canadian grandmaster will have to stick around after beating 2004 World Champion Rustam Kasimdzhanov in World Cup Round 1 tiebreaks. That was the second sensation of the day, after 2009 World Cup winner Boris Gelfand fell to Chilean IM Cristobal Henriquez. Elsewhere the favourites largely lived up to their reputation, although the likes of Grischuk and Jakovenko were tested to the limit. One match went all the way to Armageddon, with Armenia’s Gabriel Sargissian drawing with Black to oust Poland’s Mateusz Bartel.
If previous knockouts have taught us anything, it’s that the advantage of the top players decreases less than you’d imagine either when you play fewer games or play them faster. It turns out – and it perhaps shouldn’t surprise us - that the higher rated players are simply better at all forms of the game and know how to make their class tell… though of course it doesn’t always work out that way!
Let’s take the four stages of the Round 1 tiebreaks in order:
16 of the 24 matches that went to tiebreaks were decided in the first two 25 min + 10 sec rapid games.
There were clean sweeps for ten players, including a host of star names: Navara, Tomashevsky, Fressinet, Nepomniachtchi, Inarkiev, Vitiugov and Radjabov. The latter knocked out 14-year-old Sam Sevian after a great fight, with the US talent sure to be back to challenge in later years.
It was a very good day for Azerbaijan in general, as Gadir Guseinov proved his opening day win against Maxim Matlakov had been no fluke with two more victories.
The most amazing whitewash, though, came in the Bruzon – Vidit match. Young Indian star Santosh Gujrathi Vidit recently inspired us to publish the article 5 incredible missed mates, after blundering mate-in-1 in the Lake Sevan tournament. We don’t really want to rub any salt in his wounds… but it was quite an achievement to do the same against Cuba’s Lazaro Bruzon… twice! (or at least, one and a half times)
Vidit was the one pressing but was short of time when he went for 38...Nf4??, which ran into the unfortunate cold shower: 39.Ng4 mate
To be fair, the second game was the kind of mishap that could happen to anyone forced to push for a win at all costs. After move 54 he had winning chances, after move 55 it was drawn, after move 56 he was losing, and after move 57...
Life is cruel!
Lu Shanglei (Moiseenko) and Wang Hao (Perunovic) shrugged off their losses the day before to continue to represent China in the event. There were also wins for Onischuk (Volokitin) and Fedoseev (Adhiban).
Hou Yifan was another 1.5:0.5 winner, though she again walked a tightrope and needed some astonishing cool-headedness to turn the first game around and then survive a seemingly crushing attack in the second:
The first sensation of the day, though, was a loss for perhaps the most experienced and successful player of such events in the field – Boris Gelfand.
It would surely all have been very different if the 47-year-old had converted a huge advantage in his first game in Baku, but he let that slip in time trouble, and after two more games in which neither side could make an extra pawn tell it all came down to game 4. Boris was already on the back foot with the white pieces when he went for 24.f3?!, giving up a pawn to allow his bishop out of its cage:
Though understandable, the extra activity never compensated for a pawn and weakening the king, and later the Israeli went on to blunder a piece as well. That should take nothing away from Cristobal Henriquez Villagra, though! The Chilean IM earned a big pay-day and a match with Julio Granda by playing the remains of the game with absolutely surgical precision. Gelfand was never given the slightest glimmer of hope.
Elsewhere there were six ties that finished in all draws and one shocking exchange of wins. The shock wasn’t that Dmitry Jakovenko won the first game against his young compatriot Ilia Iljiushenok, but the way he capitulated in the second by taking a 6 minute 36 second think before going for 14…Rf8??!
Despite some fireworks he was objectively lost after 15.Nxh7, while the computer favours Black after 14…0-0. One Twitter user had a theory:
That left only 14 players and 7 matches that needed accelerated tiebreaks, but the two 10-minute + 10 second games only produced another two winners.
Igor Lysyj marched an army of four connected passed pawns up the board against Constantin Lupulescu to win the first game and then easily won the second as well when his opponent overpushed. Eltaj Safarli, meanwhile, went down in a blaze of glory against Csaba Balogh:
22…Rxb3+?!! Sergey Shipov, commentating in Russian, was convinced this beautiful attack was winning for Black and the only problem was Eltaj had so little time to think. Our silicon friends say otherwise, but it’s still great fun to play through and see why. Safarli then misplayed a promising attack and could have lost the second game as well, though Balogh settled for a draw by repetition to take him into the next round.
Bartel and Sargissian swapped wins, but while the other games were all drawn there was amazing resistance from Yusup Atabayev against Grischuk and Iljiushenok against Jakovenko (check out this crazy ending, which could have gone either way).
The looming threat of Armageddon has a wonderful way of focusing minds, and this is where all but one of the remaining five matches ended. The floodgates opened for Grischuk and Jakovenko, who crushed their opponents with the white pieces and then refuted wild attacks in the next games, with Grischuk winning in 19 and Jakovenko in 23. Grachev and Motylev – same country, same rating! – had seemed inseparable...
...but first Motylev pressed with Black in Game 7 and then he won a smooth technical victory with White in Game 8.
There was still time for one late sensation, though. 23-year-old Anton Kovalyov is a talented grandmaster who, despite being born in Ukraine, has already managed to play for both Argentina and now Canada. He looked in trouble against former World Champion Rustam Kasimdzhanov in both the final 10-minute game and the first blitz game, but the Uzbek grandmaster couldn’t find a way to exploit Kovalyov’s hopelessly stuck bishop:
In the final game it was Kasimdzhanov whose pieces got tangled up, with 24.Qb5! posing too many problems:
So the winner of the 2004 World Championship (also a 128-player knockout) will have more time to prepare Fabiano Caruana’s assault on the World Cup.
At least he wasn't alone:
That just left one pairing facing the ordeal of a last sudden-death game. Players are divided over whether it’s best to have Black, less time and need only a draw, but it worked out perfectly for Armenia’s Gabriel Sargissian. He took refuge in a slightly worse endgame and had sufficient technique to ensure a draw – in fact, he came closest to winning the game. Poland’s Mateusz Bartel is one of the 64 players who have now left the 2015 FIDE World Cup.
For some players “tiebreak day” was a chance to recharge their batteries:
No such luck for the tiebreak winners, though, since Round 2 starts tomorrow, with mouth-watering ties wherever you look. A few that stand out include:
You can also watch all the games in our mobile apps:
We respect your privacy and data protection guidelines. Some components of our site require cookies or local storage that handles personal information.