Sinquefield Cup winner Levon Aronian is out of the 2015 World Cup after a shock 3:1 defeat to Ukraine’s Alexander Areshchenko. That was the one real sensation of the Round 2 tiebreaks, but though 13 of 15 favourites won we saw some incredible action, with Wei Yi-Vovk and Adams-Laznicka turning into exhibitions of attacking chess. As in Round 1, the tiebreaks lasted six hours and went all the way to Armageddon before the 32 remaining World Cup players were known.
Eight of the fifteen matches that went to tiebreaks were decided at the first possible opportunity, with one match taking all the headlines. Levon Aronian, who had been back to his sparkling best so recently in St. Louis, has joined his Armenian teammates Gabriel Sargissian and Hrant Melkumyan in making an early exit from the World Cup. Despite the awkward political backdrop to his participation in the tournament in Baku – which meant the Armenian players were placed towards the back of the hall as a security precaution – Levon had seemed very comfortable until midway through his first rapid game:
He had the option of 25.e5!, when after e.g. 25...Qe7 he can continue 26.e6!, gaining the key e5-square for his queen, since 26...Qxe6 would run into 27.Nf4! and White is doing at least fine. Instead he chose 25.Rc7+!?, but after 25…Kg8 26.Qxd6 Rxd6 27.Rd5 Rxd5 28.exd5 d3! he found himself defending an ending a pawn down. Alexander Areshchenko played close to perfect chess to make that pawn count in a tricky knight ending that went all the way to move 101.
Aronian now had to win on demand with the black pieces and went for a pawn sacrifice to destabilise the position. It was Areshchenko who benefitted, though, and when Aronian rejected a draw by repetition the Ukrainian grandmaster went on to score another full point.
The competition will miss Aronian, but all but one player in the event will taste defeat and, as Ukrainian Grandmaster Vladimir Tukmakov pointed out to Azerbaijan site Extra Time, it wasn’t as if Aronian lost to a weak player:
The big sensations you can note are, of course, Boris Gelfand’s loss in the first round and also Levon Aronian’s failure in the second. On the other hand, Alexander Areshchenko, who beat the Armenian grandmaster, is a very strong chess player. At his career peak he had a rating above 2700, so you can’t call it a big sensation. For me it was more surprising that Areshchenko managed to beat Aronian in rapid chess, where Levon is a great specialist. Of course I know Areshchenko very well as he was one of my players when I worked for the Ukrainian team and it seemed to me that he plays rapid chess worse than Aronian. Here in Baku, though, he won the mini-match very convincingly.
Tukmakov is in Baku as the second of Anish Giri, and it was Giri who had the earliest winning position in the first tiebreak games, after Alexander Motylev blundered a killer blow: 17.f4! defends the h4-knight and threatens to bury the h5-bishop with f5.
Motylev used every trick he could find to muddy the waters, but it just allowed Giri to show off his tactical skills. In the second game Motylev wasn’t threatening either to win or lose until he blundered an even more elemental tactic that we’ll skip to spare his blushes.
Radjabov also won 2:0 against Smirin while Svidler could have done the same against Nisipeanu if he hadn’t settled for the draw he needed to qualify in the second game.
Hou Yifan’s tough resistance against
Shakhriyar Mamedyarov was ended after she withstood a strong attack right out
of the opening only to succumb in a technical ending.
The same fate awaited Sam Shankland, who before that final game had comfortably held his potential US teammate Hikaru Nakamura at bay. Hikaru is convinced Shankland is underrated:
There were mixed fortunes for Russia early on, as Nikita Vitiugov was ground down in a rook ending by Vietnam’s Le Quang Liem. Although in terms of rating that counted as the day’s “other” upset it’s hard to consider it a surprise when the 2013 World Blitz Champion wins a two-game rapid match.
Dmitry Jakovenko, meanwhile, was yet again in deep trouble against Egypt’s Bassem Amin:
The computer declares mate-in-32 for White, but that’s somewhat easier to flash up on a screen than accomplish when you’re on move 98, playing on increments and sitting opposite the world no. 15. Amin could only force a drawn rook vs. knight ending, though he did still play on until bare kings on move 109. Such fighting spirit was poorly rewarded, as Jakovenko showed why two bishops are better than a bishop and knight in the return game.
This was another good stage for Russia. Vietnam’s Nguyen Ngoc Truong Son had held his nerve to survive a lost knight ending in 106 moves in rapid chess, but a single blitz win in six games was enough for Evgeny Tomashevsky to move to the next stage. Alexander Grischuk already has an incredible 11 draws in Baku, but one nice blitz win with White was enough to see him end Vladimir Fedoseev’s chances. Sergey Karjakin was the other Russian winner, completing his recovery from a first day loss to Alexander Onischuk to score two convincing wins in blitz.
Only Igor Lysyj couldn’t continue to represent Russia, after he forgot about his clock when surprised by Yu Yangyi in an already difficult but by no means resignable position.
This is where two marathon matches came to an end. The less spectacular – by about the width of the known universe – was Laurent Fressinet vs. Ian Nepomniachtchi.
The players agreed seven draws in a row, but at least treated us to a neat finish. In a position where it had seemed Fressinet was attacking, Nepomniachtchi, playing Black, suddenly swung his pieces over to the kingside with the unsubtle intention of giving mate down the g-file. It was perhaps more show than substance until the Frenchman went astray by delaying f3 and instead playing 33.Rb2?
That ran into 33…Rbg8! 34.f3 (too late) 34…Ng3! 35.Ng4 Rxg4!! and suddenly it’s clear why the rook needed to be on b1 not b2. Proof, if it was needed, that Nepomniachtchi is a hugely gifted tactician you underestimate at your peril.
The other match, Wei Yi – Vovk, wasn’t exactly flawless, but it was a breathtaking display of raw chess aggression and the power of mind over matter.
One game in particular drew the highest of plaudits:
Jan Gustafsson takes a look at that game but also the other highlights of a match that defied all summary:
So the Chinese wunderkind has made it to Round 3 after all, where he faces not Aronian but Areshchenko.
That wasn’t quite all for Round 2, though:
Once again, how can you summarise a match like this. If you go to the Adams-Laznicka Armageddon game on our live broadcast then click the “Match History” tab below the board you’ll be able to see and play through all the games:
White won the first four and then Mickey Adams finally won the first blitz game with Black. When he then built up a winning position in the next game with White it looked as though the madness was over… but no! The attack ran out of steam and again there was a comeback win. We could then have had seven decisive games in a row if Laznicka had played to win rather than taking a draw in the following position:
Laznicka played 33…Qc2+ 34.Ke3 Qd3+ 35.Kf2 with a repetition, but the computer is crying out for 33…b4! when Black will gain the d4-square for his queen and has all kinds of threats – though of course it’s fiendishly complex.
Instead there were two draws, which brought us to Armageddon in which the hugely experienced Mickey Adams had the white pieces. He set about disputing the theory that it’s better to be Black (with less time but needing only a draw) by building up a smooth attack, which finally reduced Viktor Laznicka to a rabbit caught in car headlights:
It was agonising to watch as the Czech player’s clock ticked down remorselessly while he seemed unable to find any plausible way to continue. Sergey Shipov on the Russian commentary almost shouted, “Take the c2-pawn!” and when, after an enormous 45-second think, Laznicka did, he added, “Correct, if you’re going to suffer at least do it for something”. But the suffering just went on and on, and when Laznicka spent 53 seconds on 21…h5 the rest of the game would have been a mere formality even if it had been a good move (it wasn’t). There was no way Viktor could avoid his flag dropping and to stop the agony he resigned on move 27 instead.
Adams' reward is a match against Leinier Dominguez in Round 3. We’re down to just 32 players and, as you’d expect, this event is going to get a whole lot tougher!
We have to interrupt here to add the World Champion Magnus Carlsen’s cruel tweet/prediction
Needless to say, don’t miss all the FIDE World Cup Round 3 action here on chess24.
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