Reports Sep 20, 2015 | 8:33 AMby Colin McGourty

Baku World Cup, 3.3: Tiebreak trauma

Reigning World Cup Champion Vladimir Kramnik was the big name casualty of Round 3 tiebreaks after paying a heavy price for failing to convert a winning advantage against Dmitry Andreikin. Otherwise it was a day of the favourites, with Topalov, Svidler, So, Vachier-Lagrave and Adams all going through. The spellbinding Nakamura-Nepomniachtchi match went all the way to Armageddon before the US player emerged victorious. Even that wasn't quite all, though, as Nepomniachtchi unsuccessfully appealed the result on the basis of his opponent's double-handed castling and other alleged infringements.

Nakamura, Nepomniachtchi and the arbiters - the controversy over the final Armageddon game would drag on and on | photo: official website

There might have been only seven matches that went to tiebreaks in Round 3, but once again we were treated to six hours of enthralling action. Four matches, though, ended at the earliest possible stage:

25-minute Rapid: Kramnik bites the dust

This World Cup was the last chance for superstars Levon Aronian and Vladimir Kramnik to qualify for the 2016 Candidates Tournament without needing any stars to align in their favour, but both have now been knocked out and can only have themselves to blame.

The repeat of the 2013 World Cup final ended with a different result | photo: official website

One of Dmitry Andreikin’s great strengths is that he very rarely blunders, but after surviving a tricky opening in the first rapid game he played the howler 30…Rd6??

As they say, you don’t need to be Vladimir Kramnik to spot the knight fork 31.Nc8! That should, essentially, have been the end of the story, but Big Vlad made heavy work of converting his exchange and pawn advantage until he gave it all away on move 52:

Kramnik first needed to distract the rook with 52.c6! Rc2 53.c7! Rxc7 and only then take on e4. Instead he went for 52.Rxe4? immediately, but after 52…Kf3! Black is suddenly threatening perpetual check and even mate if the white king tries to hide on h1. Kramnik managed to continue the fight with 53.Rf4+, but Andreikin make no more mistakes and held with ease.

In the second game a pawn sacrifice backfired for Kramnik, but only when Andreikin found a move worthy of qualification to the next round – 19.Ba6!

Kramnik kept fighting, but finally suffered the ignominy of losing an opposite-coloured bishop ending.

Lu Shanglei's exit meant the last real ratings underdog had left the competition - tournament victory for any of the remaining players would no longer be a great surprise | photo: official website

Kramnik is now in the curious position of having to root for his arch-enemy Veselin Topalov, since a place in the final for the Bulgarian would free up another rating spot in the Candidates Tournament. It’s so far so good, since Topalov went about the tiebreaks very smoothly… up to a point. As in their first classical game, Lu Shanglei again played the Dragon Variation of the Sicilian Defence, and again ended up in a hopeless position. This time, though, there was no escape, with hostilities ended by a knight fork as trivial as the one above.

Lu Shanglei opened the second game with 1.Nc3!?, but despite going on to build up a good position Topalov then took over and looked to be cruising into the next round. Suddenly, though, he found himself in a tricky ending where he gave up the exchange and had to hold on until move 102. He managed, and afterwards talked about the game and his laid-back attitude to the event as a whole:

2011 World Cup winner Peter Svidler is also through. In his first rapid game against Teimour Radjabov he got into difficulties but managed to give up the exchange to build an insurmountable fortress. When asked (in Russian for the official website) about the second game he said that there’s a “cult phrase” among his friends, “to play like Svidler”, meaning, “to play fast and set traps”. It can’t be denied it worked, although 26.Ne6!? doesn’t get the computer’s full vote of confidence…

26…fxe6! 27.dxe6 Rxc4! might have altered the course of the match, but after 26…Bxe6?! all was well with the world – and the computer later gave a round of applause to another blow landed on the same square:

30.Bxe6! Svidler was soon through to Round 4, where he faces Topalov!

Wesley So was among the best-dressed players on a day when the emphasis was on speed and sporting qualities | photo: official website 

The other match to end at this stage saw Wesley So also build a fortress to survive the first game before snatching victory against Le Quang Liem in the second.

In this roughly equal position the Vietnamese player made the fateful decision to push his king up the board with 30.Kf4?, but after 30…h5! 31.Rc2? h4! there was no way back and the threat was no less than mate-in-1. The only way to stop that was to give up material – a knight on c5 – but that only delayed the inevitable.

10-minute Blitz: MVL eases through

Vachier-Lagrave vs. Tomashevsky had been one of the most balanced (not to say dull) matches until this stage, but Maxime went into overdrive and totally outplayed his Russian opponent in the first 10-minute game. In the second Evgeny jumped on the exchange sacrifice bandwagon, but when he refused the chance to regain that exchange his position went rapidly downhill until he was out of the event.

5-minute Blitz: Adams avoids Armageddon

Mickey Adams looked on course for a second Armageddon game in two rounds after he missed a gilt-edged chance to strike a blow in the 10-minute games. 28.Bxf5 Bxf5 29.Qxf5 looks like a simple way to win a piece, but what about 29...Qxg3? The answer is 30.Qf6! and there's nothing Black can do to both save his queen and stop mate.

Then in the first 5-minute game Adams found himself in dire straits, with no option but to give up the exchange. He clung on, though, and more than 40 moves later Leinier Dominguez was still desperately trying to prove an advantage when he blundered into a lost position instead. The Cuban went all out for a win in the remaining game, but soon ended up worse and resigned on move 44.

It's a long walk back to Cuba... | photo: official website


And that leaves Nakamura and Nepomniachtchi. Their match exploded into life in the 10-minute games, when Nepomniachtchi fell into a trap with 51…Rxb4?:

The eagle-eyed American had spotted: 52.Be1! Rc4 53.Rxd4! and since 53…Rxd4 loses to 54.Bc3 Nepomniachtchi made one more move that changed nothing and resigned.

If one image could sum up Nepomniachtchi's day... | photo: official website

Nepomniachtchi now had to win on demand to continue the fight, but although he got the kind of complex play he needed it looked as though Hikaru’s attack would crash through first - until he went for the “knockout blow” 40…e4?

That had only one flaw, but it was a big one – White’s only defence wins the game: 41.Rd2!! There was nothing Nakamura could do to solve his problems on the d-file since the situation on the c-file is no better. An absolutely stunning turnaround.

Nepomniachtchi now had the wind in his sails and went on to play a brilliant endgame in which he showed that a bishop and rook with pawns to support can outmanoeuvre two rooks. 

Nakamura wasn't going to be denied | photo: official website

For the first time in the match that meant it was Nakamura who had to win on demand or exit the tournament, but he didn't panic, picked up a pawn on move 30 and then, despite heroic resistance, he managed to get his passed pawns rolling until resignation came.

So after eight games, the last four of which had ended in white wins, it was sudden death. Nepomniachtchi had White and needed to continue that sequence, but in pure chess terms his chance slipped away on move 37:

37.f5! would have left the result of the match hanging in the balance. Instead, after 37.hxg3? Qxg3+ White’s best chance of a win was on the clock. Nakamura wasn’t going to let that happen, though, and in fact he was only a move away from delivering mate when Nepomniachtchi resigned.

Ian Nepomniachtchi wasn't exactly pleased at the way his Baku experience ended | photo: official website

That was far from the end of the story, though. On the Russian live broadcast Sergey Shipov had immediately spotted that Nakamura broke the rules by castling with both hands. Nepomniachtchi didn't wait long to bring up the issue:

You can replay the moment on the live broadcast:

Was that just letting off steam as Nepomniachtchi came to terms with his loss? Apparently not, as he went on to submit a formal appeal to the Appeals Committee, although if Peter Doggers’ text is correct it went beyond what you might expect from formal communication:

To Appeals Committee

During the tiebreaks blitz and “Armageddon,” my opponent has broken the basic chess rules. Several times he castled using both his hands (see art. 4.1 of the FIDE chess rules: Each move must be made with one hand only). He also touched his pieces many times, and made a move with different ones afterwards (also breaking a basic rule — if you touch, you move).

I ask you to review the result of the tiebreak, e.g. my opponent gets a technical loss, and also a lesson of chess and human culture.

The Appeals Committee apparently didn’t look at anything other than the final Armageddon game, but although their ruling confirmed the rules weren’t followed they found the result of the game and match couldn’t be altered as Nepomniachtchi hadn’t stopped the clock and complained at the time.

The signed text of the ruling | source:

A video posted by Evgeny Surov captures the moment Nepomniachtchi, with his coach Vladimir Potkin, learned of the Appeals Committee’s verdict from one of its three memebers, Zurab Azmaiparashvili.

They speak in Russian:

Azmaiparashvili: Have you eaten or not?

Nepomniachtchi: No.

Well you should go and eat while things are printed out.

Is there a decision?

Of course there is. There won’t be a replay. Your opponent will be given a warning…

Nepomniachtchi immediately starts to complain about how the arbiters did nothing, until Azmaiparashvili comments:

You understand that I personally, in the given situation - if we get away from the fact that I’m a member of the Appeals Committee - absolutely understand you. More than that, I share the view that he acted dirty, that he played dirty, but you didn’t act according to the FIDE rules.

Nepomniachtchi, whose combustible character once saw him expelled from Evgeny Bareev's chess school for throwing a shoe at a trainer (his basic defence: "I missed"!), would later tweet about the incident 12 years ago when Azmaiparashvili took back a move against Vladimir Malakhov in a game that went on to make him European Champion:

Later in the video Nepomniachtchi comments in English to Hesham Elgendy:

Basically it looks like in this situation I should just have forgot about any chess and just come with the handbook and tried to punish him after. This is your logic. But in general this guy violated chess rules so roughly and now you say ok, we give him a ruling, but this is just nonsense.

Nepomniachtchi continued his complaint about the arbiters’ handling of the situation on Twitter:

He got support from another top grandmaster, Nigel Short:

Perhaps, as in more everyday situations, the large number of arbiters present actually made it less likely that any one of them would get involved due to the bystander effect: the paradox that "the probability of help is inversely related to the number of bystanders". On the other hand, as potential infringements in an Armageddon game went, these were hardly the worst we've ever seen - stopping the action would have been at least as controversial

Hikaru Nakamura, meanwhile, could afford to be gracious in victory as he prepares to take on Michael Adams tomorrow:

Through to round 4 of the Fide World Cup. Coming into this event, I felt that Grischuk and Nepomniachtchi were the two...

Posted by Hikaru Nakamura on Saturday, 19 September 2015

The tiebreaks were exhausting both for the players and fans:

But his next opponent Adams of course went almost as far, and as Nakamura has mentioned in the past, it’s tougher for older players to recover quickly. It remains to be seen if the furore over the final game will influence Hikaru, though no doubt he’ll try to correct his bad castling habit, which stretches back long before this game. For instance, here it is against Levon Aronian in the 2010 World Blitz Championship:

So then, despite the loss of Vladimir Kramnik and Alexander Grischuk, the good news is that almost all the favourites made it through to the Last 16 of the 2015 World Cup. All the remaining players are rated above 2700 and six of the Top 10 are involved. Or, to make a similar point:

Every single one of the pairings demands our attention:

  • Svidler – Topalov
  • Ding Liren – Wei Yi
  • Giri – Wojtaszek
  • Vachier-Lagrave – So
  • Nakamura – Adams
  • Jakovenko – Eljanov
  • Mamedyarov – Caruana
  • Andreikin – Karjakin

The fight for a place in the quarterfinals starts on Sunday! Don’t miss all the FIDE World Cup action at the same time and place each day here on chess24. You can also watch all the games in our mobile apps:


See also:

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