Pavel Eljanov’s incredible World Cup just keeps on getting better. He comprehensively outplayed Hikaru Nakamura with the white pieces in their first quarterfinal game, meaning the US star must now win on demand tomorrow. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov was also within a whisker of beating Sergey Karjakin, but was held to an 88-move draw. The remaining two games were less to write home about.
While two games in Baku saw the player with White immediately on the warpath the remaining encounters always looked more likely to end in the smoking of peace pipes. Anish Giri sprung a very early surprise on Maxime Vachier-Lagrave with 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6.
The Frenchman later commented:
First of all his second move was unexpected and, as I said, I should be used to it that every time I play against him he tries to pick the most surprising line against me, in recent history, but it’s still hard to guess which surprise will await. Actually I expected the Najdorf more than the Petroff today.
Although most players striving for a draw with Black vs. 1.e4 have switched from the Petroff to the Berlin due to the variation seen in the game with opposite-side castling, a well-armed Giri was unlikely to get into trouble, and after mass exchanges a draw was agreed on move 26.
Maxime, who’s currently back in the world Top 10 after sinking 20 places earlier in the year, remarked:
I feel actually quite fresh. I’m calculating lines much more sharply than a few months ago. My shape has been excellent in the last two months… My ups and my downs were quite spectacular this year.
Wei Yi, meanwhile, has known almost only ups this year and has played some spectacular chess in Baku, but with Black against Peter Svidler he found himself digging in to hold a tough draw. The first sign something was up was when Peter’s rare (but not that rare) 9.Qe2 sent the Chinese player into a 37-minute think. That wasn’t entirely in vain, though, since he soon had Svidler thinking as well, and the 7-time Russian Champion couldn’t find a way to break through the black position.
Ultimately it all ended in an early repetition:
Svidler could instead have taken the b7-pawn, but that doesn't seem to offer an edge and might also have ended badly for White after ...Rb8.
Since 16-year-old Wei Yi has become one of the most talked about players in world chess it’s been interesting to see what level his English has reached. From the post-game press conference and appearance on the live show after this game we can conclude… he’s mastered some useful chess clichés but may need to work on his listening skills
And that brings us to the day’s real action:
This match pitted the highest and lowest-seeded players remaining in the tournament against each other, and in terms of pure numbers there was no doubt who was the favourite:
That ignores the fact, though, that Ukraine’s Pavel Eljanov has been on fire in Baku, starting with no less than six classical wins in a row and then confidently winning yesterday’s tiebreak against Dmitry Jakovenko after being held to two classical draws.
Against Hikaru Nakamura he played a model game in the Catalan, going for a tactical operation that netted him two rooks and two pawns against a rook and two crippled minor pieces. Nakamura did everything he could – even chancing a cheeky draw offer – but it was all in vain.
Jan has the full story:
However you look at it, Eljanov’s performance in Baku has been stunning, living up to Lawrence Trent’s pun (and how many of us can say that?)…
Here’s his recent live rating performance:
Or you might want to look at how many decisive games the players have been involved in:
In short, the boy done good!
Shakhriyar Mamedyarov had a day to prepare yesterday and could probably still hear the applause for his victory over Fabiano Caruana ringing in his ears when he sat down opposite Sergey Karjakin. For a long time things went just as well for Azerbaijan’s no. 1, who saw his opponent agonise for 14 minutes over 13…b5 and 27 minutes over 14…Ne4:
He then paused 13 seconds before playing: 15.Nxd5! That was no trivial tactic but involved an exchange sacrifice and long-term compensation: 15…Bxd5 16.Qxd5 Nc3 17.Qc6 Nxe2+ 18.Bxe2 Nb6 19.e4:
Things look grim for Black, but Sergey proved himself to be a very worthy opponent by hitting back with 19…a5!, making use of the fact 20.e5 isn’t yet a threat, since the bishop on e2 is hanging if the e-file is opened.
The play that followed was so complex that Mamedyarov’s almost one-hour time advantage over Karjakin dwindled until it became a deficit, but he handled the run-up to the time control better and emerged with an edge… and the same rook vs. bishop and knight material imbalance we’d seen in the previous game:
But that wasn't all. As the late, great Yogi Berra put it, "It’s déjà vu all over again". Karjakin had been on the white side against Vishy Anand in the penultimate round of the 2014 Candidates Tournament. In that game, which could have changed chess history, Karjakin couldn’t quite punish Anand for going for the ending and Vishy eventually drew by pushing his h-pawn. The final position:
Karjakin had clearly learned his lesson, since in Baku he managed to save himself in an almost hopeless situation… with the help of that same h-pawn, and a little trick:
87…Rg1+! And in order not to actually end up worse (the pawn will queen on h1 if the rook is captured), Mamedyarov had to accept the draw with 88.Kxh2 Rxg4.
That spectacular save leaves Karjakin with the white pieces in the second classical game and a chance to ruin the hopes of the local fans. The absolute game to watch tomorrow, though, will of course be Nakamura - Eljanov. The US no. 1 must win to stay in the tournament!
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