Reports Sep 29, 2015 | 6:33 PMby Colin McGourty

Baku World Cup, SF 3: Tragic end for Eljanov

After 423 World Cup games Sergey Karjakin has joined Peter Svidler in an all-Russian final, but only after surviving a thrilling tiebreak session against Pavel Eljanov. The Ukrainian man of the tournament so far had looked on the verge of forcing 5-minute games when his opponent spotted a draw by 3-fold repetition. The winner took all, with Karjakin also now in the 2016 Candidates Tournament, where he’ll try to improve on his second place finish behind Vishy Anand last year.

Pavel Eljanov started the tiebreak the way he started the event as a whole, but his dream is the 126th to be crushed at this World Cup | photo: official website

Tiebreak Thriller

Sergey Karjakin is in the 2015 World Cup final after a draw in the fourth tiebreak game gave him a 3.5:2.5 victory.

You can replay those games and all the action from the World Cup using the selector below:

This was the first day at the World Cup when we were focused on only one pair of players, and we had the added bonus of confirmed finalist Peter Svidler dropping by to comment on the third and fourth play-off games. You can rewatch his appearance below, where he joins Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam and Evgeny Miroshnichenko at about 01:44:00:

You can also watch a recap of the full tiebreak by GM Jan Gustafsson:

It's hard to compete with all that, but let’s briefly run through the games, including some comments from the winner.

Game 1 – Eljanov 1:0 Karjakin

All the attention was focused on a single gripping match | photo: official website

Pavel Eljanov has been in supreme form in Baku and had wrapped things up quickly in the 25-minute games on the one occasion he needed tiebreaks - against Dmitry Jakovenko in Round 4. It looked like history might repeat itself, as he simple bulldozed Karjakin off the board in the first rapid game of the semifinals. The five minutes he invested on 11.Qd2! paid off handsomely, and eventually he’d won the strategic battle across the whole width of the board. 29.d4!!, clearing a path for the white queen, was the crowning glory:

If Black tries to ignore the pawn sacrifice 30.dxc5 will follow, but after 29…Rxd4 30.Qc3! Karjakin correctly simply gave up a piece with 30…Ne4 31.Qxa5, since 30…b6 31.Bxf6! (even stronger than 31.b4) is murder. Eljanov had no trouble converting his material advantage.

Peter Svidler summed up his thoughts as he’d watched the game in his hotel room with, “I am witnessing something special here”.

Game 2 – Karjakin 1-0 Eljanov

For the second time in Baku, Karjakin was staring World Cup exit in the face (he lost the first game to Alexander Onischuk in Round 2), but a last-minute choice worked in his favour:

It was maybe the most difficult situation for me in all the World Cup. I sat in front of him and I decided to play my first move 1.Nf3 maybe ten seconds before the game, because I didn’t know if I should try to go 1.e4 or 1.c4 or 1.d4. I didn’t know where he’s prepared badly and when you have to win it’s very difficult. Fortunately he went to my preparation – this 18…Ba3 19.Bxa3 Qxa3 20.Nc5. I knew all of this and I knew that White is better according to the computer, but of course it wasn’t easy at all to win this game. At least I think it was kind of a good game.

The position after 20.Nc5

Eljanov could never quite equalise fully and was gradually ground down in impressive style until he tasted defeat for the first time in this World Cup in Baku.

Adjusting his glasses couldn't change what Eljanov was seeing - his first defeat in three weeks | photo: official website

So the players switched from 25-minute rapid to 10-minute blitz:

Game 3 – Eljanov 0-1 Karjakin

Would that loss prove a huge blow to Pavel Eljanov? Perhaps, but he didn’t show it, gradually transforming a tricky position into one where he was not only better on the board but had a huge (for the time control) 4-minute lead on the clock. And then disaster struck. For anyone listening to the English commentary the blunder was immediately obvious, since Peter Svidler had seen it coming after 41…Bg7:

The computer wants 42.Qc6! here, when only White can win, though you would probably bet on a draw. Peter Svidler was drawn to the same idea as Eljanov:

Now I quite like h4-h5… although there’s 43…Bh4 in the end! (smiles) This is something you need not to blunder. Let me illustrate this… if you go 42.h4 Bf6 (Eljanov plays 42.h4) I think he did play 42.h4! (Sergey plays 42…Bf6) But after 42…Bf6 now you have to be very careful, because if you go 43.h5 (Pavel plays 43.h5) after 43…Bh4 what do you do? Aren’t you in a lot of trouble here with White? Judging by Pavel’s face this came as a surprise.

The position after 43...Bh4

Svidler was right, and although Karjakin later made his task slightly harder by taking on f2 with his queen rather than bishop he managed to convert with ease. Karjakin himself had an explanation:

I think the problem for him is that he played a little bit on time. He played too quickly and that’s why he blundered.

So was that the end of the excitement? Not exactly…

Game 4 – Karjakin ½-½ Eljanov

We’ve said a lot about how hard it is to win on demand with the black pieces, but it turns out drawing on demand with White is also fraught with difficulty!

Even when Sergey took the lead it was still edge-of-your-seat viewing | photo: official website

Karjakin shocked Svidler by playing 5.Nc3 (not e.g. 5.e4), allowing 5…Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 f5:

Peter commented:

This is very strange. If you’re Eljanov you’re ecstatic about this position. It’s a tremendously unbalanced position, very strategically complex, lots of play for both sides and, considering other options he had in this position, I’m very surprised.

Sergey himself also later lamented all the trouble he’d put himself in:

It’s a pity that I cannot make a normal draw with White – I get such a terrible position. I should have done something more, let’s say, convincing… I allowed this because I thought I should play normal chess, but then I played very badly… When you play with White and you have to make a draw you start to think – should you play for a win or for a draw? You start to make moves which are not the best, and at some moment you realise you are slightly worse and it goes worse and worse.

It developed into a strategic masterpiece for Eljanov, who could allow himself the luxury of walking his king all the way from c8 to h8 before he finally broke open the position. 

When he did Black was close to winning, and despite some possible chances for a cleaner knockdown - the computer would pick up the c4-pawn on moves 55 or 56, showing utter disregard for White’s threats on the dark squares - that verdict hadn’t changed when the game, and Pavel Eljanov’s incredible World Cup, came to an abrupt end on move 69:

Karjakin does what Svidler failed to do the day before against Giri - claim a draw by 3-fold repetition

Sergey Karjakin stopped the clocks and pointed out that his intended 70.Be1 will repeat the position after move 65.Be1 and 67.Be1, with Black to move in each case. There was an agonising delay as the players switched to another board to replay the game, but there was no longer anything Pavel could do – Karjakin was right and the game was a draw.

Seldom can acknowledging a draw have felt more like resignation

So Pavel Eljanov’s dream of a surprise place in the 2016 Candidates Tournament was over. Instead it’s Karjakin who will play and see if he can go one better than last year (when he finished second behind Viswanathan Anand) and qualify for a match against Magnus Carlsen.

Peter Svidler could enjoy the tiebreaks as a spectator and chat with his buddy Genna Sosonko | photo: official website

Before that we have the final of the World Cup which, for the third time in a row, will feature two Russians. In 2011 it was Svidler and Grischuk, in 2013 Kramnik and Andreikin and now in 2015 it is, of course, Karjakin and Svidler. One famous football quote was on the minds of at least two independent observers:

Who could have seen it coming?

For Sergey Karjakin it was a personal triumph, after he lost 2.5:1.5 to Alexei Shirov in the semifinals back in 2007 and 2:0 to Boris Gelfand in 2009:

It was my third semifinal in a World Cup and of course I would be very upset if I lost this one.

We have one rest day tomorrow before the final, and then at least three games in the final (a player could win 3:0 or 2.5:0.5), but possibly four classical games and then tiebreaks. Karjakin wasn’t entirely informed about that, as the conclusion to his interview with Dirk Jan showed:

Dirk Jan: It will be four games.

Sergey: Really? (laughter from the audience) I thought it would be two games… I was hoping!

You can watch Sergey's full interview below:

Peter Svidler was asked in a Q&A session with chess24 users late last year what goals he still hopes to achieve in chess:

I quite like the Candidates Tournaments. I would like to play another one of those and maybe win one. Then I would get to play a World Championship match. That actually is a legitimate goal I have. The number of shots I will get at this is probably not increasing, but that is a legitimate goal.

Peter will have his chance, but first he has an almost unique opportunity to pull off the hugely difficult feat of winning a 128-player World Cup knockout twice! Don’t miss all the action on Thursday right here on chess24.

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


See also:

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