Magnus Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana and other top seeds begin the World Cup from Thursday’s Round 2, but before that the event will already be over for 117 players. Nine players failed to make it to Round 1, but over 200 were in action on Monday, including the youngest ever grandmaster, Abhimanyu Mishra, who put up a great fight before losing to Baadur Jobava. The favourites dominated, but English IM Ravi Haria beat Russian GM Vadim Zvjaginsev, while ex-Women’s World Champion Anna Ushenina fell to Egypt’s Ayah Moaataz. We also saw one game for the ages.
This year’s Open and Women’s FIDE World Cups are being held simultaneously in the mountain resort of Krasnaya Polyana, near Sochi, Russia. Traditionally the huge knockout events would see 128 players compete in the open section and 64 in the women’s, but this year the fields have been expanded to 206 and 103, with the addition of an extra 1st round. The 50 top seeds in the open and the 25 top seeds in the women’s section start from Round 2.
The logistics of gathering 309 players in one venue during a pandemic are formidable, but so far only nine players failed to make it to Round 1. Many will have had travel issues, while we also know, for instance, that 23-year-old Russian WGM Anastasya Paramzina was seriously ill with COVID and wants to focus on recovery. The missing players are the following, meaning that some Round 2 pairings are already decided (the player in bold goes through to Round 2).
It’s a curiosity that both Romanian players who competed in the Superbet Chess Challenge, Constantin Lupulescu and Bogdan-Daniel Deac, are through after forfeit wins.
As usual for the first round of such an event, there were huge rating disparities on many of the boards, with 1998-rated Elmer Prudente launching a fund-raiser before making a trip of over 20,000km from Guam, to New York, to Sochi, to play on top board against the highest-rated player not to be seeded through to Round 2, Russia’s 2661-rated Sanan Sjugirov.
The outcome of the game was predictable, though some tension remained until Elmer blundered a full piece on move 25. There will be a chance to hit back on Tuesday, before any tied matches go to rapid and blitz playoffs on Wednesday.
Upsets were few and far between on the other boards, though some favourites were held to draws, and Indian prodigy Nihal Sarin was objectively in deep trouble before class told and he continued his inexorable rating rise.
Tuesday is Nihal's 17th birthday, so he has a chance to celebrate it by climbing above Hou Yifan, David Howell and Gata Kamsky. More important, however, is to ensure he goes through to Round 2, where he's likely to face Sjugirov.
English IM Ravi Haria did pull off an upset, however, impressively outplaying and beating formidable Russian GM Vadim Zvjaginsev.
In the women’s section there were a couple of big upsets. Venezuelan WIM Tilsia Varela took down 341 points higher-rated French IM Pauline Guichard, who slipped into a bad ending a pawn down.
The pinning 51.Rc6! was the only winning move, with Tilsia having correctly calculated that she’s winning the pawn ending if the pieces leave the board. You don’t need to understand Spanish to understand her joy at the result, even if Pauline will of course have the chance to hit back on Day 2.
The other big upset was a tough loss for former Women’s World Champion GM Anna Ushenina, who was winning against 414 points lower-rated Egyptian WIM Ayah Moaataz, but lost control in time trouble. 38…Rxe3! was still winning, but after 38…Rbd7? it was over.
Ayah quickly found 39.Qg8+! Kg6 40.f5+! Kh5 41.Qh7! and Anna resigned, she there’s nothing she can really do about the threat of Qg6 checkmate.
The World Cup is a great stage for youngsters…
…and there were already some notable displays. 14-year-old Russian IM Volodar Murzin said in an interview afterwards that he thought he was worse at one point against Moldovan no. 1 Viorel Iordachescu, but it seems he never was, while he was briefly completely winning before he went for a pawn-up ending. Viorel then dug in to hold a draw.
12-year-old youngest grandmaster of all time Abhimanyu Mishra was the player all eyes were on, since he was paired against firebrand Georgian GM Baadur Jobava. The game lived up to all expectations, stretching past move 60 with both players burning up all their time trying to navigate the fiendish complications. In the end Jobava’s win was merited, but Abhimanyu was close to survival.
It turns out 55.Kh4! Qxd4+ 56.Ng4 may only be a draw, while Jobava found a win after 55.Kf6 with 55…Qh6+ 56.Ng6 Qg7+ 57.Kg5 Kh7! A great fight — it’s also no surprise that the kid called the FIDE World Cup, “the best tournament I can say that I’ve ever been to”.
We can’t end a report on Day 1 without mentioning the amazing game played by Chile’s Pablo Salinas against Denmark’s Mads Andersen. It caught fire after what turned out to be the losing move, 19.a3?
Pablo pounced with 19…Nxf2!, when Mads must already have realised it was very unlikely to be his day. 20.Kxf2 Qxe3+ is mate-in-10, with moves like d4 and Bc5 unleashing huge firepower against the white king.
Mads went for 20.axb4 Nxh3+ 21.Kf1 Qxe3 and was able to stop an immediate mate with 22.Qf5, but it was a case of Black choosing a win, with the path Salinas selected ultimately echoing some of the great immortal games of chess history. 22…Nf6 23.Bc1 Ng4! 24.Rd3 (24.Bxe3 Nxe3# doesn’t just win back the queen — it’s checkmate)
24…d4! 25.Red1 All credit to Mads for playing on rather than simply resigning here, or at any point over the last five or six moves.
Pablo got to execute a beautiful kill with a queen sacrifice that finally couldn't be rejected: 25…Qg1+! 26.Nxg1 Nxh2#
All the players who lost on Day 1 will have a chance to hit back on Day 2, however, with playoffs on Wednesday before Round 2 begins on Thursday.
The top seeds are already converging on Sochi for Round 2, with Magnus Carlsen having made it from Pamplona, Spain to Sochi, Russia. Bryansk, in western Russia, is the home city of World Championship Challenger Ian Nepomniachtchi.
Some other top seeds have struggled with the journey! Sergey Karjakin earlier posted that he’d driven to Sochi from Crimea after missing a flight, while Alexander Grischuk and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov managed to do the same. “The most expensive beer in the history of humanity. Sasha and I missed our flight”, wrote Mamedyarov!
Of course many top players are already in Sochi.
We’ve set up brackets at Challonge so that you can try your hand at predicting the outcome of the whole tournament! It’s mainly for fun, but we’ll throw in a year’s chess24 Premium membership for the the top prediction in each section: Open section | Women’s section
Predictions will be closed at 16:00 CEST today, midway through the second classical game of Round 1, so don't miss out!
Then all that’s left to do is sit back and enjoy a month of constant chess action. Nigel Short and Evgeny Miroshnichenko are commentating for the official website, while from Thursday’s Round 2 onwards we’ll have Jan Gustafsson and friends commentating here on chess24. The games start at 14:00 CEST each day: Open | Women
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