The brutal logic of the FIDE World Cup on Tuesday saw 80 players who made it to Sochi already able to pack to leave, after they lost their Round 1 matches. There are 19 tiebreaks in the Open Section and 9 in the Women’s on Wednesday, with just 11 players who lost on Day 1 managing to come back on Day 2, including favourites Vadim Zvjaginsev, Anna Ushenina and Pauline Guichard. 12-year-old Abhimanyu Mishra is out, with his conqueror Baadur Jobava’s match against Sam Shankland one of the highlights to come in Round 2.
The FIDE World Cup is a spectacular event that gathers players from all around the world, but unlike the Olympiad, where a couple of weeks of socialising are guaranteed, the World Cup sees the field halved every three days. It’s most obvious at the start, when that means a mass exodus, in this case even before the star names have begun to play.
It can be hard to take, with Qiyu Zhou, better known as Nemo, tweeting after losing two games to the very talented Vaishali, the sister of Praggnanandhaa.
It’s an event where only the ultimate winner can avoid defeat, however, so that the pain of exiting the event is almost unavoidable.
In the Open section 45 of the 64 Round 2 matches are already determined, including Magnus Carlsen taking on Croatian GM Sasa Martinovic, who will be celebrating his 30th birthday when the match begins. Martinovic managed to hold a draw against Kaido Kulaots, but after initially looking comfortable it ended up being a nerve-wracking game.
Magnus Carlsen’s section of the draw is close to complete, though there are three tiebreaks, including between 15-year-old Gukesh and Poland’s 18-year-old Pawel Teclaf for the right to play Daniil Dubov in Round 2.
Tuesday was, unsurprisingly, a day of the favourites. 12-year-old Abhimanyu Mishra was taken into a quiet endgame against Baadur Jobava, and although Abhimanyu gained the GM title largely by outplaying opponents in endgames it was too little to work with against a player of Baadur’s calibre.
Jobava-Shankland promises to be one of the highlights of Round 2, while Mishra got to do some celebrity spotting!
Sadly Ian Nepomniachtchi isn't playing the FIDE World Cup!
There was nearly a sensational result for 14-year-old Volodar Murzin, who for a second day in a row had the experienced Viorel Iordachescu on the ropes. 42.Rg8+! was a nice trap, however.
42…Nd8! and Black would be completely winning, but after the automatic 42…Ka7? Viorel had 43.Rxd2! and suddenly all Black’s advantage had gone. The problem is that with the king on a7 the black queen is pinned and can’t take back on d2.
Volodar will have another chance, however, as that match is one of the 19 to go to tiebreaks — in fact, it's the only result missing to determine the pairings for his section of the draw.
Among the other prodigies, 15-year-old Praggnanandhaa qualified comfortably, as did Nihal Sarin on his 17th birthday, taking a quick draw that will give him time to rest before a tough Round 2 clash with Sanan Sjugirov.
It’s 15-year-old Javokhir Sindarov from Uzbekistan who’ll take on 18-year-old Alireza Firouzja in Round 2, and though that should be a fascinating match-up it also meant we missed out on a clash between two internet speed demons, Firouzja and Andrew Tang. The US star had a comfortable advantage before going astray and losing the second game of his match against Sindarov.
The players who scored surprise wins on Day 1 had predictably tough second days, though English IM Ravi Haria was incredibly close to knocking out strong Russian GM Vadim Zvjaginsev. Ravi only needed a draw, but was in fact winning with Black in Game 2 of their match.
Black is up an exchange, has dangerous passed b and d-pawns and is threatening to take White’s e6-pawn. 33…Rg8 was best, but instead, down to very little time on the clock, Ravi tried to force matters with 33…Bf4? only to find himself in trouble after 34.Nf5 Bxe5 35.Ne7! There were chances to hold later in the tricky ending, but it was no longer a surprise that Vadim came through to force a tiebreak.
It was a similar story in the women’s section, where Pauline Guichard and Anna Ushenina came back convincingly after their shock losses to Tilsia Varela and Ayah Moaataz in the first game.
The comebacks weren’t only by the favourites, however, with Yemeni IM Basheer Al Qudami (2435) and Zambian IM Chitumbo Mwali (2281) managing to outplay Iran’s GM Tabatabaei (2613) and Armenia’s GM Haik Martirosyan (2648) in tactical melees that the favourites really should have avoided in games they only needed to draw.
For instance, Haik’s 33…Ne4? was a little too brilliant.
34.Bxe4? is mate-in-3: 34…Qh2+ 35.Kf1 Bh3+ 36.Bg2 Qxg2#, but after Chitumbo’s simple 34.Re2! Qf6 (34…Qe5 loses the knight as well, e.g. to 35.Qd4! Qxd4 36.exd4!) 35.Bxe4 Black was just busted.
Of course some favourites did get to win two games in style, with US veteran Alexander Onischuk winning perhaps the miniature of the day against Iraqi FM Akar Ali Smith Salih. It wasn’t immediately obvious, but he was already winning by move 12 and didn’t put a foot wrong afterwards. Here’s the final assault.
18.h4! Onischuk is already down a piece and invites Black to take another, though 18…Qxd5 19.Re8+! immediately wins not just the queen on d5 but the rook on a8 as well. Salih played 18…Qd8 but ran into 19.Re7! Qf8 20.Qb3! — a beautiful move that left Black with no choice but to give up his queen to avoid a double check and mate. In fact Salih took the other choice and resigned.
45-year-old Onischuk is far from the oldest player left in the tournament. 55-year-old Bangladeshi GM Niaz Murshed came back powerfully to force a tiebreak against 218 points higher rated Paraguayan GM Neuris Delgado. Two players already through to Round 2 are another 55-year-old, Kiril Georgiev, who’ll play Parham Maghsoodloo, and 57-year-old Polish GM Michal Krasenkow, who narrowly avoided playoffs (his Slovenian opponent Matej Sebenik had a tablebase win in a tricky ending) and now faces a tough match-up against Kirill Alekseenko.
The oldest player, however, may be 58-year-old Pia Cramling, who’s seeded through to Round 2, where she faces Poland’s Monika Socko.
53-year-old 14-time Dutch Women’s Chess Champion (and 3-time Chinese Women’s Chess Champion) Peng Zhaoqin is another veteran in Round 2, where she faces Nana Dzagnidze.
The full list of Wednesday’s tiebreaks in the open section is as follows, with two games of 25+30 rapid chess followed by two games of 10+10, then 5+3, and finally, if needed, Armageddon.
That last tiebreak will determine who plays Fabiano Caruana. It had looked as though it would be Iranian GM Ehsan Ghaem Maghami until 28.a3? spoilt a completely winning position (28.d5! was the most stylish move to prevent what happened in the game, though 28.Rfd1! would also be sufficient).
Indonesian GM Susanto Megaranto pounced with 28…Rh1+! 29.Bxh1 Qh5! and the game was agreed drawn. 30.Kg2 Qh3+ 31.Kf3 Qh5+ is perpetual check, unless White wants to get mated. Chess is tough!
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