14-year-old IM Volodar Murzin looked shocked, then thrilled, then determined as he checkmated 44-year-old Viorel Iordachescu to qualify for a Round 2 clash with fellow Russian Vladislav Artemiev. The FIDE World Cup Round 1 tiebreaks largely saw the favourites win, but English IM Ravi Haria convincingly outplayed Russian GM Vadim Zvjaginsev, while Egyptian no. 9 Abdelrahman Hesham beat Egyptian no. 2 Ahmed Adly. Magnus Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana, Aleksandra Goryachkina and all the other top seeds now join the event.
19 matches went to tiebreaks in the Open Section on Wednesday, with the stakes high — it was not just about the chance to play some of the world’s best players, but that Round 2 losers take home $6,000. The format for the tiebreaks is the same as in previous World Cups, with two 25-minute + 30-second increment rapid games follow by pairs of games at increasingly fast time controls, until a potential Armageddon game. Let’s take a look at how the matches went.
The clear favourites such as Benjamin Bok, Varuzhan Akobian and Haik Martirosyan largely took over in tiebreaks.
Their opponents, such as Zambian IM Chitumbo Mwali, could be proud of reaching a third day, however. Chitumbo is hoping to come back as the coach of a 2600 player rather than playing himself!
The favourites also tended to win closer match-ups, with 15-year-old Gukesh setting up a mouth-watering clash with Daniil Dubov in Round 2. Young Polish IM Pawel Teclaf needed to play 21.Bxc7!, since after 21.Qxc7? d4 22.e4 it only seemed as though White had everything under control.
The only move 22…Bc8! was simply winning, with no good defence against 23…Bh3 and mate on g2 (if the the queen had stayed on c2, simply 23.Qe2 would be winning for White). 23.g4 Bxg4 24.Bxd4 stopped an immediate mate, but at the cost of a full piece.
There were some near upsets, with Armenia’s Hovhannes Gabuzyan winning both playoff games against French-based Algerian GM Bilel Bellahcene, but only after having lost positions in the games.
Here Bilel had missed some even better options earlier, but could still simply play 35…Bxd5 36.Qxd5 Qc6 and, with the queen pinned, Black has an ending a pawn up. Instead after the “pinning” 35…Qe6??, played after 34 seconds, Hovhannes played 36.Rd8+ and after 36...Be8 (a sad necessity), White kept the extra piece. You could feel the nervousness of the players.
There were two major upsets in the 25-minute games. Despite letting a chance to wrap up the match slip a day earlier, England’s 22-year-old Ravi Haria looked absolutely convincing as he outplayed 44-year-old Russian GM Vadim Zvjaginsev. Ravi confessed afterwards that he’d actually blundered a pawn to get the dead drawn rook ending in the second game, while he also noted he now needs to ask his hotel if he can stay longer!
He hadn’t thought past getting to tiebreaks, and now, as one of only four International Masters remaining in the event, faces France’s Etienne Bacrot.
The other shock was to see Egyptian no. 9 Abdelrahman Hesham beat Egyptian no. 2 Ahmed Adly. The rating gap was over 200 points, but in fact Hesham could have won the first rapid game as well. He finished the second off in style.
35…Rh2+! 36.Kxh2 Qh6+ 37.Rh3 Rh1+! 38.Kxh1 Qxh3+ 39.Kg1 Qxg4+ 40.Kf1 Nd2+, forking the king and queen.
It was impressive how much resistance Singaporean IM Jingyao Tin put up against Timur Gareyev, but the stand-out match here is of course the victory for 14-year-old Volodar Murzin. He didn’t let his spirits drop after spoiling a win in the 2nd classical game, and instead held firm against 44-year-old Viorel Iorachescu for the first three tiebreak games.
Then, for a second white game in a row, Viorel’s f4 let an advantage slip. Volodar then gradually took over, winning a pawn and building up a huge edge, though it was such a complicated position that there were still chances for White. The last was to exchange queens and play an ending that would be unpleasant, but vastly less unpleasant than what happened in the game. 51.Qxd4? was the last mistake.
After playing so much careful positional chess over the course of the match so far, Volodar got to execute a checkmate! 51…Qh1+ 52.Kg4 Bf3+ 53.Kf5 Qxh5#
His unfamiliarity with celebrating such moments was visible at the end!
He now faces the incredibly tough challenge of playing Goldmoney Asian Rapid finalist Vladislav Artemiev in Round 2, but whatever happens his tournament has already been a success.
Just one match went all the way to blitz in the open section, with “youth” eventually triumphing after 39-year-old Paraguayan GM Neuris Delgado overcame 55-year-old 5-time Bangladesh Chess Champion Niaz Murshed. His reward is a Round 2 match-up with the beast Adhiban.
Losses for Anna Ushenina and Pauline Guichard were among the biggest shocks on Day 1 of the FIDE World Cup, but they hit back on the second day and convincingly completed victories in the 25-minute games.
A minor rating upset was the impressive 2:0 victory of 2019 US Women’s Chess Champion Jennifer Yu over reigning Polish Women’s Champion Klaudia Kulon.
In the 10-minute games 2020 Polish Women’s Champion Karina Cyfka finally defeated 17-year-old, 400 points lower-rated Svitlana Demchenko, who represents Canada.
The other game to finish in the 10-minute section was a victory for 300 points higher-rated Almira Skripchenko over Egypt’s Shahenda Wafa. The Egyptian player put up a huge fight, however, and was on the brink of victory in the second classical game. Then the first rapid game was spectacular.
Almira could have pounced here with 43…Rxb2+! 44.Nxb2 Qxa3!, and avoiding mate would cost White a lot of material. Instead after 43…Ra8? Shahenda got to play the brilliant 44.Rh2!!, defending the b2 and a2-squares, since the black rook can’t leave the g-file or we’d get 44…Rxh2 45.Qc8+ and back rank mate.
Wafa went on to win that game, but from there on Almira struck back to win the next three games and win the match. She’ll face French no. 1 Marie Sebag in Round 2.
As in the open section, one match went to blitz, with Estonia’s Mai Narva coming close to forcing Armageddon before favourite Gulnar Mammadova from Azerbaijan clinched victory with a draw in the final blitz game.
Needless to say, Round 2 (the equivalent of Round 1 in earlier years) is where the FIDE World Cup really takes off, with the likes of Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana putting their reputations on the line. There are almost no easy matches, while there are plenty of potential thrillers, with some that stand out in the Open section including:
First the players need to make it to the venue...
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