57-year-old Michal Krasenkow executed a brilliant attack to take down Kirill Alekseenko on Friday and reach a Round 3 match against 15-year-old Praggnanandhaa, who whitewashed Gabriel Sargissian 2:0. Sargissian and Alekseenko are among 7 players given a bye to Round 2 who are out of the Open Section (Vallejo, Anton, Kryvoruchko, Ragger and Levon Aronian, who couldn’t play, are the others) while in the Women’s Section only Olga Girya was knocked out, by 16-year-old Leya Garifullina. 30 matches have gone to tiebreaks, after Alireza Firouzja and Gukesh survived scares.
And here’s the day’s live commentary from Loek van Wely and Laurent Fressinet.
Let’s first take a look at the 64 matches in Round 2 of the Open section, based on the score after two games.
Winning a match 2:0 in the World Cup could be considered “overkill” — you don’t get anything extra other than rating points compared to winning 1.5:0.5 — and just 12 match-ups ended in a whitewash. Two of those were technical wins, with Fabiano Caruana defeating Susanto Megaranto 2:0 only after his opponent got a positive COVID test result during their 1st game and had to abandon the tournament.
Australian GM Bobby Cheng got the other technical KO after 2-time World Cup winner Levon Aronian decided to drop out for health reasons without pushing a pawn. Bobby wasn’t celebrating his unexpected place in Round 3.
I’m a little bit disappointed I didn’t get the opportunity to play him. I think for someone like myself it’s probably a once in a lifetime thing, and I was really looking forward to it, but it’s just really unfortunate all round that that’s the situation we’re in and I respect what he did. I just hope that he can still play in the Candidates, and I hope he doesn’t regret his decision.
Elsewhere there were 2:0 wins for some of the big guns such as Anish Giri, Evgeny Tomashevsky, Yu Yangyi, Sergey Karjakin and Adhiban. Can anyone or anything stop Giri?
They were joined by World Champion Magnus Carlsen, who took a safety-first approach against Sasa Martinovic, but then went on to grind out a win in a study-like endgame anyway.
54.b5! was the key move, and one which left our commentators unable to spot a defence. The computer spits out 54…Kd7! 55.Nxe5+ Kc8 and says everything is fine, but in the game after 54…axb5 55.c6! Kd6 56.cxb7 the connected passed pawns on the a and b-files were decisive. Magnus clearly knew it, and despite oceans of time on his clock was playing very fast — too fast, it turned out!
59.Kd5! is in fact the only win here, since after 59.Nd7? Kc6 (not 59…Kxd7? 60.a7!) Black should be able to hold. Sasa Martinovic was very low on time, however, and soon went astray so that Magnus got to play Nd7! a 2nd time in a situation where it was the winning move. He went on to clinch a victory that sees him play Norwegian no. 2 Aryan Tari in Sunday’s Round 3.
There were just two lower-lated players to win 2:0, and in the case of David Paravyan (2629) against Alexander Onischuk (2649) the difference was marginal. David now plays Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who after his 1st game scare easily defeated an unwell Elshan Moradiabadi in the 2nd game, and isn’t writing himself off: “Obviously Maxime is favourite, but I really believe I have some chances.”
The other “upset” was 2608-rated Praggnanandhaa defeating 2682-rated Gabriel Sargissian, after the Armenian’s desperate attack in the 2nd game was easily refuted. In this case, however, it’s clear that Praggnanandhaa is underrated, as are the other prodigies who were held back from climbing the rating list by the pandemic.
The Indian prodigies are serious contenders to go far in the World Cup, but it doesn’t mean they have to take everything seriously!
Winning 1.5:0.5 can be considered the professional approach to the World Cup — not doing more than required while you get a rest day while your potential future opponents battle it out on a nerve-wracking day of tiebreaks.
Top players such as Radek Wojtaszek, Jan-Krzysztof Duda, Jeffery Xiong, Boris Gelfand, Peter Svidler, Dmitry Andreikin, Harikrishna, Nikita Vitiugov, Sam Shankland (who never gave Baadur Jobava a chance) and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave all made it through with this scoreline and a minimum of drama.
Alexander Grischuk did as well, although his game ultimately stretched to 96 moves — our commentary team felt sorry for Federico Perez not getting to play a single active move all game, though it’s the kind of thing that can happen when you play the Berlin!
It wasn’t only about favourites moving smoothly into the next round, however, since three major upsets were confirmed. Paco Vallejo (2710) was unable to come back after losing the 1st game to Velemir Ivic (2581) and the same went for David Anton (2673) against Pouya Idani (2614) and Yuriy Kryvoruchko (2699) against Ante Brkic (2592).
Poland’s 5-time World Chess Problem Solving Champion Kacper Piorun (2608) solved a puzzle against Austrian no. 1 Markus Ragger (2680) after their first game was drawn. 27…a5? was a losing move.
Piorun’s 28.Bh6! was game over. Black blitzed out 28…Rd8, but 29.Qc7! left no defence. Rook moves run into Qe5, and stopping mate would come at a ruinous cost in material.
The greatest Polish success story, however, was from 57-year-old Michal Krasenkow, whose peak rating of 2702 came at a time when that was enough to place him in the World Top 10. Michal had overcome Slovenia’s Matej Sebenik in Round 1 after winning the first game with White, though the save that avoided tiebreaks is worth a mention. Matej had struggled to convert an advantage in the ending, but had a last chance for a study-like win on move 70.
70.Be4! f3 71.Bd3! f2 and only now 72.g5+! Kh5 73.Be2+.
Black has to give up the knight on f3, White captures with check, and the bishop then comes back to handle the f2-pawn, allowing the white pawn to queen and win the game.
Instead after 70.g5+? Kh5 71.Bd1+ f3 the game just fizzled out into a draw, and Michal had a rest day. His opponent in Round 2 was 24-year-old Kirill Alekseenko, who qualified for the FIDE Candidates Tournament through the Grand Swiss but had also starred in the 2019 World Cup, knocking out Harikrishna and only losing on tiebreaks to Ding Liren in Round 4.
There first game in Sochi saw Michal hold a 30-move draw with Black with the Petroff Defence, before the spectacular second game. Krasenkow had managed to post an impressive knight on d6, but 28…f6 was undermining its foundations. This is where the game took off!
29.Rxh6! gxh6 30.Qxh6 Qc7 31.Qxf6 was a sound sacrifice of a rook for three pawns. As so often in such cases, the computer was giving 0.00 as its evaluation, but 36.Rd4!, ready to bring the surviving rook into the attack, was a frightening move to face. It turns out e.g. 36…Rh7 should have been holding the defence, but after 36…Nd5? 37.Qe6+! Kh8 White had a surprising kill.
After 38…Qd8 (other moves just give up the queen) 39.Qh6+ Kg8 40.Rg4+ Black’s problem is that he no longer has Rg7 to defend the position. After 40…Kf7 41.Nd6+! Kirill resigned and was out of the World Cup. Michal had played the attack perfectly.
One remaining match-up that could be flagged as an upset was India’s Nihal Sarin (2620) defeating strong Russian Grandmaster Sanan Sjugirov (2661), but the spectacular win with the black pieces for Sarin was just the latest stage in his inexorable rise on the live rating list over the last month that sees him battling Adhiban for the Indian no. 4 spot.
We now come to the matches that are going to tiebreaks, but although these ended in two draws there were some great fights. For instance, 14-year-old Volodar Murzin actually had winning chances against Vladislav Artemiev before their second game was drawn.
The most memorable games on Friday, however, were arguably two examples of great defence. 15-year-old Gukesh held on a pawn down against Daniil Dubov, while 18-year-old Alireza Firouzja, one of the dark horses to win the event, found himself in the unfamiliar position of not just being the elder — he was facing 15-year-old Javokhir Sindarov from Uzbekistan — but of being all but lost in the early middlegame after a 6.h3 Najdorf.
Firouzja's queen’s foray promised nothing good.
Javokhir missed the right moment to push f6, however, and you could question his decision to exchange off queens, but overall Alireza managed to save himself by maintaining tremendous focus and fighting to the end. Laurent Fressinet mentioned that it seems Firouzja has adopted what Magnus Carlsen dubbed “the French School of Suffering” when talking about MVL, and he wasn’t the only person to make the observation!
It’s tough to come back after a loss in the FIDE World Cup, but six players managed it on Friday. Five of those winners you couldn’t class as big surprises: Jorge Cori (vs. Sandro Mareco), Sam Sevian (Benjamin Bok), Salem Saleh (Aleksandar Indjic), Yaroslav Zherebukh (Alexei Shirov) and Ivan Cheparinov (Rasmus Svane).
For English IM Ravi Haria to come back against Etienne Bacrot, however, was remarkable, especially as he did it with the black pieces after an Exchange French opening that seemed to offer Black absolutely nothing. Ravi kept fighting, however, until strange things happened with both players down to their last couple of minutes. 37…Nxc3! should still have fizzled out to nothing after 38.Rb6, but Etienne played 38.Rc2?!, which was met by 38...Ne4!
The simple point is that 39.Rxc4? runs into 39…Nd2+, winning the rook, while after 39.Ke2 c3! it was no longer hard to imagine Black winning the game. In fact 40.Bb4! might have been the only chance for Etienne to hold, since after 40.Ke3 f5! Haria was completely on top and went on to win.
Tiebreaks against Bacrot will be anything but easy, but Ravi is taking full advantage of his chance to play in the FIDE World Cup when more senior English players pulled out.
The Women’s FIDE World Cup has featured much less drama, with the favourites largely qualifying without too much trouble. In fact the only Top 25 seed who joined in Round 2 to lose so far was Olga Girya, who over-extended and lost to a new Russian star, 16-year-old Leya Garifullina.
Eight matches go to tiebreaks in the women’s section, with two notable comebacks. Nataliya Bursa hit back against Carissa Yip, while Kazakhstan women’s no. 1 Zhansaya Abdumalik reasserted her authority against no. 3 Bibisara Assaubayeva. 21…Nd4?! was too optimistic from Bibisara.
Zhansaya took over with 22.b4! Rxf3 23.gxf3 Qxb4 24.a3! Qc4 25.Rxd4! Qxd4 26.Ne4! and the ensuing position with two minor pieces for a rook was one Zhansaya went on to win with ease.
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