Reports Sep 21, 2019 | 10:20 AMby Colin McGourty

FIDE World Cup 4.1: A bad day for the USA

US stars Wesley So, Jeffery Xiong and Leinier Dominguez must all win on demand on Saturday or they’re out of the 2019 FIDE World Cup after what began as a quiet day ended with four wins for White. So was positionally outplayed by Nikita Vitiugov, Xiong went down in flames to a brilliant breakthrough by Jan-Krzysztof Duda and Dominguez cracked in a tough endgame against Alexander Grischuk. Peter Svidler is the other player who needs a win after losing a tough game against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.

18-year-old Jeffery Xiong, the hero of the previous round, was rocked by a brilliant pawn break from Jan-Krzysztof Duda | photo: Kirill Merkuryev, official website

You can replay all the games from the 2019 FIDE World Cup in Khanty-Mansiysk using the selector below:

And here’s the day’s commentary from Jan Gustafsson and Lawrence Trent:

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The calm before the storm

When Round 4 began it seemed as though the players might feel the need for another rest day, or at least were unwilling to take any risks with a place in the quarterfinals of the World Cup at stake. Aronian-Le Quang Liem was a Ruy Lopez where the players raced to a position with most pieces exchanged before they stopped to think. They didn’t think for long, and the game ended in a 31-move draw.

Levon Aronian had no extravagant shirt and made no extravagant moves as he calmly took a draw with the black pieces | photo: Kirill Merkuryev, official website

The surprise was that Mamedyarov-Radjabov lasted longer, at least in terms of time, though the outcome of the 5.Re1 Berlin looked inevitable long before the players ended the game by repetition on move 25. The Azerbaijan nos 1 and 2 Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Teimour Radjabov are famous for drawing their games, but this is one match that must finally have a winner, even if that only means Black winning by drawing in Armageddon!

Ding Liren was unable to start with a win against 22-year-old Kirill Alekseenko | photo: Kirill Merkuryev, official website

The other two draws were full-blooded struggles, with Ding Liren unable to convert first 4 vs. 3 and then 3 vs. 2 in a queen ending against Kirill Alekseenko. Computers suggest Ian Nepomniachtchi might have been able to win a pawn and pose serious questions in a slow manoeuvring position against Yu Yangyi, but with his trademark fast play Nepo missed the moment.

Vitiugov, Duda, MVL and Grischuk take the lead

Despite making smooth progress so far Wesley So is now in a must-win situation | photo: Kirill Merkuryev, official website

In the end it was a day when plenty of blood was shed, with 32-year-old Russian Nikita Vitiugov once again impressing. In the previous round he’d managed to knock out his super-solid compatriot Sergey Karjakin, after Sergey blundered with Black in a tricky position. This time the arguably even more bullet-proof Wesley So never committed a clear blunder, but was simply positionally outplayed in a Petroff. The no. 4 seed seemed to be getting real counterplay with 34…gxf4, leaving the e5-pawn undefended and opening a path to the white king:

Nikita saw no ghosts, however, and went for 35.Qa5! Qxe5 36.Rb7!, when after 36…Rxb7!? 37.axb7 it turned out the b-pawn would decide the game. The white king proved surprisingly safe and Nikita didn’t put a foot wrong until he was able to finish in style by queening the pawn:

60…Bxb8 61.Qc5+ and mate on b4 or b6 would have ended the game, so Wesley instead simply resigned.

Jan-Krzysztof Duda checks out the other games | photo: Kirill Merkuryev, official website

If that was a positional masterpiece you could call Duda-Xiong an attacking masterpiece, though one that certainly wasn’t without its flaws. 21-year-old Polish star Jan-Krzysztof Duda emerged with an extra pawn in the opening, but in an attempt to limit his opponent’s counterplay he went for an exchange sacrifice that would have been risky even if it wasn’t based on missing Jeffery Xiong’s powerful move 19…Rb8!

What Duda said he’d overlooked was that Black is threatening 20…Bd7 21.Qa3 Bb2!, trapping the queen, so he was forced into playing 20.d4. “It wasn’t the idea,” said Duda, but after 20…Bxa5 21.Qxa5 Rb2 (21…Bd5! was a move Duda mentioned as better) he also wasn’t too downbeat about his chances: “I think in practical terms there is always some play for White, whatever the computer says!”

The game in fact soon turned in White’s favour, with Jan-Krzysztof’s knight getting access to wonderful squares on d4, c6 and finally e6. Then 34…g5? suddenly transformed a difficult position into a lost one when Duda found the beautiful break 35.e5!!:

If he’d had more than 4 minutes on the clock Xiong might have found the more resilient defence 35…Qh5, but after 36.exd6 Black would still be in deep trouble. Duda called the combination “pure calculation”, and in the game after 35…dxe5 36.Qa7! Qh6 

37.d6! there was no defence for Black, even if after 37…Rc1 38.Rxc1 Rxc1+ 39.Kg2 g4 40.h4 gxh3+ 41.Kh2 Qg6 Duda still had to be on his guard:

A careless move like 42.d7?? would lose to Black’s one trick 42…Rh1+! 43.Kxh1 Qe4+ and mate is unstoppable, but when Duda played 42.Qa8+, covering the h1-a8 diagonal, it was time to resign.

That was the fourth win in four games with White for Duda, whose new 2752.9 live rating is not only his own peak but exceeds the 2750 peak official rating of Radek Wojtaszek, meaning that Jan-Krzysztof will be the highest-rated Polish player ever if he maintains this level in the coming days (there’s of course room for debate over whether that makes him the strongest Polish player ever, with the likes of Akiba Rubinstein and Miguel Najdorf entering the conversation).

He showed the game on the live show with Evgeny Miroshnichenko:

In the other two matches there were contrasting fortunes for Russian friends Peter Svidler and Alexander Grischuk, who contested a World Cup final in the same Khanty-Mansiysk back in 2011. 

You again! | photo: Kirill Merkuryev, official website

In a classical Ruy Lopez Maxime Vachier-Lagrave varied with 8.c3 from the 8.d4 Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu had played against Peter in the previous round, and there was already some hesitation from the 8-time Russian Champion. Our commentary team were soon worried for Peter, who found himself jettisoning a pawn. The computer calmly claims Black has full compensation, giving 0.00 as an evaluation of this position:

But it’s no fun for a human to play. Maxime commented:

I think the opening in general was a success for me, in the sense that the position was very playable. It’s very close to equality, but not quite easy to achieve. Peter tried to force things by exchanging pawns and trying to liquidate as much material as possible, but the position was quite unpleasant, my pieces were more active, and this way tactics did work out for me. So then we liquidated into a position where I’m a pawn up but he has practical chances to hold.

The black edifice came crumbling down after 34.g3, or rather Svidler placed dynamite under his own position:

34…Qxe4? 35.gxf4 Rc6 might have given Black practical chances against the white king, but not against a calculator as brilliant as Maxime. He didn’t prolong Peter’s suffering and quickly played 36.f5! Qxf5 37.Bd6! when the white king was objectively safe. Some care was still required, but Maxime safely finished the job, with resignation following a few moves later.

Where did it all go wrong? | photo: Kirill Merkuryev, official website

Watch Maxime talking about the game:

The last game to finish saw Alexander Grischuk pushing with the white pieces, though Leinier Dominguez managed to walk a tightrope for 40 moves before he finally fell. 

Leinier Dominguez had plenty of reason to feel concerned | photo: Kirill Merkuryev, official website

Grischuk described 36…e5?! as an inaccuracy that gave him chances, and was happy to get in a trick on move 52:

52.Bc6! threatens mate on e8 and forced the ugly 52…f5. That pawn would eventually fall and the white e and f-pawns decide the game, but the outcome was only clear after Leinier, with a couple of seconds left on his clock, met 76.f5 with the nervy 76...c2?

Even if White complies and captures immediately on c2 the 7-piece tablebases tell us White is winning, while Grischuk instead played the quicker 77.f6+! Kf8 and only then 78.Bxc2. Other moves such as 76…Bg5! would have left the position objectively equal, though as Alexander said afterwards of the draw, “maybe it’s there, but it’s very complicated”.

That means Saturday’s return games are set up perfectly, with four players, including some star names, needing to go all-out to win. Don’t miss commentary with Jan Gustafsson and Lawrence Trent live here on chess24 from 12:00 CEST.

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