Magnus Carlsen was seriously tested for the first time in Sochi as Radek Wojtaszek decided his best chance against the World Champion was aggression. It could have backfired, but in the end he achieved the moral victory of Magnus offering a draw in an unclear position. Elsewhere half the games in the Open section were decisive, with late twists on most of the boards leaving Harikrishna and Uzbek prodigies Nodirbek Abdusattorov and Javokhir Sindarov needing to win on demand. Women's top seed Aleksandra Goryachkina is in the same boat after blundering against Antoaneta Stefanova.
And here’s the day’s live commentary from Loek van Wely and Laurent Fressinet.
Magnus Carlsen had won all four classical games on his way to Round 4 of the FIDE World Cup, where he faced Radoslaw Wojtaszek. The Polish star once beat Magnus in Wijk aan Zee, but had also lost four games where Magnus followed the clear strategy of going for offbeat lines early on against his well-prepared opponent. Magnus did the same again with the rare 6…a5!? and went on to gain an advantage in the early middlegame, but Radek had come with a game plan.
Actually I’m not sure what was going on, because in many moments I felt that I might be in danger, but on the other hand I also saw that I might get some ideas. I just thought that I would play aggressive, because against Magnus I thought that if you will play a normal game it will not give you much success.
In fact the aggression was all but demanded by the position.
22.Bh3 would run into 22…Bxh4! anyway, and here Radek didn’t delay long before going for 23.Nxf5! exf5 24.Bxf5 Bxh4.
Radek played 25.gxh4!? after a 23-minute think, and objectively it seems it was a mistake — 25…Ncxe5! (or taking on e5 with the other knight) is very strong. He would later comment of that move:
I saw it, but you know, it’s so unclear, and also we were running short of time, so I saw that it exists, probably I would have to go 26.dxe5 Nxe5, and then try to find some very good move.
27.Kg2! is an only move there according to the computer, and though Black is close to winning Magnus would be down a lot of material in the short term.
Magnus instead played 25…Qxh4 26.Be6+ Kh8 27.Qd3! and only then sacrificed on e5, after which Wojtaszek would have been losing if he wasn’t able to give up his queen.
30.Qxf3 Rxf3 31.Bxc8 Rf8!? 32.Bb7 Qf6.
In playing this move Magnus had missed White’s only defence, 33.Rda2!
The players discussed alternatives for Black afterwards, with Radek confessing he didn’t know what to do after 32…Re8, though by process of elimination he might have found 33.Kf1!, when the computer gives its famous 0.00 evaluation.
In the game itself it seems Magnus had a small edge in the final position, but with two minutes on his clock to Radek’s six it was understandable that he offered a draw, even if it surprised one of his seconds!
Perhaps the day’s most exciting draw was the all-Russian battle Esipenko-Dubov, where our commentators were initially lamenting the fact that Daniil Dubov wasn’t giving us the entertainment we expect from his games. As if on cue, he went for a very unclear pawn sacrifice, and although there was initially some compensation, in the end he only found himself in an endgame two pawns down.
It was very tricky, but 19-year-old Andrey Esipenko eventually gave up the pawns for a powerful d-pawn, and had a number of relatively straightforward wins. For instance, after 56…Kf8.
57.Rb6! Na3 (or the knight to any other square) 58.Rb8+ Ke7 59.d8=Q+ Rxd8 60.Nc6+! wins the rook and should win the game. Instead it got much more tricky after 57.Rxh6, but as late as move 69 Andrey could still win the game.
The game ended drawn in 90 moves.
One last draw that could easily have been a decisive game was Polish no. 1 Jan-Krzysztof Duda’s game against Iran’s Pouya Idani. His 31.Qg5 was a mistake.
It could have been punished by 31…Bxb3! 32.cxb3 Nxb3+!, which was an idea that Pouya saw. Unfortunately, he first played, 31…f6? 32.Qxf6 and only then 32…Bxb3, when Jan-Krzysztof was able to bail out with 33.Qg7+! Qxg7 34.Bxg7 Bxc2 35.Bxc2 Kxg7 and material was level.
The draws in Svidler-Vitiugov, Karjakin-Artemiev, Praggnanandhaa-MVL and the remaining two games were relatively quiet, though Magnus noticed a curious detail. A perfectly natural continuation by Dmitry Andreikin against 18-year-old Velimir Ivic would have made the King’s Indian Defence in that game exactly the same position, with the same player to move, as in the King’s Indian Attack in Korobov-Grischuk — but with colours reversed!
The remaining eight games were decisive, but arguably only one game was smooth from start to finish. Vladimir Fedoseev told Sergey Shipov afterwards of his fast win over Vladislav Kovalev:
White won without making a single difficult move — in that sense it makes an impression, but in others, not at all!
Even that game arguably turned on a single move.
White is dominant, but after 33…Nf6! there’s a long way to go to win. Instead after 33…Nf8? 34.Rxe8 Rxe8 35.c5! it was game over, with the c-pawn just too strong. Kovalev tried to get activity with 35…Re2+ only to lose to the pinning Rd8 and winning Nd7, picking up the knight on f8.
Of the sudden collapses perhaps the most dramatic occurred in Jeffery Xiong’s game against Adhiban’s conqueror Vidit. It may have been a case of playing on your opponent’s time trouble, since Vidit played 38…Rc4 with just one second on his clock.
Here 20-year-old US star Xiong blundered with 39.Bxg6? fxg6! (39…Rc1+ would have deprived White of the chance to lose the game before the time control) 40.Qxh6? (40.Rb8+ and Jeffery would have had 30 minutes extra to think, with decent drawing chances) 40…Rc1+ 41.Kh2. It had all gone wrong for Jeffery, since Vidit now had all the time in the world to spot and calculate the forced win — 41…Qxe5+ 42.f4 Nf3+!
Black has mate-in-3 after 43.gxf3, starting with 43…Qe2+, while in the game Vidit was flawless: 43.Kg3 Qe1+ 44.Kg4 Ne5+!
45.Kg5 Nf7+ and he was soon a full rook up and the game was over.
It wasn’t all good news for India, since Harikrishna seemed to suffer from the curse of the World Cup bracket suddenly opening up for him…
He came under heavy pressure from Iran’s Amin Tabatabaei, but might have held the ending even after 32.c6!
32…Nd6! would still give good chances to hold, while after 32…bxc6? the killer move was not to take the c6-pawn immediately, when Hari would manage to eliminate White’s a5-pawn, but to play 33.e5!, a nuance that made all the difference.
Tabatabaei gave a good analysis afterwards:
He also pointed out that the match is far from over:
In my first match against [Yemeni IM] Al Quadaimi, I won the first game with Black and I thought it’s over, but the World Cup taught me that it’s never over, because I lost with White, so I know that tomorrow is going to be a very, very difficult day.
One country to suffer at the start of Round 4 was Uzbekistan, whose prodigies have so far lit up the World Cup. 16-year-old Nodirbek Abdusattorov got hit by some deep opening preparation from 29-year-old Azerbaijan GM Vasif Durarbayli, who planted a knight on c2.
It was surprisingly impossible to trap and win, so that after 10 minutes Nodirbek decided to oust it here with 15.Ne1!, after which Vasif thought for the first time in the game. The exchange sacrifice that followed with 15…Nxe1 16.Rxe1 Bd7 17.exd5! seems to have been completely correct, but in the run-up to the time control Nodirbek’s sense of danger failed him and he suddenly allowed one of Vasif’s rooks to invade and win the game.
If that was a sudden escalation, it was nothing compared to what happened to 15-year-old Javokhir Sindarov against Polish 5-time World Chess Puzzle Solving Champion Kacper Piorun. Javokhir was down to under 4 minutes on his clock when he played the losing 45.Qe4?
The difference to e.g. 45.Qe2! became clear after 45…Rxh3+ 46.Kg2 Rh4! — a move only possible because the f5-knight is pinned to the queen. There was no defence, and Javokhir resigned a couple of moves later.
Armenia’s Haik Martirosyan marched onwards after knocking out Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, when Croatian GM Ante Brkic made a losing move in a difficult endgame on the time control move 40.
That brings us to two of the day’s most dramatic games. Etienne Bacrot’s defeat of Russia’s Pavel Ponkratov was a mind-boggling game full of sacrifices, with Etienne opening his post-game interview by pointing out “we just finished so it’s difficult to have a clear view of the game”.
Lots of things were missed by both players in the wild complications, and in fact two of the moves that Etienne singled out for praise — 24.Bd7 and 30.Bg5 — briefly gave away all his advantage.
Pavel’s last chance was here to play 30…Bxc5+!, when after 31.dxc5 Qxe5 White seems to have nothing more than perpetual check. King moves allow the black pieces to terrorise the white king. Instead after 30…Nxg5 31.hxg5 Etienne never let a winning advantage slip.
The last game to finish saw Sam Shankland take revenge for his US colleague Fabiano Caruana by beating Kazakhstan’s Rinat Jumabayev. It was an unlikely win, however, with Sam admitting he was just lost when his a6-pawn fell, but “he screwed it up before the time control”. 37…Rd2 was the high point of the game for Rinat.
38.Rb1! and Rinat’s advantage would have been overwhelming, but down to under a minute he played 38.Be1?!, driving the rook to where it wanted to go with 38…Rb2! Combined with 40…Qb8 a couple of moves later, Sam had control of the b-file and had blockaded the c-pawn, so that he felt he should go on to draw.
All Rinat had to do to draw was in fact repeat moves one more time later in the game, but, as Sam explained…
At some point I was just straight up repeating moves, he could have just made a draw, and I was really expecting him to, I didn’t think he had any business continuing this game, especially with his time situation, but I applaud him for his combative efforts and always playing for a win!
The final mistake came on move 73, with Rinat finally admitting defeat on move 86.
Meanwhile in the Women’s World Cup there were just two decisive games in eight, though it could have been different. Valentina Gunina was a whisker away from defeating Nino Batsiashvili before misplaying a tricky ending.
Nana Dzagdnidze will have to come back on demand just as she did against 17-year-old Carissa Yip in the previous round after falling to 20-year-old Polina Shuvalova. The Russian star was pressing for most of the game, though Nana could have saved herself a lot of suffering on move 34.
34…h2! 35.Rxh2 h3! and 36…Rh4 to follow seems to leave White nothing better than forcing a draw. Instead Nana was tempted by a sacrificial idea on the other side of the board — 34…Rhc8 35.Rh2 Nxa5+?! It might even have worked, but Polina went on to grind out a win.
By far the biggest sensation, however, was a loss for Russian no. 1 seed Aleksandra Goryachkina, who spoilt a great position against Bulgarian former Women’s World Champion Antoaneta Stefanova in the space of a few moves.
24…Nd1! 25.Rf1 Qe2! 26.f4! (essential so that Qf3 is available to stop 26…Rd2 forcing checkmate) 26…Rd3! would have forced Antoaneta to give up her queen.
Instead we saw 24…Nc4? 25.Qc3 Re3 26.Qc2 Qxc5? 27.Rc1! Red3 28.Kh1
There’s simply no way to defend the black knight from the threat of b3. Aleksandra could have resigned, but as Antoaneta explained.
It’s a knockout so nobody wants to resign, it’s only natural that everybody will use all their resources.
The game ended on move 47, and means Aleksandra must now hit back to level the scores on Friday.
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