Reports Sep 22, 2019 | 9:05 AMby Colin McGourty

FIDE World Cup 4.2: So, Svidler & Nepo out

Wesley So and Peter Svidler are both out of the 2019 FIDE World Cup after failing to win on demand against Nikita Vitiugov and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. The surprise was that 5th seed Ian Nepomniachtchi joined them after losing what was close to a winning position against Yu Yangyi. There were comebacks for Jeffery Xiong, who exploited a strange opening choice by Jan-Krzysztof Duda, and Leinier Dominguez, who complicated his game against Alexander Grischuk and let time trouble do the rest! That means five matches go to tiebreaks.

Nikita Vitiugov made no mistake as he knocked out no. 4 seed Wesley So | photo: Kirill Merkuryev, official website

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

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

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Jan explained the promos after first clarifying Lawrence Trent’s relationship with elephants:

No way back for So and Svidler

In the previous round seven players had needed to win on demand after the first day of classical chess, but none had managed. This time around we also saw a couple of star players get nowhere, with Nikita Vitiugov struggling to explain no. 4 seed Wesley So’s choices coming out of the opening:

I thought he had chances to get a full-blooded fight, which would seem to be essential for him, but instead he went for a slightly worse endgame.

In just 30 moves there was a dead drawn position and Nikita had pulled off the impressive feat of knocking out Sergey Karjakin and Wesley So in consecutive rounds.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is now two match wins away from qualifying for his first Candidates Tournament | photo: Kirill Merkuryev, official website

Peter Svidler went for 6.Nb3 against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave’s Najdorf and one move later the players had reached a position never seen before. It briefly looked promising for White, but a pawn grab ultimately only led to simplifications, and though Peter rejected one chance to draw by repetition he conceded match defeat on move 31 in a position where the c2-pawn was about to fall.

Xiong and Dominguez show comebacks are possible

Jeffery Xiong once again showed no sign of nerves as he took the match to tiebreaks | photo: Kirill Merkuryev, official website

Winning on demand isn’t impossible, however, as the two remaining players in must-win situations proved. 18-year-old US Grandmaster Jeffery Xiong had already shown his fighting spirit against Anish Giri in the previous round, and he went on to beat 21-year-old Pole Jan-Krzysztof Duda in the smoothest of manners. He got a lot of help, since Jan-Krzysztof chose to play with fire by repeating a line of the Bishop’s Opening that he’d used in the first game against Svidler in the Riga FIDE Grand Prix:


By this stage Duda had spent 25 minutes to repeat his moves against Svidler, and the 7 minutes invested in 10…e4 suggest he both feared the worst and had failed to do any deep analysis after winning that previous match. There Peter had gone for 11.Nh4, while this time Xiong went for the computer-approved alternative 11.Ne5. As Xiong said afterwards:

It was a very good choice and idea by my coach and second, and basically I think the first 15 or 16 moves I had already looked at, and when he deviated I think he’s already much worse.

By the time 17…Nfd7?! 18.h4! was on the board Black was in deep trouble, and 20.Qf4! emphasised how well White was doing:


It looks counterintuitive to offer a queen trade when White has good prospects of attacking on the kingside, but in this case exchanging on f4 would leave the d5-pawn attacked three times and impossible to defend. 20…Rc6?! 21.Qxd6 Rxd6 defended d5, but after the energetic 22.Nc5! Rb8 23.Re7! Black’s position was falling apart. Xiong was later absolutely clinical as he clinched victory:


28.Nxd5! is a move chess engines initially dislike, but 28…Rxd5 29.Rd1! Ke6 would leave Black’s pieces permanently pinned – letting White manoeuvre and win at will. Instead Duda stumbled on with 28…Kg6, but it would have been equally valid to resign on the spot. The game ended on move 41.

Here’s Xiong talking about his comeback:

Leinier Dominguez also made the first new move in a Giuoco Piano against Alexander Grischuk, but there was nothing smooth about what followed. Grischuk soon seized the initiative with the black pieces only for his downfall, not for the first time in his career, to be the clock. Dominguez explained:

It’s a very sharp position, very complicated, but it was my only chance to go for this kind of position, and of course Black has many, many options. I think that was one of the things that made Alexander go into time trouble, and after he had 5 minutes for 25 moves I was quite optimistic.

The eternal match, Grischuk vs. the clock, continued | photo: Kirill Merkuryev, official website 

Grischuk overlooked a tactical trick, but still had a chance to stay on top by move 28:


28…h3! here, as at a number of moments earlier in the game, would be strong for Black, but instead, with 2 minutes to Leinier’s 18, Grischuk went for the tactical shot 28…Nxg2?. Alas, when Dominguez replied with the simple 29.Kh1! Black was paying a very high price for winning a pawn. After 29…Qxd2 30.Rad1 Grischuk went for the desperate 30…Ne3?!, but again, there was no real tactical point. After 31.fxe3 Dominguez went on to build a mating attack using the newly opened f and g-files, and when time trouble was over Grischuk resigned on move 41 with mate-in-8 on the board.

Grischuk-Dominguez is another tiebreak match that looks too close to call:

Nepomniachtchi races to defeat

No. 5 seed Ian Nepomniachtchi played with his customary speed against Yu Yangyi, but at times it looked as though he had a death wish, or at least a “rest wish”:

Yu Yangyi admitted he’d been in danger in the first game, and then in the second that he forgot his analysis in a sharp line of the Grünfeld. Black was two pawns up and made a logical but flawed decision on move 20:


Exchanging queens with 20…Qa4?! looked natural, but it seems Nepo could have held on to one more pawn and kept strong winning chances with 20…Qc4!

Yu Yangyi ensured at least one Chinese player is through to the last 8 | photo: Kirill Merkuryev, official website

Instead after 21.Qxa4 Bxa4 22.Bxc5 the position was close to equal, and a few rash moves later Nepo was suddenly lost after 27.f5!:


27…gxf5 28.Bxf5+! Rxf5 29.Rxe7! and Black has to give up the rook to avoid mate. In the game after 27…g5 it became a case of Yu Yangyi needing to choose between multiple wins on each move. That cost time, and the Chinese no. 2 made the last critical decision with under a minute on his clock, but it was a good one:


36.Rh8+! Kxh8 37.fxg7+ Kxg7 38.Bxg4 left White with an extra bishop and just two more moves to reach the time control. When he made it, Yu Yangyi comfortably wrapped up the game.

Three more tiebreaks

The remaining three matches ended in two draws, with Teimour Radjabov and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov surprising nobody with the day’s quickest game. The greatest excitement was whether it had been drawn by 3-fold repetition or because of a draw offer on move 30, since both things happened simultaneously. If the way the classical games ended was decided in advance you could reason that the Azerbaijan players have decided to fight only in the tiebreaks, so that whoever wins will be rested for the remainder of the tournament.

The grey shirt surely means Levon is saving all his ammunition for the tiebreaks | photo: Kirill Merkuryev, official website

Aronian-Le Quang Liem was also an instantly forgettable quick draw, but Alekseenko-Ding Liren was the longest game of the day. 22-year-old Kirill Alekseenko had the no. 1 seed on the ropes after repeating a line seen in Anand-Ding Liren from this year’s Norway Chess:


In Norway Ding played 15…d5, while here he thought for 8 minutes and went for the more direct 15…Bxe1 instead. The curiosity was that although the games developed quite differently they ended up in the same situation of Ding holding on in a tricky ending with a rook against a bishop and knight. Perhaps the experience – in Norway they played 107 moves, with Vishy actually ended up on the defending side at the end – saved the Chinese no. 1, since he again safely made a draw, this time in a mere 60 moves.

Kirill Alekseenko remains the only sub-2700 player in the World Cup | photo: Kirill Merkuryev, official website

That means three players are in the quarterfinals, with the surprise match-up Vitiugov vs. Yu Yangyi the only one so far decided. The remaining 10 players will fight it out in tiebreaks on Sunday. Don’t miss all the action live here on chess24 from 12:00 CEST!

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