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Reports Jul 28, 2021 | 11:26 AMby Colin McGourty

FIDE World Cup 5.3: Carlsen through after Esipenko thriller

Magnus Carlsen will play Etienne Bacrot in the FIDE World Cup quarterfinals today after surviving an incredibly tense tiebreaker against 19-year-old Andrey Esipenko, who inflicted a first loss of the event on Magnus to take their match all the way to blitz. The only other remaining Top 10 seed is Sergey Karjakin, who showed his class to knock out Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, while Jan-Krzysztof Duda defeated Alexander Grischuk. The women’s semi-finals are set, with Anna Muzychuk playing top seed Aleksandra Goryachkina after winning both tiebreak games against Nana Dzagnidze.

Carlsen's relief told you how tough an opponent Esipenko had been | photo: Anastasia Korolkova, official website

You can replay all the FIDE World Cup games using the selector below.

And here’s the day’s live commentary from Loek van Wely and Laurent Fressinet — for the quarterfinals they’ll be replaced by a different couple, Anish Giri and Sopiko Guramishvili!

The quarterfinal line-up is set.


Let’s take the day’s action in order of when the seven matches finished, starting with the two first rapid games.

25+10 games: Grischuk, Ivic, Martirosyan and Dzagnidze knocked out

Knockout tournaments give birth to heroes, but they also devour those heroes. Perhaps the brightest star to emerge from the World Cup has been 18-year-old Serbian Grandmaster Velimir Ivic. While the likes of Uzbekistan’s Javokhir Sindarov and Nodirbek Abdusattorov were hugely impressive, they were also known entities, since after all they stand at no. 4 and no. 6 on the list of the youngest chess grandmasters of all time.

The World Cup is over for Ivic, but he's announced himself on the world stage | photo: Anastasia Korolkova, official website

Velimir Ivic, however, seems to have slipped under almost everybody’s radar before wreaking havoc in the tournament, knocking out Paco Vallejo, Matthias Bluebaum and then Dmitry Andreikin, all the time appearing remarkably calm and showing few signs of weakness. His Round 5 opponent Vladimir Fedoseev described Ivic as his strongest opponent so far and a 2700 player in the near future, adding, “he’s just insanely good at hitting the first lines in the opening and then immediately after”.

Fedoseev admitted to fearing elimination while he was getting outplayed at the start of the second classical game, but had a plan: “My strategy was to put maximum pressure on time and try to trick him somewhere!”

In the first rapid game, however, it was Ivic who fell into his opponent’s preparation and then was unable to find a way back under time pressure. That was the first loss of the tournament for Ivic and meant he was in the new situation of having to win on demand, but that’s very nearly what he did.

28.Ngf5! was described as “brilliant” by Fedoseev, who had missed the surprising sting in the tail 28…Bxf5 29.exf5 Qxd4 30.fxg6+ fxg6 31.Qf7+! and the rook on a2, which at the start of the line was defended twice, is suddenly picked up.

Velimir was winning, but Fedoseev’s strategy of pressing on the clock succeeded, with Velimir losing the thread before 38.Bd4? was a losing blunder.


38…c2! clinched the match, with play continuing 39.Rc1 (39.Qxc4 is slightly better, objectively speaking, but after 39…cxd1=Q it’s also hopeless) 39…Qxd4 and White has no way of saving the game never mind getting the win he needed. 

So it was the end of the road for Ivic, but it’ll be fascinating to see if he can build on this result and break into the elite of world chess. At a 2582 rating (who knows where he might be without the pandemic!) he’s still only at the foot of the mountain.

Haik Martirosyan had been in touching distance of the quarterfinals | photo: Anastasia Korolkova, official website

Fedoseev, meanwhile, goes on, and will play Iranian Grandmaster Amin Tabatabaei, who made full use of the unexpected lifeline he was given the day before by his fellow 20-year-old Haik Martirosyan. Amin was still in shock at how that classical game had ended, with Martirosyan needlessly trading down into a lost pawn ending.

At that moment I had zero hope, I thought the game’s over. I played very good, but if he doesn’t make mistakes, how can I win? …I was so shocked that he took on f3, because he found a fortress, he knows that I cannot break through, so why did he take?

The first tiebreak game between the two players was wild, with chances for both players.


Our commentators saw the evaluation bar jump in White’s favour here, and Loek eventually hit on the winning idea of 41.Re7! for Haik, with the threat of Rg6 next. It’s surprisingly impossible to parry, but also the kind of idea that you only find when someone, in this case the computer, tells you there’s a win in the position.

Instead after 41.Rd5 Rab8 42.f6 it was Tabatabaei who had a fleeting chance, with 42…Qh7! winning. The point is that after 43.Nf5 Black wins material with 43…Bc6! That wouldn’t work after Tabatabaei’s 42…Qg6, since White has 44.Ne7+, hitting the queen and bishop. In short, the draw was a fair result!

The second game was a 5.Re1 Berlin that Martirosyan might have held if he’d exchanged rooks on time on d1, but when he allowed 35.e6! it was suddenly over.


35…Bxe6 runs into the killer pin 36.Qe5, while after 35…h6 36.Qe5 Tabatabaei was soon able to force a winning endgame.

It meant the end of the road for Shakhriyar Mamedyarov’s conqueror Martirosyan, while it’s a curiosity that Tabatabaei has beaten his quarterfinal opponent Fedoseev twice, in the 2018 and 2019 Aeroflot Open, both times with the black pieces!

Duda-Grischuk is one of the most intense rivalries in chess, and this time it was Duda who triumphed | photo: Eric Rosen, official website

The other match in the open section to finish in 25-minute games saw Polish no. 1 Jan-Krzysztof Duda knock out 5th seed Alexander Grischuk, with the match turning on a wild first game. Duda managed to get a better position just after the opening, but then admitted to burning up masses of time looking for clear kills that didn’t exist. Duda said he began playing “kind of randomly” and that he almost got his queen trapped on a3.

In fact the computer says Grischuk was winning for a few moves, for instance with 44…h4!, but 44…Ra1 didn’t trap the queen.


45.d4! instead traded down into an ending where Duda was pleasantly surprised.

I was very nervous and it was also very random, I think, at some point, and I was quite surprised by the fact I wasn’t much worse in this endgame. Maybe I was at the beginning, but I was pressing, it was kind of a surprise to be honest, because my pawn structure is very bad — it was a very nervous game, fighting chess.

It turned on a very difficult moment.


It seems Grischuk could have survived here with 59…Kf8! and e.g. 60.e6 Bxc2! gives just enough counterplay. Alexander sensed the importance of the moment and spent 19 seconds before playing 59…Ke6 (the natural move, as you can hear our commentators describe it) with just 1 second to spare.

Duda found the kill 60.f7! Ke7 61.e6! Be8 62.Nf5+ Kf8 63.fxe8=Q+ Kxe8 64.Ke5 and Black resigned, since you can’t stop Kf6, Ng7 and queening the e-pawn.

Duda’s repertoire isn’t exactly built for drawing on demand, and he began the second game with the surprise 1.Nf3 d5 2.g3 Nd7!?, where he admitted he didn’t remember too many of the details. It almost backfired as Grischuk took over and won a pawn, but when he blundered back the pawn the match was over, with Duda picking up the draw he needed.

Duda has reason to be positive going into his quarterfinal match against Vidit, since he has a 3 wins to 0 score against the Indian star in classical chess.

Anna Muzychuk dominated Nana Dzagnidze in the tiebreaks | photo: Eric Rosen, official website

The other match to finish in 25-minute games was the Women’s World Cup quarterfinal between Anna Muzychuk and Nana Dzagnidze, with Anna winning both games after gaining a big advantage out of the opening in the first. Anna could, as she noted, have finished in style on move 28.


28.Rxg6! fxg6 29.Qxe6+! Qf7 (29…Kf8 30.Rf1+ is a quick mate) and 30.Rh8+! is the simplest win, though the computer points out 30.Qe5! as even stronger. Instead after 28.Re1 there was still a battle ahead, but eight moves later Anna did get to sacrifice on g6 and clinch a win. 

Nana Dzagnidze has made a habit of comebacks, but this time Anna dominated the next game as well to clinch a semi-final place against Aleksandra Goryachkina — a match predicted by the pre-tournament seedings. Her relieved reaction would be mirrored by a certain Magnus Carlsen in the hours that followed. 

That wasn’t all Anna was glad about:

I’m just really happy about that because tiebreaks is always very nervous and this match was quite important for qualifying for the semi-finals and for the Candidates, so I’m just very, very glad about it.

No less than six of the Women’s Candidates Tournament players are now known: Aleksandra Goryachkina, Humpy Koneru, Kateryna Lagno, Anna Muzychuk, Tan Zhongyi and Alexandra Kosteniuk, with the last three qualifying from the World Cup.


10+10 games: Karjakin shows he’s still got it

Sergey Karjakin is now 2nd favourite to win his 2nd World Cup | photo: Anastasia Korolkova, official website

2015 World Cup winner Sergey Karjakin managed to win on demand in his previous match against Vladislav Artemiev, and in Round 5 he overcame 7th seed Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in tiebreaks after lightning fast classical games. The 25-minute games were also fast and uneventful, but already the first 10-minute game was an epic battle, with Maxime showing the defensive tenacity that enabled him to win the recent Croatia Grand Chess Tour as he held a tough rook ending.

The second game saw Maxime play a wild opening that our commentators felt suggested he was on tilt, but it worked out well, forcing Sergey to find a difficult sequence of moves merely to stay in the game. The Russian managed, however, and was able to pounce in the endgame.


Sergey at first wanted to play 28…Na5, but after 29.bxa6 e3 30.a7! White will queen the pawn and be able to force a draw. That’s when Sergey found the winning 28…e3! and with the knight still on c6 White has no time to create a passed pawn. The game ended 29.fxe3 Na5! 30.Ba3 Nb3 31.Rd1 and now not 31…Nd2?? 32.Rxd2 Rxd2 33.bxa6 when the a-pawn queens and White wins, but 31…axb5! and Maxime resigned.

After 32.axb5 the king can stop the b-pawn, or after 32.a5 Nd2! it no longer works to play 33.Rxd2 Rxd2 34.a6, since simply 34…Ra2 is in time to capture the a-pawn.

An impressive display by Karjakin, who now becomes favourite to reach a potential final against Magnus Carlsen and also qualify for the Candidates Tournament. Up next is Sam Shankland, however, and Sergey isn’t taking him lightly:

I think I have never played against him so I don’t know what to expect, but it’s clear that he’s playing very well here so I just need to play well myself.

For Maxime it’s a blow not to reach at least the quarterfinals and secure a place in the FIDE Grand Prix series next year, since as Laurent Fressinet pointed out, Maxime’s recent rating losses mean than he might not qualify for that event by rating.

This is what the World Cup means! | photo: Eric Rosen, official website

The other match to end in 10-minute games saw Etienne Bacrot win a 4th tiebreak in a row to set up a match with Magnus Carlsen. He ended the run of Poland’s Kacper Piorun, though only after Kacper took the lead with the black pieces in a dominant performance in the first game of the tiebreaks.

That was Etienne’s first loss in a tiebreak, but he hit back to win the second game just as convincingly, inflicting a first loss of the World Cup on Piorun. Perhaps the turning point of the match came after Etienne’s 18…Kxf7 in the first 10-minute game.


Kacper played 19.Qd2?! Nxe4 20.Nxe4? Bxe4 and there was nothing better than 21.Bd3 Bxh1, dropping an exchange. There was no way back. Instead he could have played 19.Bh5+! and it turns out White wins! After 19…g6 the computer calmly plays 20.Qe2! and gives 20…gxh5 21.Qxh5+ Kf8 22.f5! a +8 evaluation, with Bxh6+ threatened.

Instead Piorun went into the final game needing to win with Black, but Etienne used all his experience to clinch victory.

5+3 games: Carlsen beats Esipenko in nerve-wracking battle

We were in for a fantastic battle! | photo: Eric Rosen, official website

That brings us to the highlight of the whole day, an epic battle between World Champion Magnus Carlsen and 19-year-old aspirant to the throne Andrey Esipenko.


Magnus would later sum up:

Yeah, it was very, very hard. I felt as though I was outplaying him a bit today, especially in the 2nd and 3rd games, but then he struck back, which is something that shouldn’t happen, but he played very well in that game and then the blitz was just very nerve-wracking, to be honest.

Andrey had more than held his own in the classical games, including by getting Magnus out of book with an early c5 in the first game. The World Champion’s team had found a radical solution to that problem before the first tiebreak game.

For a while Magnus was dominating, but the natural urge to get his queen off the c-file when it was targeted by a black rook appears to have been mistaken, and when Andrey managed to get in c5 anyway it was a sign that he’d survived the worst.

Magnus would go on to pick up a pawn, but he was never clearly better again given Esipenko’s bishop pair and the game fizzled out into a draw.

The second 25-minute game then went well for Magnus, but Andrey held firm in a very unpleasant endgame to secure an 85-move draw.

The first 10-minute game was the moment Magnus finally broke through, with the appearance of a white knight on d7 clearly not ideal for Esipenko, though his 20…f5!?, securing the e4-pawn at the expense of the rook on f8, was a bold try.

The position at least allowed Black to put up a fight, but a later 24…h6? was much too slow and Magnus was able to exchange off a pair of rooks and gain an absolutely dominant position. Esipenko’s attempts to create counterplay by pushing kingside pawns were easily parried and he resigned on move 31.

Match over? Not at all! Andrey picked the perfect time to win his second game against Magnus and inflict a first loss of the tournament on the World Champion. It was a case of an opening gone wrong, though the pressure on the players was clear from one remarkable miss. Andrey was probably very happy to see the queens disappear from the board after 36…Qxc3, but 37.Re8+!, winning the queen for a rook, is Tactics 101.

No harm was done, however, with Andrey confidently going on to convert the endgame by trading down into a winning pawn endgame.

That meant 5-minute games, where anything could have happened. As Magnus put it:

The first game was crazy. I was doing great, but then we were both down to seconds, and when you’re down to seconds and the position isn’t clarified, it’s extremely hard to play, at least for me, who’s not so used to playing quick scrambles, especially over the board. We just ended up playing some random threats, and eventually I won, which I think was a fair result.

Magnus had a tough day at the office | photo: Eric Rosen, official website

It was hard to argue with that assessment, as Magnus looked to be methodically outplaying his opponent before losing control. In the end it turned on the position after 46.Qa7.


46…Bxa2 is close to equal, but Andrey deciding to go hunting checkmate with 46…Bd3, preparing Bf1 and Qxg2# It was perhaps naive, but in such nerve-wracking situations the chances of it working might not be so slim. In any case, Magnus quickly played 47.Qxc7 Bf1 48.Qd8+! Kh7 49.Qd2 and had parried the threat with an overwhelming position. Objectively his choice to trade off queens was inaccurate, but it made perfect sense to go for the bishop ending — “the situation was kind of clarified and it’s easier to play”.

We got a first demonstration of how relieved Magnus was as he clinched victory.

Esipenko now had to win on demand, again, but this time he got no grip out of the opening, and seemed to reluctantly go for 21.Nf5, which was met by 21…g6!


There’s really nothing better than retreating, but perhaps in the situation Andrey felt it was time to roll the dice and went for 22.Nxh6+. This was no pawn blunder by Magnus, since after 22…Kg7 there were no good choices for White. 23.Nxf7!? was an option, but only seems to lead to comfortable positions for Black, while 23.Ng4 Nxg4 24.hxg4 left Black with huge compensation for the pawn. In fact 24…dxe4! is simply winning according to the computer, but the tricky lines aren’t something Magnus needed to get involved with.

He played calmly with 24…Ree8 and gradually hinted at an attack on the h-file, which forced new concessions. Soon white pawns were dropping like flies, but Magnus admitted there was one moment at the very end when White’s desperate attack could have succeeded.


Here Magnus almost played 41…Qd5?? immediately, which would have lost the queen to 42.Nf5+! Kg8 43.Ne7+. Who knows if he would have found the will-power to come back after that in Armageddon, but we didn’t need to find out, since he saw in time that 41…Kg7! first was necessary. After 42.f5 Qd5 43.f6+ Nxf6+! Andrey resigned, since it’s mate-in-3. Magnus was massively relieved it was over, with his young opponent even smiling at the reaction.

Magnus was the first to praise 19-year-old Esipenko, who looks to have a very bright future ahead of him.

Up next for Magnus, however, is the now French no. 3 Etienne Bacrot. Magnus has a 3 wins to 0 lead in their 11 classical games, and while they haven’t played a classical game in six years Etienne, as the long-time second of MVL, will be very familiar with the World Champion’s repertoire. Magnus commented:

Etienne is obviously a seasoned player in this format and he’s played tiebreaks in every single match. If we get to that point he’s certainly ready, but I’m very happy to have gotten this far and I think I should have a very good chance, if I can get a decent rest.

There’s not much time for that, as while the women have a rest day on Wednesday the men continue with the quarterfinals immediately. We’ve got Anish Giri and Sopiko Guramishvili commentating, so you don’t want to miss it!

Follow all the action starting at 14:00 CEST right here on chess24: Open | Women

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