Magnus Carlsen needs only a draw with the white pieces to reach the World Cup semi-finals after his queen sacrifice proved too tough for Etienne Bacrot in the run-up to the time control. Sergey Karjakin also stumbled just before move 40, allowing Sam Shankland to demonstrate his endgame prowess and pick up one of the biggest wins of his career. The other two games were drawn, with Vidit himself describing Vidit-Duda as “a boring Catalan”, while Tabatabaei-Fedoseev looked set to be the game of the day before fizzling out on move 31.
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And here’s the day’s live commentary from Anish Giri and Sopiko Guramishvili.
Magnus Carlsen came into the first day of the quarterfinals against Etienne Bacrot with low expectations. As he told Almira Skripchenko, after in-depth analysis of the game:
Of course I was really tired yesterday in the evening as well, but I had a decent night’s sleep. I didn’t know what to expect today, to be honest, since Etienne has played four tiebreaks in a row, so I thought he would need a rest. Frankly, I thought he was just going to try and force a draw, to give himself a rest day, and then play sharply as Black, hoping like Wojtaszek did that I make a mistake in a sharp position. I thought that was going to be his strategy. Obviously we got a sharp game this time instead, but I think I was never in particular danger.
The game opened with an 8.a4 Anti-Marshall, with Giri noting that Bacrot nowadays does most work as a second for MVL and has adopted his client’s repertoire. Then Etienne went for the sideline 10.Bd2.
Magnus confessed, “I just didn’t know it very well!”, and explained his general approach before the game as one of not worrying about sidelines.
I thought I’ll play something and I’ll probably be a bit worse, but we’ll get a game and that’s fine by me, but I guess it’s easier said than done!
He delayed a whole 28 minutes here before finally playing the second most popular move in the position after 10…b4, 10…Qd7, much to Giri’s amusement.
The Dutchman reflected on free will:
Sometimes I know, and he knows, but why spend half an hour here? We both know you’ll play Qd7! He’s thinking, he’s thinking, he thinks that he’s choosing, but actually he has already chosen. There’s this question, do we have free will? Are we actually taking decisions, or is everything predetermined? Because Magnus thought for half an hour that he was taking a decision, but I knew that Qd7 was happening. So he was not taking a decision, he was actually executing… his whole life, if you look at his games, he was going to play Qd7, it’s just how he plays! But ok, he thinks he was choosing… Today he’ll go to this restaurant, he’ll order salmon, he thinks it’s his choice, but it was destined! And he’ll tell his father I was surprised by Bd2, and so on.
Magnus explained afterwards that his concern was avoiding certain types of closed positions where White would be slightly better and he would have almost no winning chances. It seems he managed, though he admitted the time he’d lost influenced his subsequent decisions, in the sense that he might have tried alternatives such as 14…bxa4!? (“I don’t think he’s getting the pawn back very soon”) to his 14…d5! if he wasn’t afraid of getting low on time in an unclear position.
The move in the game seems to have been a very healthy choice, however, and soon the position looked like a full-blooded Marshall Gambit where Black had compensation for a pawn with his bishop pair and active pieces (serious analysts may look at Magnus’ suggestion not to include 17.axb5!?, which only seems to have damaged White’s position).
It looked relatively calm, but the evaluation suddenly lurched in favour of Magnus after 24.f4?, though it was a move neither our commentators nor Magnus immediately identified as a blunder (24.Qe2 was the computer’s suggestion). Just a few moves later, after 26…c4! White was objectively busted. 27.d4 Rde8 (27…f5! is the computer’s suggestion, but Magnus said he couldn’t find a forced win) was the moment Etienne sank into deep thought.
One obvious option here for White is 28.Nxd6, since 28…Qh1+ gives Black nothing more than a draw by perpetual check. But of the position after 28…Qxd6 Magnus commented, “his bishop is dead and his king is forever weak, so I don’t think he can survive this”. Giri noted the same, but also that it was odd how some relatively small alterations would transform the evaluation of the position.
This is a remarkable position, how Bacrot is completely lost. If you just look at the pawn structure, if you imagine the queens are off the board, you’re completely winning. If you imagine the bishops are off the board you’re fine, also better, if you imagine the bishop on g2, you’re also better, or if the pawns were on g2 and f3, but the way the pieces are, you’re just completely lost along this [d5-h1] diagonal and also this [a2] bishop is out of play. It’s just remarkable.
It was something Etienne contemplated before playing 28.d5!, “the most confusing option” as Giri described it in a lyrical description of the pain of playing chess.
I think Etienne has thought for long enough to have fully realised how lost he is. This is this moment, I know, when you will think at first, ok, I’ve messed up, definitely, and then you think, I don’t see a way out, so I really need to think, it’s very unfortunate, but let me think, but then at some point at first you’re worrying that you’re dropping low on time, but then you stop worrying about time, because you realise that time is ok, time is time, but you’re just lost and there’s nothing you can do about it. But he found d5, the most confusing option.
28.d5! had the virtue of not only being a strong move but of coming as a shock to Magnus, who now used up 11 of his remaining 15 minutes. He admitted afterwards that he should perhaps have played the computer’s suggestion of 28…Qb6+, but “it was very, very tempting to sac!” He was referring to 28…Qxd5!? 29.Rad1 Rxe4! 30.Rxd5 Rxe1+ 31.Kf2 Rfe8.
The key point here is that 32.Rxd6?? would run into the immediate checkmate 32…R8e2#, so there was nothing better than giving back some material with 32.Re5.
Giri felt the queen sacrifice deserved full Laurent Fressinet commentary — you don’t want to miss this!
“I didn’t see a win after the queen sac, but I thought it would be very, very difficult for him”, said Magnus, and while it was a difficult position for both players to navigate it was Etienne whose World Cup stay was at stake. 32…R1xe5!? may have been stronger than Magnus’ 32…Bxe5, while on move 35 the computer suggests 35…Rd8! is winning, when 36.bxc3 would run into 36…Rd1+ 37.Ke2 Bg4+!
The white queen is soon going to be lost.
In the game Etienne may still have been surviving, but he was wrong to reject a repetition of moves that Magnus was offering (practically speaking, since in fact there was a tricky win, but Magnus wasn’t planning to play it!) and then after 38…Bd7 he missed a last chance.
The issue is that if Black can consolidate, his bishop pair and passed pawns will just be too strong, so here it was necessary to play 39.Qc7! and harass the bishop. Then Etienne would need to find one solid move before he’d get another 30 minutes to ponder after move 40. Instead he picked the wrong way to attack the bishop with 39.Qd5? and after 39…Rd8 Magnus felt it was all-over. 40.g4! was perhaps one very last chance, but after 40.Qc5 Bf6 Etienne only stretched things out another four moves before resigning.
That was a dramatic game, but in some ways Sam Shankland’s win over Sergey Karjakin was even more impressive, even if it required a helping hand from the Russian former World Championship Challenger.
Sam said a quick look at Sergey’s repertoire with Black had been enough for him to give up any hopes of blowing his opponent out of the water in the opening.
It’s just impossible to find an advantage in his repertoire. Magnus tried it six times in the match and just failed every time. He’s incredibly solid with Black, but I thought if I could unbalance the game and get an equal position, but some imbalance, maybe I can outplay him.
That’s the kind of confidence you need to have a chance against a player like Karjakin, and in the middlegame it seemed as likely Sergey would take over as that Sam would apply pressure.
Sam managed to keep things under control, however, until 38…f5?, played after 11 minutes’ thought, seems to have been a disastrous choice by Sergey.
Maybe he’d just missed the plan that Sam now executed after 39.e5! of not putting a knight on c4 but playing Kc4 and Nf1-e3. The tactical part of the positional idea was revealed on move 44.
Here Sam played 44.b6!? based on the little trick that 44…Bxb6 runs into 45.Nd5+. The computer suggests 44.Nd5+ first might be even stronger, though the longer you look in all the lines that followed the less it seems as though Sergey missed anything. Pushing the a-pawn at some point also seems to lose, but in any case Sam was thrilled when Sergey bit the bullet after a long time spent trying to find an escape that didn’t exist.
49…Bxc7 50.Rd7+! Ke6 51.Rxc7 Rxc7+ 52.bxc7 was a winning pawn endgame for Sam, and Giri’s commentary was as momentous as the occasion.
58.h4 was also winning in the final position, but the little twist of the knife 58.h3!, keeping an extra tempo in reserve, was enough to provoke resignation.
A tremendous win for Sam that leaves him needing only a draw on Thursday. He has the black pieces, however, and Sergey is famous for his World Cup comebacks, so we can expect a real battle ahead. As Sam put it:
There’s still a long way to go and he’s an incredibly powerful player with the white pieces. I have to come back and hang on tomorrow.
The remaining two games were drawn, with Vidit-Duda never getting the pulses racing. Vidit commented:
It was one of those boring Catalans that you see from time to time. It felt like optically White is slightly better, I have two bishops, maybe some squares. I don’t really know what exactly I could have done better but of course there is usually a way which you can keep more pressure, but the way I played in the game it felt like too easy for him. I can improve somewhere, but it’s not clear where it is, you have to be super precise to do so, but in the game it was just nothing.
There was some memorable commentary, however, with Giri explaining how Vidit’s demeanour at the board depended on the position.
30.Na4 did soon follow, as Anish predicted, with the game drawn in 33 moves.
26-year-old Vladimir Fedoseev is one year younger than Giri, and from the same city, St. Petersburg, hence the curious fact that Anish recalls the first time he met Vladimir was in the city’s Under 10 Championship! It was a memorable first encounter…
A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then, and if Fedoseev hasn’t quite hit the heights that Giri has, the World Cup is a great chance for the Russian. He’s already up to 2714 on the live rating list and can start to dream of a place in the Candidates.
As he revealed in his post-game interview, however, he’d asked the arbiter at move 18 when it was possible to offer a draw (only after move 30), less because he was peacefully inclined than that he didn’t like the way the game was going against 20-year-old Iranian Amin Tabatabaei.
There were lots of potential nuances throughout the unbalanced game, but two moments stood out at the end. One was after 29…Nc4!?
Fedoseev played this in the full awareness that in the pawn-down position after 30.Bxc4 dxc4 31.Qxc4 he’d be “under big pressure”.
Instead Tabatabaei played 30.e4!? and the game was over after 30…Bxc5 31.bxc5 and now a clever move.
31…Bxe4! At a glance that looks like a blunder as 32.Nxe4 should win a piece, but in fact after 32…f5! the knight on e4 is going nowhere, since the black queen is attacking the undefended rook on e1. Tabatabaei made the move after 19 minutes’ thought (the other captures on e4 give Black an advantage) and accompanied it with a draw offer, which was accepted.
Here’s Vladimir after the game:
So Etienne Bacrot and Sergey Karjakin must hit back on Thursday to force tiebreaks or they’re out of the World Cup. Meanwhile the women will be back as the Goryachkina-Muzychuk and Tan Zhongyi-Kosteniuk semi-finals begin.
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