Magnus Carlsen will play Jan-Krzysztof Duda in the FIDE World Cup semifinals after the Polish no. 1 said he played “probably the game of my lifetime” to beat Vidit while Magnus eased past Etienne Bacrot, who offered a draw too late. Sergey Karjakin won a sparkling attacking game to come back on demand yet again, this time against Sam Shankland. It seemed we’d have another tiebreak until Amin Tabatabaei blundered on move 77, with Vladimir Fedoseev fist-pumping at the blunder before executing the winning moves.
You can replay all the games from the FIDE World Cup using the selector below.
And here’s the day’s live commentary from Anish Giri and Sopiko Guramishvili.
It was always a tough ask for Etienne Bacrot to come back on demand with the black pieces against Magnus Carlsen, but Magnus admitted he played “meekly” in the opening and gave his opponent a comfortable position. It was never more than that, however, and Etienne’s 31…Rxe4?! overlooked a trick.
The position after simply capturing the rook is roughly equal, but Magnus instead spotted 32.Ne7! If Etienne had played the objectively best 32…Qe6 or 32…Qg4, Magnus noted he would be “never, ever losing” the position after 33.Rxe4 Qxe4 34.Qf7 — he felt he’d be “playing with house money”.
Instead Etienne gave up the exchange with 32…Rxe7?! and two moves later offered a draw, which was the equivalent of resigning the match. Magnus rejected it and went on to win, edging above 2850 again on the live rating list. He explained of the draw offer:
It was a bit too late! I understand that I win the match by accepting, but I felt my position was just too winning. In general, you don’t decline these offers, but I just thought there was just no way I was losing it, and it’s nice to pick up the win.
Magnus will now be in Sochi to the end whatever happens, either playing the 3rd place match or the final, and he was very glad that as well as not needing to play tiebreaks there’s a rest day on Saturday.
First of all, I desperately need them! I think everybody needs them, but yeah, now I’ve played eight days in a row and I could really, really feel it today that I had zero energy, so I intend to go for a hike in the mountains, probably, try and relax, and just be glad for two things: that I don’t have to play for a couple of days and, most of all, that I’m still in the tournament! Now I know that I will be here to the end regardless, so might as well try and win it!
Magnus Carlsen’s opponent in the semi-finals will be Polish no. 1 Jan-Krzysztof Duda, and in a curious twist Duda had Magnus to thank for getting to the venue in time for the 2nd game of the semi-final, since he missed the transport but hitched a lift in the World Champion’s car! (the hashtag means "Duda says thank you")
The stress of nearly failing to make the game affected Duda’s opening choice:
I had difficulties to arrive on time before the game and I was a bit shaky mentally, so I decided to play this line, which is basically a forced draw.
It went much better than that, however, and he began his post-game interview:
I have to say it’s probably the game of my lifetime, given the stakes and also the complexity of the game, and also I think it was just very beautiful!
The opening was very familiar to our commentator Anish Giri, who had used it to make a draw against Alexander Grischuk in the first round of the recent Croatia Grand Chess Tour.
In that game Grischuk played 18.cxb7, while Duda picked the other option 18.Qxf2, with Vidit continuing to play the next few moves fast 18…Bxc6 19.Nxe5 Bxg2+ 20.Kg1.
Duda explained that the “computer-generated variation” after 20…0-0! is just a draw, if you know what you're doing, but his Indian opponent here paused for almost eight minutes before playing 20…Qf6!? instead, when after a forced sequence of exchanges we got an ending that had to be roughly equal, but where White could also dare to dream because of the weak backward pawn on a6.
Things became critical when Duda played “Danny’s move” — reached by process of trial and error! — of 34.Nb4, targeting that pawn.
34…c5! 35.Nxa6 Ra8 seems to have been essential, though the position could still get tricky for Black, while 34…Re2+? appears to be the losing move.
Here Duda’s 35.Kh1! was a star move, keeping the white king away from any jabs from the black pawns or the potential Rxc3+, not getting tempted by the pawn on g5, and aiming for the plan of Ra1.
Play continued 35…Rxb2 36.Ra1! c5 37.Nxa6 b4.
Duda confessed afterwards that he was also considering 38.Nxc5 but correctly rejected it because of 38…bxc3! — it seems Black might have been just in time to save the game in that case. After 38.Nxb4! play proceeded fast to an amazing position: 38…cxb4 39.a6 bxc3 40.a7 c2 41.a8=Q Rb1+ 42.Kg2 c1=Q
Vidit has three extra pawns, but it’s Duda to play, and it turns out he was winning by force after 43.Ra7+, with a painful crossroads for Vidit after 43…Kf6 44.Qf8+ Ke5 45.Re7+ Kd5 46.Qf3+ Kc5 47.Rc7+
The dream at this stage for Black is just to get a Rook vs. Queen endgame where it would still be possible for Duda to fail to convert, but after 47…Kd4 White wouldn’t take the queen but would play 48.Qf6+! first, and only then after e.g. 48…Kd5 play 49.Rxc1! Rxc1, since 50.Qg5+! now picks up the rook.
Giri could feel Vidit’s pain at leaving an event that ends in almost inevitable failure for everyone.
The suffering came to an end when Vidit instead chose 47…Kb4 and after 48.Qb7+ Ka5 49.Qa7+ Kb5 50.Qb8+ it was going to be checkmate next move.
A tough end to a fantastic tournament for Vidit, who goes home not only with a slight classical rating gain but $35,000.
For most players you would say winning on demand is extremely tough, even with the white pieces, but given Sergey Karjakin’s incredible World Cup record it would have been crazy to rule him out. He was perhaps given a boost early on, when Sam Shankland played not the Sicilian or 1.e4 e5 systems Sergey was expecting, but the French Defence.
Not wanting to get dragged into any long, theoretical lines where his opponent might be better prepared, Sergey opted for 2.d3 after two minutes’ thought, playing a King’s Indian Attack. It worked out perfectly, since although Black was objectively fine or slightly better for most of the next 20 moves, all the pieces remained on the board, with plenty of attacking potential.
Whenever Sam seemed to have some control, Sergey would come up with a new idea.
Here he brought the rook to the g-file with 18.Kh1! b4 19.Rg1! and after 19…Nf8 20.axb4 cxb4 21.d4! storm clouds were looming over the black position. Anish Giri could see what was about to happen and waxed lyrical about Sergey’s attacking abilities.
This seems, in fact, to have been the moment where Black objectively got into real trouble, since the immediate 21…a3! might have given enough counterplay. Instead after 21…Na5 22.g5! White’s attack was rolling, and the game would come to a dramatic climax after 22…Nc4 23.Qc1 hxg5 24.Bxg5 b3 25.Bxe7 Qxe7 26.Bf1 a3? (drastic defensive measures such as 26…f5 were the best hope).
Karjakin here landed the killer blow 27.Rxg7+! and it was all over bar the shouting. The key was that 27…Kxg7 was met by 28.Ng4! and there was no good defence for the black king. Sam queened his a-pawn in the play that followed, but it was only to graciously allow Sergey to deliver mate on the board.
Sergey said afterwards about his strategy in the game:
I felt like it’s very interesting, and also if you want to win you don’t really have a choice, you have to do something like this. Maybe objectively he was completely fine, but at the same time, in a practical game, he blundered once and then he was just lost, so it means that the position was very tense.
Karjakin-Shankland will now be the only tiebreak on Friday, after the remaining quarterfinal match ended in a dramatic fashion that you certainly couldn’t describe as gracious.
By move 21 Anish Giri was calling this game as a draw.
Vladimir Fedoseev also agreed the position was drawish, but from his interview afterwards it seems it was less by intention and more that his preparation had ended around move 15 and he wasn’t sure to do next. He said he had “nothing for hours and hours” until Amin Tabatabaei cracked around move 75.
The computer here gives 75…f5! as 0.00, but it’s a committal decision, dooming the h5-pawn. It seems Black’s a-pawn, however, would give all the compensation required. Giving up the f6-pawn with 75…Rb4!? did no real harm, but it was tied to a disastrous plan. Play continued 76.Bxf6 Rb3+ 77.Kd4.
Giri told us the day before that his first encounter with Fedoseev was when the 7-year-old future star scattered the pieces in rage when losing a game on top board in the St. Petersburg Under 10 Championship. He’s obviously calmed down since, but you can imagine Vladimir's sense of anticipation when Tabatabaei here thought for almost two minutes.
Moves such as 77…Rb4+ are still fine for Black, and the delay must have made it seem as though the Iranian grandmaster had spotted the potential blunder… but no, the logical follow-up 77…Rxg3? was played, and Fedoseev knew he was going to the World Cup semi-final and would win at least $50,000!
“Maybe this was in the camera, because I really cannot believe that this happened, because it’s so simple,” Fedoseev said afterwards.
The moment had indeed been captured on camera!
The fist-pumping reaction must have been purely instinctive after a long and tense game and tournament, but in a world where many players have apologised — unnecessarily! — for celebrating after a match is over, to do it after an opponent’s blunder with the game still in progress is another level entirely. A fuller video of the final moments shows Tabatabaei’s pain as he understood he was out of the tournament.
But what was the blunder? Well, as we got to see in the game, Fedoseev had 78.Be5+! Kc6 79.Ra6+ and Tabatabaei resigned. The game could have continued 79…Kd7 80.Rxe6! Kxe6 and then the whole point of the trick, 81.f5+, a discovered attack on the rook on g3.
After 81…Kxf5 82.Bxg3 Fedoseev pointed out that such positions a piece down can be drawn, but in this case White’s bishop is the right colour to support the white h-pawn queening on h8, while the king is in time to stop the a4-pawn. He speculated Tabatabaei might have missed those details, but it seems much more likely his opponent simply missed the whole tactic.
Fedoseev will now play the winner of Karjakin-Shankland in the semi-finals.
The women’s semi-finals began on Thursday, with Tan Zhongyi-Kosteniuk a tense, closed game where both sides had some chances but the evaluation never left the drawing zone. The other game was very different, with top seed Aleksandra Goryachkina going astray in an Anti-Berlin.
Anna soon had a big edge, but it gradually vanished until one subtle moment on the time control move 40. 39…Re7 was in fact a mistake by Goryachkina.
40.Rc8! turns out to be winning for White, but what Anna did looked like the most natural thing in the world. She first got to move 40, when you get an extra 30 minutes on the clock, by “including” 40.hxg6 hxg6, and only then opted for 41.Rc8.
It’s hard to believe, but it made all the difference, since the winning plan after the immediate 40.Rc8 was to play exactly as in the game: 40…Re8 41.Rxe8 Kxe8 42.Kg3 Ke7, but then advance the king to g5 with 43.Kh4 Kf7 44.Kg5.
White is winning, but why wouldn't this work after the h-pawn was exchanged? The answer is simple: Rh8 and then Rh5 is checkmate, despite Anna being given the chance to queen her b-pawn! It seems she realised the danger in time, since she calmly steered the game towards a draw.
Just one more example of the depth and treachery of chess, and it means both women’s semi-finals are level going into the second classical game on Friday. All eyes, however, will at first be on Karjakin-Shankland, where Sergey must by now be a clear favourite again, but we’ve already seen what a ferocious fighter Sam remains.
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