Sergey Karjakin has reached a record 4th World Cup semi-final after coming back yet again to beat Sam Shankland despite suffering a thumping defeat in the first tiebreak game. Sergey, who said there’s no special secret to his comebacks, will play Vladimir Fedoseev for a place in the final and a spot in the 2022 Candidates Tournaments. The Women’s World Cup will be an all-Russian battle between Aleksandra Goryachkina and Alexandra Kosteniuk after they both won with white, against Anna Muzychuk and Tan Zhongyi, who now play the 3rd place match.
You can replay all the games from the 2021 FIDE World Cup in Sochi using the selector below.
And here’s our live commentary from Anish Giri and Sopiko Guramishvili.
There was just one tiebreak in the overall quarterfinals, and it saw 2016 World Championship Challenger Sergey Karjakin take on 2018 US Chess Champion Sam Shankland. Despite Sam’s brilliant run at the event it felt as though Sergey, after coming back in the second classical game, was a big favourite to win the match. Sergey is both a former World Rapid and World Blitz Champion, while Sam has talked about how his game is more suited to the deep calculation allowed in classical chess.
The first game, therefore, was a shocker! In a position of which Karjakin noted, “Kramnik would say it’s a draw by any move!”, Sergey began to lose the plot. His 32…Nd5? was a strangely anti-positional decision that was based on completely misevaluating the position further down the line after 38…Ne6.
It does look at a glance as though the black king should be able to eliminate the d6-pawn and force a drawn ending, though even after 39.a5 it looks like Black is in real danger. Instead Sam unleashed a move that won on the spot, 39.Bxc6!
The problem for Black is that after 39…bxc6 40.a5! the knight can’t stop one of the white passed pawns on a5 and d6 from queening. Sergey tried to play on with 39…b6, but it was hopeless, and he resigned five moves later.
That meant that once again Sergey was in the situation of needing to win on demand, and once again Sam didn’t make the most obvious choice of opening for a game he needed only to draw. While in classical chess he played the French, this time he stuck to his main repertoire of the Najdorf, and sure enough, the position was soon razor-sharp.
From the speed of play it seemed as though Sam new exactly what he was doing… but he must have mixed something up, since by the time he stopped for serious thought he was in deep trouble! 11…Qa5?! was pouring fuel on the fire, with Sam following up with the bold pawn grab 12…Bxa2!?
Sergey sensed there must be a kill by this point, but, just as with Anish Giri in our live commentary, he couldn’t quite see it. The computer points out 13.g5! Nh5 14.f6! exf6 15.Qxd6 Be6 and then the toughest thing to see, just playing 16.Bb6! and not trying to blow Black out of the water. It turns out to be incredibly hard for Black to make moves.
Sergey’s eventual 13.Bd2! was good as well, however, and after the reply 13…0-0?! (13…Rc8! is the computer’s move) he got to unleash 14.Nd5!
The queen is of course attacked, but the remarkable point is that Black is losing the a2-bishop, for instance after 14…Qd8 15.Nxf6+! Bxf6 16.Qa4!, and there are no squares to retreat to.
As Giri was showing that line he began already predicting an Ian Nepomniachtchi vs. Sergey Karjakin World Championship match for next year — with “Comrade Esipenko” also waiting in the wings if needed.
Exchanging queens doesn’t help, and after 14…Nxd5 15.Bxa5 Bxd4 16.Rxd4 Ne3 in the game, Sergey could have picked up the bishop using his rook with 17.Ra4, but there was also nothing wrong with the trickier 17.Kd2 Nxf1+ 18.Rxf1 Rfc8 19.b3! The bishop’s dying thoughts must have been whether the pawn was really worth it…
In the end Sam gave up the bishop for the b3-pawn but was doomed, with Sergey wrapping the game up nicely by preparing Rd8 checkmate. That would be the theme of the day!
The players draw lots for colour after every pair of tiebreak games, and this time it was Sergey who got White. Once again he went for the same line, but he revealed afterwards that his second Denis Khismatullin had found time to come up with the novelty 10.e5!, which looks like a superb idea for a rapid game.
I have to thank my second who prepared this line for the 3rd game when we had this break. When I was playing my game, he prepared, and when we had a break he showed it to me, and so I got a huge advantage in the opening.
After 10…Nd7 11.0-0-0 Bxe5 12.Qd2 Qa5 13.Nd5 Qxd2+ 14.Rxd2 Sam was a pawn up with queens off the board, but it turned out he was also close to lost. 14…Kd8 was the first unavoidable concession.
Sam could have put up more resistance with 21…e6!, since 21…Nb8? 22.Ba7! was hopeless, but it would have been tough in any case. In the game Sergey again managed to weave a mating net, with the dark-squared bishop again supporting a rook to give mate on d8.
All five games had been won by the player with the white pieces, but now Sam was in the new position of having to win on demand. It looked unlikely, but as in the first tiebreak Sergey went astray, and the heavy piece endgame was suddenly promising for White. The critical moment came after 27…Qa8.
It seems Sam missed the threat, since he played 28.Qc1?, targeting the h6-pawn, only to run into 28…Rd8!, when you can’t avoid an exchange of rooks into a drawish queen ending. For instance, 29.Rc7 would be met by 29…Qf3, with Rd1+ threatened. In the game after 29.Rxd8+ the writing was on the wall for the US star. Instead 28.Qd2! would have both stopped Rd8 and targeted h6, with real winning chances.
Sam had no choice but to play on, even when it meant playing a position he should objectively be playing for a draw for a win. Inevitably, perhaps, he simply ended up dead lost, and it was just a question of when to resign. The pain was obvious.
Sam did return to sign the scoresheets, and shortly afterwards he tweeted.
So it was disappointment in the end for the US star, but he’d had a great run in the tournament, is up to 2720 on the rating list and has qualified for next year’s FIDE Grand Prix series, a potential path to the Candidates Tournament.
For Sergey, meanwhile, it’s a 4th FIDE World Cup semi-final, with the prospect of a Carlsen-Karjakin repeat of the 2016 World Championship match looming large. For that to happen, however, Magnus Carlsen first has to beat Jan-Krzysztof Duda, while Karjakin beats Vladimir Fedoseev in the semi-finals that begin on Sunday.
Whatever happens now, all four players will remain in Sochi until the end.
The Women’s World Cup semi-finals were completed on Friday, with the two Russian Sashas, Aleksandra Goryachkina and Alexandra Kosteniuk (yes, their first names are transliterated differently by FIDE!), both winning the second game with the white pieces after the first game was drawn.
Bother games felt as though the players were influenced by the tiebreak happening alongside them into playing faster than necessary in the opening, or perhaps it was just the tension of the situation. In any case, 10…h5?! from Tan Zhongyi left Giri lost for words (not literally, of course!).
Alexandra Kosteniuk also felt she had a big advantage after the move, since it left the black king struggling to find a safe haven, with the queenside much too dangerous and kingside castling now meaning a pawn sacrifice.
Tan Zhongyi did eventually manage to castle and fought her way back into the game, but first Alexandra had a chance to win tactically on move 22, before on move 23 she got to unleash an exchange sacrifice.
22.Rxe6! was strong and “so tempting!”, as Alexandra said afterwards, even if the computer prefers 22.Bc3. The move in the game worked perfectly, however, since after 23…fxe6 24.Qe2 Rf7 25.Nxc4 Nd5? (Alexandra wasn’t sure about the position after 25…Bc5!, and indeed the computer says it’s roughly equal) the game really was over. Kosteniuk was simply able to play 26.Bxh5!
26…Rff8 runs into 27.Qxe6+ and mate-in-3, so Black just has a choice of how to lose more material. 26…Rbf8 was Tan Zhongyi’s pick and 12 moves later it was time to throw in the towel.
Here’s Alexandra after reaching the final.
Goryachkina’s path to the final was also eventful, with Giri blaming Anna Muzychuk’s coach or second for recommending the sharp Grünfeld we got in the game.
Anish thought it was very tough to remember everything and, objectively speaking, after an incredibly risky pawn grab on d4, Anna “blundered” a piece in this position!
18…Rad8! was necessary, but she played 18…Rfd8, with the difference only becoming clear when Aleksandra failed to find the win a couple of moves later.
21.e5! would stop Black playing e5, and after 21…Bxe5 22.Rd3! it turns out White can hold on to the extra piece. Why was 18…Rad8 necessary? Since with the other rook remaining on f4, Black could play 22…Bf4! here and the piece would survive.
In any case, Aleksandra decided it was time to simplify the position and gave back the piece, while also regaining the pawn, with 21.Rxb7!?. It worked to perfection, since in a tricky position Anna soon sank into an epic think.
Anna no doubt thought so long since there was a forced liquidation into a rook ending after 24.Re1 Rc4 25.Rxe2 Rxc1+. It seems it may well have been ok for Black, but not the way Anna played it, and instead the top seed and no. 1 active female player in the world smoothly went on to wrap up victory.
So the women’s bracket is complete, with all that remains to be seen the small detail of who will clinch the title and who’ll take second place!
Before that, however, the Chessable Masters, the 8th event on the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour, kicks off at 17:00 CEST on Saturday.
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