Reports Aug 5, 2021 | 9:03 AMby Colin McGourty

FIDE World Cup 8.1: A Carlsen masterpiece

The Karjakin-Duda FIDE World Cup final got off to a false start when Sergey seemed to mix something up in the opening and could only force a draw in under 30 minutes with the white pieces. That left the stage clear for World Champion Magnus Carlsen to start getting over his loss to Duda with a beautiful game where his positional exchange sacrifice ultimately left Vladimir Fedoseev completely helpless as Magnus brought home the full point. Fedoseev now has to win on Thursday to prolong the match.

Magnus Carlsen found the best possible way to get over his defeat the day before | photo: Eteri Kublashvili, official website

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

And here’s the day’s live commentary from Jan Gustafsson and Laurent Fressinet.

A slow start to the FIDE World Cup final

Are you looking at me? | photo: David Llada, official website

There’s $24,000 at stake in the World Cup final — the difference between $88,000 for the winner and $64,000 for the runner-up (that’s after FIDE’s 20% cut is removed) — but there was little to write home about on the first day of the final. Sergey invited Duda to play the Vienna, as he had against Grischuk and Carlsen earlier in the event, but stopped after 9…Rb8, a move Duda had played on the way to losing a sharp game against Magnus in the 2019 Tata Steel Masters.

Back then Magnus played 10.Rd1 and Duda sank into a 21-minute think before play continued 10...0-0 11.Nxc6, but this time, after a little over four minutes, Sergey instead played the immediate 10. Nxc6!? bxc6 and only then 11.Rd1. It looked simply to be a mistake, since Duda didn’t castle, when play could transpose to the game against Magnus, but went for 11…Bd7!

In the earlier game Magnus had been able to play 12.Qxa7 and, with the b8-rook undefended, Duda had to play 12…Bd7, when Magnus had the tempo he needed to escape with the queen via 13.Qa4.

Karjakin now spent 17 minutes, presumably realising that he’d gone wrong, since 12.Qxa7 can immediately be met by 12…Ra8 13.Qb7 Rb8 and it’s just a draw by repetition. The 2015 World Cup winner played one more move, 12.Bg5, but after 12…Be7 he decided it was time to go for the draw with 13.Qxa7. Carlsen and Fedoseev were surprised…

…as was Duda. He commented:

Actually it’s kind of surprising to me. Obviously he’s mostly an e4 player, so 1.d4 was kind of a surprise, but I’ve played this Vienna two times here, so obviously it was a target. Still, it was kind of weird. He seemed to be unprepared for this. I don’t know, but it was very strange, especially I didn’t understand the Nxc6 and Rd1 move-order, because Magnus played Rd1 straightaway against me, some years back in Wijk aan Zee, and I think that was more critical. 

I didn’t remember details after Nxc6 and Rd1, but Bd7 felt like a natural choice to me, because after Rd1, Bd7 is bad for Black, but here it was very simple. I had to just protect the two pawns in one move and after that I didn’t quite see a way for him to play on. He could have played Bb3 instead of Qxa7, for example, but I think I must be fine there.

Duda, who hasn’t yet had time to celebrate his victory over Magnus, was of course happy with an easy day at the office with the black pieces.

I’m exhausted. Everyone is exhausted! It’s important not to lose in general, and it’s much easier to lose with Black, so yeah, obviously I’m happy with this draw, especially taking into account that I’ll have relatively a lot of time to prepare for the next game and to rest, so I don’t understand honestly what has just happened.


Carlsen’s hangover cure is a masterpiece

Magnus Carlsen was back on top form when the pressure was off | photo: Eteri Kublashvili, official website

World Cup exit is hard to take, and perhaps it was even harder for Magnus Carlsen and Vladimir Fedoseev, since they still had to come back and play another match. It was hard to know who had been most disappointed by the previous day’s tiebreaks. Of course Magnus was only in the World Cup to win it, and had missed out at almost the last hurdle, while Fedoseev must have expected he would get a match against Jan-Krzysztof Duda to decide a Candidates place. Instead that dream has gone, and there’s only cash — the $8,000 difference between $48,000 and $40,000 — at stake.

Before getting to what became a fantastic game, let’s take a look at Carlsen’s revealing insights into the tiebreak game he lost to Duda the day before.

I think I made a poor opening choice in the circumstances. I was a little bit surprised by the Sicilian, and I decided to go for this line which is fairly equal objectively, but there are chances for both sides, both me on the kingside and him on the queenside. I think I would have been well-advised to try and play something a little more balanced, probably.

Anyway, he kind of outplayed me later on. I made a terrible blunder with 27.Be3, which just lost me two tempi there I don’t know what I was thinking, to be honest.


After 27...Na7! Magnus returned his bishop to d2 again

Later on what disappointed me about the game is that once I realised that I was in trouble I couldn’t really focus too much. I almost saw it coming, that the first time that I would be in trouble in the World Cup I would not be able to recover, and that was sort of going through my mind. This is the first time I’m actually threatened and then I couldn’t cope, and maybe the most disappointing thing is that I couldn’t save the draw in the end, because frankly he played quite inaccurately, which is understandable he was very short on time and probably very nervous — but I actually had a fairly simple fortress, looking back on it, but I just couldn’t switch mode from knowing I was lost and trying to hustle him into actually believing that the position was a draw.

Thinking back now the whole last 5-10 minutes of the game is just a blur, so I definitely have something to work on there. In general my play here has been good, and today when there was no pressure I played fairly well, but obviously I did way too poorly under pressure, so I need to work on that.

The obvious goal for Ian Nepomniachtchi and his team will be to put Magnus under heavy pressure in the World Championship match, though that’s easier said than done, especially since the new 14-game format makes each of the earlier games a little less critical. If you allow Magnus to relax at the chessboard you can get the kind of stunning game we saw in the 3rd place match.

Vladimir Fedoseev played with fire and got incinerated | photo: David Llada, official website

You have to credit Vladimir Fedoseev for not trying to keep things tight against Magnus, with 3.h4 an obvious sign of intent.

The move has been played by some of the world’s top players and Sam Shankland used it to knock Peter Svilder out of the World Cup, so that the 17-minute think Magnus took here was a little extravagant — though sometimes it helps to go over things in your mind during a game, and you can’t argue with results. Magnus commented afterwards:

Obviously when he goes 3.h4 — which is by the way an excellent move — it means that we’re going to get a game, so I was quite happy with that.

By move 8 the position had never been seen before, while there was clearly the potential for something special when Magnus played the bold 14…f5!?


He later commented:

I thought the position was very, very difficult to play after that, there were so many ideas, and mine were generally connected with sacrifices all over the place. f5, f4, also b5 was an option on almost every move, especially after he’d gone a5 — I thought it was just screaming to be played at some point.

After 15.Ra3!? Ne5 16.Be3 Magnus was ready to strike.


The pawn sacrifice 16…f4! was the just the beginning, with 17.Bxf4 met by 17…Bd7 18.Nd1 and then the exchange sacrifice 18…Rxf4!

Finally I went for this f4 idea, and I decided not to sac the exchange immediately, but go Bd7 first, and I felt that what I got was an even better version.

It was purely positional in the sense that after 19.Qxf4 Bh6 20.Qg3 Qf8 the f4-square was under complete control, but there was no killer blow on the horizon.

23.Rc3 then seemed a mistake, exchanging off White’s one active piece, since after 23…Rxc3 24.bxc3 the white pieces were suddenly only playing in a 4x4 square, as Ian Nepomniachtchi pointed out!


After 24…Qc8 25.c4 it was finally time for that 25…b5 pawn sacrifice.

Nevertheless, after 26.axb6 axb6 it still wasn’t too late for Fedoseev, since he could have played 27.0-0!, and although 27…Bh3 wins back the exchange, and the c4-pawn will also drop, White would be back in the game. As Magnus put it:

I think his only chance was to play 0-0 and give back all of his material with a worse, but I think quite holdable, position. That probably would have been a fair result, after the sacrifice, but fortunately for me he went for something else, and it’s very rare that you get to play games where your opponent just cannot move any pieces, so in that sense it was very pleasing!

Vladimir's fateful choice was 27.Qg1? and after 27…Qa8! Black was clearly winning for the first time in the game.

Magnus explained:

I think the crucial moment was when he played Qg1, which I think just loses. Because of some geometrical motifs there he doesn’t get to untangle, and he cannot move any pieces, and then it’s fairly straightforward for me.

The queen slalomed all the way into d2.


And now the miserable 33.Qg2 was about all White could do. Magnus emphasised how dominant he was by first playing 33…Kg7 34.Rg1 Kf8 35.Qh1 and only then 35…e6!


That Fedoseev replied 36.Rg3 tells you all you need to know about how wrong things had gone for the Russian, with Magnus commenting:

His pieces are just stuck so he has nothing to do, and I was considering how to win it. When I went for e6 he had a very difficult choice, because all of his options are bad. If he takes on e6 I get Bxe6 and eye his pawn on c4, and I’m also opening up a path for my king to go all the way into his position, and I don’t think there’s too much he can do to stop that as a potential idea, as when he captures the way that he did, I get my bishop to f5.

The only question was how exactly to win, and after 36.Rg3 exd5 37.exd5 Bf5 38.Rg1 Kf7 39.Rg3 Magnus saw what to do, with our commentators impressed with how he wasn’t fixated on the seemingly already perfect position of the knight on e5.


Magnus explained:

Nd7, Nc5 is a winning idea — the knight goes to b3 and then d4, and he cannot move a muscle, so he tried Rg5, but then after I took and went Ne5 it was too late, because I have Qc1 always.

The game ended 39…Nd7 40.Rg5 Bxg5 (finally Magnus accepts the offer to regain the exchange) 41.hxg5 Ne5 and Fedoseev resigned.

A stunning game, and a great way to get over the most painful of defeats!

That means that Magnus now needs only a draw with the white pieces to seal 3rd place at the World Cup, which in a way would mean finishing higher than he ever has at the event. Back in 2007 he didn’t play a 3rd place match against fellow 17-year-old Sergey Karjakin.

The marathon is almost over for Magnus Carlsen | photo: Eteri Kublashvili, official website

Magnus may be tempted to try for a win to boost his 2852.4 rating, but having to come back another day for tiebreaks after a loss is a strong incentive not to try anything too risky! Of course Fedoseev may take away the option of a quiet day at the office.

The final, meanwhile, is anybody’s to win, with Duda having the advantage of the white pieces in Thursday’s second game.

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